Many people feel little or no responsibility for themselves, for others or for their future. In a society where hard work and honesty yield little or no benefit to the individual, the individual avoids both, and begs from others for support, demanding that they perform their duties toward him, while denying that he owes anything to himself or his family. The concept of responsibility for self is missing from contemporary Muslim societies. It is also a direct consequence of the prevalence of collectivism in the Muslim world. One should not confuse caring for others with collectivism, for collectivism is to give priority to the group over the individual. Tribalism and clannishness were the most primitive forms of collectivism in the Muslim world. Nowadays, these have been replaced with being a slave of the government. In intellectual terms, collectivism leads to “group think;’ or a herd mentality, which is the enemy of original individual thought (ijtihad), the mainspring of human progress. In economic terms, it removes any incentive for productivity from individuals, turning them into unproductive consumers. Psychologically, it removes the individuals’ vision of themselves as the khulafa’. Collectivism promotes a culture of dependency, where one has no self-esteem.
Ethically, it leads to moral cowardice. Politically, it leads to either rival factions attempting to impose their will upon one another or to the “strong man” imposing his will on the society.
In contrast with the above, the Qur’an appeals directly to individuals to choose to accept their role as khulafo’ and to submit to Allah’s Will, encouraging them to struggle to achieve good for themselves, for their community, and for society. If we truly want for others what we want for ourselves, then we will want others also to be rational, responsible, and free.
In many Muslim countries, children are taught to be passive and uncritical. They learn some outdated legal injunctions. Zakah is taught as a tax based on the number of camels you own. Students are taught to give bushels of barley and dates to the poor. Books on jurisprudence still contain chapters on how to deal with slaves and the correct method of buying and selling them! Young Muslims are being taught outdated and unnecessary information. A valuable opportunity is also being lost: that of developing compassion and concern for the needs of other people. This lack of compassion is a serious flaw in the character of the future generations of the Ummah.
The underlying reason for teaching a child about zakah is not how to calculate percentages for camels, dates, and barley, but to instill an understanding of the great concepts of social solidarity, kindness, sacrifice, generosity, as well as the importance of sharing with the desperate and needy. Far more important than the material aspects of the issue are the inculcation of deep feelings of compassion and empathy, as well as an appreciation of the suffering of the helpless and of the have-nots of society. It is the practice of brotherhood and the joy of giving by means of zakah and other charities that needs emphasis at this tender age, not the boring mathematical calculations.
A Distorted Culture: Backwardness and Superstition
Many Muslims today are backward-looking rather than forward-looking, and they are reactive rather than proactive. They wait until a problem occurs and then rush to try to do something about it (but rarely succeed), rather than planning ahead and thinking forward to prevent the occurrence of the problem in the first place. They are like the car driver who only looks at the rear mirror instead of the front windshield.
Another problem hampering Muslim progress is superstition, witchcraft, and obsession with the world of jinns. Islamic civilization was built on foundations of knowledge, science, objectivity, and reason. It is comforting to know that Muslim scholars, while they believed in the supernatural miracles of all the prophets, at the same time believed that the real miracle that Prophet Muhammad ~ left to humanity was the Qur’an. Qur’anic Revelation addresses the human intellect and is based on reason. The Qur’an calls for research, contemplation, exploration, and thinking.
These are dominant and recurring themes in the Qur’an. It is this type of mentality which parents have to nurture in the minds of their children, so that they grow up believing in the community of reason while maintaining their firm faith in God and the Hereafter.
Civilization is not built on superstition and witchcraft. One hears appalling stories of people resorting to the healing “powers” of spirits, jinns, stars, and magic in dealing with family affairs, rather than resorting to sound medical or psychological treatment. These practices are alien to the principles and spirit of Islam and harmful to children’s intellect.
Our role as parents is to inculcate the enlightened scientific mentality which the Quran emphasizes. The Qur’an affirms al-sunan al-Ilahiyyah, the laws of nature that govern human life and the physical universe. These divinely inspired natural laws applied fully to the Prophet $ as explained in the verses:
Say: “I have no power over any good or harm to myself except as Allah wills. If I had knowledge of the unseen, I should have multiplied all good, and no evil should have touched me: I am but a warner, and a bringer of glad tidings to those who have faith.” (Qur’an p88)
Say: “J am but a man like yourselves, [but 1 the Revelation has come to me, that your God is One God: whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and, in the worship of his Lord, admit no one as partner.” (Qur’an 18:ll0)
This objective and scientific mentality produced one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. During its golden age, it was the Muslims who helped Europe out of the Dark Ages (into which it had sunk for centuries) and into the Enlightenment.
It is the duty of parents first and school teachers second to raise children of great intelligence, calibre and character, deeply entrenched with an understanding of divine and natural laws, the universe, and the human and social sciences.
The Wrong Worldview: Weakness and Fear
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
“There will come a time when other nations will attack you, like the hungry people who devour a plate of food:’ A Companion responded: “Is it because of our smaller numbers, 0 Prophet of Allah?”
The Prophet said: “No, you will be many then, but you will be like the foam on the ocean waves. Allah will take away the fear and respect of you from the hearts of your enemy, and He will instill in your hearts weakness (wahn):’ Someone said: “What is wahn, 0 Prophet of Allah ?”The Prophet answered: “’Wahn’ is the love of this worldly life and hatred of death:’ (Abu Dawud)
The Balanced Way: The Wise Approach We ask parents to take an honest look at their religious beliefs. A wise understanding of the practices and inner requirements of your religion will have a beneficial impact on how you raise your children. It is important to parent in a way that does not lead to a culture of fear, self-absorption, backwardness, and coercion.
The early scholars (‘alims, fuqaha’ and mullahs) emphasized both rituals and worship Cibadat). The Qur’an mentions dhikr, meaning remembrance of the Almighty. Both elements are essential for teaching children.
Parents need to be aware of the Islamic worldview and to teach it to children at the age of discernment. Children should also be told that our duty is to develop life on earth according to the correct values and rules that God has revealed to humankind, and that worship is a means to achieve those ends. This will then lead them to understand the whole purpose of life as being to strive to do the right thing.