Bringing up children successfully means caring for them so that they grow up to be independent, responsible human beings. That entails training them-as much through example as through precept-in a rounded and balanced way which pays due attention to all aspects of their physical as well as moral well-being. It means providing a general education which combines preparation for life in this world and life in the hereafter, which minimizes disorder and confusion in the children’s minds and carries them towards harmony and unity of the whole range of human faculties, physical and emotional, psychological and spiritual.
Emphasis on bodily perfection while neglecting moral and spiritual development is not a part of Islamic tradition. Equally, emphasis on spiritual training based upon contempt or denial of the bodily life is not a part of Islamic tradition. Islam is, in almost every respect, characterized by the quest for balance, harmony and unity of means and ends. Therefore, Islam is not a way of either denial or indulgence, but a way of discipline.
Discipline and orderliness with sufficient flexibility to allow for spontaneity of actions and feelings are the defining general characteristics of an Islamic upbringing. Children who do not grow up in an atmosphere of orderliness and self-control are unlikely, as adults, to meet their responsibilities in a consistently calm and dignified manner. Rather, they are likely to lead strained and miserable lives, however successful they may become in their working lives.
By way of illustrating Islamic upbringing, we shall focus discussion here on the familiar areas of eating and sleeping habits and the importance of cleanliness.
In general, if a family’s daily routines are steady and consistent, the children’s lives and characters will follow a similarly ordered pattern, both within the home and outside. If not, they will most probably be disorganized, lacking in will and concentration, and tend to fits of antisocial behaviour. Children imbibe orderliness and discipline from the adults immediately around them and develop strong character. If, on the other hand, they grow up in a confused, unstable haphazard atmosphere, they too will become confused and unstable, liable to aimlessness and depressions and all the unhappy consequences of these.
In practice, orderliness means that children know when they are expected home, and how their time is normally spent when they are at home and outside the home. They should learn as early as possible how to allocate their time between work and play so that what they have to do gets done in time and they enjoy their lives. They should learn how to make moral choices, how to co-operate within the family and with others outside the family. They should learn the importance of regular prayer and be helped to mature a taste for contemplation and devotion to God. They should be brought up to be, as full human beings are, both active and reflective. They should understand the importance of their own lives while learning, through good manners and awareness of the needs and feelings of others, the value of humility.
The eating habits of a family should be based on sound dietary principles. This means having regular eating times, avoiding excess, choosing as far as practicable to eat in company (rather than alone) and sharing with others (rather than preferring oneself); avoiding those things that are harmful to the mind, the will and the body (for example, rushing food in a disrespectful manner); and it means cleanliness, both of the food consumed and the way it is consumed.
In this respect, to start eating again without fully digesting what has already been eaten, that is, eating randomly and always keeping the mouth busy and the stomach full, is injurious to the body and poisonous, even lethal, to the will. The Creator has expressed strong dislike of such manners. Any food eaten in the wrong way is harmful, but worst of all is to eat harmful food in a harmful way.
Prodigality or wasteful excess is an act of disrespect and ingratitude for the Creator’s infinite blessings. Those who over-indulge themselves puzzle and confound their appetite, or they drown in food without ever tasting contentment or satisfaction. Wastefulness is such an offence and so ruinous to the heart and soul that the individual will, eventually, be prepared to eat anything and everything, regardless of whether it is permitted or prohibited, whether he needs it or not, even of whether he likes it or not,
Sensible diet is a matter of discipline and awareness of the nutritional and social values of good manners. A family who can teach their children self-control in what and how they eat must be considered most fortunate, for they have laid the foundations for their children’s spiritual progress as well as of the health of their bodies. Children should therefore be taught the aims and principles of sensible diet so that they begin to choose good habits for themselves and not simply copy the habits to which they are exposed. If parents are unable to articulate or explain the importance of diet and nutrition, they should ask a competent and knowledgeable person to do so for them.
To discipline sleeping habits is of as much importance as disciplining eating habits. We need to rest at particular times in order to stay healthy and have command of all our resources, physical, mental, emotional and psychological. The balance and stability of our personalities depends upon non-disruptive patterns of working and resting. The greater part of the day should be set aside for working and the night for rest and sleep. It is not reasonable to change this order. Trying to change it means risking tensions and conflict in social relationships, contradicting the natural rhythm of the universe and ruining one’s health.
It will be useful to mention a few principles for resting and sleeping hours which might be suitable for everyone.
1. The routines of family members should he co-ordinated with each other. If resting and sleeping hours are orderly, most of the work needed to maintain a happy family has been done. Disorderly sleeping habits affect eating times, they affect mood and temperament, and give rise to many insoluble difficulties and disputes.
2. Similarly, the lives of neighbours should correspond with each other. Otherwise we disrupt each other’s working and resting periods.
3. Particular times should be allocated to resting and working. Randomly changing resting and working hours will disrupt sleeping patterns, which, in turn, negatively affects both one’s rest and work.
4. Whatever injures sleep should be avoided. Sometimes a few cups of tea, sometimes a little food, sometimes boredom, may ruin a night and therefore the working day that follows it.
It is commonly accepted that habits of cleanliness are passed from parents to children. Imitation is a vital part of human development-it must be so as human beings have so much that they need to learn quickly in order to take their place in adult life. Children will believe in the importance of cleanliness if they see it in their immediate environment, if they see the adults around them keeping themselves clean, and if cleanliness is stressed as something necessary and desirable. Conversely, if they see no effort to maintain tidiness and cleanliness, they will grow up negligent of their responsibility to be personally clean and to keep their immediate surroundings in order
The importance of cleanliness could hardly be more emphasized in a culture than it is in Islam. Worship in Islam is a commitment of the body as well as the mind and spirit. A part of the dignity of being a Muslim worshipper is to do a partial ablution (washing the normally exposed parts of the body) before each of the five obligatory prayers and a full ablution (or bath) at least once a week. In addition, it is strongly commended, almost obligatory, to wash one’s hands before and after meals, not to touch the mouth as soon as one wakes from sleep but only after washing them, to keep one’s hair and nails properly trimmed and clean, etc.
In sum: orderliness and discipline are not social devices to burden the individual and enforce a rigidly patterned conformity. Rather, they are the means to ensure the health of body and mind and will, the stability of the whole character, so that the individual acquires the grace and dignity of person which can only come from strength based upon self-control. The role of the family in equipping children for such dignity with and in their lives is decisive.