Is your child suffering from malnutrition?
Why safeguarding and feeding your child’s soul is essential parenting.
‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar reported: The Messenger of Allāh (sal Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” (Bukhāri)
As parents we know it is our utmost responsibility to care for, protect and fulfil the needs of our children in order to raise them to be happy, healthy and well-balanced adults. From the moment Allāh bestows upon us the gift of a child, He gives to us an amānah (trust) to take care of this brand-new soul and raise them to be the best Muslims we can help them to be.
But ask any parent – raising children is no easy feat and they certainly do not come with an Instruction Manual. Thrown in at the deep end, we all learn as we go and do our best to raise them as Muslims – and yet it doesn’t always work out the way we hope.
Why do we sometimes face unexpected struggles in keeping our children on the Deen? Why do they sometimes question faith and veer off the rails as they grow up? When did it start to go wrong and why didn’t we spot the warning signs? What can we do about it?
In this report, we will explain how to spot the warning signs of spiritual malnutrition, the obstacles and dangers to look out for and what you can do to help your child’s soul feel fulfilled, nurtured and ultimately – content.
Analysis: An epidemic amongst our children.
The pressure of modern living can mean that often parents are navigating parenthood with very little time and resources. Changing times throws obstacles at us that we ourselves did not have to contend with when we were children. Exposure to society through school and social events mean that as parents we aren’t always able to be there to protect our children from negative influences.
The result? Sooner or later, despite our efforts, our child is at risk of being neglected.
Neglect is a powerful word. It conjures up an image of the malnourished, dishevelled and hungry child in clear need of food and a warm, clean, loving home. A heartbreaking sight and one which we the vast majority of us do our utmost to prevent.
But what if not all malnutrition is so obvious? What if not all malnutrition shows itself physically? Would you know if your child was malnourished in another way? Would you know if they were spiritually malnourished?
Being able to respond to the physical needs of your child is easy for most competent parents. Knowing when your child has a fever or is weak and hungry is simple and an obvious cause for concern. Their physical health manifests itself clearly and in most cases, we respond to the signs accordingly. Spiritual malnutrition is different – like a dormant, silent illness, it can be very difficult to spot until its symptoms take over and become a real concern.
Today, there exists amongst our communities an epidemic of malnutrition that is growing in both size and influence. Many parents are struggling with pre-teens and teenagers who are drifting away from the Deen and wandering into practices of Jāhiliyah (ignorance). The warning signs begin to come in childhood around the age of 8 or 9 but often these are hard to pin down. By the time the child reaches their full-blown teenage years, Islām has become mere lip service or cultural practice that they deem irrelevant or even ‘backward’.
Possible Symptoms of Spiritual Malnutrition:
Age 7 – 10:
· Reluctance to discuss Islām and lack of interest in Islām.
· Sees Islām as something that ‘adults do’ and not applicable to children.
· Lack of gratitude more prevalent than is normal in this age group.
· Lack of empathy or understanding for others.
· Seeming embarrassed to be Muslim around friends.
· Lack of interest in prayer or Qurān – actively avoids.
· Failing to adhere to halāl/harām rules: for instance, eating harām foods when apart from family.
· An over-interest in hobbies and topics which are opposed to Islām including music, media and video games.
Age 11 – 14 +:
All of the above plus:
· Engaging in physical activities with the opposite sex.
· Interest and engagement in harām activities such as drinking or smoking.
· Rudeness, insolence and arrogance when questioned about their Deen.
· Lack of shame. Arrogance.
· Lying and refusing to abide by family rules or show respect for family.
· Resentment for Islām, Muslim culture and their ethnic culture.
· Detached from the Deen: Seeing Islām as ‘stupid’ or ‘backwards’ or ‘something my mum and dad do.’
The above symptoms can be possible signs that your child is lacking spiritual fulfilment and that their understanding and connection to Islām has become disrupted. The end result of these symptoms as your child grows up can be that they become an adult who is not at all interested in Islām, who seeks fulfilment elsewhere, lacks contentment and who ultimately strays from the Straight Path.
There can be many causes for spiritual malnutrition: this means that identifying possible risks and safeguarding against them is of key concern to the vigilant Muslim parent.
Whether you are raising your child in the Western world or within a Muslim country, there remains reasons why children can disassociate from Islām. It is very easy for each parent to assume that because they actively practice Islām, observe hijāb, have a beard and send their children to the masjid or madrassa to recite Qurān, that they are ticking all the boxes and their children will be fine in their love and understanding of the Deen.
Similarly, there are outside, negative influences within society that cannot be completely avoided but abstinence from and caution with, can help to safeguard your child’s spirituality.
Socialising and friendships: Wherever you live, your child will interact with others who do not hold the same level or belief, religiosity or understanding. They will encounter friends who are not Muslim or who may follow other faiths or who may be Atheist. Similarly, they will also make connections with Muslim families who may engage in activities which are considered mākroo or even harām.
You can’t stop your child being friends with others, nor should you. Living and interacting within a mixed and diverse community is essential for a healthy mindset and world outlook. However, being aware of who your child is friends with and discussing any differences in a healthy and respectful manner can actually strengthen your child’s love of Islām and being Muslim.
Schooling: Whether your child attends a Muslim or non-Muslim school, they will spend the majority of their time away from home and in the company of others. If your child is in a school that does not teach Islām, there may be some aspects of the curriculum which are at odds with Islām. Be sure to address these with your child and be aware of what they are learning in school. Use these instance as an opportunity to discuss the Islāmic points of view and help your child develop confidence in Islām, their beliefs and their Muslim identity.
Media – including TV, Film, Music and Video Games: Modern music videos, films, television and games are the main interests of many children and young people. They are also more often than not, filled with references to un-Islāmic practices and which glamourize un-Islāmic ways of life. This can include dating, crime, flamboyant and immodest fashions and behaviour, drinking and drug references. Much of this content may seem attractive to the young mind; fame and being fashionable, no matter the consequence, can be very tempting especially when ‘everyone is doing it.’
Be aware of the interests of your child and limit their exposure to music and screen time. Install appropriate parental controls on your internet access – including on their smartphone and other devices. Monitor and restrict their social media use and instil clear family rules with consequences. Be aware of the latest films and games that are popular – look instead at the latest Islāmic apps to maintain their interest. These actions should become standard practice for you as a parent not just protect your child’s spirituality but also to safeguard them from serious dangers such as cyber-bullying and grooming.
Despite instilling boundaries and being vigilant, sometimes the causes of spiritual malnutrition are not so obvious and despite our best efforts, we still find that our children do not have the love of Islām that we have wished for.
Consider each of these common test cases scenarios:
Test case 1:
· Parents are too busy (Work/School/financial/relationship issues): become complacent in the focus given to children.
Aisha works part-time and studies at the weekend. Her husband Ahmed runs his own business and is often away on business trips. His typical day means he leaves early in the morning and returns home late in the evening. They have 2 children, aged 7 and 10. Aisha says: One day my son (age 10) asked me, “Why do I need to be a Muslim? Why can’t I just be like a Mike or Jo in my class at school? Why can’t I just play games and have fun with my friends and why do I have to go to a weekend Islāmic school?” That moment was a sudden break moment in my life. I just paused everything and started to analyse what I had dreamed (I wanted him to be a hāfidh) and what was the reality and what was going on.
Aisha was shocked because up until that point she and Ahmed had not realised how their son was lacking spiritual fulfilment and that this was due mainly to how busy they both there. “I believe it was a bit of an advance warning of his spiritual malnutrition which made him question why he needed to be a Muslim. I didn’t see many flags and also at that time our lives were so busy… I was working longer and longer hours, my husband was away frequently trying to grow the business and I was doing my master’s at university. We thought sending him to the Islāmic school at the weekend was enough, but we were passing off the quality time we should have been spending with him and his sister, for other things that we felt took priority. Learning to recite the Qurān was not enough when not supported by us taking the time explain a love and understanding for Qurān. Our children’s spiritual and emotional needs should have remained our priority all the time, but I think we lost sight of that due to the pressures of modern living.”
Test Case 2:
· Too strict: children follow out of fear and respect for parents, rather than cultivated love of Allāh.
Muhammad and Naheeda were both brought up in cultural Muslim families where Islām was only loosely practiced. They both witnessed people around them who fell out of the Deen and embraced lifestyles which were un-Islāmic. When they became parents, they took it very seriously – to the extent that they neglected to create a two-way relationship between their children and themselves. So concerned that their children should follow the ‘right way’, they enforced rules without explanation, without teaching understanding or love for Allāh.
As their children grew up and became adults, they followed the ‘rules’ of their strict parents including wearing of hijāb from a young age, growing of a beard and reciting Qurān regularly. Restrictions were placed upon them that prevented them from experiencing other aspects of life. The consequence for mistakes was punishment and condemnation and there was no room for discussion or negotiation. Muhammad and Naheeda meant well but they placed undue pressure on their children with little mercy, such was their fear that they may fail to raise ‘good Muslim children’.
As the children grew up and gained independence, they began to drift away from Islām and their parents – losing interest and failing to keep to practices such as prayer and fasting. When asked about this, they confided that they only observed Islām as children because of the fear of their parents who was very strict and showed little mercy for questions or mistakes. As such they associated Islām with rigidity, conflict and harshness.
Test Case 3:
· Religious but not cultivated properly: With no explanation of Islām, little context and instead merely ‘going through the motions.’
‘Umar and Sarah both grew up in families where Islām was intrinsic to their culture and ethnicity. Whilst their sense of identity as Muslims was strong, they both lacked a deeper understanding of their faith. Because they grew up within their own communities, they also lacked opportunity to need to give dāwah and hence explain things like Islāmic ‘aqeedah, fiqh or answer questions.
When they married and had children of their own, ‘Umar and Sarah were able to pass on their sense of identity, culture, language and ethnicity but didn’t realise that to raise a child in Islāam in a well-balanced way, they essentially needed to give them dāwah. They had not experienced this themselves but had been raised in a time with less modern challenges. ‘Umar and Sarah’s children attended the masjid and they were proud as the children learnt to recite surah after surah, especially since Arabic was not their native tongue – however there was little emphasis placed on the need to understand the ayāts they were reading.
The girls were encouraged to wear hijāb but did so reluctantly and both sons and daughters had little understanding of the concept of hijāb of the heart. Islāmic concepts such as not free-mixing, abstaining from interest or deception and maintaining humility were adhered to only as cultural practices, at odds with modern living.
Consequently, as the children grew up, they began to move away from Islām. ‘Umar and Sarah struggled to answer questions about salāh and the need to pray. They were unable to explain adequately the spiritual benefits and significance of fasting. Issues such as going out at night, clothing, listening to music became points of contention when the parents could not justify the reasoning behind the Islāmic stance. As such, to their children who sought information, logic and reasoning for their modern lifestyles, Islām became something without substance or basis. They began to see it as both backward and irrelevant.
Nourishment for the soul: parenting solutions.
All of these situations will seem familiar to most of us. Our current generations are facing challenges in parenting that our own parents did not. Many of our children today are growing up spiritually malnourished due to the causes mentioned here and others. Perhaps the biggest cause and contributing factor though seems to be that we ourselves have become immune to spotting the signs and talking about them.
You don’t need to be an Imām any more than you need to be a Doctor, to notice the signs of spiritual malnutrition in your child. All it takes is understanding and intuitive parenting to protect and prevent your child from feeling discontent and detachment from Islām. With your prayers and a proactive approach, we can raise our children to give them a better chance to growing the love the Deen as much as we do and develop a deep bond with Allāh.
There are a number of actions that you can instil in daily life with your child in order to give them the spiritual satisfaction that they need. Don’t be shy to implement these strategies and don’t delay – it is never too late to begin healthy new habits and undo old ones, no matter their age.
Allāh loves one who tries and who seeks repentance. He also loves one who asks and He loves to be asked – so make your du’aa for success and blessings and begin your programme of spiritually fulfilled parenting.
10 Tips to raising a more spiritually content child:
1. Identify causes: The first step is to identify the factors in your child’s upbringing that may be causes for concern and draining their Islāmic connection. Make a plan as to how you will tackle these issues – be it screen time or social circles. But a word of caution: you should not cut your child off immediately or completely from all the things that they know and love – they will not thank you for it and they will only grow to resent Islām, complaining of its strictness and rigidity.
2. Open discussion: talk to your child about how much time they spend on video games, the music they are listening to or what their friends are up to. By creating a safe place to talk to you, you can broach the subject of how these things may not be a positive influence on them. When they see or hear something which is against Islām, they are much more likely to talk to you about it rather than run and hide things in secret.
3. Create an action plan and give them alternatives: if they want to go out all the time to places you are not happy with – give them alternatives. If their friends are all going to the school disco, but you don’t want them to – explain why but be sure to let them experience other more halāl social events. Cut down their social media and music interaction by limiting it to weekends or evenings only and then cut it down further from there. Introduce them to more Islāmically-inclined artists, Muslim performers and Islāmic social media apps.
4. Play an active role – make time: Parenting is the most important role you will ever have. You have been trusted with raising a child. Any parent knows how quickly time goes and that they grow up in what seems like a blink of an eye. Be sure to give your child the priority in your life that they deserve. Ask them about their day. Listen to the small stuff because to them, it is big stuff. Pay attention and they will respect and listen to you more.
5. 15 minutes every day: Identify a time in the day when you are all together. This is usually meal time for most families. Dedicate the discussion at this time to talking about an Islāamic topic. Give each person a turn at choosing a topic: stories of the Prophets, hadeeth, charity, Hajj, prayer. Make it a quiz with a prize for the winner with the most correct answers.
6. Role models: Yourself and others. Show them the best of Muslim character in yourself. Look for opportunities to show them the best examples of how to behave as a Muslim and why. Introduce them to famous Muslims through the ages – include modern day, practicing Muslim figures that they may see on television or in sport.
7. Spend time with other Muslim families: develop a sense of community within your child and let them see that they are not alone. This is especially important if they attend a non-Muslim school or Muslims are a minority in your area. Encourage fun activities and days out in each other’s company.
8. Be merciful: < strong> Allāh is Most Merciful and He is merciful on one who shows mercy to another. Your child will make mistakes in their life – just as you most likely did. They will have bad days when their attitude stinks or they simply aren’t interested. They will ask questions that may even strike you as inappropriate or rude. Entertain and tolerate them – show them mercy. They are learning. Jumping up to berate them will only alienate them from you and from Islām.
9. Clear boundaries with no contradictions: Children need security and boundaries – even teenagers. Make it clear what is acceptable and what is not. Be careful not to have double standards for boys and girls or for older and younger siblings – they will notice and they won’t forget! If you didn’t allow something one day but then relent, expect them to pick you up on it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. And most of all, be sure to explain rules and boundaries in accordance with Islām. Do not fall foul to ‘I told you to’ or ‘because that is what we do’ – find the answers, if you do not know them.
10. Explain, teach, understand: Islām is not lip service. In it are ‘signs for men of understanding’ (Qurān 14:52). It is imperative that you explain Islām as a truth so that they may have understanding. Teach them about the miracle of the Qurān. Use logic to impart to them wisdom that feeds their belief. Speak to their fitrah with your teaching. Be sure that they hold conviction in their faith in the existence of Allāh as the Creator of All that Exists. Show them ways in simple terms, in which they can counter arguments put to them by other faiths or by Atheists. Children are often a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They also have this wonderful ability to see things as they really are, with clarity and with a perception that gets lost as we become adults.
With the ideas laid out in this report, we hope you feel confident in both identifying the causes and symptoms of spiritual malnutrition as well as what you can do about it. Ultimately, do remember that you are not alone and that every parent struggles. But with a fresh approach and some key steps, you will be able to raise young Muslims who love their religion and who in turn can impart wisdom and good example to others.
May Allāh bestow on us all His mercy and blessings so that we may fulfil our purpose in life of worship to Him and Him alone and invite others to faith through good manners and good words. Ameen.