With A-level and GCSE exams cancelled, schools closed, and plenty of time at home, the new normal might feel a bit overwhelming. Look a little closer, and now might be the best time to retool, rejuvenate, and address some of the things we might not have been giving adequate attention to, especially with regards to our families and children. During challenging times, opportunities lurk – if we but seek them!
When the great scholar Ibn Taymiyyah lost his freedom, his da’wah didn’t stop; he transformed the entire jailhouse into a place of piety, learning, and worship by turning his attention to his fellow prisoners. He wrote letters to his mother and to his students to continue to teach his message.[i] Syed Qutb completed his marvellous In the Shade of the Qur’an while in confinement,[ii] and Prophet Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) sowed the seeds for his rise to pre-eminence while in prison. What sets achievers apart from the rest, is that when faced with restrictive circumstances, they adapt, change tack, show resilience and perseverance, and are thus ready to emerge stronger.
Our families are microcosms of society. If we rectify our homes, we do our part in rectifying our community, as well as our wider society, country, and world. Any great company or project needs a vision and visionaries. Make ‘family’ your finest project![iii] Our children deserve our attention and effort in figuring this out.[iv] Use an online tool to easily create a family mission statement.[v]
Here are five values I believe we would do well to implement during lockdown:
THE VALUE OF DEEN: Revisiting the Fundamentals
Allāh will ask us on the Day of Judgement if we fulfilled our duty as trustees and nurturers of the next generation.[vi] This is a prime opportunity for us to train our children to establish the obligatory acts of worship properly and habituate them to all of the practices they need to have as believers. Sometimes we assume our children have understood how to make wudū’ or the various supplications in the salāh, or rulings regarding wiping over their socks. This is the time for us to check in and revisit these. Listen to your child pray from beginning to end and watch them make wudū’ and lovingly correct them.
For older children, this is a great time to emphasise the fitrah acts such as cutting their nails and hair removal. Help older girls to keep a period calendar so that they can keep track of fasts missed and be in touch with their cycle.
Make du’ā with your children and show them how to speak to Allāh. This is probably the greatest gift we can give them: the ability to connect with their Creator. We can’t be with our children 24/7 throughout their lives, but Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is with them. By showing them how to relate to Him, we give them a lifeline to Allāh, which they will always have.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) tells us to make the du’ā:
“Our Lord! Grant us spouses and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.”
The exegetes explained ‘comfort of our eyes’ as that feeling of joy one experiences when seeing their family members obeying Allāh and worshipping Allāh.[vii] Could there be a greater source of comfort for a parent?
THE VALUE OF HUMAN CONNECTION: Tech Consumption Review
Yes, it’s time for a review of tech consumption. How many of us have allowed this area of our family life to slide?[viii] Families can be sitting together on one sofa, in one room, but be in different worlds. Children can be locked away in their bedrooms in a virtual reality, completely disconnected from their parents, keeping company with unsavoury characters on YouTube for years, and then one day parents begin to panic when they realise they have no relationship with their child anymore. As parents, we have ultimate control over the tech consumption in our homes. Our children need us to perform our duty and establish rules and discipline regarding this highly addictive area of modern life.
I would advocate a no smartphones policy until children are well into adulthood as well as no private devices, computers, or televisions tucked away in bedrooms. Instead, a family computer in a communal room is a healthy way forward. Our children will thank us for this one day. Instead of constantly being plugged in, let them learn to have real conversations, to give people their undivided attention and to learn the value of real human interaction. It’s OK for children to be bored. Boredom can lead to great things![ix] It usually means they are not being constantly stimulated and it may even help them to think, imagine, and reflect!
When we do use technology, let us use it to connect to grandparents, and family abroad. Practice keeping the ties of kinship (Silat al-rahim)[x] and fuse them to their heritage.
THE VALUE OF SELF-RELIANCE: Housework and Life Skills
Can your children make a meal by themselves? Can they fill and empty a dishwasher, do the laundry, or even wash and dry a plate? How about cleaning and organising their rooms? During school times, life is so hectic that it’s difficult to teach our kids these life skills – skills they will inevitably need as they grow up. It’s too easy to say: “It’ll be quicker for me to do it all myself”. We then wonder why we feel so overwhelmed and have such little help around the house. Identify age-appropriate life skills for each of your children and let them master those during lockdown.
The problem is that we are often not willing to put in the time to train our children to fulfil these jobs. A good employer will train their workers in areas where they need development. Similarly, we need to break tasks down to the smallest component of that task. This is so that our child can complete and master that particular part before incrementally teaching them the next level of mastery and helping them to work towards more complex tasks.[xi] They will thank us one day for teaching them to sew a button onto a shirt or to put together some furniture and for teaching them to have pride in their home.
What about table manners? Imam al-Ghazali advised that parents ensure their child says ‘bismillāh’, picks up food nearest to them with their right hand – as per the Sunnah –not eat too fast, nor get food into their hair and clothes. He further advocated that children get used to eating simple foods so that they don’t take luxuries for granted and become lazy in worship.[xii]
THE VALUE OF TIME: Planning the Week
Being conscientious and organised are high predictors for success.[xiii] But conscientiousness doesn’t always come naturally to people. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be more conscientious.
Our children are in danger of struggling to establish a routine in their lives after they leave school due to the years of institutionalisation they have experienced. One of the greatest skills we can teach our kids is how to plan their week and their day in a balanced way.
Print a blank timetable[xiv] for the week and encourage each of your kids to create a flexible personal plan in which they apportion time for work and play, dividing the day into morning, afternoon, and evening. Help them create a daily checklist[xv] of things they must complete before playing games or relaxing. Make sure that Qur’ān time, exercise, hygiene, learning, and household chores are in that checklist!
THE VALUE OF LEARNING: Education Never Stops
We live in perhaps the most comfortable time in history to have a pandemic.[xvi] Access to the internet means we are never really disconnected from people or the world. We can book Arabic or hifdh tutors across the world for our children to study with daily, all for a very small price.
Our children need to know that even when school is out, learning is always in! What could they focus on now that they are not going to school? They can learn something every single day, whether through reading, discussing things with you, listening to audiobooks, online lessons, or documentaries.
Let us use this time, my brothers and sisters, to examine the direction in which our families are going and get back on track. Refocus, retool, ready to emerge after the lockdown as beacons of light in the society we live in.
May Allāh bless your family and mine and help us to emerge from the chrysalis of ‘lockdown’ in the very near future with sparkling wings. Āmīn.
[i]Rasā’il min al-Sijni li-Ibn Taymiyyah https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5Y2BDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[ii] Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul & on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences: The Revival of the … Islamic Texts Society’s al-Ghazali Series) (The Islamic Texts Society 1995).
[iv] Stephen R Covey and Sandra M Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a Beautiful Family (St Martin’s Press 2014).
[vii] Tafseer Tabari.
[xi] Jordan B Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Penguin 2018).
[xii] Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul & on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences: Islamic Texts Society’s al-Ghazali Series) (The Islamic Texts Society 1995).