Author: Aisha Al Hajjar
MY nephew Hamza, huffs and puffs as I repeat myself for the third time instructing him to say ‘Bismillah’ (In the Name of Allah) before he eats his dinner. He’s hungry and as he just came back from school, all he wants to do is eat and sleep. He desperately looks over at his mother hoping for her to intervene but she looks away in support of what I am trying to teach him. Deep down, I wish I didn’t have to do this to my beloved nephew but I also know there’s no time like the present. My brother and his wife did not always insist on incorporating Islam into the daily lives of both Hamza and his younger sister, Huda. He might have been four and Huda, two, but I believe their parents should’ve started this from a much younger age.
My beloved nephew is stubborn (he gets it from our side) and as I am equally stubborn, neither of us give in. I tell him that he has between two simple choices; a) Say ‘Bismillah’ and you will eat your dinner and sleep, b) Sleep without dinner. Throwing a tantrum doesn’t help him and he insists on saying ‘No!’ even though I tell him; ‘Just say ‘Bismillah.’
I send him off to sleep and he cries in bed for a while until I feel guilty enough to go after him to comfort him. I tell him again, ‘Just say the word and you will have your dinner.’ He refuses and I leave the room amazed by his persistence. I think to myself ‘Poor child, it’s not his fault but he has to learn sooner than later.’ I briefly discuss the matter with my sister-in-law and she agrees that he should’ve been taught these basics before they became a burden.
The next morning, as my sister-in-law is getting him ready for school, she prepares him his breakfast as usual. From the memories of the night before, Hamza abandons his stuborness and rushes to say ‘Bismillah’ before the food was even served! Maskiin (poor thing!), he was obviously starving from the night before and didn’t want to risk anything even though we would’ve never deprived him of breakfast regardless of whether he said the word or not.
The important thing was that he learned a lesson and now, two years after that incident, I hear him say ‘Bismillah’ whenever he’s eating even if no one is paying attention. He even reminds others to say ‘Bismillah’ and both Huda and him exclaim ‘Alhamdulilah!’ when they sneeze.
This is a typical example of the difficulties one may face if they don’t teach their children at a young age and make Islamic teachings part of everyday life. Whenever I visit home, I do my best to spend time at my brother’s house in order to subtly teach my nephew and niece. I make them memorise Islamic nasheeds (songs of Islamic nature without music) for children as that’s one of the most entertaining ways to learn about Islamic etiquettes. I find it’s also important for them to learn about the foundations of the religion. My younger sister and I randomly ask them questions such as ‘Where is Allah?’ so that they point to the sky and say ‘Up! Up!’ or ‘In the sky!’ These little steps are essential in instinctively incorporating Islam in everything so that it’s an ever-present part of their daily lives.
I remember an exceptional lady I met few years ago in Mecca who told me how she teaches all her children to invoke Allah whenever they want something. She tells each of them to find a corner in the house and ask Allah from His favours, in private. From a young age, she instilled in them the importance of turning to Allah and seeking help from Him. Mashallah. Touched by this beautiful practice, I tried it with my nephew Hamza during Ramadan. One evening right before iftaar, I asked him to kneel down next to me and ask Allah ‘ANYTHING’ he wants as Allah loves to be asked, and answers our duas (supplications). Few days later, I saw his little hands covering his face, evidently supplicating. When I asked him what he was doing, he casually said ‘I am asking Allah for something’ as if he’d been doing it for years. Mashallah.
My mother’s friend has an amazing young boy that deeply loves Islam because his parents had instilled this love in him from a young age. When he was around five, he would fake a stomach-ache every Friday so he would miss school. But miraculously, he would feel better as his dad was getting ready for the Friday prayer. At first, his parents didn’t notice this ‘coincidence’ but in time, realised this was pre-meditated. But their youngest son Yahya was also special in other ways. For example, once his teacher complained about him for not looking at her whenever she addresses him in class. When his parents enquired about his seemingly impolite behaviour, he simply replied; ‘She does not cover her hair and wears low-cut tops so I can’t look at her when she’s talking to me.’ Subhanallah, how many adults do we know that think like that? May Allah preserve him and reward his parents with Jannatul Al-Firdous for such a remarkable upbringing. Ameen.
When I lived in Egypt, the youngest student in my Arabic class was a thirteen-year-old French girl. I loved to spend time with this young girl not only because I could practice my French and Arabic with her, but for her commendable manners and her knowledge of the religion. During break times we would discuss books we’ve read and exchange stories.
She would ask me if I had heard about the story of a particular Taabi (predecessor) or share with me a new hadith she had heard. She didn’t just love to read, she had parents who would make all their children sit together in the evenings and narrate to them stories and ahaadeeth (the sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammed – Peace and Blessings of Allah Be Upon Him) that were evident in their children’s manners and approach to life.
Some afternoons, that young girl and her three younger sisters would come to visit my sister and I as we lived in the same neighbourhood. They would never come to our house empty- handed but would bring with them whatever sweets or drinks they could afford from their own pocket money. During their visits, we’d talk about different things, switching between French and Arabic, and whenever I tried to tell them a hadith or a story that was relevant to their young minds, they would tell me they’ve heard about it,mashallah. This meant I had to prepare in advance for their visits in order to have a story or hadith they hadn’t previously heard! Subhanallah, even the youngest of the girls who was then four years old, would sometimes tell us a hadith and in her baby-like voice say in Arabic with a soft French accent ‘Man qaala la illaaha illa Allah, dakhala Al-Janna’ (Whomsoever says there is no god worthy of worship except Allah, enters Paradise).
When children like these grow up and Allah protects their faith from calamities, they will grow up to be not just exceptional adults but also exceptional and exemplary Muslims that will insha Allah benefit the ummah, and raise a new generation of equally exceptional Muslims. Righteousness often breeds righteousness, and Allah protects the children of the righteous because the parents have protected the boundaries of Allah and taught their offspring to do the same.
What we teach children will be seen in their manners, astuteness and dreams, so make sure it’s worth teaching them. Many parental books will attempt to teach you how to raise your children but you should focus on the supreme code of conduct mentioned in the Quran, especially in the story of Luqman and the following advice he gave his son Tharan, in surah Al-Luqman (Quran: 31:13-19):
✔ Don’t associate partners with Allah. This is the ultimate form of oppression because you worship, glorify or depend on those who haven’t created you and can neither harm nor benefit you.
✔ Be mindful of Allah as He knows everything that’s in the heavens and the earth, so perform good deeds, stay away from bad deeds and expect your reward from Allah.
✔ Establish prayer. This includes guarding its conditions, its pillars, its obligatory and voluntary ones.
✔ Enjoin good and forbid evil.
✔ Have patience with that which befalls you in regards to enjoining good and forbidding evil as this is from the firmness of one’s affairs and conduct.
✔ Do not turn your face away with pride or walk on earth arrogantly for Allah does not love those who boast.
✔ Be moderate in your pace when walking and lower your voice for harshness of sound is an unpleasant quality found in the braying of the ass.
This advice from a father to his son is applicable to every era and to every Muslim as the ultimate parental guide to raising children that don’t just worship Allah accordingly, but who are also conscious of their conduct, even in the way they walk and talk.
Apply some of the points in this valuable advice before others so as to not overwhelm your children and do them according to their age and the soundness of their awareness.
The superiority of this advice also teaches us that any Muslim, whatever their age or background, can benefit from it and apply the indispensable lessons in these verses in their own lives. It’s therefore never too late to learn, and it’s certainly never too early to teach.
….Where Practice Makes Perfect
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