Educating Children

This is the second article in a series dealing with parental education of children. It was taken from the  seminar: What Your Child Needs: A Parent’s Guide to Islamic Education.

There are a few points worth highlighting. Firstly, have goals for your child’s religious and worldly good. Sometimes, our notion of the worldly good for our children is not what is good for them. It is not of ultimate good. We make placeholder choices. For example, if you are a doctor you want your child to be a doctor, is that good for your child? Is that what they will be good at? 

Do not be extreme but neither merely let them do whatever they want because that is not being a shepherd. If the sheep is running off the cliff  would you sit back and say, “Well that is the sheep’s choice?” Allah says:

رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِى ٱلدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةًۭ وَفِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ حَسَنَةًۭ وَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ

“‘Our Lord, give us in this world mighty good, and in the next world mighty good, and protect us from the chastisement of the fire.’” [Quran, 2:201; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

If you want good, you must seek it. Notice the plural, “Our Lord, give us”: first and foremost yourself, your family, and then all humanity. That should be something the parent should be considering at every step. Thinking about their religious goals. If it is not clear then consult the scholars, Imams, leaders, and others.

We should plan our religious good just as we plan our worldly good if not better. Because the hereafter matters more than this life. We do not neglect this life as believers, but we know there is there are goals beyond.

Plans and Goals

The second point related to education is to make a plan. Goals are not achieved without plans. Some of the biggest failures in this life are visionaries who cannot plan and cannot get people to help them plan. Have a plan to consistently attain your goal. 

Consider how it is going. If it is going well then evaluate what is working and keep at it. But if things are not working then correct the plan. You may even need to adapt your plan. For example, someone may not have had a plan for their child to memorize the Quran but suddenly they found their daughter had great aptitude to learn the Quran. They found an amazing Quran teacher and things are being facilitated. 

Some children have an amazing love for religious learning that others do not have as much but rather may be service-oriented such that they love prayer and devotion. Look at how you can adjust your plan. 

The third point is about knowing what we are seeking out of our children’s education. Ultimately we are seeking for our children to be upright believers who love Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and who care to seek the good. Allah says:

وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَشَدُّ حُبًّۭا لِّلَّهِ ۗ

“While those who believe are greatest in love for Allah.” [Quran, 2:165 tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Love of Allah is the axis around which good revolves. If you love something then naturally you want to seek what is pleasing. You incline towards it. If your child loves Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) then they themselves will want to pray, recite the Quran, do the right thing, make the right moral choices in life, and care to seek the good, both the worldly good and the next worldly good.

In terms of the worldly good, we do not just want to create corporate animals. Rather, we want people who pursue good in this life regardless of whichever field they are in. 

The companions had a whole range of professions. Some companions were dedicated to living in and around the mosque of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) but even someone like our master Umar lived on the outskirts of Madina. Initially, our master Umar would work one day and spend one day with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).  

It helps to write it out so that it is fuzzy in your mind. 

Instilling Proper Manners

A lot of times we think of proper manners (adab) as being the formalities. However, true proper manners are deeper than that. Some scholars mentioned that really all of religion is proper manners because religion is how to be with God in the right way and how to be with God’s creation in the right way. This right way of being is proper manners (adab). 

Proper manners are the right way of doing things. Arabic literature is called Adab because literature is the right way of expressing something whether in poetry or in prose. The scholars defined proper manners as the inward care and concern to have the right action and response to any circumstance, outwardly or inwardly. 

The fact that your child, for example, eats with his right hand could just be out of fear because you are there. Or they could see you and decide to pray but out of putting on a show. It could be because they just want a treat. That is not proper manners. Rather, proper manners is this care and concern inwardly to do the right thing and to respond in the right way, in any circumstance. By correcting, advising, and guiding our child we want to instill this.

The Test of Proper Manners

The test of proper manners is that if you were not there would they do the right thing? Manifestations of that would be when they go to school they will do the right thing, once they graduate and go to university they will do the right thing, when they are tempted or tested in their character they do the right thing. 

This has to be instilled gradually and it has to be consistent. The most important aspect of it is that it has to be exemplified because you teach more by your example than you do by your words. For example, whenever your child gets home they delay prayer so you get mad at them for that, this is like anti-marketing for religion. The child may think, “Dad says prayer is important and this is how he behaves.” In this way, you are telling them that religion does not make someone a better person. This will confuse them.

Find Inspiration

Another example is when a parent tells their child to pray on time but the child keeps seeing his parent delay prayer when a sports match is on. To instill concern in them, you need to exemplify it yourself. If you tell them to be polite to your parents but you fight with your parents, which one is going to be more effective, your words or your actions? 

This also requires inspiration. In this regard, stories are so powerful such as stories of the Prophets (upon them be peace), stories of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), the great stories of the Quran, and the great stories of the Islamic tradition. Stories inspire. 

As well as the above, connect your children to people they can look up. Connect them to the community. Keep the company of the kinds of people you want your children to become. They may notice your friends are people of religious concern and their children are good and wholesome, this can inspire.