*Author’s note: The editors of the IAGD newsletter declined to run this article, saying it was “not in the best interest of the organization.” One quote in particular seemed to rub everyone the wrong way. I refused to remove it, so the piece never made it to the press. Read more about the incident in a previous post. Enjoy!
By Shabina S. Khatri
One of the most traumatizing moments of childhood is realizing that mom and dad can be wrong. Once this epiphany hits, all the images you once held of your parents as invincible, infallible and unimpeachable begin to crumble. You start to wonder,
What else don’t I know about these people?
If they were wrong this time, how do I know they won’t be wrong next time?
Why does what they think matter more than what I think?
Troubling questions, troubling answers.
That moment of realization is no picnic for your folks, either. Like a superhero who dropped the ball and disappointed his biggest fan, your mom or dad must now cope with a truth that had happily been buried since the day you were born: that he or she is not perfect. But reality is always better than fantasy, no matter how unpleasant. And once this reality dawns upon you, the opportunity to develop a more symbiotic relationship with your parents finally begins.
It’s no longer just about unconditional love and deference, it’s about giving and taking naseeha. I love it when my parents ask me for advice, though it can be stressful to give the people whom you always thought knew best any sort of counsel.
Anyway, where I’m going with this is kind of controversial, and it starts with a story. So buckle up.
“You’re the one who’s just an employee here, imaam!”
The words cut like a knife, and I strived to maintain my composure. In my time at this masjid, I’ve been reminded of my place more than once, but the repetition has not dulled the pain such rebukes evoke. Yesterday, I counseled a brother who was at his wit’s end on how to deal with his disrespectful children.
“They pray five times a day and they go to all of the Islamic functions, but they don’t understand the value our religion places on respect for elders. Why is that, imaam?”
I bit back the response that my heart wanted to spit out. Transmitting my anger onto this man would not solve anything. I gave him a gentle smile instead, knowing he probably already had an answer, and that my job was to listen and nod my head, not to cause controversy and spark change. Time for the monthly dinner…
“Ladies, please quiet down. Ladies, please respect our dear speaker, who traveled 20,000 miles and is missing his daughter’s wedding to talk with us. Ladies, please!”
It’s the weekend, and I’ve received at least three separate calls from sisters who are unhappy with the children at Sunday School. The kids seem to be acting up again.
“They just don’t listen! Every time I begin teaching, they start chatting away! I spend hours preparing these lessons, and it’s only to benefit them! Why are they so rude and inconsiderate?”
Once again, I swallow what’s sitting on the tip of my tongue. Why rock the boat? The messenger is just as important as the message. Now is not the right time. I need to pick my battles.
Tonight I’m sitting in a gathering of men. They are angry.
“Divorce is such a huge problem these days! Our children have no patience whatsoever. The key to a successful marriage is compromise and sacrifice. Why can’t they realize this, imaam?”
I contemplate showing them the e-mails I receive. Eleven new messages in the past hour, mostly from newlyweds who don’t know how to deal with their in-laws.
“My mother is angry because my wife asked me to do the dishes while she cleaned up the kitchen…”
“My father-in-law insists that I not wear my hijab in front of his sons…”
“Her parents keep pushing me to go to medical school, but I want to pursue a doctorate and become a professor…”
I shut off my computer. I sit and stare at the blank screen for a while. What relief can I offer? They will only heed my recommendations if they agree with what I say. Even the best of advice is worthless if it falls on deaf ears. They hear, but they’re not yet ready to listen.
My point, in case you missed it, is that our community has an adab problem. The reason our children don’t respect authority is because our parents do not. And the reason our parents do not is because they hold a different definition of authority than our religion does. Age, profession, income, gender, race – these are discounted time and time again by the Prophet (SAW), as he reminds us in his last sermon that no one has superiority over another except in piety and good actions.
Who has spent more time in the cause of Allah (SWT) these days than our Islamic leaders? Our imaams, our scholars, our teachers? Yet precisely because of the path that these people have chosen, they don’t usually drive fancy cars or command a lot of disposable income. And we discount them and look down on them for that. We elevate ourselves by constantly reminding them of their social boundaries. We treat them horribly in front of our children and then we wonder why our children throw this horrible treatment back in our faces.
And who loses? All of us. We lose the wisdom and knowledge and spiritual guidance these leaders can offer our families and our communities. We lose the respect of our children, who watch us fall and then sink into insolence themselves because that’s what we’ve taught them to do. Not with our words, but with our actions. Do as I say, not as I do? That doesn’t work with kids.
The Prophet (SAW) tells us, “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character (Bukhari).” It’s such a simple sentence but in it I believe is the wisdom of the universe. Good manners (say please and thank you; smile; hold doors open for others; give elders your seat if there are none) is one of the most valuable things my parents have ever taught me, and though I’m far from perfect in using them, they have been a priceless asset in my dealings with people. In our quest to improve our children and our communities, let us start by making the intention to improve ourselves and our manners. Let us work with our parents to remind them everything they taught us and everything that’s still waiting to be learned.
Let’s give our leaders the respect they deserve so that we can deserve the respect we’re shown. Oh Allah, give us the strength of character to recognize our flaws and admit our wrongdoings. “Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error…Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us…Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith (2:286).” Ameen.