The month of Ramadhan is divinely made
for self-reflection and self-examination. Along with
the soul-taming experience of self-restraint and
delay of gratification found in fasting, we are
given the opportunity to probe our own minds
and hearts in a deeper way. This soul searching can include
looking at "my" relationship with Allah, my relationship
with my own self, and my relationship with other people,
particularly my family members.
But Ramadhan is more than all about us. So one of the
most pertinent questions we can ask ourselves in these days
of profound spiritual dedication and renewal is this: How
can we guide our children to a closer relationship with Allah, and
how can we facilitate for them a greater surrender to, and love of,
My experience in counseling numerous families has
given me insight to some answers.
But let's begin first with Umar ibnul Khattab. A father
came to him when he was khalifah and complained to him
that his son did not respect or obey him. Umar listened to
the man patiently and men sent a messenger to bring the
son. Umar met with the son alone and asked him about his
father's complaints, and Umar wept upon listening to the
boy He then spoke privately with the father who fully
expected to hear that the khalifah had reprimanded his son
and set him straight about the Islamic imperative to respect
parents. Umar asked the son to leave them alone.
What he told this father may surprise you. He said that
he could not expect his son to respect him and be dutiful
to him because he, the father, did not respect the son or
fulfill his duty toward his son. This had become clear to
Umar during his conversation with the son.
Some 1400 years later a man named Sal Severe has
written a book called How to Behave so Your Children Will Too.
The title says it all, doesn't it? When Sal's children were
young, he says, he realized that the way he behaved toward
them very much determined how they behaved toward him
and to everyone else. Over the many years of counseling
families, he came to the conclusion that spending one hour
with the parents did more to help a problem child than
spending time with the child himself.
So is it not imperative for us as parents to change ourselves if there are things in our own behavior that
negatively impact the environment in the home and the dynamic
between family members?
Yet it is so common that parents come to counseling
expecting the counselor to work miracles with their problem child, to somehow "fix" their child.
And when I suggest to the parents that there are things
they too must work on in their own souls, some of them
get offended, and insist that the problem is the child, not
them. I wonder if the father who brought his son to Umar
responded the same way when told that he could not expect his son to respect him since he didn't respect his
It is very easy for us parents to delude ourselves
into thinking that we are just fine as we are, but our children have to change. This is not intended in any way to
blame parents or make them feel guilty.
The fact is that none of us is perfect in our parenting.
We make numerous mistakes and are doing well if we continuously reexamine what we are doing and how we are
doing it. This is part and parcel of the ongoing, lifelong
process of transforming the self. And in fact, our children
benefit from seeing us fall short, grapple with our own
shortcomings, but through it all maintain a commitment to
personal growth and change. Our children will see that
they too will experience that human journey and that every
mistake made is an opportunity to learn and grow, and in
that process-if it is one's intention-to strive for greater
purity of heart and closeness to Allah.
The point is that Allah does not ask that we be perfect.
We are commanded, however, to be committed to the
process of purifying our hearts, of transforming ourselves,
of deepening our knowledge of "self" each and every day.
We have to portray that process to our children as a fascinating, joyful, rewarding process.
And-here's the point-
we can only do that if we experience it that way! It is a profound
reality that we are at every moment modeling for our children the beliefs, attitudes, values, priorities, and behaviors
that speak volumes to them of our own spiritual lives and
lay the foundation for the spiritual lives of our children.
The unavoidable truth is that if we want to guide our
children to a closer relationship with Allah, we have to
demonstrate what that close relationship looks like, sounds
like, and feels like. If we want to facilitate for them a
greater love of Him, we have to make our love of Allah visible through our own daily living. If we want to ensure our
children's surrender to Allah, we must truthfully represent
that surrender with our own manner of thought, feeling,
It sounds easy enough to establish a family life that
revolves around awareness of Allah as the guide, the criterion, and the support that permeates our days and nights,
and easy enough to provide opportunities for our children
to be with their Muslim friends whose parents want the
same for them as we do for our children. But is it?
And why is this so important? Consider the following
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said: "Listen,
shall I tell you something more important in degree than
prayer (salah), fasting (sawm) and charity (sadaqah)?" The
Companions requested him to do so. He said: "Keeping a
mutual relationship on the right footing, because defect in
that relationship shaves a thing clean." Abu Isa said this is a
sound (sahih) hadeeth. It is further related that the Prophet,
sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said: "It shaves a thing clean,
and I do not mean that it shaves the hair, but it shaves the
religion (deen)" (Tirmithi).
It is truly remarkable that guarding and protecting our
relationships is more important in degree than prayer
(salah), fasting (sawm) and charity (sadaqah) .We know just
how important prayer, fasting, and charity are, and this
hadeeth is not lessening their significance in any way, but
rather pointing to how essential relationships are. The fact
that a defect in a relationship wipes out one's religion (deen) indicates the tremendous impact our relationships
have on us and those we are involved with. If we consider
how draining of energy a miserable marriage relationship
is, for example, we can understand how the depression,
hopelessness, resentment, and other negative experiences
that result from a dysfunctional and unhappy marriage can gradually erode one's practice of Islam.
Does this hadeeth
not teach us that our
relationships, including our relationships
with our children,
need to be guarded in
order to guard our own and our children's experience and
practice of Islam? By extension, we can also include the
importance of guarding "my" relationship with my own self
(so many people have issues and inner conflicts that drain
away their energy). And even more crucially, we can infer
from this the importance of guarding "my" relationship
with Allah, as this relationship can become routine and
unfulfilling if we don't make it a priority.
If we want to ensure our children's surrender to Allah,
we must truthfully represent that surrender with our own
manner of thought, feeling, and action. Then our children
will emulate us and love Allah.
In the same way, if we want our children to enjoy a
character and personality that are healthy and successful,
we have to provide the model for a healthy and successful
relationship "with self." In that way, our children will emulate us and feel successful in navigating through their own
lives. They will be emulating us and loving their own lives.
And if we want our children to enjoy healthy and successful relationships with other people, we have to provide
that model, as well. In fact, our relationship with our children is the model our children will copy with others. If we
are successful in our relationship with them, they will emulate us and love ???? we'll get to that exciting
answer below. Let's look at each of the three categories of
Guarding Our Relationship with the 'Self'
If we were to create an overall composite profile of couples
who seek marital counseling, it would look like this:
- One or both spouses is resistant to learning new
things, closed to new experiences, and static rather than
dynamic in their daily manner of living.
- One or both is in denial about their issues, blaming
others for their difficulties, and not very open to receiving
feedback about their shortcomings; not completely honest
with themselves about their issues or shortcomings.
- One or both have impulse control issues, compulsions, or addictions.
- One or both is disorganized with regard to time management, finances, household, etc.
- One or both have issues of anxiety, anger, or depression.
- One or both lack confidence or assertiveness in the
relationship and resign themselves to an unfulfilled marriage and/or fife, or resort to passive-aggressive behavior.
- One or both is lazy, lacking motivation or inspiration,
feeling like a victim of external circumstances, failing to
make the marital relationship a priority.
- One or both are unhappy or even miserable with
their marriage and their life in general.
We can avoid much of the above-described misery by
working on ourselves and taking an inventory of self to see
how we are doing with regard to each of the aspects listed
below. A married couple can learn new skills such as
empathic listening or conflict resolution. However, the two
spouses each bring to the relationship their own personal
strengths and weaknesses. If both are committed to self-transformation, working on their own issues, the
relationship can strengthen and deepen each and every day. Each
aspect of self listed below refers to the corresponding
description above. In addition to each spouse's personal
happiness and the success of the marital relationship, it is so
important to work on the self because we are the primary
models for our children of health or unhealthy relationship
with regard to self.
Each of the traits listed below
is part of the human potential to
attain to an integrated state of
being whole and complete.
Every individual has the challenge of harmonizing the various
parts of his personhood-his
thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, values, motives, and behaviors-into an uncompromised, congruent whole. We
can look at the personhood as a system whose various parts
are combined and organized, an arrangement of personality
and character aspects and attributes that form a complex
yet unitary whole. Each aspect listed below is an essential
provision on the journey of self-transformation, the striving
for excellence (ihsan) that Islam teaches us. Those who are
interested in further in-depth discussion about each of the
following aspects, can find a full article on each aspect at www.salaamhearts.com
1. Openness to new experience and change
This indicates a person's desire and willingness to seek out
new ideas, activities, and/or people. These individuals feel
comfortable with change and do not adhere strictly to
familiar routines and experiences unless these facilitate
their health, happiness, and success. There are always new
opportunities for change, whether in our external world of
experience or in our internal world of thoughts, feelings,
actions, and habits.
Those who are comfortable with change have an open mindedness and inclination
to personal growth and
and discovery. Those who
are open to new experiences tend to be curious
and creative-minded, and
to enjoy variety. They understand that Islam is a self-tranformational religion and way of life.
Integrity is essential to spiritual excellence. It is also at the
core of a truly happy and fulfilling life. Cultivating integrity
and honesty involves a gradual dropping away of all pre-
tense and manipulation in one's interactions with others.
Integrity as a manner of living that adheres to moral and
ethical principles, results in a process of healing all that is
fragmented, broken, or wounded within the soul.This
manner of living also incorporates a dedication to facing
one's shortcomings and honestly seeing the reality of one's
everyday life and relationships.
To drop our egoistic pretenses and practice living each
moment centered in, and coming from, the heart, is a life-long journey that promises the greatest happiness and fulfillment. It is the path we can take to reclaim our Jitrah, the
primal, pristine human nature we were born with.
3. Self-discipline / Self-governance
Self-discipline is a capacity to behave in a way that serves our intentions and goals. It is necessary to cultivate self-discipline in order to achieve optimal health, happiness, and
success. Lacking self-control leads to indulgence in impulsive or habitual behaviors and attitudes that disregard the
principle of cause and effect. Realizing that an action has
consequences and that we can make a choice at each and
every moment of our daily lives, is the first step toward the
desire to strive for self-governance. Self-governance, or the
lack thereof, affects every aspect of our lives, including
physical and mental health, relationships, particularly marriage and parent/child relationships, career, practice of
Islam, school, and so on. Controlling impulses and whims
is a profound ability that can be learned at any age, and can
be strengthened anytime one makes an intention to further
develop this capacity. Sabr (patience and perseverance) is at the
core of self-discipline and self-governance.
4. Orderliness and Organization
Being orderly and organized with one's belongings, priorities, and habits of living is essential to feeling peaceful in
daily life. Oftentimes, disorderliness is a reflection of a disorganized thinking style. It's been said that "Organized
minds make successful people. "The truth is that feeling
relaxed and comfortable, as well as accomplishing one's
goals, is much more possible when one's interior (mind)
.and exterior (environment) are neat and tidy. When your
home, closets, office, or desk, for example, are messy and
cluttered, it is very difficult to get things done in an efficient way. And enjoying the process is next to impossible.
Being orderly and organized comes naturally to some people, but it is a skill that can be learned and the benefits are
enormous, positively affecting every aspect of one's life.
5. Coping skills
Calm, peace of mind, and sense of tranquility result from
the ability to cope well so that anxiety, worry, and/or fear are
minimized. People who enjoy this state of mind typically
have made an intention to learn how to be calm and peaceful. They know the value of solitude and finding time to experience stillness and absence of the multitude of stimuli that can disturb our minds, bodies, and spirits - like cell phones, computers, and email. Finding a balance between the high-tech,
busy world and the world of peace and quiet is a challenge
worth taking on for anyone who strives for optimal health,
happiness, and success.
Good coping skills allow an individual to also constructively deal with feelings of anger or frustration. Anger is a
normal human emotion that is simply a response to hurt, frustration, or fear. How we "act out" our anger can be
constructive or destructive to our physical and psychological
health and to our relationships with others. Put simply,
anger is a powerful force that can drive us to do good or to
do bad. The problem does not he in anger per se, but in its unrestrained power that can, at times, overwhelm us and
compromise our capacity to think clearly and make sound
judgments. Frequent anger and "acting out" episodes are
the result of poor coping skills. Developing good coping skills
allows us to deal with the stressors of daily life. Examples of
healthy coping techniques are putting trust in Allah, assessing any difficulty in a realistic way and putting it in a
healthy perspective, focusing on the things one can be
thankful for, regular physical exercise, relaxation techniques, and positive, affirming self-talk.
6. Assertiveness and Confidence
Assertiveness is the capacity and willingness to honestly
express your views and opinions, your feelings and your
needs. It is important to distinguish between assertiveness
and aggressiveness. Aggression typically involves hostility
and a sense of coercion. The tone and attitude of assertiveness convey a confidence in yourself and a willingness to be
heard, to be considered, to be recognized. Being assertive means that you don't shy away from situations that are uncomfortable, and that you are able to navigate or even negotiate your way
through to resolution and understanding. This skill is essential
in the marriage relationship so that each spouse is able to
express him or herself and articulate their needs.
7. Achievement Orientation and Goal-Setting
Setting goals and striving to achieve them is an aspect of
daily living that provides motivation, an experience of life
"as process," and the fulfillment one feels when a goal is achieved. The Qur'an says that "...man can have nothing but
what he strives for" [53:39]. Goal-setting helps a person
determine what is important to him or her, and what one's
purpose is on a short-term and a long-term basis. The
process of choosing, articulating, and following through on
a plan of action toward a particular result brings about the
rewards of accomplishment and also the increased self-confidence of knowing that one is moving forward, enriching
the self, and aiming for excellence. The Prophet, sallallahu
alayhe wa sallam, said: "Actions are but by intention, and
every man shall have but that which he intended" (Bukhari
Happiness has many facets such as joy, contentment, and optimism. The dictionary tells us that happiness results
from the possession or attainment of what one considers
good. So to a large degree, happiness depends upon what
one attaches value to. If a person takes pleasure in feeling
relaxed, putting things in perspective so that one does not
get thrown off by whatever befalls him or her, whether
good or bad, easy or difficult; if a person finds countless
things, however small, for which to be thankful; if a person
pursues goals that bring fulfillment-then happiness becomes a practical matter of making these experiences an
enjoyable habit of living.
Happiness is not a mood. It is more a spiritual approach
to life. It is a mindset that facilitates, feeds, and enhances
the feeling of positive and enjoyable well-being. True happiness does not come with what one has
possessions, or prestige, or power. It comes with what one
has actualized in the self or soul. The Prophet, sallallahu
alayhe wa sallam, said: "True richness is the richness of the
soul" (Bukhari and Muslim). It comes with choosing the
essential over the superficial. It comes from emptying the
heart of all turmoil, the mind of all addictions, and the
behavior of all need to dominate others or inclination to
victimize. It has been said that happiness is "when what you
think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
Exploring one's self with regard to each of the above
eight categories is a profound way to increase self-knowledge. Imam ibn Al-Qayyim said that whoever does not
know himself does not know Allah. But, of course, this
must be knowledge of the heart, not of the tongue. We are
talking about knowledge which
elevates and transforms the soul.
Al-Hassan Al-Basri said: "There
are two kinds of knowledge-
knowledge of the tongue and
knowledge of the heart, which is
the beneficial knowledge.
Knowledge of the heart raises
people in rank. It is the inner
knowledge which is absorbed by
the heart and puts it right. Knowledge of the tongue is taken lightly by the
neither those who possess it, nor anyone else, act upon it."
A story illustrates this. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH /1111 C.E.) used to travel from village to village, his
donkey loaded with the books he proudly collected, evidence of his vast
knowledge-so he thought! One day
robbers stole his donkey and all his books. He was grateful that
they had spared his life, but he realized that when his books
were gone, so was his so-called knowledge. He realized
that he had never taken to heart the knowledge in the volumes of books he carried from village to village. He vowed
from that moment forward that he would acquire only one
book, and when he had mastered and put into practice the
knowledge in that one book, only then would he acquire
We can do the same with each of the eight aspects listed
above. We can work on improving ourselves with regard to
being open to new experience and change (aspect #1),
examining ourselves in this regard on a daily basis, reading
and researching more about what it means to be committed to lifelong personal growth and transformation, and
putting into practice whatever
we learn and making sure it is
knowledge of the heart, and then
move on to the next aspect. This
is a wonderful way to guard the
relationship with one's self!
Continued on to Part 2
& Part 3
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