Parenting is a Full-time Job
Parenting is a Full-time Job
In discussions about how to help Muslim teenagers maintain the practice of Islam and stay involved in the Muslim community (ever notice how most stop coming to Islamic weekend school after they turn 12), strategies discussed amongst Muslims in the West include more youth camps, setting up a social group of Muslim peers, and programs at the mosque.
While these are also crucial in ensuring the survival of Islam in the hearts and minds of Muslim youth, what is sometimes ignored is the tremendous role parents play in making or breaking a youth's practice and maintenance of Islam.
The problem of defective parenting is not identified, let alone talked about within most Muslim communities.
Parents have two strategies, according to Muneer El-Kassem (a scholar in London, Ontario in Canada): "they take parenthood as a full time duty or [..] they leave their children to be raised by trial and error."
Part of proper parenting is just being there
El-Kassem stresses the need to have one of the parents present on a daily basis for children. Too often, parents are busy providing "the good life" for their children on a material level (i.e. nice house, a car of their own when they turn 16, expensive clothes, etc.) by working, in some cases, two or three jobs.
However, they fail to spend time with their children and teenagers to provide the Islamic values which will form the base of their belief system and identity for the rest of their lives.
"When that intimate relationship does not develop between parents and children, when [the youth reach] the age where freedom to them is to have as much pleasure as they can, they will do [what they want] because the parents became just a fixture in their life," explains El-Kassem. "If the parents will stand in their way now they will be stopped and the children know how to stop them."
Kibria was not only there for his kids. He made sure he helped them when they wanted to have fun too. He says he didn't just drive his kids to Islamic events, for instance, but also to skating, soccer, and their other activities.
The need to create the right environment
But a stay-at-home mom is not an overnight solution to raising practicing Muslim children. It is creating the right Islamic environment, which is the responsibility of both parents.
The most important factor in this is that parents must practice Islam themselves. Young Muslims have noticed a strange phenomena with their parents:
"One of the common complaints I get from youth is that parents have double standards. They say something but they do something else. They're more loyal to their culture than to Islam," notes Shaikh Abdur-Razak, Imam at Toronto, Canada's TARIC mosque.
This is something that Kibria, however, continues to be on guard against, noting that, "I make sure I am praying myself before I tell them [his children]."
Teens must not dissociate themselves from the home
"If parents do not have the right environment at home and they don't have good communication with their children that will lead the children not to really like the home [and] they wouldn't care to associate with it," says Ekram Beshir. She and her husband Mohamed Reza Beshir are the authors of the book "Meeting the Challenge of Parenting in the West: An Islamic Perspective".
This dissociation from the home spells disaster for a teen's Islamicity. In most Muslim communities in the West, the home is where the youth first experienced Islam, whether that meant learning how to pray or preparing the house for Eid. A young Muslim, therefore, would not only be dissociating him/herself from the home, but at a certain level, from Islam itself.
Parents have to discuss issues, not order teens around
Good communication is a key ingredient in opening the doors to a teenager's heart and mind. A parent's willingness to discuss issues openly and with patience results in the teen eventually confiding and trusting in the parents.
It is at this level that parents are more likely to have their teenager's attention and willingness to consider the Islamic perspective on things and to heed their advice.
Ideally, this type of communication should be done from childhood. If it is, "your child by the age of 13 or 14 [will] have his own moral system," notes Beshir. "Even when you are not with him, he has his support from inside," she adds. "He knows Allah, he knows what to do [in] many [situations]. He will still need your assurance and judgment but it's not like he has no clues".
Parents should say "I love you"
Muslim youth, like other teenagers, can stay attached to their parents and homes if they feel loved, accepted and listened to there, not ridiculed, criticized or treated harshly.
That means for instance, parents should not shy away from saying "I love you" even to their teenagers, something uncommon in many Muslim cultures. Also means parents have to accept their children's good and bad points and work at implementing Islam taking these into consideration, instead of trying to make them into something they are not (i.e. wanting the youth to be a certain weight or to be more outgoing or an A student in math).
"Everyone is a unique person, so you cannot ask him to be the way you want him to be," says Beshir.
Remember parents, the teen years are a time of struggle
Parents' love and acceptance are crucial during the teens, when most youth, Muslim and non-Muslim, are struggling.
"They are struggling within themselves to understand the changes of puberty they are going through," says Beshir. "They were just children a few years ago now they are trying to find their own new position in the family and society, in their own circle of friends or school or [amongst] neighbors. They need to feel they are not rejected. This drive to not feel rejected is so huge that he or she will do anything just to feel that he is being accepted," she says.
Give your teens Islamic education, even if it's a little
Parents don't have to be scholars to transmit Islamic values to their children. They must pass Islamic knowledge and practice to their sons and/or daughters no matter how old they are or how little knowledge they have.
"If the parent has real love for their children, that will make the child respond in a positive way to the little the [parent] is handing over to him or her," says Waheed Mustafa an advisor with the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA).
Kibria is a good example of this. He describes how hard it was for him to give up a career of over 20 years as a musician, playing the Tabla, a type of drum from the Indian subcontinent.
"We went to all the programs at the same time I played the Tabla," he explains. He took his kids to almost any Islamic program in his community:
Islamic summer schools, camps, one-day programs, etc.
One of the things that changed his perspective was when a former Tabla student in his class suddenly disappeared. When Kibria did get in touch with this Muslim, he discovered he had given up playing the Tabla for a stronger commitment to Islam.
"If Ibrahim (p.b.u.h) could sacrifice his son Ismail then the Tabla is nothing," says Kibria, recounting the man's change of heart.
The other factor that convinced him to give up the Tabla was when he saw kids becoming more serious about Islam. "I promised myself I would not touch the Tabla anymore. No more musical things. Then I joined them [his kids] and encouraged them."
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