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In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of appreciating the men around us. In this article, I want to explore some aspects of helping boys become men, as well as supporting all men in establishing good character and practices. Instead of complaining about the weaknesses of the people in our lives, it is our duty to be a part of the solution rather than allowing problems to continue to become chronic.
From my observations as an educator and a mother, boys generally behave and react to situations differently from girls. Boys can deal with confrontations and arguments without holding grudges; they may have their disagreements but are back playing with each other within minutes. Their attitudes to things are different, which can be both challenging as well as a means to greater understanding. All this may be due to a number of societal issues and upbringing, but nevertheless, even in the push towards dominant western interpretations of ‘equality’, differences between men and women persist.
Allāh says in the Qur’ān, “The male is not like the female.”[i] If we look at the Muslim community in particular, we know that this is very much the norm: the differences between males and females are stark. Within Islamic tradition, there is an understanding and acceptance of the different roles and responsibilities of each of the two. However, it is neither helpful nor Islamic when these differences are misused, leading to poor preparation for life and adulthood. The prime goal for all tarbiyah should be to support and steer people towards being a well-rounded Muslim ready for every area of life.
Living in the West and in our current climate is not like how it may have been in the past or in some of our countries of origin. We do not have the extended families that not only support one another but also raise each other’s children. A nuclear family has to work hard to function, and in order to be productive, there needs to be a cooperative approach. As such, staunchly sticking to the separateness of each role may not be realistic. Simply put, sometimes the woman may need to bring in the bread, and the man may need to get acquainted with the kitchen sink.
When one matures into different roles in their life, many things can become difficult to adjust to. Being a husband, wife, or parent are roles that require a person to be very adaptive and open to change.
A wife can be a great influence on the husband (and vice versa), and this can be of great benefit for both. If you take the approach that the religion is sincere advice and that we want good for each other and to see growth in our life partners, this can be empowering, and its impact far-reaching.
Leading from the front
Anyone who has been in a team knows the perils of working under an ineffective leader; one who commands little or no respect. We can imagine the Muslim man to be the CEO of his household, ensuring everyone’s happiness and wellbeing while ultimately working towards the pleasure of Allāh. The way we rear young men and the characteristics we encourage in them need to be balanced. If we are preparing them to become the leaders of their families, communities, and Islam, it is important that we nurture qualities that will stand them in good stead.
Leadership is a very weighty thing. It is something that the righteous people in the past ran away from. They knew what leadership meant and the trust one holds in the sight of Allāh. During his Caliphate, ‘Umar was worried about animals wandering into the Euphrates and how Allāh would question him.A man becomes a leader automatically when he weds. He needs to carry out his duties with that in mind, knowing that this requires an enormous amount of patience and justice on his part. If the family is broken and there are issues, he is ultimately responsible.
When the Muslims were building the new Masjid in Madinah, the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself took part in the construction. He was not averse to getting his hands dirty. When Aisha (rady Allāhu ‘anha) was asked what the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would do in his house, she said:
“He would serve his family, and then when the time for prayer came, he would go out to the prayer.”[ii]
“In his house, he (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would be at the service of his family: he would milk his sheep, patch his garment, serve himself and mend his shoes.”[iii]
When the wives of the Prophet described his persona at home, they likened him to a gentle breeze sweeping through the rooms, far removed from the tyranny that some people experience at the hands of their menfolk; as soon as they enter the home, darkness descends.
Very often, men will say they value the work that women do. Yet if they have not spent a day taking care of the children, cooking a meal from scratch, and so on, these become empty words. Thus, we need to ensure that our children (including our boys) have these skills from an early age so that they can learn that responsibilities can be shared.
Sometimes the most successful projects and businesses are the sum of a great team. A good leader recognises the qualities in his team and knows how to best utilise and nurture these qualities. A good leader also ensures that he takes consultation (shūrā) with his family members, which is important in running family affairs so that everyone takes part and makes a contribution. People are generally more cooperative when their thoughts, opinions, and feelings are taken into account.
Allowing them to lead
“And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable, but the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allāh is Exalted in Might and Wise.”[iv]
There cannot be two captains commanding a ship! One of the best things women can do is to recognise and accept that men have this position of authority and leadership, and allow them to lead. Women should not need to feel they have to compete with men to be in charge. Women should know that their position is one of honour, and we know it is the responsibility of men to manage these areas. Men may make mistakes that the woman might have foreseen, but she should resist the urge to say ‘I told you so’. Very often in the early years of marriage, both sides are finding their feet. As time progresses, each will fill a comfortable position. Some of the best marriages I have seen are those where the husband is a leader but where there is still cooperation between husband and wife – at times, the wife’s decision or opinion in a matter is also given preference.
Nurturing men positively, empowering them with the Sunnah
All Muslims know that the Sunnah is a divine wisdom, but sometimes we treat it like a distant cousin that only visits at key life moments; when someone is born or dies, in Ramadan, or during Hajj and Umrah. The real point is for us to live and breathe the Sunnah as much as we can, thus enabling us to follow the path of happiness and success.
An area that young people need greater support in is emotional intelligence. The norm of boys suppressing their emotions and not being allowed to let it all out is present in most cultures, but amongst Muslims more so. Emotions are often not understood or controlled, and are instead expressed in ways that others misunderstand, leading to greater issues. If we do not find a way to deal with these, they can lead to problems later on in life. Part of emotional intelligence is learning the correct mechanisms for expressing and dealing with emotions, and the realisation that negative emotions such as anger and disappointment are a part of life.
The true extent of following the Sunnah and adhering to its practice cannot be underestimated. If we ponder and reflect over the Sunnah, we will find many benefits, such as what it tells us about anger. We know that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) advised us not to get angry, but when we do, what then?
“If one of you becomes angry while standing, then sit down, or if you are sitting down, then lay down. If anger does not go away, then do wudū’.”[v]
Changing your position in this way changes your perception and prevents actions that you may regret.
In another example, Ibn Jaz reports: “I have not seen anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).”[vi]
As the Prophet said, smiling in the face of your brother is charity. A smile has the power to lift the spirits of everyone. Possessing a happy and friendly persona creates warmth and trust, thereby putting everyone at ease. William Shakespeare said, “It’s easier to get what you want with a smile than with the tip of the sword.”
It is also very important for us all, but in particular for men, to understand the saying of the Prophet, “The best of you are the ones who are best to their family.” The dealings of the Prophet with his wives and his manner within his home is the perfect example.
The company we keep
The saying goes, “You are as your friends are.” Friendships can be very useful, so it is essential that we choose wisely. When it comes to our sons and other young family members, we need to encourage good company, at times even providing this company. This is where the cool uncle can step in, or brothers in the community who can take the time to guide and help our young men. It is vital that we all make an effort to be in the lives of young people as a point of reference and support when needed. We can volunteer at the Masjid, school, or college by developing classes and sessions. Parents and other supportive adults need to exhibit a lot of patience in guiding young people towards good company, as it can take making some bad choices in order to come to good ones.
As women, we also need to befriend (to a certain degree) our sons and nephews, as this is the best way to impart advice and tarbiyah. A friend always sees the good in you, is loyal to you, and champions you. This is especially so for a wife towards her husband. Think about Khadijah (rady Allāhu ‘anha) and how she supported the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). This is no easy matter and takes great tenacity and perseverance, but when a woman is able to do the same for the men in her life, she can help them in enumerable ways. A wise woman may be able to point out negative qualities before they become a huge problem, and it is at these points that we can help towards change.
When we select a husband or wife, we need to encourage and instil the ability to look at people on a deeper level and appreciate inner qualities, such as kindness and mercy. In this self-image and social media-driven age, anyone can be anyone, and there is unfortunately too much of a focus on outer appearances rather than the beauty that lies within.
Hayā’ & Ghīrah
“Verily, every religion has a character, and the character of Islam is modesty.”[vii]
Having a sense of shyness and modesty is a natural characteristic that every human is born with. As a Muslim woman who covers, I see this in others all the time: the non-Muslim women who pull their clothes over their bodies or the men who avert their gaze intuitively.
Shyness and modesty are usually understood as feminine qualities, but men are equally encouraged to exhibit them. We see this in many Companions, including the third rightly-guided Caliph, Uthman (rady Allāhu ‘anhu), whose modesty was such that even the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) pulled his garment lower out of respect for him.
Modesty forms our understanding of the rulings around hijab and the correct mixing between the sexes. There has been much discussion on the segregation of men and women in different situations. When you study the sīrah and look at the lives of the Companions, you see how men and women communicated when the need arose. Complete avoidance of is not possible. Rather, what we need to inculcate in our young people is how to deal with the opposite gender when necessary in an intelligent, decent, and respectful manner.
Abu Umāmah reported: A young man came to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and said, “O Messenger of Allāh, give me permission to commit adultery.” The people turned to rebuke him, saying, “Quiet! Quiet!” The Prophet said, “Come here.” The young man came close and the Prophet told him to sit down, then he said, “Would you like that for your mother?” The man said, “No, by Allāh, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their mothers. Would you like that for your daughter?” The man said, “No, by Allāh, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their daughters. Would you like that for your sister?” The man said, “No, by Allāh, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their sisters. Would you like that for your aunts?” The man said, “No, by Allāh, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their aunts.” Then the Prophet placed his hand on him and said, “O Allāh, forgive his sins, purify his heart, and guard his chastity.” After that, the young man never again inclined to anything sinful.
In another narration, the Prophet said to him, “Then hate what Allāh has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.”[viii]
There is much we can derive from this narration in terms of how the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) carried out tarbiyah, but if we focus on the sense of ghīrah (protective jealousy) that we have when it comes to our family, this example forms a good basis. This narration is referring to actual zina in terms of relations, but we also know that there is the zina of the eye.
It is from this sense of ghīrah that a Muslim leader led an army to war to protect the modesty of a Muslim woman in a faraway land. This sense of honour is a natural characteristic that Allāh has placed in humans, which does not sit well with treating your spouse or other family member as a trophy for all to look at or speak to in an inappropriate manner.
When we think of manliness or manhood, what comes to mind? The essence of a being a good man is simply being a good Muslim and worshipper of Allāh. This encapsulates love, respect, gentleness, humility, strength, uprightness, courage, shyness, jealousy, and much more. When placed on the scales, strength of character will always outweigh strength of muscle.
The best of men can embody multiple characteristics and execute them to a high standard. Take Umar and Abu Bakr (rady Allāhu ‘anhumā). Everyone thinks of Umar as a fearsome and mighty character. If the Shaytān fears him by walking on the other side of the road, what else can one say? Yet this is also the same Umar that took rebuke from his wife and wept over how he buried his daughters alive in the times of Jāhiliyyah.
Similarly, although we think of Abu Bakr and his humility and generosity, it was him who stood up when the Ummah needed a voice of strength at the death of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). When it came to challenging those who refused to pay the zakāt, he showed no leniency.
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allāh you have an excellent example for anyone whose hope is in Allāh and the Last Day and (who) remembers Allāh often.’”[ix]
Needless to say, the perfection and absolute personification of these characteristics can be found in our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). We may look at his life and that of the Companions and feel that they are too perfect for us to embody. We may even see these characteristics as from a time gone by. However, we need to remember that Islam was sent for all times, and the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is our best example. With the Qur’ān and Sunnah as our guide and base, we can tackle the nurturing of ourselves and our men by giving them confidence that having an Islamic identity and being proud of it will serve them in their formative years and help them to grow into their roles for the future.
[i] Al-Qur’ān 3:36
[iv] Al-Qur’ān 2:228
[v] Ahmad and Abu Dawud
[vii] Sunan Ibn Mājah
[viii] Musnad Aḥmad
[ix] Al-Qur’ān 33:21
Umm Sulayman is currently a full-time mother, residing in Bristol but forever a Londoner. She has previously worked as a deputy head teacher and has been involved in community and dawah projects. Her interests are family, the environment, dawah, gardening & DIY.