People often ask me, “Why did you go into teaching?” and they are never really satisfied with my answer, even if they smile and nod politely. They either assume that I must have failed at a different career choice or that I am not smart enough for a more “challenging” career or one that at least pays a lot of money. Of course, we all know that the more you get paid, the more important your job is for society. This is why basketball players are paid so much money. Of course it is.
When I was doing my Bachelors in Education, one of my professors used to say “Teaching is the hardest job because sometimes you must play the role of a parent, other times a lawyer, an accountant, social worker, activist and oh yes, a teacher.”
At the time I acted like a typical student and did not believe a word of it. Of course now I see things differently.
In my teaching career so far, one major lesson stands out from the rest. Before going into teaching, I always knew, as we all do, that children follow their parents. The apple does not fall far from the tree. We have all heard that before and we claim to believe it. However, before going into teaching, I never knew the extent of this phrase. Its one thing to know a fact superficially, however to witness the fact turning into real knowledge is very different. Real Knowledge, as our learned scholars call it is when facts are transferred to your heart i.e. when you believe to the extent of application. An example of this that I heard from a scholar was that we all claim to know that the dead body of a person can not get back up however none of us would be willing to spend the night with that dead body in the same room. On the other hand, a grave digger would have no problem spending the night with that dead body because for him the facts have become real knowledge.
Similarly, for me the phrase ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’ has a much deeper meaning now. After teaching at a few different schools, I have gathered some basic facts about the way Muslims and their children behave. I will only share a few here as the list will get too long to handle. Now due to the locations of the respective schools that I was at, the Muslims I am referring to are of South Asian descent. However, that does not mean that other cultures are immune, it just means I can only speak for my culture at the moment due to lack of data for other ethnicities.
Firstly, the way children are treated by their parents was astonishing for me since my parents never treated us in that manner. In Islam, parents have an extremely exalted position. I think all of us know the verses of the Qur’an /hadith that refer to the respect one should have for his/her parents. I am not sure if it is the bias of our speakers/ lecturers to focus on only one side of this issue and ignore the other side completely but I do know that so far I have heard lectures on the rights of children maybe once or twice while the rights of parents are repeated countless times.
To be clear, I agree with mentioning the rights of parents repeatedly because it is very important for children to understand the status of their parents based on Islamic law.
However, I disagree with the neglect that has been shown in terms of rights of the children. I am aware that by now some of you must be going over the rights of children that you know of for instance, the child must have a good name and must be fed, clothed and must be told what is right and wrong according to Islam. Everyone claims to know these rights. However, no one mentions to the parents that your children are not your property. Therefore, parents do not have the right to emotionally and physically abuse their children. It may seem very obvious to most of us however, when culture meets religion, weird things happen.
Every child has the right to an education and this includes being educated about Islam. Sadly, what some parents fail to realize is that teaching Islamic facts to your child does not mean your child is now educated. It just means your child has the basic abilities of a parrot. Teaching your child the pillars of Islam without having any concept of what they are yourself is not good enough. It is not enough to say the word “justice” in front of your child; you must act justly towards your child as well. Your child MUST see you being just and kind. In order to accomplish that, if you have to count the number of sprinkles you put on each cup cake, then so be it. No one said parenting is easy and if someone did, then that person was never a parent.
Secondly, it amazes me to learn how many parents do not communicate with their children. Many adults in general consider it beneath themselves to be sitting among children or to be talking to children about their lives and yet we claim to follow Prophets (pbuh) and Imams (a.s.) that loved the company of children.
As Imam Sajjad said: “Your children have a right that you consider if they are good or they are bad. You have been the cause of their birth and the world recognizes them as your offspring. It is your responsibility that you teach them good manners and guide them toward the recognition and obedience of Allah. Your behaviour towards your children must be of a person who believes that a good deed shall get a suitable reward and ill treatment shall call for retribution.”(Makarim al akhlaq p. 484)
Many parents either don’t know these words of the Imam a.s. or forget them very often. No child is born a sinner or corrupt, it is the parents that make that child whatever he/she ends up becoming. Of course, there is the nature/nurture debate and the famous excuse of “This is [insert name of western country], raising children to be good Muslims is hard here.” There is an easy way to settle this debate now, thanks to psychology. Recent research has shown that children (including teenagers), take their core beliefs from their parents. This means that even though their taste in clothing may differ from their parents, their ideas about the importance of religion, culture, hard work or race will not. So this western environment can only give your kids fashion trends, not core beliefs. However, if the parents are unable to offer any logical core beliefs then the children are free to draw their own conclusions but even in that case, those conclusions are based on the behaviour of their parents more than anything else. Therefore, parents can’t really blame the country of residence.
Sometimes I think the honest nature of children, makes some adults shiver with fear. A child is pure hearted and says things as he/she sees them. If the book you selected for them to read after hours of effort is boring, they will say it to your face and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is pick a better book next time or hope that they will start liking the one you picked down the road.
Lastly, parents often forget that they can be disowned by their children as well.
The Prophet said: “As are the children disinherited for their disobedience so also it is possible that the parents may be disowned by the children for not fulfillling their bonden duties. (Bihar al-anwar, v 19, p. 93)
The Prophet also said: “Whoever wishes that his children are safe from disinheritance, he should help them performing good deeds.”(Majma al zawaid, v 8, p. 158)
I have seen parents have high expectations of their children both academically and religiously however parents don’t follow their own advice. For example, when a Muslim girl marries an Israeli, one has to wonder what kind of education went on in that household. Some parents want their children to be extremely religious (within cultural boundaries of course), however the rules of Islam don’t apply to the parents apparently. The parents are free to act as they please because they are parents and by virtue of this status, they are exempt from the rules of Islam. It doesn’t work like that. The rules of Islam apply equally to both sides and in this case, the parents must lead by example.
Above all, Allah says in the Holy Quran: “O, Believers Save yourselves and your dependents from the fire whose fuel are humans and the stones.”(Quran, 66:6)
Sarah Zaidi, B.Sc. B.Ed. is a qualified High School Science Teacher.