The world we live in today poses a variety unique of challenges for humanity. The number of people on the planet is rapidly growing, bringing more and more ethical and moral challenges relating to sustainability and equality. Technology and media have also evolved at a staggering rate in recent decades, making it increasingly difficult to live simply and sincerely without seeking approval from others. Moreover, as capitalism takes over, profit and greed has been put before morals and ethics creating extortionate and over-indulgent nations around the world.
All of this should push us to think about how we can turn this tide of what only appears to be the path to destruction. As we raise our children in this climate, we should be reflecting on how we can nurture them to be a generation that is responsible, well-rounded and compassionate, while being strongly grounded in their tradition. We are in need of a generation that sees and acts through the lens of faith, and through the understanding that their worth is based not on their appearance and possessions, but on the quality of their intentions and actions.
In this context we must search for inspiration on how to raise such a generation. For this, we need to reach back to our roots and derive strength from examples of our past, which is in truth our inheritance. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The best of my nation is my generation, then those who follow them, then those who follow them.” [Bukhari & Muslim]. In a world where the moral compass has deviated dramatically, the lives of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are a beacon of shining light. Through their stories, we see how the darkness of idol worship and tribal worship, a generation of steadfast and faith-filled men and women were raised to live with allegiance to one God, striving for His pleasure alone.
A famous hadith compiled in Imam an-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith related by Nu’man b. Bashir (RA) is as follows:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) saying: “Surely, the Halal is clear and the Haram is clear and between the two are doubtful unclear matters that many of the people do not have knowledge of. So, whoever abstains from the doubtful matters has saved his Religion and his honor, and whoever falls into the doubtful matters falls into the Haram, just as the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary is likely to indulge freely grazing therein. Truly, every king has a sanctuary, and Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions. Verily in the body, there is a morsel of flesh that if it is correct then the whole of the body is set aright, and if it is corrupt, the whole of the body is corrupt. It is the heart.” [Bukhari and Muslim].
This is a very important hadith in Islam, to the extent that our salaf (pious predecessors) considered it to be as a pillar of religion. Imam Ahmad said: “The principles of Islam are based on three ahadith: The hadith of ‘Umar (ra), “Actions are by intentions…”, the hadith of ‘Aisha (ra), “Whoever invents in this matter of ours…” and the hadith of Nu’man b. Bashir (ra), “The halal is clear and the haram is clear…”.
Abu Dawud said: “I collected 500,000 hadith of which I included 4,800 in my Sunan (Sunan Abu Dawud). Of these, four hadith are sufficient for the people: the hadith of Nu’man b. Bashir, “The Halal is clear…”; the hadith of ‘Umar (ra), “Indeed, actions are by intentions…”, the hadith “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” and the hadith, “…he leaves that which does not concern him.”
So how does this hadith, a pillar of our deen, relate to raising a generation like that of the Companions? While the hadith itself is incredibly important, the crucial focal point is the narrator himself.
Nu’man (ra) was born in the 1st year after the migration (hijrah) to Madinah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself performed his tahneek, which in itself should clarify for us the greatness of the person this baby would become. The hadith in question was in fact narrated in the 6th or 7th year after the migration, which makes Nu’man (ra) only 6 or 7 years old.
The fact that a child of such a tender age could relate such a complex and eloquent tradition shows the capacity of children to learn. It also shows that the way children are viewed, can in fact push them to exhibit certain types of behaviors. If we treat them as incapable and unintelligent beings, then they will likely fulfill this prophecy, whereas if we treat them respectfully, as capable beings worthy of love and respect, then they will also respond accordingly.
This tradition of Nu’man further demonstrates that children are impressionable by nature and they absorb the environment and behaviors around them constantly. Nu’man attained this wisdom, and learnt these truths at such a young age because of the company he frequented and the surroundings he was in. In fact, “modeling” is a well-known concept in child psychology. It refers to the way in which young children imitate adults. Very often, showing them how to do something will have more lasting effects than telling them to do it over and over again. In this light, the best way to teach children to pray, fast and give in charity, is by doing these things yourself.
From looking at the example of the child rearing of Nu’man b. Bashir (ra), let us dive deeper into the concept of “modeling” and derive lessons we can learn from this young companion that can help us as parents to develop similar traits and characters as that of the Sahabah
1. Attending the Masjid
The children of the companions would frequently accompany their parents to attend the masjid and gatherings of learning. This ultimately led to the children themselves going to learn. They would follow the example of their parents and this built their love of learning as well as a love of worshipping Allah. Frequenting the house of Allah or circles of knowledge built this love from a young age, and sometimes we, as parents, underestimate how much children listen and learn from what is being taught. If this habit of learning is inculcated from a young age, this will develop into a long term habit for them and in the long run establish a connection with Allah.
2. Spending Time in the Company of Adults
The company of adults is also paramount to healthy child development. It could be argued that girls mature mentally and emotionally earlier than boys because they spend more time in the attentive company of female adults like their mothers and aunts. Boys, on the other hand, spend more time with their peers than with attentive male figures who they may aspire to emulate. Thus suitable adult company is important to ensure that mental and emotional development occurs at a healthy pace alongside biological development.This resulted in children like an-Nu’man b. Bashir (ra) being able to comprehend such a deep meaning hadith and then go on to relate this to others, as his mental maturity was much more developed than what we see of children of the same age in the society we live in today.
3. Teaching Children the Etiquettes of Learning
Unfortunately, very often, the natural feisty nature of children is not welcome in our circles of knowledge. For this reason, we may resort to undesirable ways of keeping them ‘quiet’ like allowing unhealthy lengths of screen times. We put the opinions of others above the well-being of children. We need to engage our children in what is happening around them, making attempt to make them understand that learning is every bit as relevant to them as it is to adults.
Through such exposure, children will learn the etiquettes of seeking knowledge and how we respect the scholars and teachers from a young age. Putting away our phones while we are in circles of knowledge and remembrance will teach our children that the context is worthy of presence of mind, heart and soul. This is how the companions raised a generation that was attentive, wise and understanding of the tenants of faith and the responsibilities of humanity from a tender and young age. Such a generation was then able to spread the light of faith from the Arabian Peninsula to around the world.
To conclude, the aforementioned all makes clear that the deteriorating societal values we are surrounded by, as well as diminishing morals and ethics, all call for a need to raise a generation that is going to bring back prophetic values. None of this can be possible without looking at the kind of children that surrounded the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The example of the young Nu’man b. Bashir (ra) who narrated a tradition that is filled with wisdoms and truths that grown men would struggle to carry, there are ample examples illustrating what it means to raise children. With guidance, righteous company and good etiquettes, we too must strive to embody these values so that our children may emulate us, and become the generation that radiates with the light of truth in a time that is in dire need of it.