Author: Umm Salihah
I have tried my best, but I always feel that I could do better. I suspect this is the case with most parents – they are never satisfied at the job they are doing.
Now that I am at home full time with the children for the next few months on maternity leave, I had planned to focus on a few habits the children have picked up and review where I had been doing a decent job and where I could improve. There are a few habits which have been concerning me, some swearing that has crept in and Little Lady’s bad temper being two.
This week my mum said to me that now that I am home, I need to focus on the children’s manners – she said that she didn’t feel that the children had particularly great “tarbiyah” or upbringing and that I needed to rectify this. At first I felt a little hurt and defensive – after all it is not for lack of trying and there is nothing that is more important to get right, so I could not stomach the idea of doing a bad job. Then I thought about what she had said. I believe in taking criticism on board and thinking through what might have prompted it, even if I don’t agree with it. When it comes from my mum, I am minded even more to reflect on what has been said.
I felt a bit lost as to how I could assess whether I was raising my children well and what else I should be doing or not doing. I realised that I needed to go back to a definition of what tarbiyah was. In Arabic tarbiyah means “growth” or “cultivation”, for Muslims this term is used generally to refer to a child’s development and education. I have come across a number of definitions:
- “to take care of that which is necessary for the development of the one being raised… the word Ar Rabb (the Lord) is derived from the word tarbiyah (to nurture)”1
- “…to nurture, rear or to take care of a child from stage to stage until he / she becomes obedient and righteous”2
- “rearing and raising a good righteous Muslim that is sound and complete in all matters such as health, mentality, religion, spirit, ethics, management and creativity”3
When I think of what is considered tarbiyah in my parent’s culture, it tends to mean certain things:
- Being obedient to your parents (and to pretty much anyone else older than you that happens to be around)
- Speaking good Urdu
- Being seen and not heard
- Not getting messy or dirty.
- Never, ever answering back
- And I am not sure what else….
In the weekly halaqah (study circle) I attend, correct tarbiyah of ourselves and our children is something that the women have been exploring. The key elements of good tarbiyah and tools for developing it that were discussed are summarised as:
- Iman or faith – basically meaning that we should teach our children that everything is from Allah (SWT), that He created us and that He fulfils our needs. We should turn to Him in our difficulty and rely on Him only.
- The Sunnah – ensuring that we live by the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This requires us to study how he lived his everyday life, how he conducted his business and relationships and then to emulate this where appropriate. Very often, we will say that something that is sunnah is not obligatory but just encouraged. This leaves us the option of dropping the sunnah from our everyday lives. In reality we should value the sunnah and work hard to make it a reality in our and our children’s lives.
- Salaah or prayer – We should encourage our children to join in the five daily prayers so that it becomes a lifelong habit. This habit also instils discipline in other areas such as cleanliness and timekeeping. Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us to encourage our children to perform their salaah from the age of seven.
- Knowledge – we need to educate our children regarding their faith from a young age so that they know what is halal and haram, what is permissible and forbidden and how to conduct our everyday lives in the way that Allah (SWT) has commanded.
- Remembrance – This requires us encouraging our children to remember their Creator throughout the day through their “masnoon” prayers such as those for entering the house, entering the bathroom, before eating, before sleeping, on waking etc. This also requires us to teach our children to use Islamic expressions: saying Bismillah when starting anything new, Alhamdulillah rather than saying OK, Masha’allah when they like something, Astughfiruallah when they don’t.
- Ikhlaq or good character – this focuses on the way we behave towards others. Islam provides guidance on the best way to behave towards different people – respect for our elders, kindness towards our youngsters, and civility towards our neighbours. Islam outlines the rights of each family member, of neighbours, of the poor and of the stranger, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. One element of this is reminding our children that a Muslim is one from whose tongue should feel safe and that we should take care never to engage in backbiting or slander.
- Sincerity – everything we do should be to please Allah (SWT). Our good deeds our rewarded on the basis of our intentions. Often our children will try to please or impress us. We should remind our children that everything that they do should be to please Allah (SWT) to gain the true reward.
- Calling to Allah – this one might sound strange when exploring raising children, but I included it because I remembered something that my husband said to me “as soon as you stop influencing others, they are influencing you, i.e. you either share with others about Islam and make an impact on those around you or you let society and your environment in general impact on you and shape you”. I believe we should encourage our children to be proud of their deen and to dress, behave and live accordingly. In doing so they become a form of dawah for their friends, peers and teachers. I remember one of my friends telling me that my daughter had asked if she was Muslim and when she had told her no, she thought my daughter had looked so disappointed, Alhamdulillah I realised then that Islam had become the norm and default for my children rather than something which makes them different.
I used the list above to make a more honest assessment of how I am raising my children. This made it easier to determine what I am doing right and what I could do better rather than just feeling like a failure. This gave me some clear things to work on, rather than some vague sense of things not being right. At the same time, it helped me to identify some things which might be considered bad manners but which do not bother me as much.
Prime amongst these for my children is asking for things. My middle son in particular is a foodie in the making and cannot contain himself when we go to visit friends. On one occasion, he came out and asked the hostess when she was going to go in the kitchen and get the food. In our (Pakistani) culture traditionally you never ask for food, unless amongst very close friends and only take it when offered, this is probably to avoid embarrassing a host who might not have anything available to fulfil a request. This particularly stands for children. So when my son goes to his Nan’s and the first thing he asks is what there is to eat, it looks like he has no manners. This one doesn’t particularly bother me and I have always encouraged my children to ask and ask again when they want something – a habit encouraged more in the West I think.
Insh’Allah I hope to keep learning more and working hard on this one. It occurred to me recently, that when I study and work hard to learn and achieve something I usually find a way to do well, why should this be any different? The guidance is available in the Quran and the Sunnah if we care to take the time to learn and practise insh’Allah. I believe our children are our greatest legacy and sadaqah jariyah (continuing charity) and I can live with failing in other things but not on doing a bad job of raising my children.
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