Freda Shamma PhD
Children are born in a state of fitra (purity) and then their parents teach them to be believers or unbelievers. According to the Musnad Ibn Hanbal, “The children of the unbelievers are better than you grown-ups. Every living creature is born with a righteous nature.” It is our obligation and duty as parents to teach our children so that they grow up to be believing, practicing Muslims. Sending the child to an Islamic weekend school or to a full-time Islamic school is an important but minor part of their Islamic education. The major ‘institution of learning’ for each child is his family, and the major ‘professors’ of this institution are the parents.
The most effective way to teach anything to anybody is to be a role model. This is why Allah sent human beings as prophets to all peoples. Whether we willingly accept this job or not, it is a fact that your child learns how to function in life by watching what you do. Even the absent parent is role modeling to the degree that a boy, whose father abandoned his family, will probably treat his own children the same way.
Every time we deal with our children, we are teaching them, whether we intend to or not.
There is a famous poem by an anonymous author that depicts this vividly. It begins:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
Therefore we must examine carefully how we deal with our child in order to have a desirable end result.
This same poem continues:
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.