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Prophetic Parenting: How the Prophet taught about Sex, Intimacy, and Relationships

Within Islam, the family is regarded as the cornerstone of the community and essential to societal stability and harmony. Islamic teachings have always recognised that the environment a child is brought up in exercises a significant influence upon their character development throughout adolescence and during adulthood, an observation which is supported by extensive psychological research. Parenting is never straightforward and there are times when as parents we will have to answer difficult questions, and there is no doubt that raising children can be an intimidating and at times stressful undertaking.

As believers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we impart the morals, values, and principles of Islam upon our children. There are times when this may necessitate discussing complex and challenging questions, especially when it comes to talking about sexual intimacy and relationships. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that we guide our children and equip them with the resources that they need to navigate life as righteous and faithful humans, and to achieve this it is crucial that we look to our Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) teachings and guidance for inspiration.

The following is a hadith from which we can extrapolate some invaluable lessons as parents:

Abu Umaamah said:

A young man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of Allah, give me permission to commit zina.”

The people turned to him to rebuke him, telling him to be quiet. But the Messenger of Allah said: “Leave him alone.” Then he came closer to him and told him to sit down. He said, “Would you like that for your mother?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Nor do people like it for their mothers.” He said, “Would you like it for your daughter?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Nor do people like it for their daughters.” He said, “Would you like it for your sister?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Nor do people like it for their sisters.” He said, “Would you like it for your paternal aunt?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Nor do people like it for their paternal aunts.” He said, “Would you like it for your maternal aunt?” He said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Nor do people like it for their maternal aunts.” Then he placed his hand on him and said, “O Allah, forgive his sin, purify his heart, and guard his chastity.” And after that, this young man never did anything.

Ahmad (21708)

This beautiful hadith is abundant in Prophetic wisdom and insight, and we are going to be exploiting the six lessons that can be extracted from this narration:

1. Be approachable.

When the young man approaches the Prophet, he is surprisingly straightforward and blunt with a question that in most social contexts would be perceived as inappropriate – and even the people surrounding him begin to rebuke him. The Prophet, however, is neither offended nor startled by this question. Puberty is a physically and emotionally exhausting time that often leaves a child feeling confused and misunderstood, and having a compassionate, understanding, and non-judgemental figure to look up to can make all the difference.

The young man knew without a doubt that he could approach the Prophet for guidance and advice for anything that may be troubling him, and in the end, he remained on the righteous path and steered clear from any wrongdoings. If we are not approachable as parents, then there is every likelihood that our children will look for advice and information in the wrong places. As parents, we will always have our children’s interests at heart, and if we are approachable then we will be the first ones our children will turn to whenever something is troubling or concerning them.

2. Do not rebuke personal questions.

In the hadith, the people surrounding the young man criticise him for his bluntness and advise him to be quiet, but the Prophet instead instructs the men to leave the young man alone and invites him to sit beside him so that he can explain to him properly. When it comes to the Muslim community, there is a huge stigma associated with sexual intimacy and relationships that discourages any discussion and even acknowledgement of its existence – an opinion rooted in cultural attitudes and not necessarily an Islamic one. Children are curious and inquisitive, and if we foster a culture of silence and shame around something which is an intrinsic part of human nature, we are sending out a dangerous message – a message that a completely natural human inclination is something to feel ashamed and guilty about.

The beauty of the Prophet’s response is that he did not once make the young man feel awkward or uncomfortable. We can learn from the Prophet’s reaction. Instead of discouraging and suppressing questions regarding sexual intimacy, we need to be open to answering these personal questions in a way that does not make it awkward, embarrassing, or humiliating for either party.

3. Welcome difficult questions.

Sexual intimacy is an incredibly complicated and multi-faceted topic, and even though we may have more life experience than our children, we will struggle to provide effective and cohesive answers to our children’s questions if we ourselves perceive them to be taboo and stigmatised. These questions are always going to be difficult because of their nature, but this is certainly no reason to stifle or prevent these types of discussions. In the narration, the Prophet asks the young man to be seated. The Prophet understands that this is a young man who is learning to navigate his desires and emotions, and it is critical that he receives the necessary guidance and advice so that he can make morally upright and righteous choices whenever the time comes.

When the Prophet invites the young man to sit beside him, he is indicating that he is not only prepared to tackle these difficult questions but that he is going to give the young man his undivided attention. If the young man had been denied the opportunity to learn, there is every likelihood that he may have gone on to commit wrongdoing. We can apply this example to our own parenting methods by not offering half-hearted or hurried answers to questions regarding sexual intimacy, and instead, we should sit with our children and engage in informative and enlightening discussions that will ensure a comprehensive and complete understanding of the subject.

4. Provide rational explanations.

Much of the narration is devoted to the explanation that the Prophet gives the young man. Rather than using harsh and demeaning language, the Prophet instead reminds the young man of the disappointment he would feel if any of the women in his family were to be treated in such a way by another man. The young man obviously responds that he would never want it, and the Prophet gently concludes that neither would anyone else. When we are confronted with such a seemingly controversial subject, we may instinctively react with anger, embarrassment, or disappointment. The Prophetic solution, however, is to appeal to rationality, logic, and intelligence.

In modern society, and particularly in Western cultures, it is virtually impossible to shield our children from the rampant sexualisation which is present in literature, television, cinema, music, popular culture, and broader society in general. The truth is that our children have been exposed to sexualised content for years, and by acknowledging and appreciating this we are respecting their autonomy and independence whilst also providing them with the guidance and advice that they so desperately need. The intention is not to suppress or silence our children, but to build self-regulating children who have the knowledge and initiative to always make the right decision, no matter what.

5. Empathise with them.

Not once does the Prophet judge or embarrass the young man during his explanation, and instead, he comforts him with a supportive and sympathetic hand. Rather than rebuke him for entertaining such a thought, the Prophet recognises that he acted righteously and honourably by taking the initiative to ask questions and actively learn the truth. It is crucial that we understand this issue from the perspective of our children to truly empathise. Adolescents are going through biological processes known collectively as puberty, a crucial developmental phase in their life during which they are experiencing fundamental physiological, hormonal, and emotional changes.

During this confusing and turbulent time our children have never needed our unconditional love and sympathy more, and by being there for them to not only answer their questions but just to empathise with them we are building a foundation of self-assurance and confidence that they will be able to depend upon throughout their lives. By fostering a nurturing and loving environment within the home, we can ensure that we impart Islamic principles and Prophetic teachings to our children that will continue to illuminate their path with the light of guidance and revelation as they progress throughout life.

6. Make duʿāʾ for them.

At the conclusion of the hadith, the Prophet says a heartfelt and touching prayer for the young man, wherein he prays that the young man’s heart is purified from all sin and wrongdoing. In Islam, it is said thatduʿāʾ is the greatest weapon of the believer, and the power of invocation is certainly not something to be underestimated. A sincere and genuine duʿāʾ is heard by Allah and His angels, and there is truly no duʿāʾ that is more sincere and genuine than that of a loving parent. When prayer is accompanied by righteous intentions and honest action, then it can produce truly miraculous and awe-inspiring results.

Through supplication, we are acknowledging the omniscience and omnipresence of Allah as we communicate with Him as His faithful believers. Through duʿāʾ, we can ask for guidance and inspiration for ourselves as well as our children, supplicating for everything that is righteous and uplifting in this world as well as in the hereafter.

Summary

Bringing up the next generation of believers in these modern times is never going to be straightforward, and it is inevitable that difficult questions concerning sexual intimacy and relationships are going to arise at some point. By following the teachings of the Prophet, however, we can ensure that we are not only prepared for the difficult question, but that we can implement a parenting approach that is sympathetic, compassionate, and understanding.

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