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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Raising Muslim Children in the West

By Jameela Ho

Any parent will attest to the fact that raising children is difficult. But for Muslim parents it presents an extra challenge to raise our children in a western society. Below are some tips that may help us in doing this job well.

1. Provide Islamic Models
Living in a western society means that we are bombarded daily with western images, stories and role models. As Muslim parents we need to balance this with Islam’s own images, stories and role models. This means telling stories and reading from the Qur’an, a hadeeth and books everyday.

It also includes the night time ritual of the bedtime story. This is one of the best times to start telling stories as children like to settle down with a good story.
At 1 year of age, children can listen to simple stories, for example, an 8 page book that reads, “Allah made this… Allah made that…” Or we can point to things as we say, “Allah made the moon, Allah made the tree, Allah made you and Allah made me.” As children grow and their attention span gets longer we can tell and read longer stories.

It is essential that our children know the stories of the Prophets, the Companions, and the Righteous Predecessors, that they know their righteous deeds and lessons behind the stories so that these become a guide for their behaviour.

2. Know what our Children are Learning at School
It may not be possible for us to control what the school teaches our children but if we know what they are learning then we can talk and explain the rights and wrongs of it.

Oftentimes we parents are too busy to try to find out what our children have learnt that day. We are either too tired from work or busy doing the housework. But taking half an hour a day to just talk to our children is all it takes and communicates to them that we are interested in what they are doing and that we care. Of course, the talking should be done in a caring manner and not as an interrogation.

In addition, to keep one step ahead and be prepared on what and how to discuss with our children, we can check the school’s curriculum and syllabus. This way, we will know what will be on the teaching agenda.

3. Have lines of Open Communication
This point ties in with the previous: if we are open to communication then our children will want to talk to us about what is going on in their lives. As parents we want our children to tell us and not their friends, or others, about these things so that we can guide them.

How do we keep our lines of communication open? Firstly, we try not to be judgemental when our children tell us something and remain calm – even when it seems outrageous. For if we make harsh judgements and condemning outbursts, our children will surely close up the next time and turn to someone else who may be a bad influence.

Secondly, we use active listening skills. This means listening to what our children is saying then reflecting, paraphrasing or clarifying what we have heard. Before jumping in and offering advice, we should ask them what they want to do about it. Sometimes they can come up with the solutions themselves (with us guiding them through the right sort of questions) or they will ask us for help. In this case we can then advice, preferably with reference to the Qur’an and sunnah. But be brief and do not turn it into a lecture! You will know when it has become a lecture when you can only hear your voice for the past 5 minutes.
Thirdly, always nurture our relationship with our children. Keep it loving and caring so that our children will always feel safe to tell us anything.

4. Know Who our Children’s Friends Are
Friends can have a tremendous influence on each other. Good friends will influence in a good way and bad friends will influence in a bad way. It is, therefore, a good idea to know who our children’s friends are.
It is ideal if we can choose who our children plays with at school but sometimes this is not possible. If this is the case then we can socialize regularly with good Muslim families who have children. Insha Allah, over the days bonds of friendship may develop.

5. Socialise with Good Muslim Families Often
Even when our children have good friends at school, socializing with good Muslim families on a regular basis provides that extra positive environment for them to grow and learn. It also keeps us parents on the right track.

6. Provide the Skills to Interact Positively in the Western Society
Parents must interact in the western society so that we may model the required skills on how to interact and live in this society. It does not help our children when we shy away and live in seclusion. Once our children have grown they will need to go out into this society with the right skills.

There are many things that children need to learn: how to ask, to thank, to be polite, to be assertive yet friendly, and be friendly yet be aware of the ‘stranger danger’ and so on.

Many parents do not realized that what is trivial in their culture may be considered as rude in the western society. For example, in some cultures it is alright to burp after a meal but in most western society this is considered rude. In this case we need to teach that it is alright to burp in the home but to refrain from doing so when outside. Another example is that in some societies it is not necessary to give thanks for every little thing but in most western societies it is considered polite to do so, such as when someone gives us our shopping docket, or a ticket or our change from our money. Therefore, we must be aware of this and teach our children the etiquette of the society – what is considered as polite and rude.