Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Times are changing and so are the ways in which children are brought up. I am carefully avoiding the word “kids” here for the simple reason that in true English, the only meaning attributed to that is the young of a goat. Once in use, it came to be known as a less formal way of addressing the young than the use of the word child. Whereas this is just a lexical change in language, words more often than not reflect the kind of value and importance we attach in our relationships. Of course, there is “folks” used for parents and then there are those very special couples who cannot stop showing off their love for each other when they keep calling each other “jaan” – loosely translated into “my love or my heart”.
Islam attaches a lot of importance to how we raise our children and what our role of guidance should be as they are growing. The West has led the way in the dismantling of the family unit as it were, and history tells us this may have its roots in the women liberation movement. However, what remains significant is the consequential absence of parents’ attention, that yields into individuals who tunr out the way their environments shape them. This Tarzanic theory is also true because children need guidance and role models who then can look up to with respect and adoration and whose footsteps they can trace and trek on, for it is not in their abilities to know right from wrong, or safe from dangerous.
One of the main challenges parents face is the attachment to celebrities and how children try to ape them. This is not a new concept and we may go back a long time to see that socially popular people are usually natural role models. But it was fine then and not now because these role models have gone from bad to worse. Systematically, many wrong things like robbing a bank, for example, are constantly shown in glorious light in many film productions and top notch actors, whose fan following is immense, are used for that purpose. Generally, it would appear sometimes that the matured people (parents included) are so engrossed in continuing to lead their own independent and pleasure-seeking lives, that sooner or later, they too become bad role models. In an online survey conducted recently, when asked the question “Are famous people good role models to young people?”, only 14% said yes, the rest saying that they were not good role models because they had started representing things that are conventionally wrong things. Some of the reasons they have used are like drug use, singing songs with bad words, lack of heroism and more of selfishness. One particularly interesting comment is that “Famous people as role models, set an unattainable goal, and therefore children become fans rather than achievers. If young people followed people in there community, looked up to them, there would be a better sense of connection, a real connection that they could pursue. Following famous people just isn’t very practical.”
Another huge problem that afflicts our society in particular is Affluenza, a social disease resulting from extreme materialism and excessive consumerism: earning more money and consuming more, which can lead to overwork, debt, stress, anxiety, etc. As parents commit to improving the family’s financial position, or in some cases when wealthy families commit to maintaining their social status, what is often forgotten is how we start behaving in front of our own and others’ children thereby creating a new set of negative role models. In the city where I live, there is now a conflagrating trend of eating out. With great respect to many of our own brothers and sisters who are restauranteers, and may Allah (SWT) increase the baraka in their very hard jobs, Ameen, my wonder remains with mothers who proudly proclaim in public and in front of their own children, how they never eat home cooked food. What happened to meothers noursiher role who through the zikr of Allah (SWT) while preparing the day’s meal, would create great taste, both spiritual and physical to the otherwise ordinary dish? Eating out once in a while used to be a precious thing but now it has become a top contender in changing our lifestyles. In some homes, there are tantrums of I can’t eat this and I cant eat that, some family members, especially the younger ones are failing to build value for money and things and instead have become insatiable with material things, foods included. This, of course, will be a common spectacle during the upcoming month of Ramadhan when, seen through a stranger’s binoculars, we would resemble a community of starved people and a generation of hoggers.
Food is not my target topic here, tarbiyya is. As people spend more and more time outside their homes, when do we expect to have the time to guide and counsel our young so that, not an outsider, but we ourselves can be their role models? Lots of things happen outside, and in particular there is a lot of showing off going on when the endowed go out on a “family outing”. The children watch and emulate their parents behaviour.
From giving our children good names, which have good meanings to learning to stop shortening these names as though they were some computer code, in the diguise of a loving name. Each time, hence, we will call out to that child in the fabulous name that we have given them, there will be a realisation on both sides of the values and the ideals that need to be inculcated.
Yes, we need to spend generously on our children, but what is the optimum generosity that we must shower on them is a whole new topic but whose fulfillment really relies on a critical balance between teaching moderation and money-consciousness as opposed to spendthriftness and treating money to be of no value.
We need to be fair with our children. Fairness here means to understand that they need us, not our pride and pomp. One of the rights that they have on us is that we spend time with them, talking to them, nurturing their skills and talents, guiding them, playing with them and simply training them. This can be done in a good blessed home, where there no pretences and no compulsions. So in other words, we need to make our homes cosy and welcoming, through use of both good aesthetic design as well as good interpersonal manners at home.
One aspect of upbringing that we now seem to completely discard is the rights of others on us. It is as if we are teaching our children to become self centred monsters, who only care for themselves. You go to the mosque, and elders are setting the example of noise as soon as Salaatul Jamaat is over. They will congregate in one place without due regard of another person praying furada, and chat and joke away. Our children are watching them and doing the same. There are many other aspects of selfishness including in neighbourhoods and business that could fall under this list. But what is constant in all of these mannerisms is that we ourselves are setting bad standards for our children to follow. Consequently, the world is becoming worse off than it used to be despite the abundance of knowledge and technology all around us. After all, if we are all, always out of the home, it is only what they see outside that they can learn from.
We are all parents (or will be parents one day) and there are things in all of us that come naturally to us so that we love and care for our children. We all need tweaking and tuning but what we urgently need to do is to stop looking at the wrong sources for our guidance for the true guidance lies within – in ahadith, in the Holy Qur’an and in moral stories that we have read. What you see outside is actually a reflection of a failed system and must not be imitated. I am sure that as businessmen, we will never follow the example of failed business people nor as professionals follow the footsteps of those experts who made blunders in their careers. If we fail to act now, we will continue finding problems in society where there is no mutual respect, no real love and concern; in fact there will be conspiracy and mutual hatred all around us.