Building Character in young muslims
By Hanisah Saleh
There is no foolproof formula for raising ideal Muslim children nor is there a fixed idea of what an ideal Muslim child looks like. Every child is affected by their community, ethnicity, country, social class and more to create a unique situation. No two siblings are alike even with the same upbringing. Raising children is hard and it gets more and more challenging with each day.
I spoke to Hanisah Saleh about what meaningful parenting means to her and how to build character and instill a love of Islam in children. Hanisah majored in biology and was a human biologist before moving to Oman and becoming a stay at home mum.
Here are the things that I learnt from her about raising children.
Children’s Free time ≠ Unparenting
There’s often this opinion that the ideal Muslim Mother to aspire to be is one who is committed to constant meaningful learning for her children, and if you aren’t doing this then you’re not as good of a mother as others. The ideal mother has structured activities throughout the day, everyday and enjoys supervising her children until it’s time for them to sleep, but this isn’t practical.
Hanisah believes in children led learning and letting children explore for themselves. Extra homework and learning does not determine how good of a parent you are. Children know how to entertain themselves on their own, and you can support that by giving them that freedom of expression. If they find entertainment in trying to fit into a cardbox box, let your child explore that. If they want to build a fort, that’s also cool. If they seem bored, give them time and space to figure out a way to entertain themselves rather than feeling like the burden is always on you to keep your children busy.
Reduce Dependency on Technology
Hanisah’s children were raised with the concept of no screen days where screens can only be used during certain days of the week. As a result of this her sons don’t have a dependency on technology because they’re used to the rules.
But if you want an alternative to tech that actually appeals to your kids then you need to invest in sturdy, open ended toys. Sturdy meaning good quality even if it’s more expensive and open ended meaning it serves more than one purpose. You have to make some level of financial investment because their younger years are so formative.
Sometimes parents think that Islamic activities are an easy alternative to technology that kids should always be willing and enthusiastic about, whether that’s learning Quran, or watching Islamic shows but that’s not the case. Hanisah also mentioned that truth is, unfortunately, it is difficult to find material that is suitable and appealing for children. She chooses Islamic material in Malay because she finds that they’re of much better quality. If you’re method of children engaing in “meaningful tech time” is making them watch an Islamic video, or Quran, knowing that they’re uninterested, it may end up fueling resentment and causing them to associate Islam with being boring or a chore.
Think about the Character you Want to Build in Your Kids
And then think about the best way to do that.
For Hanisah the key things are good adab (manners) and trying to make her sons proud of themselves and their uniqueness. These are things that many adults themselves are still working on.
Doing this with children can be as simple as narrating one hadith and discussing it, praying together, doing dhikr together or decorating the house during Ramadan. Having the children’s father take them to the masjid and building solid habits with the Quran with your kids. You can’t talk good character into someone, you have to provide opportunities for self-exploration to allow certain character traits to grow.
Hanisah noted to me that Islamic knowledge does not necessarily result in personal growth or emotional resilience. Parents shouldn’t fall into a false sense of security that their child’s Islamic knowledge will directly correlate with their character. Even as adults, we struggle daily with our own development. No matter how much knowledge we have, we still have to ask Allah at least 17 times a day to guide us to the path that pleases Him.
Teach your Children how to Find their Way Back to Allah
We should encourage our children to make tawbah to Allah immediately after doing something that they know would displease Allah. Children need to hear from you that the doors of tawbah are always open because society will teach them otherwise. In order to build spiritual resilience in your children, they need to have an unwavering belief that their sin isn’t greater than Allah’s mercy. Hanisah told me that she reminds her children that Jannah is also for Muslims who make mistakes as long as they make tawbah. Allah doesn’t define us by our mistakes but rather what we choose to do after it.
Islam and Discipline
Every child is different and experiences are anecdotal, but Hanisah told me that when it comes to discipline, she quotes hadiths about what a good Muslim does. She never forces anything on her kids and gently reminds them about inviting the pleasure of Allah otherwise they’ll miss out on an amazing opportunity. Threatening with hell is off putting and at that age it is not appropriate, especially when people give children the graphic version of hell.
Another gem that Hanisah gave me was not to take it personally if your kids don’t do something. It’s not an attack on your parenting, and more often than not, their behaviour isn’t about you, it’s about them. Taking it personally will just undermine your relationship with them and allow Shaytan to fuel resentment and anger.
Hanisah reminded me that there is a natural fitra in children to want to follow what is halal. When it comes to what is haram, it should be age appropriate and explained articulately and respectfully. Whenever Hanisah explains that something is haram, she always gives a halal alternative.
However when it comes to haram don’t use it as a means of control. Don’t use it as a way of making up rules to scare your children. It’s very demeaning and disconcerting to subject your child to spiritual blackmail and not consider how it can traumatize a child’s perception of Allah.
It’s vital that you’re involved in some sort of learning because your kids grow and you have to keep up with that and you need to cater to different aspects of their deen. We don’t have village communities like we used to in the past so don’t assume that everyone around you will take up the role that would ideally have been assigned to them, whether that’s your spouse, parents, siblings etc. Teaching kids about Islam is ultimately the parents responsibility and to do that effectively, you need to keep learning.
Look at Your Home Dynamic
Build a healthy dynamic at home especially with your partner. Make your home a source of love and friendliness and learn to let go of things that are beyond your control. Kids are perceptive. They pick up the negative vibes and negative energy.
It might be that you wish other members of your family were more invested in islamic learning, or that they would take the lead on certain activities. You can’t force that, and provided that they don’t derail or discourage you shouldn’t pick a fight to force them to take responsibility. It is difficult, but cultivating an emotionally healthy environment at home is so crucial. If it means that you take on most of the teaching role, then work with that.
Children need to see your relationship with Islam, and how that manifests in the different areas of your life, especially with people. They need to see the balance.
I hope this was useful. May Allah protect all our Muslim children and keep them steadfast on His deen. May He fill their homes with love and peace.