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
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