THE BASICS OF PARENTING


 

Before addressing the core elements of nurturing Iman in children, it will be valuable to discuss some of the basics of parenting to lay the foundation. The following section will cover the importance of the marital relationship and its relation to parenting, gender roles, and the role of motherhood and fatherhood. It also discusses the need for parents to nurture their own Iman, and to be aware of the basic rights of the child (duties of parents), the basic rights of parents (duties of the child), and the importance of breastfeeding, bonding, and early attachment. It concludes with precious advice on praying for a righteous child.

 

The importance of the marital relationship

“And of His signs is that He created from yourselves mates for you, that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed affection and mercy between you. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (Surah ar-Rum, 30 : 21)

The family is probably the most important institution within society as it is the building block of the overall structure. For this reason, many rules are present in Islamic law to guarantee preservation of this essential unit. Within the family, the marital relationship is the centre around which all other elements revolve. If this centre is operating smoothly and harmoniously, then it is likely that the rest of the system will also be in balance. When there is disruption or discord, the whole system will malfunction. A strong marriage leads to a properly functioning family and, in turn, a solid foundation for society.

Marriage is so important in Islam that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry, should marry …” (Bukhari)

He (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) also said, “Whoever marries has completed half of his faith. So let him have fear of Allah in the remaining half.” (Tabarani)

Marriage is thus a form of worship and an opportunity to enhance one’s subservience to Allah. Within this life, Allah has created men and women from a single soul and sanctified the bond of marriage so that they may live together to achieve the tranquillity of their hearts, support each other, and help each other in their worship of Allah. When we submit to Allah in and through our marriage, we will find the tranquillity and peace that is mentioned in the above verse.

As an act of worship, both husband and wife should make the intention to please Allah during this process and act in accordance with His laws. The couple should focus on growing together in obedience and love of Allah, and should seek Islamic knowledge for the goal of developing Iman and fear of Allah in their hearts. Their lives and life decisions should be based upon the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), and their children should be nurtured in such a rich environment.

 

Considerations in marriage

Prior to marriage, one must carefully select a mate, giving priority to the Iman or faith of the person and not his or her social status, wealth, beauty, and so on.

The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the one who is superior in religion, otherwise you will be a loser.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

None of these other elements will be useful in building a strong Islamic family, but knowledge and faith will be invaluable. One should also enter the marriage with a commitment to the relationship and to following the guidance of Allah in all matters and decisions.

Throughout the marriage, kind and considerate treatment of the other spouse and fulfilment of duties are the minimum requirements.

“… And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” (Surah an-Nisa, 4 : 19)

The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “The most perfect Muslim in the matter of faith is one who has excellent behaviour; and the best among you are those who behave best towards their wives.” (Tirmidhi)

Marriage is a relationship in which there should be mutual love, affection and compassion between the spouses, and in which the husband is protective, caring and generous toward his wife, and the wife is obedient and respectful toward her husband.

The relationship should be one of mutuality, interdependence, cooperation and compromise for the sake of Allah, while celebrating the differences that Allah has created. In essence, both halves of the pair need to be focused on caring for and meeting the needs of his or her partner. The happiness of the other partner should always be placed above one’s own will or desires. Through these efforts, the couple will find repose and harmony in each other’s company.

Marriage is a blessing, but it can also be a test from Allah, the Exalted, the Almighty. Marriage requires empathy, commitment, understanding, forgiveness, and humility. At times, there will need to be sacrifices made and a degree of flexibility and compromise. Spouses should be patient with each other and accept one another’s faults and weaknesses. If one spouse does something contrary to Islam, it is the duty of the other to provide sound advice and guide him or her back to the truth. When problems arise, the couple should discuss possible solutions in an appropriate manner. Each must place his or her trust in Allah, seek to achieve the best in His way, and rely upon Allah’s guidance and judgment in all affairs.

 

Marriage and parenting

In relation to parenting, the couple must work on strengthening their marriage for sake of their children. If marriage is the centre of the family, it only makes sense that effort is exerted to fortify and enrich this relationship. The couple should understand their marital responsibilities and rights from an Islamic perspective and seek to fulfil these to the best of their ability.

They should acquire knowledge of parenting from an Islamic perspective as well as information related to practical matters (for example, discipline, development, and health). It would be particularly advisable to have discussions related to various discipline techniques and agreement on procedures that will be implemented. This will result in more effective, predictable and conflict-free parenting.

It is important to understand that the husband and wife present models of married life to their children, as well as models of parenting. This modelling has a major influence upon the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of a developing child.

Children, in fact, learn more by observing others than by what they are told. For this reason, parents should be particularly careful about how they interact when in the presence of their children. Research shows, for example, that conflict between husband and wife has many negative effects upon children. Marital conflict should be avoided in front of the children, and models should instead be provided of dialogue, compromise, and patience. Consultation, fairness, reasonableness, and equanimity are essential ingredients for a harmonious family unit.

 

Gender roles

From an Islamic perspective, men and women have the same spiritual nature and are both given the responsibility as trustees of Islam on earth. As such, they have the same religious duties and responsibilities. They will both be held accountable on the Day of Judgment for their beliefs and actions in this world. There is no superiority of one gender over the other. Superiority as a construct is actually measured in terms of righteousness and piety. Allah says in the Qur’an,

“O people, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you …” (Surah al-Hujurat, 49 : 13)

This verse makes it clear that variables such as gender, ethnic background, and languages do not provide any basis for superiority or inferiority.

Within this general framework, Allah has assigned specific roles for males and females in daily functioning. Both roles are honourable and operate in a complementary manner. Each gender has been given specific qualities and traits to fulfil their respective roles. Allah indicates,

“Men are in charge of women by (right of) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (for maintenance) from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard …” (Surah an-Nisa, 4: 34)

Men are the maintainers and providers of the home and leaders of the family. Women are responsible for raising the children and instilling in them morals and righteous behaviour, and for taking care of the home. They must also be obedient to their husbands as long as they are not requested to act against the injunctions of Allah.

This role differentiation is necessary for effective functioning of the family unit, since Allah has created systems with balance and order. The family is a system and it functions most efficiently when the laws of nature and the laws of Allah are implemented. When the balance is disrupted, humans suffer the consequences.

While this concept of traditional gender roles is also found in other world religious and cultural groups, the trend (or even norm) in many areas of the world is toward the elimination of such a distinct differentiation.

In the West, in particular, there has been an attempt to replace these traditional roles with the concept of ‘equality’ or sameness. Women have been encouraged to participate ‘equally’ with men in all aspects of life, and the role of motherhood is viewed as less valuable than a career outside the home. This phenomenon is occurring even in Muslim countries. Muslims should be aware of this and cautious of the attempts being made to disrupt the traditional gender roles ordained by Allah.

 

The honourable role of motherhood

Motherhood is highly respected in Islam and is a means through which a woman may gain immense spiritual rewards.

In a well-known hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) it is reported: Once a man went to the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and asked, “O Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), who, of all people, is most entitled to my kindness and good company?” The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) answered, “Your mother.” Then the man asked, “Who comes next?” The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) replied, “Your mother.” The man again asked, “Who comes next?” And again the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) answered, “Your mother.” The man asked one more time, “Who comes next?” The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) replied, “Your father.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

This hadith highlights the special significance given to the role of motherhood. Being a mother is the most valuable job in this worldly life, for she will raise the next generation and build a solid foundation for society. Her time will be spent in nurturing, instructing, and guiding – her primary duties as a mother. For this reason, she is given the honour and respect that she deserves. Allah has created this role specifically for women as part of His mercy.

Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Allah created, on the same day when He created the heavens and the earth, one hundred parts of mercy. Every part of mercy is analogous to the space between the heavens and the earth, and He, out of this mercy, endowed one part to the earth, and it is because of this that the mother shows affection to her child.” (Muslim)

For this purpose, Allah has conferred upon women the unique qualities and characteristics necessary for effectual fulfilment of this role. Women tend to be more nurturing, compassionate, sensitive, and patient: all qualities needed to create a warm, loving, and peaceful atmosphere within the home.

Motherhood is a full-time career, entailing pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and many years of childrearing. These are sufficient responsibilities for one individual without adding the additional burden of having to provide for the family. It is part of Allah’s mercy that women are not required to work outside of the home to bring sustenance for their children. The burden, in most cases, would be more than she could bear. The ideal situation allows her to fulfil her primary responsibility to the best of her potential.

 

Women and work

Having said that, being a mother does not necessarily preclude work outside of the home. For a woman with small children and no pressing need to work, it would be ideal for her to remain within the home in order to perform her role as mother to the best of her abilities. Women should understand that the greatest rewards come to her through her motherhood role. Building families must come first, as this is the main obligation for women. This notion should always be foremost in her mind.

There are some situations, however, where it may be necessary for a mother to work, such as to assist with the financial needs of the family or to satisfy the needs of society (for example, doctors, midwives, and teachers). The latter is considered to be a communal obligation that must be satisfied by some members of the community in order for the obligation to be removed. In these cases, the benefits must carefully be weighed against any harm that may arise. It is important to remember that personal responsibilities take precedence over communal responsibilities.

From the perspective of Islam, women are not completely prohibited from working, but the matter is one that should be given serious consideration and discussion before any decision is made. There are several key guidelines that should be followed when making this decision:

  1. A woman must first obtain consent from her husband, primarily due to the fact that he may have a broader perspective on how her work may influence the family and its functioning;
  2. A woman must ensure that her home and children are properly taken care of and that there is no neglect in this aspect; her absence should not in any way cause harm to her family;
  3. Ccare must be taken to choose employment that is appropriate and fits with the special nature of the woman in accordance with the norms of Islamic law;
  4. Care must to taken to avoid jobs which may lead to transgression of the limits of Islam (such as excessive mixing of genders);
  5. She must adhere to the principles of Islam with regard to her clothing and demeanour.

 

The role of fatherhood

As mentioned, the husband is responsible for providing for the sustenance and needs of his wife and children. This includes provision for food, clothing, shelter, and other basic needs according to his financial income and social norms. In general, he is responsible for their physical welfare and wellbeing, which also entails a measure of safety and security. The importance of this cannot be neglected, as the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “It is sufficient sin for a man if he neglects those on whom he is obliged to spend.” (Abu Dawud)

Due to this responsibility, the father is the authority in the family and the leader of the family unit. No organization can function effectively without a manager, and in the family, the father takes care of this important role. In essence, this means that he is deserving of obedience from all family members and he has the final word in all decisions. This does not preclude discussion and compromise on important matters, but the father is worthy of due respect and obedience.

In cooperation with the mother, the father also attends to the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual socialization of their children. He must ensure that they are receiving a proper Islamic education, and he must assist them in acquiring praiseworthy characteristics and proper manners. This, of necessity, means that he must be involved in the training and rearing of his children. Many fathers neglect this duty in their overzealous attempt to fulfil the obligation for physical maintenance. In order for the family to function effectively, there must be a balance between these various rights and responsibilities.

Children need interaction and time with their father just as they do with their mother. This is particularly true for boys, who require a suitable male role model. Active fatherhood is central to a man’s role in life and to the development of his children. The children need to know that their father loves and cares for them, and that he has their best interests in mind. The Muslim father is an inspiring role model, teacher, friend, and a source of practical advice.

There is a great deal of research on the influence that involved fathering has on children. A review on the impact on fatherhood by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development shows that a child with an involved father has better social skills by the time s/he reaches nursery, performs better academically, and is less likely to have behavioural problems in the future. Once again, scientific research attests to the wisdom of Islamic teachings.

 

Nurturing one’s own Iman

It is valuable to mention that for parents to be maximally successful in their mission, they must focus some time on increasing their own Iman. The lessons that are acquired over the course of reading this book are not only applicable to children, but to those holding the book as well. This is, in reality, one of the purposes of this endeavour. A long standing tenet in the education field is that we tend to learn the most by teaching others. Parenting provides just such an invaluable opportunity.

In addition to this material, parents need to explore other means to enhance their Iman, whether it be through seeking knowledge (essential), increasing worship, or contributing to the Muslim community. Doing this will make the task of nurturing Iman in children all that much easier.

 

Basic rights of the child (Duties of parents)

The following are some of the basic rights of the child as reflected in the duties and responsibilities of parents:

 

The right to provisions and protection until adulthood

This includes food, clothing and shelter as provisions. It also entails protection against physical, emotional, intellectual and moral harm. This aspect begins at the time of conception and continues throughout pregnancy, childhood, and into adulthood.

 

The right to love and affection

Children have psychological needs that must be met. These include love, affection, mercy and companionship. It is a basic role of parenting to fulfil these needs through kisses, hugs, kind words and time spent together. This is critical for effective parenting and discipline.

 

The right to paternity and inheritance

Every child has right to know his or her lineage and parents. It is for this reason that the sanctity of the marital bond is so protected and the introduction of foreign reproductive material forbidden. It is for this reason as well that adoption is prohibited in Islam,1 and for the same reason a child carries the father’s name. The right to inheritance is guaranteed by Islamic law.

 

The right to proper education

The foundation of education is moral and religious training since this is the most important kind of education (as discussed in the next chapter). This entails proper Islamic education in order to build aqeedah, tawheed, and Iman. Worldly knowledge and information must also be provided in the appropriate proportion. The growth of a child’s personality and potential is dependent upon proper education.

 

Basic rights of parents (Duties of the child)

The child also has duties that become the rights of the parents:

 

The right to be respected and obeyed

Parents generally give orders and instructions that are in the best interest of children. It is thus the duty of children to respect and obey their parents in all matters. They should not question this authority or follow their own desires in defiance of their parents. This is, of course, overruled if the parents request the child to perform an act of disobedience to Allah.

 

The right to reprimand and rebuke

It is the obligation of parents to protect their children from harm. If a child is tempted to act in a harmful way, it is the duty of parents to prevent him or her from that behaviour. If necessary, they may resort to advising, rebuking, or reprimanding. The child should not reply rudely or argue with the parents. Parental advice should be listened to and acted upon, even if it is against the child’s wishes.

 

The right to kind words and good behaviour

“And We have enjoined upon the human, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him in weakness and hardship and gave birth to him in weakness and hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months.” (Surah al-Ahqaf, 46 : 15)

“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them (so much as) ‘uff’ and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.”  (Surah al-Isra, 17 : 23)

These Qur’anic verses urge children to be soft-spoken to parents and to show them respect and kindness. They must not forget the favours and sacrifices of their parents, but rather repay them with gentle words and kindness. This entails patience, compassion, gratitude, and humility.

 

The right to be helped

Children are required to help their parents in household chores and other responsibilities as they are able. They may, for example, assist with the care of younger siblings. As parents age, help may be offered in other areas as well.

 

The right to be looked after

Grown-up children must repay their parents by caring for them in their old age. This involves looking after their physical and financial needs, as well as psychological and companionship needs. As their parents looked after them during their stage of weakness, so must children reciprocate by taking care of their parents during the weakness of old age. This must be realized with equity, generosity, and Ihsan.

 

The importance of breastfeeding, bonding, and early attachment

 

Breastfeeding

“Mothers may nurse (breastfeed) their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing (period) …” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2 : 233)

Breastfeeding is a natural extension of pregnancy and research has repeatedly demonstrated that it is the superior way to feed a baby. In addition to the varied and undisputed physical benefits, breastfeeding also offers psychological and emotional benefits for the both mother and baby. This primarily occurs through a process known as bonding or attachment, an important factor in the groundwork of parenting. It is for these reasons that breastfeeding is so strongly encouraged in Islam. It is, in fact, an important right of the infant.

 

Bonding and attachment

The days and weeks after birth are a sensitive period in which mothers and babies are uniquely primed to want to be close to one another. The close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, attachment-promoting behaviours of the infant and the intuitive, care-giving qualities of the mother to come together. Both members of this biological pair get off to the right start at a time when the infant is most needy and the mother is most ready to nurture. Breastfeeding and the closeness that accompanies it play an important role in this process.

The key benefit of attachment is that the baby develops trust in the caregiver and other adults in his or her world. S/he trusts that his or her needs will be met and that the world is a safe place. S/he also trusts that his or her language (crying) is being listened to and thus trusts in his or her own ability to give cues. The relationship between mother and baby becomes synchronous and harmonious as baby gives cues and mother responds appropriately.

The job of parenting becomes easier due to this synchronicity and the trust of the infant. With a strong connection through bonding and attachment, the parent-child relationship becomes more natural and enjoyable. Attachment parenting also assists the child in developing independence, since it encourages the right balance between dependence and independence. Because the connected child trusts his or her parents to help him or her feel safe, s/he is more likely to feel secure exploring his or her surrounding environment. For example, studies have shown that toddlers who have a secure attachment to their mother tend to adapt more easily to new play situations and to play more independently than less attached toddlers.

Early bonding and attachment have positive implications for the development of the parent-child relationship as the child grows and develops. These benefits are carried over into early and middle childhood, leading to easier discipline and parenting. Research has demonstrated the important role of the parent-child relationship in effective discipline.

 

Praying for a righteous child

Muslim parents must continually make supplication for their children. Allah mentions,

“And those who say, ‘Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes, and make us a leader (i.e., an example) for the righteous.’ ” (Surah al-Furqan, 25 : 74)

Parents should pray for their children to be pious and righteous and the comfort of their eyes. They will then be a source of happiness due to their righteousness. Rewards will be bestowed upon the parents for their supplication and the effort that was exerted to raise their children in Islam.

The prophets themselves made supplication for their children. Prophet Zakariyya supplicated,

“My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.”              (Surah ali Imran, 3 : 38)

Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) supplicated to Allah,

“My Lord, grant me (a child) from among the righteous. So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.” (Surah as-saffat,  37 : 100-101)

 

At the time of sexual intimacy, the husband and wife are encouraged to supplicate to Allah to gain His protection for a child that may be conceived.

The Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “If anyone among you intends to go to his wife, he should say, ‘In the name of Allah, O Allah, protect us from Satan and keep Satan away from that which you have bestowed upon us.’ ” (Muslim)

Thus parenting actually begins by intention at the time of conception with this supplication to protect the child from the workings of Satan, Supplication should be continued throughout the life of the child. At certain times, a parent may realize, in fact, that it is only supplication and the will of Allah that will change the situation. All praise be to Allah, as Muslims we always have this hope.

 

Notes:

(1) ‘Adoption’ here refers to the practice of changing the child’s family name to match the name of the family in which s/he is to be raised and erasing all evidence that the child has his or her own biological heritage, and should not be taken to mean that Islam forbids families to bring orphans up with the same love and treatment that they accord their own biological children.

On the contrary, according to a sound hadith, raising an orphan in kindness and equity is considered to be a highly praiseworthy act, whose reward is paradise. To that end, the advice in this book should be taken to heart by foster parents as well. (Editor)

Taken from the book : NURTURING IMAN IN CHILDREN

 

 

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