Without a doubt, having children of one’s own is surely amongst the greatest blessings in life. Little compares to the joy of having children; witnessing them grow up, sharing laughter, experiencing joys and triumphs together. However, much like any other blessing or privilege from Allah, it is not merely a pleasure, but also a test, as well as a means for us to attain the contentment of Allah taala.
This is quite clear in the Qur’an,
“The enjoyment of worldly desires – women, children, treasures of gold and silver, fine horses, cattle, and fertile land – has been made appealing to people. These may be the pleasures of this worldly life, but with Allah is the finest destination.” (Al Imran: 14)
This above verse details the many different pleasures of this world, which include children, and then it brings us back to the ultimate goal of life – which is to reach Allah’s paradise.
Parenting in today’s world
In today’s modern world, many of us are caught up in the fast-paced nature of things, especially when we live in a city like Singapore, often bustling with movement and life and change. Therefore, it is not so strange if we end up applying the same speed or hurriedness in raising our children.
As Muslims, though, other than ensuring that our children grow up healthily, we also need to ensure that we are raising our children to become productive Muslims who will benefit the society that we live in.
Thankfully, our religion offers clear guidelines for us to follow and live by in every aspect of our life, so we can achieve wasatiyyah. These include guidance on how to raise children.
While we can of course refer to modern parenting methods and tips – some of which are quite insightful and helpful – we essentially need not look further than the examples set by our beloved Messenger, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
The Prophet’s approach when it came to the young people around him is the very epitome of wasatiyyah in interacting with children. He was kind, sensitive, gentle, and playful with them. Numerous hadiths describe his interactions with children in great detail, all ready for us to learn from.
The importance of play for children
Often, amid our hectic daily schedule, we overlook our manners with our own children. We expect them to obey us automatically, and when they do not, we become impatient and frustrated. Hence, whenever we find our situation to be overwhelming, it is good to take a breather and go back to how Rasulullah s.a.w. dealt with children being children.
Anas bin Malik r.a. was a Companion who was blessed to have spent a big part of his childhood with the Prophet s.a.w. He served the Prophet and used to run errands and complete miscellaneous tasks for the Prophet. He narrated in a famous hadith, “I served him for ten years, and he never said ‘Uff’ to me. He never said, ‘Why did you do that?’ for something I had done, nor did he ever say, ‘Why did you not do such and such?’ for something I had not done.”
In another hadith, when the Prophet discovered Anas had yet to complete his given task because he was distracted by other children playing and joined them, his first reaction was not to rebuke Anas. Instead, he laughed, and he asked, “Unais, did you go where I asked you to go?”
Both hadiths depict Anas’s natural behaviour as a child and how the Prophet responded to it. As a child, surely Anas made mistakes in carrying out the tasks given to him. Surely playing would sometimes be more interesting than following the Prophet’s instructions. Yet, remarkably, the Prophet never once spoke unkindly to him. When Anas forgot about what he needed to do, the Prophet did not reprimand him.
Another Companion by the name of Umm Khalid r.a. narrated her experience with Rasulullah s.a.w. when she was a small child. She went to him with her father, and when she saw the seal of Prophethood between the Prophet’s shoulders, she started playing with it. Her father scolded her harshly. Yet how did the Prophet respond? He said, “Leave her.”
As parents, too often we are harsh with our children. We unrealistically expect them to be serious all the time. However, the Prophet was nothing like that. Much like how he did not scold Anas for forgetting to complete his errand, he also did not rebuke Umm Khalid for playing with the seal of Prophethood on his body. Not only did he treat them with love, respect, and kindness, he acknowledged their playfulness and he let them be.
Many modern parenting ideas revolve around the idea that play is crucial for children; it is in their nature and parents need to ensure their children have ample play time. Yet our own Prophet s.a.w. had displayed this, more than a millennium ago.
Children, a reflection of their parents
Another point that the Prophet s.a.w. was always making about parenting is that parents need to set the right example for their children. Our behaviour is more powerful than our words. While the age-old adage that “children are a reflection of their parents” has seized the attention of developmental psychology in recent years, it is something that the Prophet understood well, and he often reminded parents of it. Anas r.a. narrated that the Prophet said, “Be kind to your children, and perfect their manners.”
One narration describes a scene that is familiar to most of us in our life as parents. The mother of Abdullah bin Amir r.a. once called out to him saying, “Come here and I will give you something.” The Prophet s.a.w. was in their presence when this happened, and he asked her if she truly intended to give him something. She said she was going to give him some dates. The Prophet then said, “If you did not give him anything, a lie would be recorded against you.”
It is quite significant that a seemingly innocent act of ‘bribing the child’ will be counted as a sin if the parent does not give the child what he or she was promised. As parents, we need to show the right example of not lying even in such a trivial situation. It will expose the child to deceit. If done too often, it might even cause trust issues within the child.
The Prophet s.a.w. often emphasised too that parents need to express love and affection for their children. When parents are expressive with their love, the child will feel secure, and feeling secure is the basis of ensuring the child grows up to be mentally and emotionally healthy.
Although only in recent times people all over the world have begun to pay more attention to the importance of mental health of children, it is already internalised in the Prophet’s sunnah. He admonished a man who, upon seeing the Prophet s.a.w kissing his grandson Hasan r.a., said that he had himself ten children and never kissed any of them. The Prophet said, “He who does not show mercy will not be treated with mercy.”
While we are more inclined to understand the Prophet’s words to mean that one who does not show mercy to one’s children will not be shown mercy by Allah, it can also be assumed that one who does not show mercy to their children will not be treated with mercy by them.
The Prophet s.a.w realised that depriving children of physical affection will have serious consequences in the future, for how can a child who has never been shown affection give affection when he or she is older?
One hadith also mentions that “they have right to you that you should do justice to them, as you have right to them that they should do good to you.”
Other than a reminder to be fair amongst our children, it is also a reminder that how we treat our children determines how they will treat us, and even how they will treat other people.
Realigning our intention
Internalising wasatiyyah in raising children is challenging, to say the least. Whether it is being overwhelmed with information, or adopting new ways in parenting, or even undoing our own conventions and practices that might be irrelevant or inappropriate, topped with the need to keep up with the pace of our modern lifestyle, it is a constant struggle.
We can lessen our burden of figuring out how to solve our parenting problems by looking at the sunnah of the Prophet s.a.w. By renewing our intention – that everything we do in life, including raising our beloved children, is an ibadah and that we do it to attain Allah’s pleasure and contentment – and constantly improving ourselves, parenting can truly be a fulfilling, rewarding experience.
 The concept of wasatiyyah is defined as having the core qualities of justice, balance, excellence, and eminence. While moderation is part of it, wasatiyyah goes beyond just being moderate in its literal sense. See Manhaj Fiqah Wasathiy: Kertas Kerja Konvensyen Fiqh Ummah 2012, Malaysia: Telaga Biru.