For Muslim Mums

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Teaching Your Child About Islam

by Freda Shamma PhD

Children are born in a state of fitra (purity) and then their parents teach them to be believers or unbelievers. According to the Musnad Ibn Hanbal, "The children of the unbelievers are better than you grown-ups. Every living creature is born with a righteous nature." It is our obligation and duty as parents to teach our children so that they grow up to be believing, practicing Muslims. Sending the child to an Islamic weekend school or to a full-time Islamic school is an important but minor part of their Islamic education. The major 'institution of learning' for each child is his family, and the major 'professors' of this institution are the parents.

The most effective way to teach anything to anybody is to be a role model. This is why Allah sent human beings as prophets to all peoples. Whether we willingly accept this job or not, it is a fact that your child learns how to function in life by watching what you do. Even the absent parent is role modeling to the degree that a boy, whose father abandoned his family, will probably treat his own children the same way.
Every time we deal with our children, we are teaching them, whether we intend to or not. There is a famous poem by an anonymous author that depicts this vividly. It begins:

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.

Therefore we must examine carefully how we deal with our child in order to have a desirable end result. This same poem continues:
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.

As the above poem indicates, negative comments and treatment result in negative attributes in our children, and positive comments and treatment result in positive results. The term 'positive and negative reinforcement' is popular in modern psychology, but it was advocated by the Qu'ran and the actions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him), 1400 years ago. How do we use positive reinforcement to teach our children?

Young children are basically good. Furthermore they want to please their parents. When you praise them for their good behavior by telling them that Papa and/or Mama is happy with their action, you are using positive reinforcement. Unfortunately many parents ignore their child's good actions and only comment on the bad actions.

One of the most important aspects of raising your children to be Muslims is to introduce the idea that Allah is also happy with their good actions. If you say that what they did or are doing is making you and Allah happy, then the child begins to associate good behavior with acting for the pleasure of Allah, which in a nutshell, is exactly what being a good Muslim involves. Can you say anything better of a believer other than that he/she does everything fi sabillah (for the sake of Allah)?


The child who errs is forgiven by Allah, and if he dies in childhood, he automatically goes to heaven. This mercy of Allah should guide us as we guide our children. It is not necessary to make the child fearful of Allah or fearful of going to hell. In fact, this approach is counter productive - it often achieves the very result we are trying to avoid. Stressing the negative and the punishment makes the child want to avoid anything to do with the religion. He or she grows up thinking that it is religion that keeps him from enjoying life.

When you are talking to children under the age of twelve, stress the characteristics of Allah that will give him security and assurances as he grows and encounters fearful situations and unknowns. He needs to be aware of the many blessings Allah has given to him to help him enjoy and cope with his life. And he needs to understand which actions Allah will be pleased with, rather than worry over punishment for mistakes he knows he will make.

Too often when parents think about talking to their children about Islam, they concentrate on the ritual of the five pillars. They teach them how to make salat (required prayer), and they teach them some short Qur'anic surat (chapters). These are important, but don't forget that Islam is a total way of life, and every aspect has an Islamic element that you need to talk about and demonstrate for your child. When the father goes off to work, the mother can say 'Good bye' or she can say 'Assalamu alaikum' and add its meaning in English, 'may Allah's peace be with you". As she and the young child start to do something together, she can mention that the father is doing what Allah says a good father should do - working to take care of the family. She can also mention, and the father should also mention it frequently, that she is trying to please Allah by doing many things to help her child and the family. When the child helps her mother clean off the table, the mother should mention that Allah is pleased with children who help their parents. Mentioning the Islamic aspect does not imply nor suggest that you need to deliver lectures about Islam to your child. No child wants to sit still long enough to hear a lecture about anything. The effective teaching comes as short comments or stories that point out the Islamic nature of the action. When the parents pay zakat (yearly compulsory tax), they should mention the fact to their children. When they visit the sick, they should quote a Qur'anic ayah (verse) or hadith (story about Prophet Muhammad) which indicates that this action pleases Allah. When there are two ways that a child can respond to a situation, the parent can mentions nicely which way will be pleasing to Allah.

The constant reference to Allah, the constant encouragement to do what is right, and the constant praise and positive reinforcement for doing the right actions, will focus your child on the right path.



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