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Navigating the Modern Maze: Muslim Motherhood in a Changing World

by in Culture & Lifestyle on 27th June, 2023


“Every one of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler who has authority over people, is a guardian and is responsible for them; a man is a guardian of his family and is responsible for them; a woman is a guardian of her husband’s house and children and is responsible for them; a slave is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it; so all of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

From 1994 when I was born, to 2022 when my first child was born, the world has changed tremendously. As parents, we now face challenges that we feel didn’t exist earlier, challenges deeply woven into the fabric of our society and difficult to avoid. 

We look at the world around us and wonder why we should subject our children to this cruelty, why we should bring them to a place that is only going to make their life more difficult. So many people around me have decided not to have children for this very reason, while many others regret having children and think it’s unfair to their kids that they’ve been born in this era. 

I struggled with these thoughts at one point, as I’m sure, other Muslim parents worldwide have. Through this piece, I aim to explore these questions and doubts, as well as sketch out a blueprint to follow in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

When I asked Muslim mothers if they ever felt discouraged or afraid of bringing children into the world in its current state, here’s what some of them said:

  • “Yes, often. But I find solace in Allah’s promise that it is Him alone who is the protector. Finding refuge in Al-Wali, Al-Hadi, Al-Wadood, Al-Hafeez.”
  • “Yes, so much. With everything going wrong in the world and the end of time seeming near, I feel it is already too hard to bring up children with good values and principles. This makes me wonder why focus on bringing more life into this world if you can’t do justice in their tarbiyah.”
  • “Often, but it’s a challenge that is awaiting, like it or not. My job is just to prepare them to tackle it.”
  • “No. Times have always been tough in one way or the other. Allah is not yet done with this world, so how can I be?”

55% of those surveyed said they felt “cautiously optimistic” about Muslim parenting in a world that often contradicts Islamic values and morals, while others expressed varying levels of hope or uncertainty.

Challenges of Raising Muslim Children in Today’s World:

Apart from the menial challenges of wrestling squirming babies with their diapers on and making sure they’re neither “undertired”, nor “overtired”, neither “understimulated”, nor “overstimulated”, here are some challenges Muslim parents face today, as well as some ways to tackle these challenges:

1. The Clash of Identities

Many of us are raising children away from where their roots are. Muslim children, whether immigrants or living in their own countries, face confusion about their identity. The current society presents role models far from those whom we want them to emulate. When we expect them to follow the path of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions, they might look in confusion towards Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or any of the countless superheroes on the big screen. And while there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be as successful as these men, it does not align with the definition of success that Islam gives us.

For whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, and fears Allah and is mindful of Him, then it is they who will ˹truly˺ triumph. (Qur’an 24:52

The clash between these basic definitions can lead to a sense of confusion for Muslim children, as they try to reconcile their Islamic values with the dominant culture of focusing only on worldly success.

Introducing children to Islamic literature, history, and role models can help them develop a sense of pride in their faith and culture. Our little ones should know Ibrahim, Ismail, and Isa. They should know the just Umar ibn Khattab, the devoted Ali ibn Talib, and the patient Musáb ibn Umair. They should know Khadija the all-rounder, Aisha the pious scholar, and Khoulah the brave soldier. 

It is our duty as Muslim mothers to ensure our kids can look at the history of Islam and marvel at its beauty, that they think fondly of their prophets and their companions. We can facilitate this beautiful bond by incorporating the Seerah in bedtime stories and reading Quranic stories together. We can sing nasheeds with our children and have bonfires where we share beautiful stories of Islam. The possibilities of how we can positively ground our children in their original roots are endless.

Some places where you can find beautiful books for Muslim kids are Ruqaya’s Bookshelf and Muslim Children’s Books. I especially recommend the Migo and Ali series for little ones. The Islamic School Librarian always has useful recommendations too. 

2. The Perplexity of Gender Identity

With so much confusion around genders and pronouns these days, it is common for children to be at a loss about the topic. Many feel the pressure to openly support the LGBTQ community while knowing that it goes against the teachings of Islam. Our children need to learn to interact with this reality in an empathetic way that is aligned with Islam. 

According to the survey held for this reflection piece, most Muslim parents plan on addressing the topic of LGBTQ issues with their children by encouraging questions and discussion on the topic. Not treating the topic as taboo is the first step towards helping our children understand it and take a firm position on it, as opposed to becoming neutral to “keep the peace”. Islam does not shy away from these topics, and neither should Muslims.

As parents trying to raise righteous children in these baffling times, we need to educate ourselves and learn how to talk about difficult topics. This paper from Yaqeen Institute presents an objective view of gender and sexuality in Islam and may be helpful to understand the topic in depth. 

In my opinion, over-protecting our children and not letting them learn about the world would be unhealthy. However, unnecessarily delving into these topics might mean giving it undue importance. I would recommend that we first ensure we’re giving our kids the right foundation and then gently lead them to appropriate conclusions when the topic comes up organically.

3. The Influence of Pop Culture

Popular culture brings with it the normalization of several Western values that contradict Islamic beliefs, such as the casual intermingling of opposite genders and the celebration of Valentine’s day.

Common marketing slogans like “Just Do It” and “All for Freedom. Freedom for All.” do much more than just market their products. Popular movies promote much more than just their plot. Celebrities do much more than just “entertain”. There are entire philosophies behind these. 

The mantra “be free”, for example, is one that is lauded and appreciated everywhere. Everyone wants to be free of everyone and everything. The concept of being “subservient” to Allah sounds strange to people because if we’re “servants”, then how are we free? In the name of Freedom, we want to do as we please and that is how the world becomes increasingly anarchic every day.

Tim Delaney in Philosophy Now writes, “popular culture allows large heterogeneous masses of people to identify collectively. It serves an inclusionary role in society as it unites the masses on ideals of acceptable forms of behavior.”

If popular culture is a way of forging identities and dictating “ideals” of acceptable behavior, then what ideals are our children given? Most common TV shows these days are encouraging “empathy” and “tolerance” in ways which Islam does not agree with.

While this may seem inescapable, the onus lies on us to raise our children in a manner that teaches them how the world works, while providing clarity on their place and purpose in it. They need to be so well-rooted in their Aqeedah that they can sweep past the charms of this worldly life and claim their own space.

O humanity! Be mindful of your Lord, and beware of a Day when no parent will be of any benefit to their child, nor will a child be of any benefit to their parent. Surely Allah’s promise is true. So do not let the life of this world deceive you, nor let the Chief Deceiver deceive you about Allah. (Qur’an 31:33)

4. The Impact of Social Media

The faux gods of our era are not made out of clay; they’re made out of codes: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok. 55% of the parents who participated in our survey said that the biggest challenge facing Muslim parents raising children in the current era is navigating the impact of social media.

Social media can persuade a person to buy and sell their soul and body. It has such immense power over young minds that it has become a major source of manipulation today.

In the words of Tooba Asim, a homeschooling mom of three who believes in harnessing the power of technology positively and productively, it should be used “as an assistant and not a master”. 

We can teach our children to use the power of their words wisely on social media and spread awareness about Islam in creative ways. We can turn social trends on their heads and adapt them to uses which Allah would approve of, such as raising funds for charitable causes. All of this, and more, is possible if we first ensure that our children can tell right from wrong and are confident in their deen.

5. The Implications of Islamophobia

Muslims all over the globe live with the knowledge that the world is getting narrower for them. Allah’s mercy is immeasurable and of that we never despair. Man, though, can be merciless, and sending our kids out in such a world with news of Muslims being harmed every other day for no reason other than being Muslim, can be quite scary. 

The impulse to shield and overprotect our children from the harms of this world can be overpowering. However, Islam teaches us to be ready for everything that might be hurled at us and to be aware of all that goes on around us. We’re told to stay one step ahead of our enemy. We’re told Allah is with us. 

O believers! Patiently endure, persevere, stand on guard, and be mindful of Allah, so you may be successful.” (Qur’an 3:200)

From hate crimes and social exclusion to discrimination in employment and healthcare, the Islamophobic spectrum is diverse. While we cannot immediately change that, we can root ourselves in our adhkar and tie our camels by learning to defend ourselves. It would be a good idea to encourage our children to learn martial arts, for example. Learning self-defense has always been a tradition of Islam and is not something demanded only by today’s ruthlessness. 

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone, (but) cherish that which gives you benefit (in the Hereafter) and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart, and if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say: If I had not done that, it would not have happened so and so, but say: Allah did that what He had ordained to do and your ‘if’ opens the (gate) for the Satan.[Sahih Muslim]

There are several other narrations too which cite the Prophet and his companions encouraging sports like horse riding, swimming, and archery. All of this suggests that we’ve been tasked to always keep strengthening ourselves to be able to defend ourselves and our people whenever needed.

In addition, we must always strive to be an inspiring embodiment of Islam, like our Prophet (ﷺ) and his companions were, so that we invite warmth more than hatred.

6. The Conflict Between Islamic and Western Values

The West is always right, we’re told by popular culture. Many dominant values of the West seem to oppose those of Islam in many ways. If not oppose, then convolute. We believe in Tawheed; much of the West is leaning towards atheism. We believe in modesty; much of the West promotes immodesty in its culture. We believe in the roles given to man and woman by Allah, the West tells us that this is narrow-minded and gives us its brand of feminism in return. 

We need to acknowledge and understand these challenges in order to navigate them in ways that are best for our progeny.

Lessons from the Qur’an:

Allah has not left us without guidance in any sphere of life. According to the Qur’an and Seerah, our children are a blessing, an amanah, and a trial for us. We’ve been given a foundational guide and some basic principles to raise our children. 

1. Our First Duty is to Allah

Our utmost responsibility is primarily to Allah, and Allah places upon us the responsibility of protecting our families from the Fire:

“O believers! Protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones…” (Qur’an 66:6)

In Islam, love and fear are two wings of a bird. We love Allah and fear his displeasure. So, from a child’s time in the womb, we need to instill the love of our Creator and as they grow up, we need to teach them to fear none other than Allah. If we get these basics right, the rest should fall in place by itself.

2. Teaching the Oneness of Allah
“And ˹remember˺ when Luqman said to his son, while advising him, “O my dear son! Never associate ˹anything˺ with Allah ˹in worship˺, for associating ˹others with Him˺ is truly the worst of all wrongs.”” (Qur’an 31:13)

Luqman’s first advice to his son is related to Tawheed. This is the first thing our children need and should be taught to acknowledge. 

Here are some practical ways to teach Tawheed to our children:

  • Talk about Allah: We can discuss Allah’s attributes and explain that He is the one who created the sun, moon, and stars. We can relate this to Prophet Ibrahim’s story. 
  • Discuss Quranic stories: An excellent way of introducing Allah to children is by telling them stories of the prophets mentioned in the Quran. It is important to do this in age-appropriate language.
  • Teach simple Du’aas: Practicing “Bismillah” before we start something and Alhamdulillah” when we’re grateful lets our children know it is Allah we begin with and Allah that we’re always grateful to. This will help them connect everything to their Creator.

In addition to teaching our children about Tawheed, we should also strive to model it in our own lives. By demonstrating our own commitment to the Oneness of Allah, we can inspire our children to follow in our footsteps and develop a strong faith of their own.

Lessons from the Seerah:

The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was an excellent father to his children and a wonderful example for us. He loved his children and grandchildren and was vocal about it. He respected them, was affectionate with them, and was attentive to their upbringing. He would stand to greet his daughter, Fatima, when she visited him and kissed her forehead. He would play with Hasan and Hussain, even engaging in playful wrestling with them. He would kiss them when public affection was not a norm in that society. He would let them climb and clamber over him even in prayer and be as gentle as he could with them.

The Prophet (ﷺ) is supposed to be an embodiment of Islam and the Qur’an for us. If this is how he treated children, then there is wisdom in his ways. There is guidance for our treatment of children and hope that if we maintain similar relationships with our children, we will be able to raise them righteous. 

Words of the Wise:

Salman Asif Siddiqui, the founder and director of the ERDC, uses the word “mentoring” for the tarbiyah of children. As parents, we are responsible not just for raising them, but for mentoring them. This implies a whole framework of do’s and don’ts. 

The three things a parent must not do, according to the educational psychologist, are control, condition (by bribe or fear), and monitor. He points out that we need to raise our children in ways that we never feel the need to control or monitor them. We can’t make them love Allah; we can only show them how.

To raise conscious, righteous Muslims with present-era challenges, we need tawakkul, connection, reflection, communication, and self-accountability. Siddiqui believes we can’t get anywhere with our children if we do not love and respect them, play with them, and instill a deep love of Allah in them. Raise them so that they want to do good. 

How do we do that? Here are some actionable suggestions by the aforementioned scholar:

  • Create a healthy relationship with children: Understanding them should be 80% of our effort, and trying to make them understand should only be about 20%.
  • Have reflective conversations: Ask question upon question to invoke the natural curiosity that all children have. Engage them in playing, exploring, and conversing. That is the natural way of learning for children. Encourage reflective conversation with stories and poetry.
  • Instill self-accountability: Enable them to question themselves in a healthy way. Make them self-aware. Enable them to check themselves, so that you don’t have to. 
  • Be a role model: Our children should never have to wonder why these parents who keep telling us to love and fear Allah, don’t love and fear Allah themselves.

It is of utmost importance that we are deeply rooted in Islamic history and heritage to make sense of our present. The world appears to be what it is not, and we can only understand it if we know how it came to be this way. Unless we’re aware, we cannot raise our children as mu’minin.

The Voice of Muslim Mothers:

When asked about how they plan to instill Islamic values in their children while also helping them navigate the challenges of the world around them, this is what some mothers had to say:

  • “Discussing the religion, being open to their questions, letting them explore the Deen themselves, and above all instilling the faith that Allah is the Greatest forgiver no matter how astray you go, God forbid.”
  • “I would say first of all by giving them a role model. Then teaching them the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, while relating it to everyday life. Both are interconnected. And none can be separated from the other.”
  • “Monkey see, monkey do… My child is going to learn directly from me, and when they grow up, if I have given them an open environment where they can easily ask questions and we find answers together, I think that will help them be consistent on the right path, with Allah’s guidance.”

The survey concluded that most modern challenges require a return to the basics. We must adopt transparency with our children, make conscious efforts to connect with them, and always communicate honestly. The key is to talk about matters, rather than avoid or bury them.

From 1994 when I was born, to 2022 when my first child was born, the world has changed tremendously. And yet, it has not changed at all. These challenges have always existed. They just keep putting on new disguises and fool us into anxiety about overcoming them. 

By being proactive and intentional in instilling Islamic values, providing guidance and support, and fostering a sense of pride and identity in their faith and culture, Muslim parents can navigate the complexities of the modern world and raise children who are grounded in their faith and well-equipped to face the challenges ahead.

Moniba Mehboob

Moniba Mehboob

Moniba is a 29 year old residing in Dubai. She loves writing thought-provoking pieces which trigger a debate. She’s interested in the topics of identity, relationships, and parenthood.