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Parents’ responsibilities for the care and upbringing of their children are mentioned in several verses of the Quran, as well as in the Hadeeth.
Allah Almighty Says (what means): “O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones…" [Quran 66:6]
How do we ward off that fire from our families? We need to show to them the right way and to teach them the difference between right and wrong. An excellent example of this is found in the words of Luqmaan to his son, related in the Quran, where he admonishes him:
1. Not to ascribe divine powers to anything other than Allah.
2. To be good and kind to parents.
3. To obey parents unless they command what is wrong.
4. To understand that all our deeds, however minor, are recorded and will be brought to light.
5. To be constant in prayer.
6. To enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.
7. To bear what befalls him with patience.
8. To avoid pride, arrogance and boastfulness.
9. To be modest in manner and speech.
This is a model example of parental responsibility and advice. Luqmaan guides his own son on the path to paradise with simple but memorable words.
Children are a trust given to the parents. Parents will be held accountable for this trust on the Day of Judgment. Parents are essentially responsible for the moral, ethical and the basic and essential religious teachings of their children.
If parents fulfill this responsibility, they will be free of the consequences on the Day of Judgment. The children will become better citizens and a pleasure to the eyes of their parents, first in this life, and in the Hereafter.
Allah, Almighty Says (what means): “And those who believed and whose descendants followed them in faith – We will join with them their descendants, and We will not deprive them of anything of their deeds. Every person, for what he earned, is retained...” [Quran 52:21]
This parental responsibility belongs not only to the father. The Prophet is reported to have said: "Take care! Each of you is a shepherd and each of you shall be asked concerning his flock; a leader is a shepherd of his people, and he shall be asked concerning his flock; and a man is a shepherd of the people of his house, and he shall be asked concerning his flock; and a woman is a shepherd of the house of her husband and over their children, and she shall be asked concerning them.”[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Indeed the mother’s role may be even greater: while the children are young they are very close to her and dependent upon her, and they spend more time with her than with anyone else. There is an Arabic saying: “The mother is the first school”. She may be a good school, an indifferent or even a bad school. She may even be unaware that she is serving as a role model in her behavior, and her attitudes. Every mother should be conscious of her role and do her best to make it beneficial for the development of her children as they set out on the journey of life.
Parental care and guidance are fundamental to child upbringing. Some parents nowadays become so preoccupied with their jobs or with making money or with their social lives that children are often neglected. They may be ignored or left for hours with the television or computer or they may be sent to day-care centers at a very early age to be cared for in groups by other people.
The parents’ right to respect from their children is dependent upon the children’s right to loving care and guidance of their parents.
It is related that a man once came to ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab, the second Khaleefah (Caliph) of Islam, may Allah be pleased with him, complaining of his sons’ disobedience to him. ‘Umar summoned the boy and spoke of his disobedience to his father and his neglect of his rights. The boy replied: “O Ameer al-Mu’mineen (Prince of believers)! Hasn’t a child rights over his father?”
“Certainly”, replied ‘Umar.
“What are they, Ameer al-Mu’mineen?”
“That he should choose his mother, give him a good name and teach him the Book (the Quran).”
“O Ameer al-Mu’mineen! My father did nothing of this. My mother was a Magian (fire worshipper). He gave me the name of Julalaan (meaning dung beetle or scarab) and he did not teach me a single letter of the Quran.”
Turning to the father, ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “You have come to me to complain about the disobedience of your son. You have failed in your duty to him before he has failed in his duty to you; you have done wrong to him before he has wronged you.”
Education and bringing up in Islam
Allah Almighty Says (what means): “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion..."[Quran 5: 3]
Education is the process by which children are nurtured as they grow up to develop the Islamic worldview and the Islamic virtues.
Education means to look after, to nurture, to nourish, to help grow and flourish. It implies certain sensitivity towards the child under your care, his emotional and physical needs and capacities. It implies the ability to inspire confidence. It implies the courage to allow and promote creativity and innovation. It implies the ability to trust and not to stifle, to be firm when needed and even to impose sanctions when necessary.
The starting point for education is the example of parents. Small children take their parents as models. If parents are lazy and careless, the children will also take laziness and carelessness as normal. If they tell lies, children will regard lying as normal and acceptable. The same applies to smoking, drinking, rude manners, swearing and all other bad habits. There is no way parents can motivate their children to practice the Islamic virtues if they themselves do not respect the values and try to practice them also. As children grow up, they will only perceive the inconsistency or even hypocrisy in their parents’ approach.
It is important not to crush a child’s spirit and joy about life by terrorizing him/her, whether physically or psychologically. Children must play. It is the way they learn, and is not in itself something bad. Parents should give the child opportunities to play and to experience the excitement of exploration, of learning and of growing up.
At the same time, parents should teach children Islamic manners and etiquette in accordance with the beautiful example of the Prophet .
Such habits include truthfulness and honesty, gentleness, politeness, consideration for others, helpfulness, cleanliness and tidiness.
They also include:
1. Time management and doing things at the right time.
2. Physical exercise for fitness.
3. Mental exercise and developing an appetite for knowledge, understanding and skills.
4. Learning to read and recite the Quran from an early age when the child’s memory finds it easy.
5. Development of regular performance of Prayer between the ages of 7 and 10.
6. Taking on responsibilities in the family.
7. Taking on responsibilities in the wider community as children grow up.
Above all, correct education should ensure that children develop a love for Islam, a love for Allah and His Prophet and that they develop a feeling of pride in being Muslim and willingness to strive for the good of others. They need to realize the benefits of Islam, the foundations on which it is based and their need for Islam. They need to value Islam and live by Islamic values.
It is the responsibility of the parents to experiment with various ways of achieving those goals.
Islamic education and Muslim schools
If parents are to get the best results for their children in Muslim schools, they must know what the Muslim school is trying to do. Parents need to understand that while the school basically may be following a National Curriculum (which in some countries may be compulsory), the teaching approach is expected to be holistic. Therefore it is not just a matter of teaching Islamic Studies, Quran and Arabic under the same roof as Arts and Sciences, but of developing an integrated Islamic perspective on all forms of knowledge right across the curriculum. At the same time, the school is trying to cultivate good attitudes, behavior and manners in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
'Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, is reported to have said of the Prophet that: “His behavior was the Quran (in practice)”.[Ahmad] To take the Prophet as a “beautiful example” means not just to imitate his outward actions or practices but also to base our own motivation and actions on the Quran as he did, in a way that is appropriate to the place and time in which we happen to live.
The approach of a modern Muslim School, which may be located in a modern “secular” or non-Islamic type of environment, cannot be like that of Islamic education of the recent past, when teaching relied much on repetition and memorization and uncritical acceptance of the teachers’ word. The Islamic teaching must relate with the society in which the pupils live, with the state of modern knowledge and with the beliefs of other people (probably the majority) in the country where the school is located. If Muslim children are to grow up as witnesses to the truth in a non-Muslim society, they need to understand that society and to develop an objective and critical approach, so that they can appreciate whatever is good in it, avoid its evils and reach out to the non-Muslims, presenting the truths of Islam in a way they can understand Islam and relate to it.
If you type the words, “kindness to parents” in Google ,six of the first ten results are Islamic articles stressing the importance of being dutiful and kind to parents. Why is this so? Islam is a religion that stresses the qualities of mercy, tolerance and respect. God has ordained the good treatment of parents and warned us against treating them with disrespect. There are several verses in the Quran where kindness to parents is even coupled with the most important aspect of Islam, worshipping God alone. This indicates that being kind to parents, honouring and respecting them, is extremely important in the way of life that is Islam.
“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.” (Quran 17:23)
No word of disrespect should be uttered toward a parent, nor even a look of resentment or contempt. Honouring parents can be considered a form of worship if the intention is to please Almighty God by respecting His commands.
God continues this verse by reminding us that parents are deserving of kindness because they raised their children with gentleness and oftenmade great sacrifices for their wellbeing. His use of the word wing invokes the image of a mother bird tenderly shielding her young and calls to mind the gentleness that parents have for their children.
“And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.’” (Quran 17:24)
The love and mercy that emanates from the Most Merciful God is manifest in the kind treatment existing between parents and their children. God clearly prohibits the bad treatment of parents, and in another verse of the Quran He enjoins on us the need to show gratitude to Him, our Creator, as well as our parents. Again, God clearly links the rights owed to Him to the rights owed to parents.
“And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.” (Quran 31:14)
Prophet Muhammad reinforced the duty to be kind to parents. A companion of the Prophet once asked him which of the many good deeds a man can do is the most loved by God. Prophet Muhammad answered him by saying, “To offer the prayer in its proper time”. The companion then asked, “And what is next?” to which Prophet Muhammad replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents…”. The responsibility to be kind and good to parents comes right after the greatest duty in Islam, the prayer.
More than Goodness
The Arabic word that is used in the Quran and the narrations of Prophet Muhammad to denote this kindness to parents as bir, and more often than not, it is translated as goodness. However, as is the case with most Arabic words, a direct translation into English often fails to explain the true depth of meaning. Bir does not only mean goodness; it contains shades of meaning that indicate kindness, compassion, respect and even patience. Islam, the way of life, encompasses all these qualities, and Muslims must strive to model this behaviour in all dealings, particularly in the relationship between parents and children.
Parents care for and nurture their children their entire lives, but at one point this duty reverses, parents become old and feeble and in need of this care and nurturing themselves. The child is obligated to care for the parents by displaying all the qualities of bir and knowing that the reward for this is with God. The Prophet Muhammad said, “If anyone possesses these three characteristics God will give him an easy death and bring him into His Paradise: gentleness towards the weak, affection towards parents, and kindness to slaves.”
One Man’s Devotion
Abu Hurairah was a close companion of Prophet Muhammad; he is credited with remembering and transmitting many of the Prophets’ sayings. The life of Abu Hurairah also contains many demonstrations of his love and devotion to his mother. When he first embraced Islam, no amount of pleading could convince his mother to do the same. Weeping and afraid, Abu Hurairah approached the Prophet and begged him to make supplication to God asking that his mother be guided. Prophet Muhammad complied with this request and within a very short period of time Abu Hurairah’s mother uttered the words, “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his slave and Messenger”, thus embracing Islam.
Throughout his life, Abu Hurairah remained kind and courteous to his mother. Whenever he wanted to leave home, he would stand at the door of her room and say, “Peace be on you mother, and the mercy and blessings of God.” She would reply, “And on you be peace, my son, and the mercy and blessings of God.” He would also say, “May God have mercy on you as you cared for me when I was small,” to which she would reply, “May God have mercy on you as you delivered me from error when I was old.”
Abu Hurairah always encouraged other people to be kind and good to their parents. One day he saw two men walking together and enquired of the younger one, “Who is this man to you?” to which the young man replied, “He is my father”. Abu Hurairah advised him by saying, “Do not call him by his name, do not walk in front of him, and do not seat yourself before he does”.
This gentleness and affection between Abu Hurairah and his mother teaches us that mutual respect and love is a duty. A Muslim is obliged to show respect towards parents even if they are non-Muslim, and the greatest love he can show towards them is to supplicate to God in hope that they will be guided to Islam.At the time of the Prophet, many of those who embraced Islam found that it conflicted with the beliefs and requests of their parents, but they were taught to be kind and to obey their parents, except if the parents demanded they disobey God.
“But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.” (Quran 31:15)
Being dutiful to parents, obeying them and treating them with kindness is embedded in the teachings of Islam, however obedience to God is always the first and foremost duty in Islam.