Unexpected lessons in parenting

When I decided to participate in the Love, InshAllah anthology, I expected to be entertained with stories about love and love lost and love never found. I expected to read about a variety of paths traveled in the pursuit of love. I expected to know more about Muslim women living in the United States. I did not expect, however, to learn lessons about parenting. But that was what most affected me about the book as a whole. It reminded me once again about the challenges of raising Muslim children in a non-Muslim society; it educated me on the challenges that Muslim children face. I thought about how to meet these challenges in my own family. After all, I am a convert who accepted Islam as an adult after careful study and deliberation. My children did not have that choice—but they will.

One of my initial attractions to Islam was that it expects each of us to use our intelligence in spiritual matters, and questions about the religion are encouraged. In other words, there is no such thing as blind faith. Indeed, our study of the deen and refinement of our character should continue throughout our lives. Muslims are perpetual students because perfection is not possible. Knowing one’s religion becomes all the more crucial with the responsibility of parenthood.

Naturally, children will have questions, and this is especially true when many of their beliefs and practices are different from the mainstream society or if their parents’ cultural norms are conflated with religion. Parents need to be prepared when their child asks questions such as: Why do you wear a headscarf? Why do I have to pray 5 times a day? Why can’t I date? Our answers need to make sense, even if in some cases the answer may be as simple but as profound as, “God has asked us to.” While the reasons behind covering, praying, not dating, and many other Islamic practices are well understood through study of the Qur’an, Hadith, and scholarly works, not everything a Muslim does or believes has an apparent reason. In those instances, the answer must address the reasons why we choose to obey God’s commands. It is unreasonable to expect a child, or anyone else for that matter, to embrace a religion if questions are not intelligently answered or if a parent cannot distinguish her culture from the deen.

Equally important, parents cannot expect their children to practice their faith if they do not do so themselves. A young sister I interviewed a few years ago stated,

It’s really difficult to navigate I think because there are so many double standards today. I know plenty of people who look down upon dancing in public, but those same people eat meat that is not Zabiha. To me this makes no sense. If they can overlook that ‘rule’ because we are ‘in the west,’ than why can’t a little innocent dancing be permitted?

As parents, if we pick and choose what we practice of Islam how can we be upset with our children if they happen to pick and choose differently? One of the reasons that I started to wear a headscarf was because I had daughters. I did not want them to say when they got older that they do not cover because their mom never did.

According to tradition, a woman approached the Prophet Muhammad, sallAllahu alayhi wa salaam, after her husband had hit her. As the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa salaam, was taking her to her husband to hit him back, verse 4:34 was revealed (an often mistranslated and misinterpreted verse that was meant to eliminate domestic violence). Upon its revelation, the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa salaam, reportedly stated, “I wanted something, Allaah (swt) wanted something else.”

Perhaps we may not fully understand a belief or practice in Islam and we may even want something else. But if we believe that it comes from God, we know that there is Wisdom and Mercy in it. Islam requires a holistic approach. If we as parents do not approach it in that manner, we should not expect our children to do so.

Love, InshAllah taught me a few lessons about parenting—and quite unexpectedly, because I forgot that lessons come when they are needed and not necessarily when desired. Alhamdulillah.

J. Samia Mair is the author of two children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, and The Perfect Gift. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals, and elsewhere. Prior to her current writing, she was on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where her research focused on reducing violence and protecting the health of vulnerable populations. She also practiced law for over eight years, including several years in the Appeals Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. She lives in the United States with her husband and two daughters, whom she homeschools.

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