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Help Your Kids Confront ‘The-P-Word’: Pornography, by Hina Khan-Mukhtar

“Hina?” The voice on the other end of the line was ragged; it was obvious the caller had been crying.

I felt panic rise in my chest. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

Pause. Deep breath. And then: “It came into my house last night.”

And there it was. Without any need for elaboration, without any more details, I knew exactly what “It” was referring to.

Pornography.

If I use the word “epidemic” to describe what is happening with pornography and our children, I do not think I would be overstating the matter. It is no longer a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”…at some point or the other, we will all be confronted with this cancer that is currently spreading its tentacles into every home in the world. Therefore, it behooves us to be prepared and to have our preventions and our treatments in place, insha’Allah (God willing).

According to the latest statistics on familysafemedia.com:

  • 4.2 million pornographic websites exist today
  • 42.7% of internet users view porn
  • 34% of internet users receive unwanted exposure to sexual material
  • 72 million worldwide viewers visit pornographic websites on a monthly basis 

The facts that all parents need to know:

  • the average age of first internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old
  • 80% of 15- to 17-year-olds are having multiple hard-core porn exposures
  • 90% of 8- to 16-year-olds have viewed porn online (most while doing homework)
  • 26 children’s character names are linked to thousands of porn links (including Pokemon and Action Man)

It is my hope that parents will use this article as a family read-aloud, a springboard from which to jumpstart a more in-depth conversation about a crisis that is affecting so many youngsters and adults alike.

1.) Treat the internet like a loaded weapon in the house.

How does one treat a loaded weapon? First, you make sure that children know that’s it there and you warn them of its inherent dangers. You teach them that they are never to touch it unless you are there to supervise them. You never ever leave kids alone with it. You don’t let them have easy access to it. You keep it under lock and key. All of these exact same rules apply to the internet as well.

We have two sons in high school and one son beginning middle school, alhamdulillah (praise be to God). The older two have flip phones for calling and texting — no smart phones with internet access. None of them are allowed to use the internet in the privacy of their bedrooms. All web searches are conducted in a public space in our home where anyone passing by can see what they’re looking at. Whenever there is silence for an extraordinarily long amount of time, either their father or I will glance over their shoulders to see what’s going on or we will simply point-blank ask them what exactly they’re doing. We know the passwords to their email accounts. These understandings have been in place since Day One, so our attitude doesn’t come across as one of mistrust; it is simply the way things are done in our home if one is a minor who wants the privilege of using the internet.

I know of other parents who require that their children “check in” their smart phones with them at night. The phones are charged in the parents’ bedrooms after 9 pm and no one is allowed to email or text after that time. Some parents change the wifi password daily and the kids must request the new password whenever they need to use the internet. The parents’ laptops are kept under similar stringent security controls. Some parents check in with adults — even close relatives — before letting their children go over to play or spend the night (just like they would with any loaded weapons in the house): “Will the children have access to any computers? What kind of controls do you have on the kids’ internet usage?”

This first point I’ve mentioned is all about prevention, about trying to establish a healthy rhythm and routine around the internet before ever even letting your kids get on the information highway. The rest of the points in this article are all about preparation.

2.) If your kids are using the internet at all, you should have talked to them about pornography yesterday.

Muslims have always been known for their sense of modesty. Countless times I have witnessed parents wince and then — with bulging eyes — hold urgent “shush” fingers to their lips when they hear me start to caution about the dangers of pornography in front of their children — children who are often clutching their own computers and smart phones and iPods after having asked me for my wifi password within minutes of entering my home. Modesty is a noble trait and one that needs to be honored, but when it comes to discussing the dangers of the internet, any apprehensions about talking about what’s really happening “out there” need to be thrown out the window.

Last year, a mother who attended one of my talks at a local mosque heard me urge parents to talk to their kids about pornography as soon as possible. A few months later, she showed up at one of my parenting talks at a private Islamic school. When it was time to get feedback from the audience, she raised her hand and told the other moms and dads, “When I first heard Sister Hina say that we needed to talk to our kids about pornography, I knew I had to do it, but I didn’t know how. I was scared to death. Despite knowing that this was something I had to do, it still took me over a month to summon up the courage to actually speak with my son. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the look of relief on his face! It turned out that he already knew about pornography and had even seen some images and didn’t know what to make of them. He had so many questions, but he didn’t know whom to ask. I’m so grateful that I finally talked to him about pornography…I only wish I had done it sooner.”

Some parents worry that talking to kids about pornography will make them curious about something they had been blissfully oblivious about and they will then want to further seek it out on their own. I recently heard of a child who looked up “pornography” on the internet after hearing the word mentioned as a social ill in a khutbah (Friday sermon). I learned of another child who went to a summer camp where another boy asked him if he knew what porn was; the Muslim boy was too embarrassed to admit that he had never heard the word before and came home and typed up “p-a-r-m” on the computer’s search engine…and guess what? Porn came up. I know of another little girl who was searching for her favorite toy (“American Girl”) as a potential Eid gift and pornographic images of the “ideal” American girl flooded her family’s computer screen instead. One little boy had to do a science report on dogs, and when he attempted to research canines, images of bestiality popped up on his mother’s laptop.

If you don’t talk to your kids about porn, I can guarantee you that someone else will. It is only a matter of time. You simply must get to them first.

There isn’t any need to go into graphic details about what makes up pornography…what’s important is that kids know WHAT it is and — perhaps even more importantly — that they know that YOU know what it is. If a child accidentally stumbles onto pornography, previously completely clueless about its existence, they may assume that — like them — their parents also must have no idea about this secret world either. Believe it or not, the children may even worry that they need to be the ones to protect the adults from it! They may also fret that parents will overreact or will mistrust them or will even accuse them of having deliberately searched out “dirty images”. But if you’ve already talked to your kids about this heinous industry and its terrible evils (and its inevitability), they will instead be able to tell you, “It happened, Mom/Dad. You had warned me that pictures of naked people would suddenly pop up on my computer one day and today it actually happened. But — don’t worry — I knew exactly what to do. I followed our drill.”

3.) Just like with any emergency, have a safety drill in place for when (not if) kids encounter pornography.

Students are taught fire drills and earthquake drills and intruder drills in school and at work. Just like those important precautions, we too need to have a safety drill in place for when we encounter pornography in our lives. Pornography can be just as destructive to one’s livelihood and happiness as any other natural or manmade disaster. Zeeshan and I have taught our sons and nieces and nephews a simple three step drill:

First, say, “Audhu billahi minashaitanir rajeem” (I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan).

Second, turn off the computer or laptop — close the cover, unplug, power down, whatever it takes to immediately remove the pornographic images from your sight.

Third, get up at once and go tell an adult.

 

We have drilled these three instructions into the children over and over. We teach them that there is real power in seeking refuge in God and remind them that He hears all our prayers; there is no success without His Help. But along with praying to God for help, we need to take real, practical steps to ensuring our own success as well — and the next step after dua (prayer) is to physically turn away from that which is displeasing to God. Finally, we remind them that they need allies and mentors to help them succeed through the various challenges in life, so it is important to involve trusted adults in anything that could be harmful to our physical, emotional, and spiritual development.

Our middle son lives 400 miles away from us with my brother. I am fortunate in that my brother and I have the same rules when it comes to internet use in our homes. Despite being on the same page, however, my brother told me, “You know, Hina, I can watch over Ameen all I want. We can have all the rules and restrictions in place. But there are many times when I have to go to bed and he often still has homework that he is doing until the wee hours of the night. The truth is that at some point HE needs to be the one who is vigilant; he needs to know what to do when he encounters pornography.”

Sure enough, one night Ameen was working on an assignment when a pornographic image popped up on his screen. Thank God he remembered (and followed) the drill and promptly uttered “audhu billahi minashaitanir rajeem”, turned off the computer, and immediately went to tell his uncle what had happened. My brother told him not to touch the computer again and in the coming days got someone to clean up the virus that had infected the laptop. If we hadn’t had that drill in place, I shudder to imagine what might have happened — the confusion, the curiosity, the second glance, the clicking, and then — WHOOSH — he’s fallen down a dark, cavernous, sick hole from which he could have spent years trying to crawl out of. May Allah protect all of our children. Aameen (amen).

4.) It is important to explain pornography from a spiritual perspective as well.

A person can have instituted all the rules and limits in the world, but if kids don’t understand Whom they are ultimately trying to please, there will never be any true buy-in on their part. “Remember, we will not always be around to instruct you on what to do and what not to do; your teachers will not always be monitoring you and your actions,” we tell the kids. “But Allah IS always with you. He sees and hears all. He is the One Who never sleeps. You cannot hide from Him. And Allah especially loves the one who avoids sin in the privacy of his own home simply out of his fear of displeasing God. That’s called taqwa (God-consciousness). It’s when you’re alone that your true sincerity and belief in God is tested. Will you pass the test? Will you have taqwa?”

It’s not necessary that the “God sees you” warning will be enough of a deterrent for many teenagers, but it is still our job to make sure that our kids are taught to look beyond this realm and to ponder otherworldly consequences for their actions. We have also told our kids that “the first inadvertent glance is a freebie”; they will not be held accountable for anything they did not intentionally mean to look at, but it is the second glance when the angels do in fact start recording their actions. “Be mindful of your intentions” is the mantra we repeat.

“Anything Allah has prohibited for us has only been prohibited for our own benefit,” we also teach our sons. “There is a mercy and a protection in any instruction that tells us to stay away from something, even if we don’t understand the wisdom in the moment. Our job is just to say, ‘I hear and I obey.'”

The other point we make with our boys — and other parents make with their kids — is to admit that it is possible for some people to watch pornography once or twice or even multiple times and then decide that they are done with it and don’t ever want to return to it again. But we emphasize the highly addictive nature of pornography as well; there is a reason that the rush one gets from watching porn has been compared to the chemical high one gets from cocaine and heroin. “You have no idea what camp you fall into,” I tell our three boys. “You could be someone who sees porn once or a few times and then decides, ‘No more for me’…and then actually sticks with that decision. Or you could be someone who watches it once and — BOOM — it’s over for you. You are addicted for the rest of your life and later you cannot have a normal, healthy relationship with your wife and you need therapy forever. There’s NO WAY of knowing how you’ll react to porn when you first see it…and that is the point. That is why Allah has told us to just completely stay away from that which is haraam (prohibited). Like alcohol, don’t even taste a little bit of it just once. It’s totally off-limits now and forever. And thank God for that.”

We remind our children of the sufi teaching that there are seven inroads to the heart — the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the hands, the stomach, the genitalia, and the feet. We compare the heart to a castle that needs to be protected by a fortress wall so that no enemies can attack it from any of the seven entrances. “Only people with pure hearts will enter Jannah (Paradise),” we caution our kids. “We are all born with a tiny black speck on our hearts. Every time I allow a sin from one of those seven avenues to enter my heart, that black spot continues to grow until eventually the whole heart is rotting. The only thing that removes the (spiritual) blackness and polishes the heart is tawba (repentance) and dhikr (remembrance of God). Life is made up of constantly messing up and of constantly asking for forgiveness and then resolving to do better. You don’t want to be consumed by a disease or an addiction that takes over your life, God forbid. Watching porn is not worth the risk; the price is too high.”

I have also taught my sons and my other students that Muslims are supposed to be here to leave the world a better place. I inform them about the destructive elements behind the pornography industry — the criminal exploitation of women and children, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the harmful effects of porn on marriage, the plummeting low self-esteem of men and women who cannot ever measure up to what they’re watching on their screens. “Pornography is a dark, dark world…and Muslims are here to bring noor (light).”

5.) There is no utopia. There is no safe community. There is nowhere to escape.

Pornography is here to stay and it is up to us to figure out how to deal with it. I had a young mother recently tell me, “Thank God we live in (insert name of a Muslim country). The government there has tight controls over what is and isn’t allowed to be seen.” It broke my heart to burst her bubble, but I knew I was doing her a favor by removing her blinders. Even my children are aware of the fact that the top countries that download the most porn are ones that claim to be Islamic.

I have heard more than one parent come up with elaborate plans to escape the country, to get away to “somewhere safe” where the lifestyle is more provincial, more simple, more “disconnected”, preferably where the people are pious and the culture is conservative. Suffice it to say that I have been told first-hand about villages that don’t have electricity and running water but that still have the ability to access pornography on the few phones that manage to exist there.

After my presentation at a mosque, I was overwhelmed by the number of mothers and wives who wanted to share their own heartbreaking tales of woe. I heard about young hifz (Quran memorization) students who stumbled onto porn while reviewing Quran on their iPods, becoming hopelessly addicted over the course of years before being discovered by parents. I was told about young children who encountered porn in their trusted grandparents’ homes while looking up popular cartoon characters (a famous porn star has professionally named herself after an innocuous Disney character). My own son told me about a classmate who was openly watching porn on the computer at the local public library — other teens were laughing at him behind his back, but he was completely oblivious to them. (Ironically, the librarians were hushing the boys for being loud and even threatened to kick them out if they didn’t quiet down, but these same adults were helpless to stop anyone from watching porn on their premises due to the fact that it would be seen as “censoring public information”.)

“I did everything right,” one mom wept to me. “I kept a close eye on what they watched. I didn’t allow them to use the internet unsupervised. No one but my husband and I know the password on our wifi. I let others know what our family rules were. The ONLY thing I didn’t do was talk to my kids about it because I wanted them to hold onto their innocence a little while longer. I didn’t tell them what pornography was and how they should react if they ever come across it. So when it happened, they just didn’t have the tools to deal with it.”

There is nowhere to go, folks. There is no immunity. We have to face the monster head-on.

Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan

The first step to facing the monster is being informed; the second is being vigilant. I was really impressed recently when I met a husband and wife team, both of whom were born and raised in a small town in a third-world Muslim country. They have been living in the US for only a little over a decade, yet they are two of the most culturally aware and attentive parents I have ever met. They know all the statistics and the studies. They have tight controls on what their children are watching and when. They talk to their kids about everything without lecturing or nagging. These are parents who are not clueless in the least.

Only a week later I spent time with a young father who — along with his wife — was born and raised in America. Both of these parents work in the tech industry and have shared many articles with me on how best to raise kids in this day and age. After meeting their young daughter, however, I couldn’t help but feel an acute sense of foreboding. This sweet child took selfies constantly in my presence. She seemed unable to function without her smart phone permanently in her hand. Within minutes of entering my home, she was pestering me for my wifi code, despite my repeated attempts to rebuff her. Through talking to her, I soon found out that she had more than one social media account…unbeknownst to the adults in her life. For now, it seems that she is still innocent and unharmed, alhamdulillah, but it feels like this little girl is playing with fire…and her parents are the ones handing her the matches. The difference between both families is that one set of parents is informed and vigilant whereas the other set of parents is simply informed. It is imperative that all parents act on what they have learned.

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As a personal confession, I must admit that it has been extraordinarily difficult to write this piece — it is very, very important to me that no one despairs after reading my words. The point is not to dishearten anyone but simply to wake people up. In the course of researching and writing this article, I have had to walk away more than once; there have been many times when I have just wanted to burst into tears. After proofreading my first draft, my 17-year-old son Shaan asked me, “Don’t you feel icky? This is so depressing.” Yes, but I knew I had to write on this topic back when he was a freshman who polled the boys in his class and found out that — except for one — every single student claimed to watch porn on a regular basis. One of them even told him, “I only use my computer for homework and porn. What else is there?” Shaan recently shared with me: “You talked to us about alcohol and sex-outside-of-marriage and hard drugs and peer pressure, but I’m finding the two things that a majority of kids — Muslims and non-Muslims — seem to be struggling with in high school are (1) weed and (2) pornography.” While I definitely feel the weight of this topic, I am continuing to pray that I only write that which is of benefit, insha’Allah.

If you are someone whose child has been exposed to pornography or whose child has become addicted to it, please do not despair. Allah has created no disease without also creating its cure. There is always hope…first and foremost with Allah. And there is treatment available with mental health experts who are professionally trained to help our kids heal. Please do not shame or blame your children, no matter their age or your expectations of them; they are victims of an evil industry that preys on the innocent and the weak. You need to be there now as their advocates and their support. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and our tightest precautions, our children will still end up engaging with pornography. It is not your fault. It is not your child’s fault. This is a test that — for whatever reason — Allah has meant for you and your family to be tried with; just like with any other test, you need prayer, patience, and perseverance (along with a plan for healing) to get through the toughest times.

If you are someone who is reasonably sure that your children have not yet encountered pornography, please do not become complacent. Remain hyper-vigilant always. And, God forbid, don’t ever be smug and do not judge or criticize other parents and their children who are struggling with a plague that is infecting so many. All of us need to pray for one another’s children. May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) protect their eyes and ears and hearts and brains and guide them and keep them safe from all of the detrimental elements of this world. May they escape this dunya (world) unscathed. Aameen (amen).

*details of personal anecdotes have been changed in order preserve anonymity*

 

Resources for Seekers:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on The Social Costs of Pornography
Finding God Through The Chains Of Pornography Addiction
“Too Embarrassed to Talk About It”: Pornography Addiction and Some of Its Effects on Muslim Marital Life
Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya – Radio Interview with Hina Khan-Mukhtar
Raising Children with Deen and Dunya
Making Ramadan a Time for Young Hearts to GrowIbn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods
Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for ChildrenOn Parents Showing Righteousness to Children

Raising Children With A Sound Heart – Shaykh Yahya Rhodus

Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan

Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan

There is no doubt in my mind that children have to be raised with a deep, profound understanding of the heart. This is the essence of our deen and a central guiding principle when dealing with the actions of children.

We have a policy at home, that if they tell the truth they don’t get in trouble. “Did you hit your brother? If you tell me the truth you won’t get in trouble,” – we moderate repercussions and disciplinary actions with a focus on all the virtues of the heart. This is what is most important, that you inculcate this in them.

Use ordinary life events as opportunities to teach them about the importance of the heart. You also teach them from early on, that even if someone doesn’t wear a headscarf or have a beard, maybe their heart is in a good state.

You teach them tolerance, you teach them that yes, outward conformity to religion is important but the heart is also important. Unfortunately, most parents’ only concern is the outward dimension and they reinforce that by getting angry only when the outward is violated. You must balance your responses to the inward with your responses to the outward so that in reality you become more concerned with the inward.

How many people have we all known, who have been pushed farther away from the religion because the focus on the outward has been shoved down their throats? There are very few things that push people farther away from the religion more than that.

Teach children the theory about the heart. Sister Aisha Grey Henry is working on a children’s series of the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din and I highly recommend everyone gets that when it’s published, if it hasn’t been published already. Teach your children these stories. Until then, find other creative and practical ways.

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus was in SeekersHub Toronto recently and gave the above as an answer to a question from a member of the local community. Adapted for print.

This Labor Day weekend, September 3-7, 2015, SeekersHub Toronto invites you to a retreat that engages the heart, mind, and soul with respected teachers from around the world, including Shaykh Yahya Rhodus. Find out more here.

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Resources for Seekers:

Why does Allah Bless Some with Children and Others not?
Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya – Radio Interview with Hina Khan-Mukhtar
Raising Children with Deen and Dunya
Making Ramadan a Time for Young Hearts to GrowIbn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods
Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for ChildrenOn Parents Showing Righteousness to Children
Habib ‘Umar bin Hafiz’s advice on duas to read during pregnancy and labour and for infertility

Parenting: Planting the seeds of prayer in our young ones

Teaching our children and teenagers to perform obligatory prayers, and enforcing it, is a delicate and often stressful matter for families. What is the prophetic guidance on the matter? When and how is it best done? Parenting expert Hina Khan-Mukhtar sheds some light.

I was driving a girlfriend to her house when my son Shaan called me from high school on my cell phone. I had him on speaker, so his anxious voice reverberated around the inside of the vehicle for us both to hear: “Mama, can you please be sure to pick me up exactly at three? I need to make it home in time to pray my Dhuhr (afternoon prayer) and I don’t want to risk missing it.”

After I assured him more than once that I wouldn’t be late, I hung up and found my friend staring at me with a quizzical look on her face.

“What?” I asked.

“Explain that to me,” she said.

“Explain what to you?”

“How the heck do you get a teenage boy in public high school to actually care about not missing his prayer?”

It is a question that I’ve been asked more than once, and there has never been a simple, easy answer to give. The quickest and most honest one is to frankly admit that all guidance is a blessing and a mercy from God and none of us are in any real control of what our children choose to take — and not take — from our teachings.

But let’s face it — we all know that’s not what parents want to hear (even if they know it’s the truth). Parents are looking for tips and advice, some kind of handbook to follow, a checklist of do’s and don’ts. The fact of the matter is that saying “Tell me what else to do besides pray about/for it” is a false premise to begin with — every success is dependent first and foremost upon prayer for that very success. After hoping I’ve made that clear, I will say that for the purposes of this article, I did sit down and reflect on what has brought us to where we are now after almost 18 years of raising sons, alhamdulillah (praise be to God). I write this article with the full knowledge that we are no experts; we are no authority figures; we are no success stories (if for no other reason except the fact that the “story” simply isn’t over yet). We just happen to be parents who for whatever reason are blessed with children who choose to pray…for now (may the desire always remain with them and only grow in conviction — amen). I asked my kids what they think has helped make prayer a priority for them in their lives, and I informally interviewed some friends to get their insights as well. Here’s what has worked for our families so far, and we hope that our experiences may help others in turn, insha’Allah (God willing)…

1) For God’s sake (literally), leave those kids alone for the first 7 years!

We’re not contending that you shouldn’t teach your kids about their religion or that you shouldn’t encourage them to stand with you in prayer, but we are saying that you shouldn’t have any real expectations of them until after they are 7 years old. I still remember how I cringed when I once saw a well-meaning father pretty much forcing his 6-year-old daughter to join the congregational prayer. She kept running off, and he kept bringing her back, insisting that she fold her hands and stand silently by his side as he recited the Quranic verses aloud. His intentions were noble and sincere, no doubt, but the execution left much to be desired. It was painful to watch, and I remember hoping that his plans weren’t going to backfire on him one day. Another time, I heard a mother tell her son that “Allah will be mad at you if you don’t pray; the angels are writing down that you’re being a bad boy”, and it took all my willpower not to cry out loud, “Stop! Please don’t say that to your 5-year-old!”

There is a reason God has not made prayer incumbent upon children — what baffles most adults is trying to figure out how they are supposed to take the spiritual souls that have been placed under their care and then successfully prepare them for the lifelong duty of praying five times a day once their physical bodies have attained puberty. The responsibility on parents is no joke, and some of them can crack under the pressure.

In the early years, children should be allowed to join and leave the prayer at will, letting themselves get acclimated to the motions and the sensations of the ritual prayer at their own pace. Praying with the family should be an enjoyable experience — one that kids can partake in (or not) as much as they desire. Their association with prayer should be one of sweetness. I know one father who has all of his children share their duas (supplications) aloud one by one after the prayer is over so that everyone can join together in asking Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) to grant their siblings’ wishes. Once the duas are over, the kids often dissolve into tickling and wrestling matches while the father finishes up his supererogatory prayers on his own. Kids can be taught the basic adab (etiquettes) of prayer from an early age — i.e. being mindful of not walking in front of people while they are praying and resisting the urge to make loud, obnoxious noises while others are engaged in worship — but these guidelines about the prayer are all related to respectful consideration towards our fellow Muslims; as far as these little Muslims themselves are concerned, no one should be demanding any personal obligations of them just yet!

2) When the time to begin formally praying finally does come, go all out and make the initiation into prayer a celebration to remember! Treat it like an exciting honor, a real rite of passage.

When each of my boys turned 7 years old, I bought them beautiful journals which I gave to my friends and family to fill with inspiring messages about prayer. A few of my more “crafty” friends went all out and used their art supplies to create elaborate 3-D cards complete with embossed ink and sequined beads. My parents and my in-laws each wrote messages to their grandsons, sharing their hopes and wishes for their futures with them. Older cousins wrote about how prayer helps them in good times and in bad; aunties and uncles gave advice on what helps them get through “prayer slumps” which — if we are truly honest — are bound to come in one’s life at some point or another. I remember my husband Zeeshan getting teary-eyed as he read his message aloud to our middle son Ameen. The general theme was one of encouragement and excitement. It’s been almost 10 years since I put together those gifts for my older two sons, and even now, I will sometimes catch them perusing their Prayer Books with smiles on their faces as they read the heartfelt messages to themselves.

A friend recently organized an elaborate “Salah (Prayer) Party” for her daughter who had turned 7 years old earlier this year. There was a delicious cake and a colorful piñata and many goody bags, but there was also a “Prayer Mat Making Station”, a “Misbaha (Prayer Beads) Making Station”, and a “Pin the Moon Over the Mosque” Game for the kids to enjoy. Along with yummy treats, each little girl also left the party with a “Prayer Chart” where she will now be able to track how many prayers in a day she is able to complete. I overheard the birthday girl excitedly bragging to her guests, “Guess what? I get to wake up for Fajr (dawn) prayer now!”

Zeeshan and I have found that slow and steady wins the race. When each of our sons turned 7 years old, we allowed them to choose one prayer that they wanted to take on as their daily commitment. Every single one of them chose the Maghrib (evening) prayer — probably because that was a time their father was usually home from work, they could pray in congregation behind him, and worship at that particular time of day seemed to fit seamlessly into our hectic schedules. The understanding was that — no matter what — Maghrib would never be neglected from that day (i.e. their 7th birthday) forward. If the boys wanted to pray any of the other prayers, that was all well and good (and highly praiseworthy), but it was their choice and we made it clear that we would not be monitoring them or holding them accountable. Maghrib, however, was non-negotiable. Whether they were at a play date or in the middle of a shopping mall or at a swimming lesson, if the time for Maghrib came in, they made sure to take a few minutes to complete it. (One note: we didn’t expect more than the fard/obligatory of Maghrib from them at this age.)

We continued this routine for twelve months. When a year of praying Maghrib on time had finally passed by successfully, we told the boys that they were now “qualified” to take on a second prayer. We treated it like an honor that only the most responsible could be trusted to handle! Once six months of praying two prayers had passed, we announced that it was time for them to commit to a third prayer. We tracked the completion of their prayers with star stickers on calendars that we had made at home out of cardstock. Using this method, all three of our boys were praying all five of their daily prayers by the time they were 9 1/2 years old, alhamdulillah. By age 10, prayer was an established routine. After the age of 10, the boys eventually began adding on the sunnah (supererogatory) prayers as well.

It is important to note that during this period (i.e. before the age of 10), we did clearly explain to the children that we were not requiring them to stick with their prayers because we considered it sinful for them to leave them (we didn’t) but because we were trying to train them for the time when fard prayers would eventually be required. We told them that we were trying to teach them how to honor commitments, we knew that it took practice and discipline to do so, and we accepted that it was our job to slowly but surely teach them those tools for success.

During the course of writing this article, I asked my almost-16-year-old son Ameen why he prays all of his prayers on time, and he responded, “I don’t remember ever not praying, so I can’t imagine not doing it now. It’s a part of who I am.”

My most fervent prayer is that he always feels that way. I am no fool; I know prayer is a gift and, if not treated with gratitude and humility, it can be lost at any moment. May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) protect us from ever experiencing such a devastating void in our lives. Aameen. (Amen.)

3) “If it was good enough for the Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam), it’s good enough for me.”

When I asked Shaan why he is committed to his prayers, he said, “It was the last thing the Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam) told us to hold onto; he was talking about it right up until the point he passed away. How can we ignore that? How important must prayer be if he (peace be upon him) was reminding us about it even with his last breaths?”

If children are taught the seerah (biography of the Prophet Muhammad) and Islamic history, they will learn that our pious predecessors performed their prayers even in the middle of a battlefield, even when they were ill and dying, even when they were being harassed and humiliated. They learn that missing a prayer just isn’t an option for anyone who has taqwa (God-consciousness).

4) Teach them what they’re saying, what they’re doing, and why.

Prayer should not be allowed to become a series of robotic yoga-like motions devoid of meaning or purpose. Zeeshan and I have been forthright with our kids and confessed to them that there will be times when prayer might feel like an inconvenient, rote duty that just needs to be discharged — and they may find themselves feeling disillusioned and disheartened when those thoughts come to them — but, nevertheless, the canonical prayer is never to be abandoned, no matter how ambivalent one might be feeling towards it in that moment.

“We worship Allah with our minds, bodies, and souls,” I remind my children. “If our minds and souls aren’t ‘into’ prayer for some reason, we can at least force our bodies to obey Him. And then we pray that He will eventually lead our minds and souls to follow our bodies in joy and submission as well. Allah is the One Who is in charge of our hearts. He can turn us to Him at any time He wills. We just have to make sure that we’re not the ones who’re turning away first.”

One of the ayahs (verses) of the Quran that I often quote to my kids is 51:56: “And I have not created jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me.”

“That’s the purpose of life right there,” I tell them. “If you want to know why we were created and what we’re supposed to be doing while we’re here, you have your answer in that one line. Look no further.”

When we discuss the creation of man and the time when Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) commanded Iblis (Satan) to bow down to Adam, we point out how it was nothing but arrogance that made Iblis rebel. “With every prostration, you are choosing to obey God and humble yourself before Him in a way that Satan refused to,” Zeeshan tells them.

We have made sure to make it clear to the kids, however, that God is not in any need of our prayers or our praise or our prostrations; on the contrary, it is we who are in need of Him.

We have also emphasized that none of us should ever feel self-righteous or holier-than-thou about the fact that we are choosing to pray when others are not. “We need prayer; it’s like taking medicine that the Doctor prescribes,” I tell the boys. “Would any of us go around bragging about taking meds or look down on others because they aren’t taking the prescription that we’ve chosen to take for our own health?”

At the same time, we have encouraged friendships with those families and children where prayer is a taken-for-granted part of the daily routine. We all know that you are only as good as the company you keep, and being in an environment where prayer is as natural as eating or drinking just helps create a new type of “normal” for the kids. My boys have grown up seeing not only their parents and their friends praying in congregation but seeing their parents’ friends and friends’ parents giving significance to the five daily prayers as well.

Teaching our children about the Isra and Mi’raj (Night Journey and Ascension) has been instrumental in getting them to understand how the prayer was revealed and what the different parts of the prayer mean to us on a spiritual level. The position of ruku (bowing) is compared to the way one would bow in front of a king. In the humbling position of sajdah (prostration), we point out how that is the only position in which the human heart is elevated over the human brain. “At a certain level, yes, we can recognize Allah by using our thinking minds,” we tell our kids, “but — ultimately — we come to Him via our hearts. It is the heart that truly knows God; it is the heart that truly recognizes Him.”

Once the kids are taught that the same “attahiyat” that we recite while we are sitting in prayer is in fact the actual repetition of the conversation between Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) and the Prophet Muhammad (salallaahu alaihi wasallam) and the angels, they will not be so prone to mindlessly speed through it, insha’Allah. The prayer will suddenly have relevance for them. When we sit and recite our dhikr (litanies) after prayer, we tell the kids that each whisper on our tongues is a polishing of the heart. “We want to have hearts that shine like mirrors and only reflect Him on the Day of Judgement,” we tell them. Making sure that we teach them what the Arabic words that they are reciting actually mean helps in bringing about some consciousness in the prayer, insha’Allah.

Finally, it’s really important to talk to the kids about intention. One of my favorite quotes by Imam Ali (radiAllahu anhu) that I like to share with the boys is his comparison of worshippers to three types — the first is the worshipper who worships out of desire for Heaven (he is like the businessman looking only for a profit); the second is the worshipper who worships out of fear of the Hellfire (he is like the slave who wants only to avoid punishment); and the third is the worshipper who worships out of gratitude because he recognizes that Allah is worthy of worship (he is the truly free man).

“Which one are you?” we ask our sons…and then we leave them to reflect.

And we reflect on ourselves as well.

5) Set them up for success.

We make sure to equip each of our cars with what I like to call “a prayer pack” — a small knapsack that contains a clean prayer mat, a bottle of water for wudu (ablutions), a squeeze bottle for istinja (ritual washing of the private parts after using the toilet), a compass for ascertaining the Qibla (direction of the Ka’aba in Makkah for prayer), and a prayer garment that will cover any woman who is in need of one. Before smart phones arrived on the scene, I used to keep a print-out of the month’s prayer timings in the pack as well. This prayer pack ensured that I didn’t need to worry about whether I had the ability to fulfill my prayers properly and on time or not.

Once Shaan started high school, I helped him create his own “prayer pack”. In his backpack, we placed a zip-up prayer mat made out of parachute material; it was light and compact and easily folded up and unfolded on a moment’s notice. I also included a digital timer that snapped around his thumb and could be discreetly clicked for dhikr while accurately keeping track of how many litanies had been completed. And I bought him a really cool compass that he uses regularly to figure out the direction for prayer. We recently invested quite a bit of money in some high quality khuffs (waterproof socks) for him so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the inconvenience of having to stick his foot in the sink while making wudu in the boys’ restroom at his high school. He can just wipe over his khuffs during school hours now. On Shaan’s first day as a freshman, his father and I helped him come up with talking points so that he could approach the principal with confidence when he requested a private space for prayer; we promised to have his back if he ran into any resistance. Our “support” turned out to be unnecessary however. It’s been three years now, alhamdulillah, and the high school front office staff knows Shaan really well — he’s the kid who comes in every day during lunch to go to the conference room to pray.

While all of these gadgets and gizmos may be great to have around for convenience’s sake, the kids understand that they will have to make do for prayer — one way or the other — whether they have their prayer packs on hand or not. “Guard your prayer” is the mantra in our home.

6) “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi

For some kids, positive sensory associations are very important in creating an attachment to prayer. From a young age, my boys have taken great pride in dressing up for Jumah (Friday) prayers in their best clothes, wearing their best perfume and their best kufis (prayer hats). We always set out their most special clothes for the most special of days, and they feel noble and dignified as they wash and dress for going to the mosque on Friday afternoons. I know of one mom who created a magical “prayer corner” in her daughter’s bedroom, complete with a lace canopy that cascaded down over an intricately embroidered prayer mat and an ornate table that held a beautifully designed Quran and crystal prayer beads. Other parents regularly light sweetly scented incense or candles during prayer time in the home. One mother used to wear a silk prayer gown stamped with gold and silver block print for her night prayers; her children sometimes have compared her to a princess, other times to an angel. Another parent told me that she always baked the kids’ favorite treats to share after the congregational prayers on Fridays and also played nasheeds (devotional hymns) in the house after Surah Kahf had been recited for the week. These are all examples of kids who saw, heard, smelled, and tasted nothing but beauty and elegance when it came to prayer in their homes.

7) Aspire to be what you want them to be.

No one recognizes hypocrisy quicker than a child. The truth of the matter is that you can encourage and teach a child to pray all you want, but if you’re not going to pray, the chances are highly likely that he/she’s not going to pray either. And letting a child witness that you pray isn’t always enough either. What about how you pray? Are you rushed and distracted? Do you drag your feet when the prayer time comes in? Are you nonchalant if you miss a prayer? I know of an adult who remembers his own father weeping when he once missed a prayer, and that reaction made more of an impression on him about the importance of prayer than all the lectures in the world ever could.

In conclusion, I feel it’s important to confess how emotionally difficult it was for me to actually write this article. I’ve been analyzing what my hesitation was, and I realize that it was rooted in the fear that my words will come across as preachy and imbued with a sense of self-satisfaction when nothing could be farther from the truth. Another part of me worries that I will somehow jinx my family by admitting to the world that my husband and kids are regular with their prayers (for now). After a lot of back and forth debate with myself, I finally decided to pray to Allah to purify my intentions and asked Him to allow me to write just one thing that will benefit even one parent out there. I remember when I had my first son in 1997, how desperate I was to find any kind of reading material that would help motivate and guide me in teaching him the fundamentals of this beautiful religion. I didn’t need proofs for why I needed to teach the prayer; I was already more than convinced. But I did desperately crave real-life examples of how Muslim parents got down in the trenches and actually did the hard work of passing on this most important pillar of the faith to the next generation. I have been fortunate in that I have been surrounded by many inspirational parents and have had the opportunity to learn from them all, alhamdulillah. I am hoping that their techniques can now help a new generation of parents, insha’Allah.

A year ago, one of my girlfriends who has a son in college somberly told me that he had recently confessed to her that he was no longer praying because he “just wasn’t feeling it anymore”. This was a mother who had “done everything right”; she was a mentor to many of us when it came to raising children to be practicing and believing Muslims. I tried to comprehend what she was telling me and then thoughtlessly blurted out, “Why aren’t you panicking?” I didn’t understand how she could tell me such devastating news in such a calm and matter-of-fact manner.

“Because I have faith in my Lord” was her forthright response. “From Day One, I have been praying for my children’s imaan (faith), and I don’t think those prayers just disappeared into thin air. They have been heard and they will be answered, insha’Allah…but in His time and not mine. I’ve done my part; I’ve done what was commanded of me. Now I leave my children’s fate to Allah while I continue to pray for their guidance and His Mercy.”

As of this writing, her son is praying all five prayers once again.

 

Resources for Seekers:

Traditional Methods of Raising Children
Raising a Muslim with Manners

Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya – Radio Interview with Hina Khan-Mukhtar
Raising Children with Deen and DunyaIbn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods
Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for ChildrenOn Parents Showing Righteousness to Children

Creating Ramadan Traditions

When I reflect on my childhood memories of celebrating the blessed month of Ramadan while growing up in Southern California in the 1980’s, different images flash through my mind…

Ammi playing the Holy Qur’an on the house intercom system at sahoor time. Scrambled eggs and shaami kabaabs frying before the sun came up. Abbu sitting in the upstairs hallway outside his bedroom, reciting from the Book of Allah before he left for office. Coming home tired from school only to be set to work cutting up apples and oranges and bananas for the evening fruit salad, then helping my mother fry egg rolls and grape leaves. The night before Eid prayers the girls excitedly laying out their glass bangles and freshly ironed clothes and trying to sleep without spoiling the drying henna on their hands. The long distance calls from relatives overseas who shouted to be heard, wishing us well and sending us prayers for health and happiness. We crowded around the phone, grabbing it from one another, grinning and yelling back in order to make sure they too heard how much we loved and missed them.

There were annual traditions that I fondly remember as well, including the potluck iftar parties and masjid-sponsored Eid festivals. Who can forget the one auntie who always hosted the Jumat-al-Wida (farewell Friday of Ramadan) iftar in her spacious home? The children could always be found congregating around the cold-coffee urns set up in her backyard, eagerly vying with one another to be the first to taste the whipped cream-filled-dates set out on silver trays. Another auntie-and-uncle couple opened their home every Eid-ul-Fitr for a lavish breakfast buffet which was highly anticipated the moment Eid prayers were completed at the local fairgrounds a few minutes away.

Now that I am living in Northern California in a community made up primarily of converts to Islam, I am rediscovering the power of having traditions which children can look forward to and depend upon year after year. I have been fortunate in that I have been able to benefit from the creativity in my new friends who are eager to create Ramadan traditions that will attract and hold their children (who they fear may be lured by the competing sparkle and brilliance of Christmas festivities they witness in their own non-Muslim family members’ homes).

What touched me most when I sat with my girlfriends in the early days of motherhood as we brainstormed ideas for creating memorable Ramadan traditions was the sincerity and desire to ensure a balance between the material and the spiritual. These thoughtful women were extremely wary of falling prey to Western commercialism where Ramadan might inadvertently become yet another consumer month about gifts and cash and parties in the kids’ eyes; the culture of “gimme gimme gimme” was one everyone avidly wanted to avoid.

With that being said, I wanted to share some of the traditions we have been practicing in our own home with our three boys for the past ten years now. I asked my sons to list some of their favorite memories and traditions surrounding Ramadan, and these are the ones they rattled off without a moment’s hesitation.

 

1.) Moon-sighting

moon_over_san_francisco1Back in the year 2000, four families gathered at a scenic vista point in the Berkeley Hills to try and search for the new moon signifying the beginning of Ramadan. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that two other Muslim families had also come up with the same idea and were already comfortably settled on the platform with binoculars and thermoses of hot chocolate by their sides. We introduced ourselves and scanned the skies together for the elusive crescent to appear over the majestic San Francisco skyline. As the years went by and word spread over time about this great location, more and more families have joined us. Our last moon-sighting trip had over 70 people (including a news reporter and photographer) gathered together with baked goodies to share and cups of hot chai to pass around. The children run amongst the adults with flashlights and sparklers in hand before being called over to join the jama’ah for group prayer under the stars. The anticipation builds from the moment we sit in our family van, blasting Yusuf Islam’s upbeat “Ramadan Moon” on the entire trip up through the twisting and turning roads in the mountains. Whether we sight the moon that night or not, there is excitement in the air and it is contagious; there’s just something about community that gets your “battery” charged to face a month of fasting together.

2.) Ramadan Calendar

Khadija O’Connell is an extremely talented lady whom many affectionately refer to as “the Muslim Martha Stewart”. Everything she touches seems to blossom simply by her presence. She has brought elegance and sophistication to the most mundane of things, and the pride she puts in her work is obvious. Whether she’s teaching a sewing class to a group of eight-year-old boys or organizing her highly acclaimed “Creativity and the Spiritual Path Conferences”, her attention to detail and aesthetics is of the highest caliber. I happen to know that her personal motto in life is based on the words of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi,“Let the beauty you love be what you do,” and I often find myself reflecting on the hadith, “Verily, Allah is Beautiful and He loves beauty,” whenever I witness anything she has had a hand in. If readers want to see for themselves, they need only visit her website www.barakahlife.com to appreciate what I’m talking about.

Nearly ten years ago, Khadija came up with an idea for her family which other people immediately wanted to replicate in their own homes. Using rich textiles with vibrant colors, she sewed a Ramadan Calendar, very similar to a Christmas advent calendar. She created 30 pockets with an attractive star button stitched onto each one. Felt was cut out into the shape of 30 crescent moons and stored in an organza drawstring pouch. A section of velvet was left at the top of the calendar so that a family could have their children’s names or a “Ramadan Mubarak” message embroidered there for posterity. We hang this gorgeous calendar in our dining nook and at every iftar, after eating their dates, the kids reach into the organza pouch and pull out a felt moon to slip onto the star button of the day. Then they dig into the pocket and pull out their treat for the evening. The treat can be anything from chocolates to stickers to collectible toys to race cars. We also tuck in a paper with one of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala)’s Names on it so that by the end of the month the kids can have learned at least a third of Allah’s Most Beautiful Names. Some families opt to put in a simple hadith every evening. The point is to use your own imagination and have fun while giving the kids a means to see how quickly the month is passing by. Many of us initially tried to sew these calendars on our own, but fortunately for everyone else who might be interested in taking on this tradition for their own young ones, Khadija now markets these special creations to great demand on her website.

3.) Decorating the House

It doesn’t matter that Ramadan will be arriving near the end of summer this year; you can be sure that our house will still be strung up with fairy lights (what some refer to as “Christmas lights”), insha’Allah. I bought some darling garden lanterns during the end-of-spring-season sales last year, so now we have those gold and maroon paper lanterns to string up around the living room as well. The boys are more than willing to help their father with the task of illuminating the Mukhtar home; it has become a family project where the mother directs and the men obey…and everyone enjoys the experience immensely.

Another friend decorates her house with “the Ramadan chain of kindness”. Everyone in her family goes out of their way to acknowledge a simple (or significant) deed of kindness they witness any family member performing by recording it on a strip of construction paper. They make a point of not including the name of the do-gooder in order to discourage pride and encourage humility for the sake of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala). They then curl these strips into rings and connect them to one another. When we were invited to her home for iftar one evening, we noticed this paper chain of links winding its way around the living room; each strip had a comment written on it like “helped change a diaper”, “took out the garbage”, “washed the salad”, “brought mommy water”. They also placed a homemade sign in their public street-facing window which read “So-and-So Family wishes you all a Happy Ramadan!”

4.) Baking Cookies for the Neighbors

It started out as a neighborhood outreach plan, but over the years has become something
much bigger than we ever imagined, alhamdulillah.

Soon after the tragic events of 9/11, we baked some yummy cookies at home, packaged them in plastic boxes with a “FastBreak” candy bar (get the pun?), and delivered them to our neighbors’ mailboxes along with a note explaining Ramadan and our ummah’s wish for world peace and joy in 2001. It has now become a community event with friends gathering at each other’s houses and mosques to package star and crescent shaped cookies (sprinkled with green sugar) in gold boxes with da’awah messages typed on sparkly vellum paper and shimmering organza ribbons to tie everything together. We have managed to work with the same popular local bakery for the past five years now, and the kids get a great kick out of running around the neighborhood delivering the treats. My own sons once reflected how it was the completely opposite experience of trick-or-treating — we’re here to give you a treat, not demand one for ourselves, and no one is out to “scare” or “trick” anyone. It’s a celebration of lightness, not darkness!

5.) Ramadan Food Drive

Our county’s Food Bank has come to really appreciate the month of Ramadan. They tell us their shelves are loaded during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but they have a difficult time keeping up with the needs of the poor during the rest of the ten months of the year. Since Ramadan follows the Islamic lunar calendar, it moves throughout the year and — thanks to the generosity of local Muslims — they can now anticipate full shelves once again in the month of August, insha’Allah. Our Islamic Center has found, however, that if you ask people to donate groceries or bring in necessary items on their own, good intentions often are not followed through upon with solid actions; therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves to facilitate our members’ sincerity by making it easy for them to feed the hungry.

foodbank1

Our children have a new Ramadan tradition now which requires them to gather at
the Islamic Center to bag basic pantry staples — cereal, pasta, juice, canned fruits and
vegetables — in paper sacks. It takes quite a bit of time and it is hard work, but the
children enjoy it nevertheless. These bags of groceries are then sold at Friday prayers for
$5 each. People purchase the bags in the names of their children or spouses or families
and then these sacks are placed in the Food Bank barrels which are provided by the Food
Bank with their official logo. At the end of the month, a large truck arrives from the Food Bank and the men and children from our community help load the month’s donations. There is often a news crew covering the event as well which makes for some positive media in these times when Muslims so desperately need it.

An easier way to give charity during this sacred month, however, is to have your kids decorate a glass mason jar and label it “Sadaqa Jar”. They put in their own money throughout the month and on Eid morning they donate the contents to the local masjid. I have my kids say their own special, private duas while they give charity so that they can continue to be aware of their complete reliance on Allah’s Generosity…especially when they are in a position of giving to those less fortunate. May they always have the means and the desire to help others, insha’Allah.

6.) Waking Up On Eid Morning

At some point during the night before Eid prayers, my husband and I sneak in the helium tank we rented from the local party supply store a day earlier. While the kids are sleeping, we inflate as many gold and silver balloons as we can and then attach long dangling glittery ribbons to them. We cram as many of these balloons as possible in the children’s bedroom so that, when they wake up for Fajr prayer, they are greeted with a vision of sparkle and magic. We also leave a trail of balloons leading out of their room down the stairs to the pile of gifts stacked near the dining room table. I know that after so many years the kids are on to our routine, but they humor their parents anyway by whooping it up and grabbing the balloons the moment they awaken. Believe me when I tell you that this is a tradition that gives as much to the parents as it does to the children.

balloonsky

Another friend has me baby-sit for one Ramadan afternoon so that she can go shopping in secret for her children’s Eid baskets. She exerts quite a bit of effort in elaborately decorating large wicker baskets with ribbon and paper. Then she thoughtfully chooses items that she knows her two children will treasure — a set of new oil paints for her artistic son, an embroidery kit for her creative daughter, books by their favorite authors, new hijabs and kufis and socks, high quality prayer beads, delicious chocolates — everything is carefully arranged on a mound of tissue paper. The children wake up on Eid morning and find the baskets of goodies — one pink, one blue — waiting for them at the foot of their beds.

The kids’ reward for fasting the month of Ramadan is obviously with Allah (subhana wa ta’ala), but we parents want to show our pride and pleasure in them as well, and these are such easy ways to do it. The looks of pure joy and delight on the children’s faces makes
the parents’ late night effort well-worth it!

A respected scholar once told us that he knows of people who have held onto their Islam simply because they remember experiencing wonderful, memorable Eids with their families. There really is something magnetic in the pull that Ramadan has on us. We love to telephone each other late at night and excitedly announce, “Ramadan Kareem! Yes, it’s confirmed! So-and-So sighted the moon!” We enjoy discussing our preparations for the upcoming month of fasting with one another. We desire to be part of the community that is persevering through days of hunger and nights of worship together. We feel connected to Muslims everywhere — whether they are students in school, co-workers at the office, or taxi drivers who are taking us to our destinations — through these shared daily experiences of knowing what it means to deprive the body and feed the soul.

Children especially thrive off of the routine and rhythm we offer them. I became aware of this one year when I thought I had misplaced our treasured Ramadan calendar. I reassured my boys that I would look for it later but that we would just have to “make do” for the first iftar without the calendar hanging in our dining nook as in years past; I would still be sure to provide the iftar treat that would otherwise have been discovered in the calendar. They put on cheerful faces and agreeable attitudes, reassuring me that all was well, but as he was going to his room, my eldest betrayed the feelings of his brothers by sighing, “I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t feel like Ramadan for some reason this year.” Their sense of disappointment nagged at me, so I put off my procrastinating and, once they were in bed, went searching and uncovered the calendar at the bottom of my linen cabinet. When I casually called up to them, “By the way, I did find our Ramadan calendar after all!”, I was surprised by the cheers of relief that came from their bedrooms. I don’t think any of us realized how much this tradition meant to our family until we were faced with the threat of losing it.

Now that the boys are getting older, our emphasis with them is more on the spiritual benefits of Ramadan and less on the “Santa Claus is coming to Ramadan” attitude. We encourage one another to focus on our love for our Lord and our desire to be close to Him. This month is still — as always — about being good neighbors and good Muslims, but we hope our behavior isn’t anything “new” in the eyes of our Creator and that we can continue to benefit from any little that we accomplish this month throughout the rest of the year until the next blessed Ramadan arrives…if Allah allows us to live that long, insha’Allah.

May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) reward all parents who work so diligently at teaching their children about their responsibilities to Allah and His Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam). May our kids all grow up with a deep and abiding love for their deen and its duties in their hearts. And may Allah bestow His Mercy and Generosity on us all this blessed Ramadan and make it the best ever so far. Aameen. Readers are sincerely requested to please keep the writer of this article in their prayers as well. JazakAllahu khayr.

COPYRIGHT HINA KHAN-MUKHTAR 2010. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Resources for Seekers:

Muslims Having Christmas Trees

Answered by Sidi Waseem Hussain

Question: Is it permissible for muslims to have a Christmas tree in their house?

Answer: Assalamu Alaykum Warahmatullah,

The Christmas tree is amongst things that would be a unique distinguishing characteristic of other religions or traditions and therefore it should be avoided.

[Ibn Abidin, Nashr al-Urf; Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Nahlawi, Durar al-Mubaha]

And Allah knows best
Waseem Hussain

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Giving & Recieving Christmas Gifts

Answered by Sidi Waseem Hussain

Question: Is it permissible to receive Christmas-presents from one’s non-muslim family members, neighbors co-workers and the like? What about giving them?

Answer: Assalamu Alaykum Warahmatullah,

There is nothing wrong with accepting such presents, as they are not religious acts in themselves, but social customs. Keeping family ties, being good to one’s neighbors, co-workers and the like is from the general sunna of Islam.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized the rights of neighbors and those one has any kind of relationship with in numerous hadiths, and these do not distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslims.

Likewise it would be permitted to give presents in December with the intention of strengthening family ties, and promoting the good of Islam.

However, one should try one’s best to do so in a distinct and dignified manner to avoid imitating non-muslim traditions.

Muslim should not import the concept of Christmas-presents when dealing with other Muslims.

[Nahlawi, Durar al-Mubaha; Ibn Nujaym, Ashbah Wa al-Nazair; Mulla khisro, Durar al-Hukkam]

And Allah knows best
Waseem Hussain

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani