One of the greatest challenges a Muslim will ever face is being a parent. This is one challenge, however, many of us are least prepared for. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that our children are our trial and as such we should take the task of parenting seriously, and start learning from each other. In my experience in dealing with my own family and counseling other Muslim families, a model has developed based on what I call “The Positive Approach”.

Compassion (Rahmah)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated: “He is not of us who does not have compassion for his fellow beings.” It is interesting to note that when it comes to Hadith like this or Qur’anic quotes dealing with human behavior, we never stop to think that our children and family members are also our fellow human beings and that these golden rules must also be applied to them. Compassion is only one component of the concept of mercy (rahmah) — the others being kindness, respect, and of course love. Remember the displeasure of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when Al-Aqra Ibn Habis told him how he had never kissed any of his 10 children. Upon hearing that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told him, “You have no mercy and tenderness at all. Those who do not show mercy to others will not have God’s mercy shown to them.”

Consultation (Shoura)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) has related that Allah says: “Oh My servant. I look on high-handedness as something not permissible for Myself, and I have forbidden it for you. So do not oppress each other”. When we consult with each other in the domestic realm, both husband and wife must show respect for each other. This is one of the best ways to bond and to learn and listen to each other and to resolve conflicts. However, the consultation will only be fruitful if it is sincere and not merely a formality. Imposition of one’s ideas with scant regard to the welfare of the whole family unit defeats the purpose of the most important Qur’anic principle.

The concept of cooperation in Islam is most beautifully illustrated in Surah Al-Asr : “… counsel each other to the truth (haq), and counsel each other to patience and fortitude (sabr)”. When a family unit cooperates in this manner, they truly capture the spirit of Islam — the welfare of each member of the family becomes the concern of the other.

It is extremely important that our families commit themselves as a unit to Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him ): “Obey Allah and His Prophet and those in authority over you” (Surah An-Nisa). This collective commitment gives us an identity and maps out our purpose — namely that we all belong to Allah and are accountable and responsible to Him.

Communication is more than talking. It is an essential part of family life. It is both talking in a manner in which others can understand you, and hearing in a manner in which you can listen and understand others. So many times people claim that they have no communication problem since they are always talking. However, the majority of the time they are talking “at” and not talking “to” the other person. This mode usually results in the recipient tuning out. Many children learn at an early age to tune out their parents. When communication is a means of listening, understanding, and exchanging ideas, it is the most powerful tool to effective parenting and the best shield against peer and societal pressures. It also teaches children skills to solve problems.

An important component of positive communication is a sense of humor when parents and children can laugh together. Communication can also be instrumental in passing down family history and thus creating oneness and togetherness by sharing a mutual heritage (children love to hear about family stories).

Effective parenting requires that we are consistent in our value judgments, discipline, and moral standards. Many parents inadvertently apply double standards to boys and girls when it comes to social behavior and domestic chores. This is unacceptable, and leads to sibling rivalry and stereotypical males and females.

Family is with whom we can feel safe and secure. Where we know our secrets are safe and where there is mutual trust. Unfortunately, we parents often betray the trust of our children when we discuss their concerns which they confide in us to outsiders. This leads to mistrust, and sooner or later our children will stop confiding in us. This leads them to find confidants outside the family, and sometimes this can be detrimental to their spiritual and moral growth.

The greatest gift we can give our children is that of contentment. This can be developed very early in life by encouraging our children to give thanks to Allah for all they have by discouraging materialism by word and example, and by counting the blessings every night and remembering the less fortunate.

It is the duty of parents to build confidence in their children through encouragement and honest and sincere praise. By developing confidence, we give our children the courage to stand up for themselves and their beliefs and to be able to deal with opposition.

By teaching restraint and avoiding excesses we develop in our children traits for control so that they do not become slaves to their desires (nafs).

By encouraging and showing calm in matters of adversity and in times of panic we improve our taqwa and teach our children to rely on Allah and to turn to Allah alone for all needs. Allah says in the Qur’an that the best statement of the believers in times of adversity or musibah is, “Indeed we are from Allah and to Him is our return.”

Courage of conviction can only be achieved when we have been able to teach our children true Islam. We should take advantage of every learning opportunity as a family so that our faith (iman) flourishes and evolves toward Ihsan as a family unit. In this manner we can be a source of strength to each other.

Critical thinking
The Qur’an encourages us over and over again to think, reflect, ponder, understand and analyze. However, very rarely do parents encourage children to question. Our response to difficult inquiries from our children is to say “do it because I said so”. This discourages the children from developing critical thinking. They become lazy and complacent and easy prey to cult type following. To take things at face value makes us vulnerable.

The most important attitude of a Muslim personality is, as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated : “Do you not wish that Allah forgives you? Then forgive your brothers and sisters”. Many relationships break because people are not able to forgive each other. It is important that parents make up in front of their children by forgiving each other after an argument. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated “Like for your brother what you like for yourself”. So if husbands and wives expect respect from each other they should give respect. A charitable nature also encourages us to overlook people with their shortcomings and to be sensitive and to have empathy.