“Why don’t they listen?”
“Where did I go wrong?”
“How can I guide them ?”
These – and other similar questions – are on the minds of Muslim parents across the globe, as a generation of young Muslims comes of age, brought up on mixed messages gleaned from culturally conservative parents and morally permissive societies.
As many bewildered parents are discovering to their chagrin, the days when children were dutiful, tractable chips off the old block who lived by the principle of “We hear and we obey” (Sami’na wa ata’na) are long gone. Today’s children are more likely to be the personification of Fitnah alluded to in the Qur’an (64:15, 8: 28) than the proverbial “coolness of eyes.”
Explaining the concept of children as Fitnah, Ibn Al-Qayyim says, “The word Fitnah carries different meanings (depending upon the context in which it has been used in the Qur’an) – it can be a test or trial from Allah to His slaves by means of both good things and bad, blessings and calamities…” (Zaad Al-Ma’ad, vol. 3, p. 170).
Linguists say that the root of the word Fitnah is taken from the phrase ‘Fatantu al-fiddah wa’l-thahab’ [I assayed/tested (the quality of) the silver and gold] – implying a literal and metaphorical trial by fire to separate the bad from the good, the worthy from the unworthy.
What’s the best way for a parent to go through this trial and emerge successful, according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, and the practice of our predecessors?
Sincerity and du’a
The Qur’an speaks of the mother of Maryam, who prayed for a righteous child who would serve Allah:
“(Remember) when the wife of ‘Imran said: “O my Lord! I have vowed to You what (the child that) is in my womb to be dedicated for Your services, so accept this from me.” (Qur’an, 3:35)
Similarly, the Prophet Zakariyah (peace be upon him) was satisfied with the decree of Allah and remained childless all through his life, until in his old age he prayed for offspring who would “inherit me, and inherit (also) the posterity of Ya’qub (Jacob) (inheritance of religious knowledge and Prophethood, not of wealth). And make him, my Lord, one with whom You are Well-pleased!” (Qur’an, 19:6)
These parents prayed for and aspired to raise children who were obedient to Allah, not just to their own whims and vanities or to the dictates of whatever was socially and culturally acceptable in their time, which is why their children were “neither Jabbaar (overbearing) nor asiy (rebellious).”
As parents, it’s not enough for us to verbally say “Allah knows best” when it comes to raising our children; we must trust in the Wisdom of His laws and manifest this trust in our actions. One parent who displayed extraordinary trust in the Guidance of Allah was the mother of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), to whom it was revealed:
“Suckle him and then when you fear for him, cast him into the river. Do not fear or grieve; We will return him to you and make him one of the Messengers.” (Qur’an, 28:7)
Many of us stop short of following the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah in our lives because we fear it may make us appear “extreme” or “strange” in the eyes of others, forgetting that the promise of Allah extends to those who follow His guidance: that they shall “neither fear nor grieve.”
Struggle and patience
Sa’i means to struggle and refers to the seven circuits made by pilgrims between the two mounts Safa and Marwah, in the footsteps of Hajar, the mother of Isma’il (peace be upon him), remembering her desperate search for water for her thirsty child.
Parenting is a taxing work by design, which is why, if done with a spirit of patience and fortitude, it is rewarded many times over in this world and the Hereafter. Parents who deny their children time, attention, and guidance may not discover until it’s too late that there are no shortcuts to raising righteous children, no matter how good one’s original intentions are.
The story of Prophets Yusuf and Ya’qub (peace be upon him) in the Qur’an and the advice of Luqman to his son prove that parents are intended to be sources of spiritual guidance and practical wisdom for their children. If parents relinquish their responsibility as caregivers and counselors, who can blame a child for being amenable to corrupting external influences, and later acting on them? Contrary to what many of us believe, parental wisdom doesn’t mean merely lecturing a child on his duties in Islam, it means ‘walking the talk’, and inspiring them tactfully, without alienating or coercing them.
Surrender to Allah’s decree
One of the most poignant verses in the Qur’an is the exchange between Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) and his son as he embarks on the Ark and the waves grow as large as mountains around him:
Nuh called out to his son, who had kept himself apart, “My son! Come on board with us. Do not stay with the unbelievers!” He said, “I will take refuge on a mountain; it will protect me from the flood.” He said, “There is no protection from Allah’s command today except for those on He has mercy.” Then, the waves surged in between them and he was among the drowned.” (Qur’an, 11:42-43)
When Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) entreated Allah saying, “O Lord, Indeed my son is of my family!”, he received the answer: “O Nuh! Surely, he is not of your family; indeed his work is unrighteous, so do not ask Me of which you have no knowledge!” (Qur’an, 11:45-46)
Too many parents today are frustrated and disheartened when despite their best efforts, they find their children straying from the Straight Path. We forget that we can only direct our children, ultimately guidance belongs to Allah alone – there is a point beyond which the only weapons which parents can rely on are patience and prayer.