Khutbah 14th Ramadan 1438
During the first half of Ramadan 1438 AH the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) organized a number of events aimed at making Ramadan and our forthcoming `Id al-Fitr celebrations more child friendly. In my khutbah today I would like to underscore the importance of making Ramadan, `Id al-Fitr and indeed all of our religious observances more meaningfully inclusive of children.
It might be expedient to begin with a reminder that rearing children to rise to their fullest human potential is one of the most important goals of a conscientious Muslim. In fact, according to a teaching from the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) nurturing righteous children with the sublime values of compassionate love, altruism and contemplative spirit will not only procure worldly delight for parents and caregivers but also salvation in the life hereafter. The companion Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates a prophetic tradition (hadith) in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) proclaimed the following:
(( إذا مات الإنسان انقطع عمله إلا من ثلاث: صدقة جارية، أو علم ينتفع له أو ولد صالح يدعو له )) رَوَاهُ مُسلِمٌ.
“When a person dies, no good deeds live on after him or her, except for three things: continuing charity (i.e. sadaqa jariyah), knowledge which can benefit others, and virtuous offspring who will pray for him or her.” (Sahih Muslim).
Child-Nurturing as Tarbiyyah
A word most commonly used to describe child-nurturing, or appropriate Muslim upbringing, is tarbiyah. It is often defined as parenting or educating young children. However, tarbiyah is a much wider and more profound concept that includes the ideas of both ta’lim; i.e. the instructional aspect of education such as learning to recite the Qur’an or how to make salah, as well as ta’dib; the guiding of a young child towards developing good conduct and ethical behaviours. Therefore, the concept of tarbiyah not only incorporates the education, growth and nurturing of the child, but also encompasses a comprehensive process of developing all aspects of the child’s character, personality, heart and mind. In this regard the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have advised the murabbi i.e. the person responsible for the tarbiyah of the child as follows:
(akrimu awladakum wa ahsinu adabahum)
“Be generous, kind and noble to your children
and make their habits and manners good and beautiful.”
It is no revelation that parents and caregivers tend to focus more on the ta’lim elements of upbringing, which are indeed necessary, but building good value systems and exemplary characteristics such as honesty, love, compassion and gratitude is equally, if not more important. Children learn these values through our interaction with them and the best way to nurture it is by spending quality time with them. We can do so by taking time for hugs and affection, by reading or playing games with them, by making them feel important, for example, asking to help set out musallahs at salah time, making the adhan or iqamah, or reciting special du’as at bedtime. This is of course an awesome responsibility for parents and caregivers and we need to make sure that we are equipped with the necessary tools for this important and significant role.
It is interesting to note that the Arabic term tarbiyyah originates from the root word rabb, a most munificent name that nurtures, gives blessings and describes the loving relationship between Allah and creation. Therefore as a derivative, tarbiyyah can also be understood as something that reminds us of our connection and relationship with our rabb. This is basically what parents and caregivers are responsible for; constantly ensuring that children are educated, growing, nourished, nurtured and encouraged towards their fitrah i.e. their natural inclination towards goodness, spirituality and ultimately to a close and loving relationship with their rabb.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exemplified the noble goal of nurturing righteous children both in his sublime teachings as well as his ethical conduct. In fact, he taught his followers to be alert to the innate goodness and natural spirituality of all children. In a prophetic tradition (hadith) narrated by the companion Abu Hurayra (ra) the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said;
“All children are born pure with fitrah; that is with a natural inclination towards goodness and belief in God, it is their parents who rear them either as Jews, Christians or Magians” (Sahih Muslim).
The above hadith suggests that from an Islamic theological perspective all children are guaranteed inhabitants of paradise and are assured salvation in the hereafter regardless of the personal beliefs or dispositions of their parents. The hadith also points to the significant and influential role parents and caregivers play in children’s upbringing.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as an Exemplary Parent
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was an extraordinary father and grandfather. He treated his children and grandchildren with tenderness and great compassion and recognized this as a pathway to God and goodness. In this regard he taught that in order to realize the mercy and compassion of God one needs to display mercy and compassion to all of God’s creation, especially children. One of his companions was deeply moved by the tender manner in which he kissed his grandchild, and confessed that he had ten children and never kissed one of them. The Prophet (pbuh) then advised him that that by displaying tenderness, mercy and compassion to children, one secures the mercy and compassion of God.
عن أبي هريرة – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – قال : قَبَّل النبي – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم – الحسن بن علي – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – وعنده الأقرع بن حابس، فقال الأقرع: إن لي عشرة من الولد ما قَبَّلْتُ منهم أحدًا . فنظر إليه رَسُول اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم – فقال: (( مَنْ لا يَرْحَم لا يُرْحَم! )) مُتَّفَقٌ عَلَيْهِ.
Even during the performance of sacred acts of worship and prayer, the Prophet (pbuh) did not see the playfulness of children as a distraction but as sanctification and devotion. This is indeed a profound teaching and I would like to provide a few examples to support it.
Abu Hurayra (ra) narrates that once while praying ‘Isha` (late evening prayer) with the Prophet (pbuh), he reached the position of prostration and one of his grandchildren, Husayn, jumped on his back. The Prophet (pbuh) remained in prostration for a long time and when he rose, he took the child gently from his back and placed them next to him. One of the companions inquired as to whether he had received Divine guidance that caused him to remain in prostration for such a long time. He simply replied that it was because he was afraid to hurt the child by raising his back while he were on top of him. On another occasion when the Prophet (pbuh) heard a child cry while he was praying, he shortened his prayer so the mother could finish the prayer and pacify her child (Bukhari). Last but not least, once while the Prophet (pbuh) was delivering a sermon, one of his grandchildren tried to crawl onto the minbar (pulpit), he interrupted his sermon, picked up the child and continued to preach while tenderly holding the child in his hands.
The Prophet Muhammad’s extraordinary responsiveness and sensitivity to children was infectious and was imbibed by his closest companions. This brings to mind an incident that happened between the illustrious companion, `Umar ibn al-Khattab and his ten year old son, `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with them). They were both in a teaching session with the Prophet (pbuh) when he asked his companions a challenging question to which no-one was able to respond. When the meeting was over, ʿUmar’s young son, `Abdullah, who had been present during the inquiry, sheepishly informed his father that he knew the answer. ʿUmar was very impressed by the erudition of his son, and advised him that the young can learn from the old just as much as the elders can be taught by the young. This lesson was at the core of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and it is something that we should all strive to emulate.
Children and Fasting
The blessed month of Ramadan holds wonderful opportunities for parents and children to teach, learn, and experience. As parents and caregivers we need to gently and lovingly guide and nurture our children towards a love for fasting. In this regard we need to go beyond pedantic fiqhi and legal positions and allow flexibility to be our guiding principle. Most of all, we need to be aware of the individual and unique developmental stages of each child. However, it is important that parents and caregivers do not perceive flexibility as weakness but as having a firm grounding in the scholarly opinions of the various schools of Islamic law (madha-hib).
There is absolute consensus among all Muslim scholars that fasting is not obligatory for children who have not reached the age of bulugh (maturity). The Shafi`i and Hanafi legal schools have recommended that children should be initiated into fasting at the age of seven if they can tolerate it, and they should be instructed to fast at the age of ten. This is based on an analogy (qiyas) with a prophetic tradition pertaining to salah and because the evidence (dalil) is equivocal, there exists alternative views. The Maliki school holds that it is neither obligatory nor recommended that a guardian instruct a young child or even a child that is older than ten years (murahiq) to fast. As for the Hanbali School; they hold the view that the determining factors should be the ability and tolerance of the individual child. In light of the above, it is my considered view that children should be initiated into fasting at the age of seven even if it is for half the day. At the age of ten they should be encouraged to fast for full days. However, the above should be implemented with great wisdom and love and should take into account the ability and tolerance of the individual child as well as the circumstances and context. It is also important to note that every child is unique in terms of his or her physical and emotional development.
In respect of the context, if our younger children are at school, or the hours are long such as in summer, then it might be best to get them to fast for half the day and for full days on weekends when they are at home. On the other hand, if the hours are shorter, such as in winter, and they are on school vacation, then it might be a good opportunity and a little easier to nurture our children in the discipline of fasting. Regardless of the strategy we choose to nurture our children to fast, we should remember that fasting is not obligatory on them and that flexibility and love should be our guiding principles.
Fostering a Child Friendly Ramadan and `Id al-Fitr at CMRM
It was this ethos that inspired members of the CMRM to initiate some Children’s Programmes for Ramadan 2017. These programmes are geared at encouraging the masjid to be a child friendly space and also to generate more hype around Ramadan so that they too can look forward to this month and appreciate the sacred and special time that it symbolizes. It is also an attempt to attract more young parents to participate in masjid programmes that can include their young children. We convened a successful arts and crafts afternoon on Sunday, 28 May and are looking forward to a follow up story telling session on Saturday 6 June. In collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Contemporary Islam we have invited veteran anti-apartheid activist and renowned poet, Omaruddin ‘Don’ Mattera from Johannesburg who will be on a brief lecture tour. We are fortunate to have him facilitate the story telling session for children. I encourage you to spread the word and most of all to bring your children and grandchildren along to the Ramadan story-telling session. I would also like to take this opportunity of calling on you to share your ideas on how we can build on the platform we have established especially to make the forthcoming `Id al-Fitr celebrations resonate with our children. Another wonderful initiative I would like to bring to your attention is the Bucket of Joy Project. Bucket of Joy is an NPO that distributes buckets of treats to children who have fasted full days for the first time during the month of Ramadan. Buckets are prepared for distribution at the Parkwood masjid and this year 3000 buckets will be distributed to many areas around the Western Cape. We commend these kinds of initiatives that celebrate our children and also celebrate the gift of giving.
In conclusion, parenting and nurturing children is undoubtedly the most important responsibility a human being will bear during their lifetime. As parents and caregivers we need to be more attentive of our awesome responsibility as mentors of the future generation and also more aware of the great spiritual gifts that children offer us. Our children have the potential to not only transform themselves, but also their parents, families, caregivers and their communities. In order for this potential to be realized, we need to be fully aware of it and relish the spontaneous and natural sense of wonder and awe in children whenever it presents itself to us.
From an Islamic perspective it is instructive to note that Allah, the Most Compassionate, makes an oath in the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Balad, chapter 90 verse 3, by the mystical ties and spiritual bonds that exist between a parent and a child:
وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ
Furthermore, our spiritual guide and exemplar, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us that our children are precious not only because they offer us our best opportunity and hope for securing a more positive future for ourselves and humanity, but also because through them parents and mentors can secure salvation in the hereafter.
I would like to conclude with some prose by renowned Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Please join me in a prayer for our children:
Oh Allah we thank you for Your care over our children and families.
Parenting a child is a challenging task and we turn to You for wisdom and guidance.
Ya Sabur: O Allah, the Patient and Generous,
Help us to raise our children in a manner that is pleasing to You. Help us to be good examples to our children and to have patience in our communication and nurturing skills. Surround our children with leaders, community members, and teachers who are inspirational role models.
Ya Hadi: O Allah, our Protector and Guide,
Place a fence of safety around our children. Protect their bodies, minds, and emotions from harm and safeguard them from any physical, or emotional affliction and abuse.
Keep our children away from the bad influences in our society and surround them with friends who will inspire them to do good and be attracted to things that are beneficial for them.
Ya Rahman: O Allah, the Most Kind and Righteous,
Bless our children with compassion and a generous and caring spirit. Keep them steadfast in their prayers, fasting and other forms of worship. Let the Qur’an be their source of guidance and encourage them to read it daily. Penetrate their hearts with Your love and compassion today and always.
رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ
وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
Our Lord, grant us spouses and children who are the comfort of our eyes, and make us paragons of virtue and goodness.