The 4 Elements Every Muslim Child Needs at Home or School
1. There must be an environment conducive to inquisition.
We want our children to be curious and to ask questions. Many parents feel uncomfortable at the thought of their children asking questions about Islam, especially if they feel they’re unable to answer those questions. The truth is, your children doesn’t need you to be one to answer all their questions. And, I would even argue, you shouldn’t (even if you have the answers – more on this to come). Regardless of whether you have an adequate response to their questions, it’s the act of questioning that is so important for our children’s development. Asking questions taps into children’s curiosities. It causes them to seek out answers. And in doing so, not only is knowledge acquired, but also conviction of faith, or emaan. When we find out the answers that Islam provides, it affirms that it is, indeed, the truth. Our heart attaches itself to this religion and we increase in our desire to know it and use it.
When we look at the example of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa salam), we can see that this is actually a method he highly encouraged, if not utilized himself. So often we find him teaching his companions by beginning first with a question. Why would he do this? His companions were of a level that if he commanded them to do anything, they would obey. So why begin by asking them a question? Because, by doing so, he engaged them. He peaked their curiosity and their sense of wonder. They wanted to know the answers, as evidenced by their continued response, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” In other words, you tell us, we want to know the answer from you. Which leads us to our next point..
2. There must be access to scholarship.
Children should learn, even from a young age, to take their religion from authentic sources. When they are young, although they might seek their answers from their parents, it’s important to point out that one is sharing their knowledge from reliable sources. When my children ask me why we pray, imagine answering with “Because Allah tells us to in the Quran,” versus “Because Allah tells us to.”
Now, go one step further and imagine opening up the Quran, finding the ayat, and sharing this with your child. Even if a child is unable to read, there is great benefit in knowing that you sought the answer through using this classical text. This method gives your children a much deeper understanding and appreciation for where we take our knowledge.
I mentioned before that it’s important not to always be the source of answering your child’s questions. The reason I say this is because I think it’s important for children to learn how to find out the answers to their own questions. Your job is simply to be the facilitator. In order for this search to take place, they must have access to scholarship.
Note that by scholarship I mean the classical texts (ie, the Quran, the hadith, etc), or scholars, through their written and spoken words. This is important even for families with young children (as I’ll explain in more detail in my next post).
3. Children must have access to mentorship, and more specifically, mentorship that demonstrates a love for Allah and His Messenger (Sallallahu alaihi wa salam).
This love is demonstrated through our continuous performance of deeds in a way that is in accordance with the sunnah, which we learn through the seeking of knowledge. They must see people trying to better themselves. They must see people trying to increase their knowledge. And more important, they must hear these mentors outlining what they are doing.
It’s not enough for them to simply be around mentors demonstrating these qualities, these mentors must vocalize what they’re doing. Imagine the difference between a parent who gets up to pray quietly, simply leaving the room, versus the one who says, “Hmm.. Time for Dhuhr.. I have so much to tell Allah I’m thankful for, and so much I need to ask His help with.. I really need to pray.” The impact these words would have on a small child is priceless.
Note that I never said that parents or teachers must perform at a minimum level of worship. Children don’t need perfect Muslims in their lives. They need to see Muslims in transition.. Progressing.. Always working to get better. I know some parents send their children to Islamic school because they feel that they’re not ‘good enough’ of an example to their children. I challenge them to think of what defines someone as ‘good enough’. Do we think that new Muslims aren’t ‘good enough’ for their kids? Rather than looking at whether we feel we’re ‘good enough’, let’s instead focus on our journey. Are we demonstrating to our children the importance of personal improvement? The pursuit of knowledge? It’s not about where we are that’s more important for our kids, but demonstrating the method of getting ‘there’.
4. There must be an environment that shows diversity in practicing this religion.
All Muslims must pray five time a day. Yes, we’ve got that. They all must fast in Ramadan and perform the Hajj and do all of the other acts of fard. But despite those acts which unify all Muslims, there is actually a lot of room for diversity. We know that when we look at the Sahaba, they were known for different acts of ibadah. Some were known to be more knowledgeable in the Quran, some were know to fast more regularly.. Some were always in the masjid seeking knowledge, and others were often in the battlefields performing jihad for the sake of Allah.
We’re human.. Allah made us different, and different acts of ibadah appeal to us more. The same will be true for our children as well. I think it’s important, especially with younger children, to help our children discover what kinds of ibadah they benefit from the most.
Although my children are only six, I can already see these differences coming out. My son has developed a love for salah. This comes solely through his personal relationship with Allah. He knows that Allah is the only One who can provide the things he wants, and so he loves to turn to Him frequently and, quite frankly, ask for as much as he can.
My daughter doesn’t have the same relationship with Allah. Her relationship is more focused on simply trying to please Him. Since she’s associated pleasing Allah with the Quran, this is what she desires to get better at.
Now, here’s the really cool part. My daughter, who doesn’t care very much to pray, has recently started taking an interest in certain prayers because she likes to listen to new surahs being recited. And my son, who doesn’t have quite the thirst for the Quran as she does, now asks if he can listen to the Quran more so that he can start learning more surahs, since this is an integral part of the prayer. Love of one led to the other. Had I forced my kids to focus on both of those acts of ibadah, I would have robbed them of the opportunity to find their own motivations, from within.