We live at a time when any adjective that ends with –est captivates our imagination.
We want to see the biggest, highest and best. We want to buy the latest, newest and fastest. We want to create the tallest, rarest and newest. Our foods are fast, our cars are faster and our mobile phones the fastest as in the speed of sound. Life revolves around speed. We are constantly in a rush to get to places and to do things and like with everything else, the ill effects of this need is seeping into our households.
Our relationships are affected; wives are expecting more from their husbands as much as the demands of the husbands on their wives are increasing. This rife is clearly now visible in how our standards and expectations have been raised for our children. We want our children enrolled in schools the earliest; we want them to memorize the Quran the fastest and to get the highest grades in school.
One day I asked a group of friends what discipline meant to them. The feedback I got had words such as "training" and "obeying" which are very strong words to begin with. Experiments have been conducted to show that conditioning is possible with animals (see Pavlov’s conditioning experiment with dogs for details); Pavlov proved in his experiment that animals could be conditioned to behave in certain ways if they are granted incentives and consequences. This could be achieved without any meaning or reasoning to it. Yes, we can "train" children to "obey", but is it time to start rethinking about the way we perceive discipline and why we do it?
At a workshop I recently conducted with my colleagues, I asked these questions, “What do we want from children? What is the end product that you are looking for and do you have a time frame for your little ones to reach these goals?”
The overwhelming response was directed towards wanting children to become good citizens, better behaved and to be respectful towards others. None of their answers included how many books they read or what degrees they achieved in their lives. The question is then; is cognitive education overrated in our times?
Since most of us have the same goal for children, to achieve high levels of morals and education, how do we achieve this?
The best form of learning is through observation. The Prophet peace be upon him was the most fascinating teacher, he had children of his own and dealt with a lot of young sahabis, he had the ultimate method of dealing with children that we have read in hadiths but how much of his ways do we bring in to life in our daily dealings with our little ones? We proudly comment on how Islam gave us answers to everything, but are we looking at it to help us with the situation with our tarbiya?
The famous hadith says, "علمو اولادكم الصلاة لسبع”- Teach your children salah at the age of seven. The guideline is very clear, but sometimes it seems like we want to outsmart our own teacher. We want to rush our children to reading, learning, and performing at a tender age. As though we are saying that life is all about cognitive development, achievement and end products. As though we are saying that the quicker the better, but is this notion really true?
In Germany – where the best-engineered cars are created, children are not sent to school until the age of seven; are they better followers of this hadith than we are? Are they reaping better benefits of education than we are?
We are the community that proudly send our children off to school at the young age of three, does that in some way make us ahead of the game? Are we ahead of the Germans in creating, producing and innovating by four years?
Why the rush?
It seems like in our generation, we as parents want to send our children anywhere but into our own arms. We send them early in the morning to school then to madrassa and finally to their extra-curricular activities. We feel accomplished to be doing all this, after all it is quite hectic to ensure their lunch boxes are packed and their transportation is well arranged, but what is the effect of all this?
The Prophet peace be upon him said "إنما بعثت لأتمم مكارم الأخلاق" I have been sent to perfect good characters. Although our beloved prophet was "illiterate" in the terms we view literacy today; the Prophet did indeed miss out on formal education but we do know that he is our supreme teacher on our Religion and other multi-disciplinary matters, the most successful person we have as a role model is our beloved Prophet peace be upon him.
Learning happens at its best through practice and engagement. It is about showing kindness, love, care and concern. What is the value of a child that prays five times a day, memorizes the entire Quran, gets straight A’s but is unable to function in social settings? One who is a great follower but is unable to create his/her own ideas and thoughts?
Life was never meant to be confined to four walls that we and our children have to endure for over 8 hours in a day for almost 20 years of our lives in education, and a lot more for those who continue reading or working thereafter.
Children are the purest form of humanity regardless of which society they come from. Umar radhiya Allahu anhu used to stop children on the streets and ask them to pray for him. We are so busy "disciplining" we miss out on lovely moments. If anyone needs changing and disciplining, it is us, the adults who are busy rushing them and ourselves through life.
We earnestly pray for marriage, thereafter we pray for a child; we rush our children to school to be “taught” then worry about their university. Once they have their studies in order, we begin the cycle of earnestly praying for their marriage. When will we stop so that we can engage with our now? When will we be thankful and grateful for what our children are now? What they are today was a dream we had for them to achieve a year ago, but we are too busy setting our next goal for them that we miss the thrill of what they have acquired and grown into.
At the end of the day, it is people that matter and how you make them feel. We are human “beings” and not human “doings” for a reason. It isn’t about what we do, but about who we are. That is the most important lesson to instil in our children. We aren’t better people because of the accomplishments we have made or because of how smart we are. Allah subhanahu wa taala makes it clear in suratul hujurat:
"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted." (49:13)
Admittedly, life is full of challenges. Generations have to deal with different sets of challenges confronting their generation. Technology is fast over-taking the traditional analogue systems. Today is not what was yesterday and tomorrow will be different from today. Ali bin Abi Talib Radhiallahu anhu said we should handle our children in a manner that reflects their generation but don’t you think that this rush is making us lose on the important matters? Don't you think we should take a step back and think before we rush to get captivated with the words that end with …est?
photo credits: Samia Omar (featured image) Paul O'Rear (inline image)