The fact that children might develop an attitude, be rude and ill mannered seems to be a real concern for many parents. In the minds of a large portion of the Muslim Community it is felt that from the moment they are born children should be impeccably well behaved and never challenge or raise their voices towards their parents and their “betters”. As I wrote those two sentences I found myself feeling more and more constricted. That’s me – an adult. What would we imagine – and some of us may not need to imagine as we may have grown up in very restrictive environments – a child feels in such a stifling environment? We cannot expect a plant to prosper and bloom if it is being strangled at the very root.

Attitudes develop, mostly, from the attitudes that children encounter from their parents. The oft repeated phrase in parenting workshops and trainings is that “children see and children do”. In trainings and therapy when exploration of controlling, coercive and strict parenting occurs, almost always, the feeling of wanting to break free and get away from this environment is described. And that feeling that a child has grown up with remains within them so that they may then get triggered in adulthood and then they may do things to escape the perceived strangulation that they are experiencing. These escapes start in childhood and can continue into adulthood. They include self harm, promiscuous and risky relationships and behaviours, thrill seeking, substance misuse, and criminal activity.

This is not to say that even with the best of parenting some children won’t go off the rails. It is also useful to keep in mind that if we see attitude we will get attitude. Meaning, if we reframe what we see as attitude into something more likely, such as a child sticking to their guns, being tenacious and principled, we are likely to see the development of a child who can challenge wrongdoing and stand up against injustice.

Qur’an And Sunnah Ways of Parenting

Firstly it is essential that we clear up the common mis-thinking around the following ayah: “And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], ‘uff,’ and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Surah Al Isra: 23)

This verse has been used by parents against their children when they raise their voices or use foul and unseemly language with them. If a child or anyone is using such language what might help us respond better is if we contemplate the why of the use of such tone or language. Most likely it is because they are frustrated. Too often as a counsellor I see a child, now an adult, crying about how they just wanted to please their parents but they could never seem to manage it. Whatever they did, they were told it was wrong.

Imagine if you are asked to do something you don’t want to do, but someone is forcing you to. They are using Qur’an and hadith to barrage you into doing their “right thing”. In your heart you know it’s not, so you stick to your stance and refuse. The other person does not stop. You feel that your calm, respectful, polite tone and resolving speech deteriorate into harsh, frustrated, and angry language. If you are a child and the other is an adult who is actually in the wrong here?

If we are the adult then we are the one in the wrong because as we know the child is not baligh (accountable), for them the pen is lifted. For us? Will we be encumbering ourselves with our sin as well as theirs?

A Story Of ‘Umar (RA):

A man once came to ‘Umar complaining of his son’s disobedience to him. ‘Umar summoned the boy and spoke of his disobedience to his father and his neglect of his rights. The boy replied: “O Ameer al-Mu’mineen (Prince of believers)! Hasn’t a child rights over his father?”

“Certainly”, replied ‘Umar.

“What are they, Ameer al-Mu’mineen?”

“That he should choose his mother, give him a good name, and teach him the Book (the Qur’an).”

“O Ameer al-Mu’mineen! My father did nothing of this. My mother was a Magian (fire worshipper). He gave me the name of Julalaan (meaning dung beetle or scarab), and he did not teach me a single letter of the Qur’an.”

Turning to the father, ‘Umar said: “You have come to me to complain about the disobedience of your son. You have failed in your duty to him before he has failed in his duty to you; you have done wrong to him before he has wronged you.”

The previous “uff” ayah from Surah Al Isra does not tend to be used by elderly parents against their adult children. More often than not it is a child hearing it from parents who are young, fit, and healthy. What then does the ayah mean when it refers to “reach old age”? This is a misuse of Qur’an, possibly even abuse.

Mercy, Compassion And Role Modelling

We are warned against harshness in Surah Ali Imran:

“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” (Surah Ali Imran: 159)

This ayah tells us that being strict and harsh with people means that they are likely to avoid you and your company, whereas mercy and compassion brings others close to you. If this is the reaction of adults to harshness, how might a child respond to the same or similar?

Hadith Promoting Kindness And Gentleness:

“Allah is kind and He loves kindness, and He grants to those who are kind that which he does not grant to those who are severe and does not grant anything to those who use anything besides it (kindness).” (Muslim)

“The one who is deprived of leniency is deprived of all good.” (Muslim)

And for the best child-parent relationships if we look at Luqman(AS): “Behold,’ Luqman said to his son by way of gentle advice …” (Surah Luqman, Ayah 13)

And Ibrahim (AS) and Ismail (AS): “So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy. And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, ‘O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.’ He said, ‘O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.’” (As Suffat: 101-102)

Notice that the father talks to the son in endearing terms and the son, when he responds, does so in a manner similar to his father – children see, children do – in action in the Qur’an! Throughout Surah Luqman, the father continuously and consistently speaks to his son in such terms. The prophets (AS) are the examples by which we as adults can learn. Allah made them our role models and similarly He made us examples by which our children learn. Rather than controlling, I believe that parenting is about exemplifying. Be what you want your children to be. Display the attitude, characteristics, and behaviour you want to see in them.

Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced counselling psychotherapist who has a private practice, is a clinical supervisor, group facilitator, freelance writer, and counselling services manager, as well as founder and managing director of Khair She is a mother of three with an on-off homeschooling tendency, having been guided by her and her children’s needs.

This article appears in Fitra Journal “There’s No One Way To Do It” available globally December 2017, currently available for UK and US right here.