We live in a world where greed, racism, violence and other forms of injustice and immorality are everyday realities. WAHIDA CHISHTI VALIANTE discusses Qur’anic principles for the raising of children in such a time...
Across the ages and throughout the world parents, teachers, philosophers, religious and civic leaders have wrestled with the question of how to raise morally and ethically responsible citizens. Today the task is greater: parents have not only to raise good citizens of the state, but also to train them to be good citizens of the world, to be part of the community of nations and humanity that at present are bedevilled by atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide. There is indeed a revealed book, the Qur’an, full of wisdom and guidance to lead humanity out of its cycles of hatred, tyranny, oppression and war. "[This is] a Book we have revealed onto thee, in order that thou mightest lead humankind out of the depth of darkness into the light" (Ibrahim 14:1). Indeed its simple directions for human conduct are plain and easy to understand and act upon. "And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and to remember" (ad-Dukhan 44:58).
The Qur’an provides a deep insight into human nature and human behaviour, and the type of behaviour Allah the absolute creator requires of His creation as His representative (khalifa) on earth. Allah says: "I will create a vicegerent [to be my representative] on earth" (al-Baqarah 2:30), a trustee of free personality and free will: "every soul draws the consequences [only] of its own action" (an-Nahl 16:111), under moral obligation to change him or herself, society and the larger environment to create morally and ethically balanced selves and a just society (Al-e Imran 3:110). The Qur’an states clearly that human personality is not only physical and psychological but is also spiritual in nature, and is in possession of self- consciousness as well as God-consciousness (al-A’raf 7:172).
Indeed, to fulfill the purposes of human creation, parents need to raise citizens who are morally responsible for establishing a just and peaceful local society as well as world. "You are the best community which has ever been brought forth for the guidance of humankind: you enjoin good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah" (Al-Imran 3:110). So the Qur’an provides clear guidance regarding one’s relationship with oneself, with Allah the Creator and with all others in His creation: it tells us that He has created humanity from the same essence or nafs (soul). "Humankind! Be conscious of your sustainer who created you of a single soul" (al-Nisa’ 4:1). This conception of human creation, "created of one soul", is unlike any other social, philosophical or religious idea that has been presented to humanity, because it leaves no room for racial, ethnic or gender superiority among nations. "And among His signs is the creation of heaven and earth, and the variation in your languages and in your colours. Verily in that are signs for those who know" (ar-Rum 30:22).
Moreover the focus of reform in the Qur’an is the individual personality, when it clearly points out that the condition of the people will not change unless they change their thinking and behaviour (ar-Ra’d 13:11). According to the Qur’an the locus of control is within the self: "Say, every one acts according to his [or her] disposition" (al-Isra’ 17:84). The child learns from a young age how to be responsible for its behaviour; this behaviour includes relationships with parents, family, society and the world. So the role of parents in instilling these values – through education, public institutions or agencies, and private organizations – in their children is vital and indispensable.
These days, to meet their own needs, parents increasingly rely on day-care centres, baby-sitters, tutors, educators, health-care providers, early-childhood classes and organised social activities. As partners in our children’s education, however, we simply cannot afford to abdicate our responsibility and leave educators and other professionals to instil ethical and moral values in our children without reinforcement at home.
Children need role-models (also known as "good examples"), and parents are their primary examples. To be good role models themselves, parents must also have models or mentors of their own whose example they can emulate. For Muslim parents, the ultimate model is the ProphetMuhammad sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. "A good example you [men and women] have in Allah’s Messenger, for all whose hope is in Allah and in the Final Day and who remember Allah much": (al-Ahzab 33:21). His deeds were local, but had global implications for social justice, economic equality and harmony between different cultures, races, genders and religions. We need to translate these global Islamic values into day-to-day reality for our children if they are to be worthy future representatives of Allah in the world community.
The most difficult and demanding challenge for parents today is not determining which civic or religious ideals to pass on to their children, but how to translate them effectively into daily routine. How can parents achieve this when both are juggling multiple jobs? Burdened by social and economic pressure, crime, violence, stressful family relationships and a confusing political environment, they feel their confidence continually eroded as they try to be good nurturers and models for their children. Therefore parents need guidance too, to help them translate Islamic ideals into daily life and the lives of their children. All this begins at home.
We must nurture and protect the family as the primary social system and the natural environment for achieving children’s physical, psychological and moral growth. Children need a safe, peaceful, understanding, loving, just environment in which to grow. As we move into the postmodern world of parenting, we must find fundamental principles to serve as signposts. A wealth of such principles, or signs (ayaat), can be found in the Qur’an. These vital signposts already exist in our rhetoric, but parents need actively to apply them in their own homes. They need to understand the concepts and underlying meanings of these Qur’anic principles, and to translate them into everyday reality.
Children should be raised to understand fully their own rights, obligations and responsibilities as Muslims, as well as those of their parents, community, society and ultimately the world itself. The Qur’an directs children persuasively, appealing to their emotions. It asks children "to show kindness to parents; and if one of them or both of them attain old age, then not even a word of disapprobation or disgust be uttered" (al-Isra’ 17:23), let alone repulsing them. They should be addressed politely and graciously, "lowering unto them the wing of submission and kindness" (al-Isra’ 17:24). The Qur’an links worship of Allah with kindness to parents. "Thy Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you show kindness to parents" (al-Isra’ 17:23), "And that you be kind to your parents" (Luqman 31:14).
Children must understand what it means to be a Muslim. It means, first and foremost, to believe in Allah, who is "Rabb al-’alameen", Creator and Sustainer of all peoples and the entire universe. The Qur’an tells us that Allah’s creation is "for just ends" (al-Hijr 15:85), not in "idle sport" (al-Anbiya’ 21:16); humanity has been created to serve Allah and is fashioned "in the best of moulds" (at-Tin 95:4).
According to Qur’anic teaching, service of Allah cannot be separated from service to humankind, or – in Islamic terms – believers in Allah must honour both huqooq-Allah (Allah’s rights) and huqooq al-’ibaad (His creatures’ rights). Fulfilment of one’s duties to Allah and mankind constitutes righteousness (al-Baqarah 2:177).
These basic concepts are first put into practice in the home, among our extended families, our friends, schools, places of work and worship, our communities, our countries and, finally, the world. It involves parents in setting limits, formulating rules and teaching children to take moral responsibility for their own behaviour as "vicegerent" of Allah. This means also enforcing punishment and according privileges. Children may be guided by what their parents say, but it is their parents’ deeds and actions that will have greater impact on their children. Therefore it is for parents to shape the Islamic identity of the children as they prepare to inherit the global culture now being promoted so assiduously.
There are certainly no guarantees, but with these principles in mind parents can expose the youth to basic Islamic values and concepts, thus preparing them for their adult lives. To achieve this goal, children need to know how to apply and integrate these basic Qur’anic principles to daily life.
1. Children must be able to think critically and rationally if they are to understand the Qur’anic principles governing human behaviour in order to maintain a proper balance between knowledge (‘ilm) and practice (‘amal). The Qur’an does not merely appeal to emotions while exhorting belief and righteousness. It argues and appeals throughout its text to our reason; it urges human beings to reflect on natural phenomena both in the heavens and the earth, and by a synthesis of observation and reflection to draw conclusions by the use of one’s intellect (‘aql).
2. Children should know their rights and responsibilities, which begin at home and continue outward, encompassing the local and global arena.
3. Children should understand the importance of volunteering: at home regularly helping their parents; and in the community helping neighbours, sharing their time with the elderly, visiting the sick and sharing their resources with others.
4. Children should learn to fit in with others. It means resolving conflicts with fair words, not clenched fists; it also means listening to one another, expressing oneself, developing self-esteem, being a good team-player, having good manners, and demonstrating civility to all.
5. Children should learn to participate actively in the political process, so as to improve economic and social conditions, both locally and internationally. They need to understand that global action has local impact – in effect, they need to "think locally, act globally’.
6. Children should make the natural environment part of their entire life’s concern. As stewards (or caring preservers) and inheritors of this planet, it is their task to take responsibility for the world’s finite resources and seemingly infinite consumption habits. This means recycling, reusing materials, preparing and eating healthy and locally-produced foods, taking care of plant ecology, and managing wisely the goods and gear we have.
7. Children should be engaged in projects involving people in other lands, to learn how to accept and celebrate human differences and gain self-confidence. They need to know that there are many others with whom we share this planet and its resources.
8. Children should understand that history matters. The Qur’an draws attention repeatedly to the misdeeds of previous peoples, and to their destruction as the consequence of those misdeeds. The warning is that if past misdeeds produced all those disastrous results, or if, conversely, virtuous deeds bore fruit in the form of desirable results, the same principle still governs the interaction between Allah’s will and human affairs.
9. Children need to understand where they come from and feel sufficiently confident in their own religious and cultural identity to appreciate others’ customs and practices.
10. Children should experience the continuing, stable love of family and friends. This means being able freely to express emotions – love, humour and respect – within the family.
Throughout human history parents have provided civil society with well-adjusted, hardworking and honest future citizens. Effective civic education based on Islamic concepts begins and continues at home, where the laying of foundations is a daily process for the development of ethical and moral values, reinforced by interactions with school and the rest of the community. Regardless of what messages children get from their schools, day-care or pre-school, they learn many of their most important and fundamental lessons from their own family and family friends. So the family must be protected as the fundamental unit in society, and as the natural environment for children’s emotional, physical, moral, religious and social well-being and growth. Because children learn their first lessons in citizenship at home, parents must take the initiative, and be fully engaged in this process as the driving engine of society.
[Mrs Wahida Valiante MSW is a family counsellor and national vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. She is an author on south Asian families and youth.]