News & Islam From the Imam’s desk... Instilling confidence of faith and identity in Muslim children By Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari Righteous children as Sadaqah Jariyah Human beings are born with an innate nature of goodness; in Islam this is known as fitrah (Sahih Bukhari). From the Islamic perspective, humans are Allah’s stewards or representatives on Earth (al-Qur’an 2:30) and have been bestowed with karam, meaning honour or dignity (al-Qur’an 17:70). This makes every believing parent, mother and father, solely responsible to raise their children as Allah’s stewards. Nurturing and educating their children to be good human beings, good believers and good citizens to become a positive force for all is the primary parental task. In all phases of childhood, before entering into puberty, children are dependent on their parents and close adults around them. As skilled gardeners delicately nurse budding plants with care and protection to receive the beautiful flowers or fruits, dutiful parents invest in their loving children even before birth, as studies have shown, to build them as loving, caring and service-oriented human beings. For believers, righteous children bring for their parents continuous charity (sadaqah jariyah) until the Day of Judgement. Instilling confidence in children For conscientious parents, children are at the heart of their family life. “There is no gift that a father gives his child more virtuous than good manners.” (Sunan Tirmidhi) Children from their early years gain their etiquette and manners through observing close adults, focused education, a loving family environment and inspirational role modelling from their parents. This is how children grow with happiness and confidence in being who they are. As they start learning social and life skills, they should begin their journey into adolescence with as much maturity, self-esteem and humility as can be nurtured. Support and direction should be provided to children to guide them against confusion and other slip-ups in their pre-puberty life preceding their gradual exposure to the wider world. Planned parental engagement and constant loving communication in an age-appropriate manner further embed in their children a positive self-image, self-assurance and matured understanding of their identity. Slightly older Muslim youngsters – those entering adult life – may feel they operate in an age of Islamophobia. It is therefore crucial they are adequately prepared for this life. They will come across misrepresentations of their religion and community in sections of the media and political circles that may hurt, frustrate or anger them. In this environment, many who have not experienced positive parenting at home may turn inwards, impotent or angry; some may feel scared of publicly expressing their faith identity; whilst others may not communicate their real feelings with their parents and teachers. Self-segregation or creating a ‘cosy’ world to avoid challenges could be an easy option for these children. All this can inhibit their academic progress and behaviour. Here lies the vital need for parental availability with quality time for their children, better communication skills, empathy and other relational qualities. Confidence in identity is essential for a positive personality The transition from childhood to adulthood, i.e. adolescence, is generally a testing period when the search for identity is a determinant factor for young people. This is the period when young people want to explore the world as they change physically, emotionally and socially. The manifestation of this identity becomes evident in various ways, e.g. how they talk, behave and dress. Positive youth culture provides emotional security in this period of transition from childhood to adulthood. Those who can successfully sail through this phase become autonomous, maintain positive self-image and develop good relationships with their parents and others in society. On the other hand, a weak sense of identity makes young people vulnerable and unsettled; this has a negative impact on their future lives. Some may end up ‘acting out’ through delinquency, criminality and even violent extremism. Territorial gang fighting, now prevalent in some inner city areas, is another example of this ‘acting out’ with some communities losing all control they once had over their youth. On the other hand, young people who are passive can ‘act in’ and become dejected or reclusive. A positive family upbringing is thus immensely important in an inclusive social and educational environment and helps navigate the adolescence phase. A fragmented society and unsettled family environment leaves many youth disaffected. Without a strong social fabric, no people can progress! Human beings are, by nature, as diverse as a multi-coloured flower garden. In a positive social environment, a middle-of-the-road approach between individual choice and collective demand becomes a norm; open inclusive views of others give people confidence to work in harmony. Compared to many developed countries, Britain’s ability to accept the ‘unity in diversity’ is a positive thing, despite the aggressive British tabloids that thrive on sensational and negative headlines on minority groups; these are the true threats to social harmony. Confident Muslims are a force for good in society The concept of multiple identities, be they ethnic, linguistic or religious, liberates people from their one-dimensional blind spots. Islam’s ‘Middle Way’ approach has always brought positive and constructive outcomes in history. Islamic values play a positive role in Muslim life in all ages and all places. Vision and reality may often differ, but Islam’s teachings are to produce globally minded citizens who would work not only for their own interest but for the benefits of all. When Muslims practise what they preach, Islam’s dynamic and creative features shape their life positively; their ‘Muslimness’ works for the common good of all. To knowledgeable Muslims, the idea of ‘us and them’ on the basis of one’s clan, tribe or race is an alien concept. Islam is based on the belief in the unity of Allah and oneness of the human race. No Muslim can claim superiority over others, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Allah alone knows who is superior on the basis of individual righteousness. Confident Muslims subscribe to the progress and development of all human beings on the planet. They are a force for good wherever they live. Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari MBE is an educationalist and parenting consultant. He is author of ‘Race, Religion & Muslim Identity in Britain’ and ‘A Long Jihad: My Quest for the Middle Way’.