Imagine that you have reached old age, living with your spouse. You have children and, as they were growing up, you lavished upon them every possible advantage and luxury that you could afford, having worked hard to do so during the best years of your life. You were ‘good’ parents. You had them educated in either a grammar or independent school. You developed a social circle with other middle class parents and made sure that your children were surrounded by ‘cultured’, ‘motivated’, ‘aspiring’, ‘well-to do’ individuals. You ensured they had regular tuition and, despite spending a great deal of money doing so, you would return home after a hard day’s work to devote long, difficult nights working through countless practice examination questions to make sure they achieved the best results possible.
After gaining admission to a good university away from home, your son seems to be enjoying university life. The ‘gift’ that is social media grants you access to his ‘diverse’ extra-curricular activities. The majority of photos provide you with a unique insight of the club scene at the University Town. You try and cast your mind back to the time you were at university, but ‘socialising’ now seems a little different and mostly involves significant groups of young people ‘enjoying’ themselves, half-naked, inebriated and getting up to the sort of behaviour that, just by looking at the photos, makes you feel slightly embarrassed. It is not something that you would have done, but you excuse the behaviour chiding yourself for being such a prude and say that this is what all young people do and something he will surely grow out of. You catch a glimpse of him on the weekends in the way explorers do the Sasquatch, however, unlike the mythical Bigfoot, your child brings home a bunch of dirty laundry for you to contend with, while disappearing in the day to meet up with friends. Sleeping and waking up late becomes the daily routine until his return to university. You are slightly disgruntled at the fact that only a few words were exchanged between the both of you throughout the holiday, but you put it down to youthfulness and convince yourself that it is more important for him to enjoy his time with friends while he is still young and single, something that you were never able to do. Graduation day finally arrives and you are really happy that all your hard work has paid off. Smiling and enjoying the day, you get a couple of photos with your young one, a quick kiss and a hug after which you see him disappear for a night of ‘celebration’.
A couple of months pass and your child finds her dream job. Working late in the city until all hours of the night and on the weekend, she is often with friends at parties or clubs. Several years pass, she hardly has any time for you at all but, one day, returning home late, she sits you both down and declares that she wants to tell you something. It is a slight shock, and you think you should be pleased to hear that your child has found a spouse whom you have never met, but you put on a brave face and offer your blessing. Having saved a tidy sum of money, you have prepared adequately for your child’s big day and again lavish every luxury that money can afford to mark it as a special occasion. A few months after the marriage, you find that you see even less of her now that flat-hunting has begun and despite trying to keep in touch, you always seem to call at moments that are inconvenient. Finding the dream flat, your child comes to see you both and says that prices are high and that the mortgage company requires a deposit amount that her savings do not cover. You gift her the entire deposit amount, while severely depleting your own savings. Your child and her partner are now very busy working incredibly hard to build a ‘good’ life for their family. They live in a different city and meeting up regularly is, in the words of your daughter, “virtually impossible”, because your grandchildren have tuition, piano lessons, examinations, judo classes, and the important social circle that they need to maintain; after all, you only get one shot at a ‘decent’ life.
You are now more advanced in years and your body does not behave as it should. You find yourself periodically suffering from some sort of ailment. Tragically and much earlier than planned, your spouse passes away and the family gather around to pay their respects. Never having taught your children much about Islām, they stand not knowing how to pray at the janāza; simply following the rituals. At the cemetery, they see their parent being lowered into the grave and shed tears of sorrow and walk away. They could not make duʿā’, you never taught them, or felt it was important. You grieve for your partner and have already developed a stronger sense of your own mortality. You now think of your spouse, you think of the questions being asked in the grave, you think of the grave constricting, you hear the imām talk about those things that benefit the dead such as righteous children and your grief intensifies with the knowledge that your children do not even pray. You hear the narration of a man being raised in the heavens who asks, “How did this come to pass?” He is told that he had a righteous child seeking forgiveness for him, and your pain deepens in the knowledge that your children do not even know what istighfār is.
Time is short and you have made little investment for the Hereafter. You reach out to your children to tell them how important these matters of īmān are, but they are always busy and have no time to visit or talk as much. You try to remind them of the importance of īmān, but they dismiss it saying that there is no “scientific proof”. You encourage them to at least make their children learn the Qur’ān, but they complain saying that they already have too many activities and can fit in nothing else at this time. Your spouse has passed away and your own time is not far making you relentlessness to see some change in your children but, by now, you are the annoying parent who is almost certainly considered senile. Your hearing is not what it used to be, your eyesight is gradually weakening and you can no longer take care of yourself. Your children, treating you as an invalid, assure you that you will get the best possible care and attention at Kruger’s Home for the Elderly and, not wanting to burden them, you accept their decision to put you in care. Now you only ever see Sarah, Judy, Alice or Aisha who come to help you with the things you cannot do independently. Your children and grandchildren visit on your birthday for a few hours promising to come back more often, and never do. Some years later you are paid a visit by one whose coming you have been anticipating for some time now. Your children gather what little of your belongings that exist and donate them to charity. What is left from the inheritance is shared out. You have a Muslim burial, but there is no one to pray for you and no one to seek forgiveness for you save the imām. Your children have brought up your grandchildren even further away from īmān than they were.
When we all stand in front of our Lord and consider the legacy that we left and the generations that came after us, will those generations be a means of goodness, or will we be left bankrupt and bereft of any goodness?
Born and brought up in the UK, Usman graduated from Kings College London and then travelled abroad to study Arabic at The Markaz Fajr Institute in Cairo. He returned to undertake a PGCE at the renowned Institute of Education and spent several years in the world of schooling with his last full-time position as the Headteacher of an Islamic independent school. Deeply disatissfied with the corporate nature of schooling and how children learn, he committed himself to further study completing his MA in Effective Learning at the Institute of Education. He speaks on and writes about issues related to schooling, parenting and community, and is an active member of his local masjid.