Thoughts on Parenting


by AbdelRahman Mussa

This article is a culmination of some of my thoughts about parenting, prompted by recent conversations. It is intended for both parents and grown adults. If you’re not a parent, you might find that some of what you will read gives you insight—insight that will allow you to change your perceptions of your parents for the better, insha’ Allah (God willing).

Community Leader Syndrome

Many parents today want to bring their kids up to be leaders. This is a noble endeavor, but I’d like to suggest the following:

I think that it would be wiser to bring your children up to have the capacity to be leaders, but not necessarily for them to be leaders. So don’t tell them, “I want you to be a community leader,” nor “You’ll make a good community leader.” This can lead to power-loving individuals. It can lead to control freaks. It leads to arrogance.

“And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height,” (Qur’an 17:37).

This was the advice of Luqman (radi allahu `anhu, may God be pleased with him) to his son.

We need to remember that as Muslims, we are not to seek leadership. We are to seek betterment: “I only intend reform as much as I am able,” (Qur’an 11:88).

And so, you bring your child up to be strong and therefore courageous. To know what is right and what is wrong and therefore trustworthy. To be charismatic—there is nothing wrong with that. To be inspirational even!

Then as they grow, opportunities will present themselves. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) will protect them. Allah (swt) will place them were they are best suited.

In a hadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ, (narrated in the sahih of Al-Hakim) he states that it is a betrayal to Allah (swt), His Messenger ﷺ and the Ummah at large to place someone in a seat of power that they are not best suited for. It is narrated that Umar ibn Alkhatab (ra) rejected any suggestions that his son, Abdullah, be the next khalifah (caliph), saying that it was enough for one of them to stand in front of Allah (ra), and be tried for that position on the day of Judgment!

You must also be aware that the child seeks your approval. Therefore, do not make him/her stretch for something that he/she might not be best suited for. Let him strive for taqwa (God consciousness) instead. Otherwise, your child might grow up feeling that they have let you down by not becoming the community leader you had wished for whilst they also avoid arrogance—it’s not a nice place to be, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We know the story of both prophets Musa (`alayhi assalaam, peace be upon him) and Yusuf (as).  Musa (as) was given a prophet’s daughter because he was strong and trustworthy.  Yusuf (as) asked for the position of power (chancellor) because he was best qualified for it—he was trustworthy and knowledgeable (a form of strength).

So, neither of these prophets acquired these characters with the intention to attain; rather, these characters brought for them opportunities that they couldn’t have conceived of before.

What to Concentrate on

There is also the question of how to bring up kids: do you bring them up in a bubble (usually associated with Islamic schooling) or do you risk letting them experience life as it is, in the hope that they do not grow to be naive?

I believe that if you bring your children up with the following two characteristics, things will work themselves out regardless of what you choose, insha’ Allah:

  • Courage
  • Knowing what is right and what is wrong.

It takes courage to implement what is right and to avoid what is wrong. But without knowledge, courage is only a shell, and it can be quite detrimental. Both are critical.

The Prophet ﷺ once described to a companion that if the whole world was to unite to harm him, they would not be able to—unless Allah (swt) had willed it so. And that if the whole world were to unite to help him, they would not be able to—unless Allah (swt) had willed it so.

You would think this advice was given to Khalid ibn Alwaleed (ra) or to Umar ibn AlKhatab (ra)—no! It was given to ibn Abas. He was between the ages of 9 and 13!

Details and More Details

I also think that parents love to over simplify things for their kids…they don’t want to mention too much because of all the “but why” questions, forgetting that the reply could always be: “I don’t know,” or “Why don’t you find out when you grow up?” or “Why don’t we ask someone?” These are opportunities to give your child self-reliance and curiosity. Instill within them the love of learning—it’s a form of worship.  And it’s an amazing opportunity for you to see things with a new light, to re-acquire that beautiful wonder that children bring to the world.

Engineer Failure

I believe that parents need to engineer the child’s failure. They need to have their children experience falling, betrayal by friends and failure in general. This will happen anyway, but hardly any parent teaches the child how to deal with the situation, how to stand again.

Give your child the first taste of business at the age of 11. Give him/her some money and tell him/her to invest it. Let him/her fail. It’s ok. It’s more than ok… it’s good. Tell them to try again until they succeed.

Let him/her learn the true meaning of trust—before you ever speak about it. Let him/her know what a bad friend can do and how harmful they can be—well before you teach them the hadeeth about the friend of a perfume seller as compared to the friend of a blacksmith.

Engineer it so that they fail, but in a safe manner. (That’s why it’s called engineering and not neglect!)

Failure and betrayal are viewed as a bug in the software and not as an integral part of the system (life). Failure is integral to success—to life itself. Teach your children how to deal with it. It will make them more courageous and less susceptible to bribes and emotional blackmail.

Reward them when they realize that they’ve made a mistake. Don’t ever tell them, “I told you so.”

By the way, the story of Yusuf—if you teach your children that, how can they be naive? The same holds for all the prophets and the seerah of the Beloved ﷺ.

So if you’re honest about things as you instill courageousness and you teach them right from wrong—this is good.

Don’ts

I was recently shocked during taraweeh prayer (late night prayer performed in Ramadan) when a parent rewarded his son by saying: “Because you’re praying in the mosque, I’m going to take you shopping.” This shocked me because the parent was associating akhira (the next life) with dunya (this life) and not the other way around. We work in dunya in order to attain the hereafter. We don’t pray such that we attain this life, although Allah (swt) rewards us with that as a positive byproduct.

It’s much better to tell your child: “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’re going to pray by yourself, not in jama’ah” (congregational prayer, which is more beneficial) or “Eat your vegetables so you can pray jama’ah with the adults.” You thereby associate dunya with the akhirah. The sequence is vital.

Never Ever

Don’t ever tell your child off by remarking, “You’re just like you mother/father,” and here’s why:

  • No one likes those that mock their parents. They will hate you (though you are a parent) for mocking their (other) parent.
  • They will also hate the other parent because you (a parent) told them to.
  • They will hate themselves because they now hate you. Why? Because no one likes someone that hates their parents…even if it’s themselves.
  • They will feel worthless because they have come from a worthless source (culmination of the above).

The Prophet ﷺ says that Allah (swt) will have Mercy on those that teach their children to be good to them. This is the opposite, so expect the opposite of Mercy from Allah (swt) if you partake in this.

Tips on Being a Good Parent

NOTHING ever beats action and being a good role model.

So be courageous, teach yourself courage, and learn your deen, your religion. Knowledge brings with it flexibility and you’ll need lots of that!

Those of you that are aware of my work will know that I break all desires into three wants: wanting control, wanting approval, and wanting security. You’ll also know what a want is by defining your lack. (You don’t want what you have, you only want what you lack. Wanting is not acquiring.)

To engineer failure, to teach your kids courage, you must let go of lacking security for your children. You must at your very fabric and core know that Allah (swt) is The Sustainer. I know of some parents that get up in the middle of the night to make sure their baby is still breathing. If you’re getting up anyway, that’s fine. But if you’re getting up every half an hour to check, that’s not so fine (except if advised by a medical practitioner).

You need to trust Allah (swt).

The Three Stages

The fourth Khalifah, Ali (ra) advised us to play with our children till the age of 7, to discipline and teach them from the age of 7 to 14 and to BEFRIEND them at the age of 14+.

I want to really focus on this.

You see, before the age of 14, you are ultimately their decision maker. You tell them: “All strangers are bad,” and they believe that, and that’s a good belief to instill in someone younger than 14. But after the age of 14, you need to teach them to dismantle some of what you’ve taught them.

“All strangers are bad” from the age of 14 onwards leads to a timid coward. Someone that fails interviews. Someone that can’t do da`wah (outreach). And this is just an example.

You need to teach them that you are not perfect. Don’t let them figure it out for themselves!

Teach them that you have a point of view, an opinion and that others have a different opinion. Teach them that your advice is important and that they should follow it, but that following your advice is THEIR decision. It’s a subtle but critical difference.

This creates the CAPACITY to lead. But you will still have the following desire: the want/lack of approval.

At a deep level, after 14 years of your child mostly obeying you, it seems that they are disrespecting you when they make their own decisions—EVEN if that decision is the same decision as your advice. And this could potentially be problematic; it leads to your child distancing themselves from you.

Teach them to value your opinion through experience, not just because you said so. THEY’LL COME TO YOU as a result.

It’s hard enough with the way society is engineered. Children are encouraged to disrespect authority (as opposed to respect it out of freedom), and then there are the ‘teenage years.’ What are those years about?

It is a time when your child defines him/herself. So give them the space to do so. Let them define themselves. If you’ve brought them up to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and if you’ve taught them courage, then you needn’t be afraid of social pressures. (Remember that you will have begun engineering little experiences by now to accelerate their realizations.)

But if you cave in on them, they’ll want freedom from you, not with you.

So befriend your children at the age of 14. Really befriend them. How do you talk to your friends? Not with a parental tone, that’s for sure!

Change

Around the age of 14, they start a period of lacking approval for themselves. They are trying to figure out if they are a good person or not. If people like them, they figure that they must be good. If you befriend them, they don’t need the attention from others as much.

Remember also that you must bring them up for their time, not yours. Ali (ra) is narrated to have also advised this.

May Allah (swt) bless and guide both the children and the adults of this ummah (community). Ameen!

AbdelRahman Mussa is the founder of iPersonalEnrichment.com

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24 Comments

  1. This is one of the insightful post that I have seen regarding parenting. Thank you for such an article

  2. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah khair for this very insightful post. I love how the respected author made some very imoportant points and pointed out some areas where some people will go wrong! Inshallah, all the readers will find this post to be very beneficial to them!

  3. Umm 'Azzam says:

    Salaam Bro Abdel Rahman, masya Allah a very good piece on parenting. I hope you would share the source of these beautiful sayings from Sayyidina Ali r.a. i.e. from which books or authors (if available). Sayyidina Ali was known for his wisdoms and I am sure many would like to learn more from him. Shukran jazilan.

    • AR says:

      Salamu Alaykom wa Rahmatullah Umm ‘Azzam,

      I read/heard this many times previously… I shall insha Allah endeavour to re-find the sources again for you :-)

  4. S says:

    Assalaamu alaikum
    Can you give references to the statements of Ali on the 3 stages & “bring them up for their time, not yours. Ali (ra) is narrated to have also advised this”

  5. Dalia abd. says:

    Asalam alakium,

    Mashallah as usual Abdul Rahman Musa does a a clear thorough simple and comprehensive insight on how we attack or address issues. As a student of knowledge learning how my words affects my family especially my sibling.
    Jazallahkhairan- May Allah SWT bless ur work to continue further Salams

  6. Sabeen says:

    Jazakallah Khair!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this post with new insights I haven’t read before. But I have trouble with the “3 stages”. It seems some parents take this too literally and don’t correct their children’s behavior at all when they are young. I’ve seen this kind of parenting allow children to firmly establish some very bad habits, that are quite difficult to break once the “discipline and teach” stage arrives. Can you offer some guidance regarding this? jazakAllah khair

    • AR says:

      Salamu Alaykom wa Rahmatullah,

      Firstly, think back to the cases that you’ve seen… where those children under 7 ?

      Secondly, you are right in that children should be corrected. The three stages are more a measure of the overall attitude that a parent should have towards their children.

      I’m thinking of the strict parent who maims their child by focusing on discipline at the age of 3 – that would be a flagrant error in my opinion. Having said that, if a child swears or if they are violent then the parent should take measures to discipline them.

      By discipline, I mean that they take a course of action to correct the behaviour. The course of action will differ from circumstance to circumstance.

      If the parent has set up values for the child by associating dunya to akhira and if they have instilled within them the adoration and longing for the Prophet (pbuh) and the companions… then a simple statement such as: “the prophet (pbuh) would never have done that… you’re name is Ubaida, he was so xyz, wouldn’t you like to be like that too ? ”

      … would be more than sufficient insha Allah.

      I hope this helps :-)

  8. “At a deep level, after 14 years of your child mostly obeying you, it seems that they are disrespecting you when they make their own decisions—EVEN if that decision is the same decision as your advice. And this could potentially be problematic; it leads to your child distancing themselves from you.”

    Superb article-full of wisdom! Jazakhallah!

  9. Naz says:

    JazakAllah khair for the article! Definitely a lot of gems in it, it got me thinking and I’m not even close to being a parent yet. I did have one question though: How do you suppose one should reward their child for deen-oriented accomplishments (such as the example you gave of the child praying taraweeh)? Do you think a reward is necessary at all? How does one approach such a situation?

    • AR says:

      BarakAllah feeki,

      Let me share a story with you:
      I know a man who brought his child up in a peculiar way… he would say to him before they ate anything: “If you don’t finish your ice-cream, you’re not going to have any salad !”

      This same kid… now well into his thirties… if you ask him whether or not he wants ice-cream, his reply is: “no I’d rather a salad, thanks ”

      (this is just an example… it’s the point that I’m making that is the point of focus – not the ice cream !)

      So the point I’m trying to make is: you’re the parent, you have huge moulding power.

      Or to put it another way: how would the father in the example above have rewarded his son for going shopping ?
      You would answer: shopping was his reward !

      … but how did the kid realise that it was a reward ?
      Because the parent framed it as such :-)

      Hope this helps !
      AbdelRahman

  10. Sarah says:

    Beautiful article, Masha’Allah! You touch on many of the most fundamentally important parenting techniques that most parents brutally neglect. I’ve noticed many view their roles is to just say ‘no’ to their children to ‘keep them out of trouble’ (often the easiest way out); however, as the core of your argument underscores, parenting is not about policing, rather it’s about preparing your children to take on this world independently, in a way that it can maximize their success in the akhirah. JazakAllah Khayr, this was wonderful, mA!!

  11. Icthyo says:

    Yes, I do agree with your statements. From my own experiences with my children I can tell you that parenting entails doing all of the above. One thing I have to say is how important it is to talk with them rather than only talking to them. This is important even before the age of 14. Children are often a lot smarter than some adults make them out to be – just remember the things we would have thought of as we experienced life when we were their age.

    Although they are growing up in a different era I believe the principles of parenting remain the same, only the way in which we impart the values to our children may change.

  12. Wafa says:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    Can you please share your sources for the “three stages”. You reference the following: “The fourth Khalifah, Ali (ra) advised us to play with our children till the age of 7, to discipline and teach them from the age of 7 to 14 and to BEFRIEND them at the age of 14+.” but my husband says he has read that Omar (ra) said it.

    Jazak Allahu Khairan

    • AR says:

      wa Alaykom Assalam sister Wafa,

      After some research, It seems that there are three opinions about this:

      1- Ali (RAA) said it
      2- Omar (RAA) said it
      3- One of the salaf said it but we don’t quite know who

      The statement is found in different books, but without reference… and more than one of my Shuyukh had mentioned it while I was studying so I didn’t think to reference it for myself.

      My apologies for not verifying exactly where it was from.

      Insha Allah it is still useful. From experience, children do need to be treated differently in those three stages, wallahu a’lam.

  13. Hijabish says:

    Mashallah…. Brother, your tips are so simple and easy. May Allah give barakat in ur dawat work for deen …. Ameen

  14. Toufik says:

    SubhanAllah Abdel Rahman, did not know you wrote articles too. May Allah reward you for your efforts inshAllah. See you on friday hopefully :)

  15. Umm Sulaiman says:

    As salamualykum JazakAllahukhairn for a beneficial reminder. I think people kind of go off track because they seem to misunderstand certain things like discipline, being firm, being gentle, letting children do whatever whenever and however.

    Or perhaps i have misunderstood those terms.
    For example some people never seem to correct or advise their children. i have noticed even litte kids will pay attention or listen to something, but if the adults around them never correct themselves then the child wont either, the first lesson is correcting oneself.

    when you have kids you suddenly reaslise, gosh i must do that/ or say that because my kids have been around me all the time and have picked it up from me!

    you cant tell kids not to do something and then do it yourself, or vice versa. children imitate what they see and hear not what people tell them to ‘do this or do that’

    discipline does not mean hitting or shouting.

    theres a nice blog called disciplinewithoutdisrespecting by grandma jeddah for anyone interested you can google it.

    wasalam

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