Disclaimer: I think a lot and this is one of my “thinking” posts. For another example, check out this one. Some people find my thinking posts way out there and others are fascinated by them. Read at your own risk 🙂
Seven years ago, I reverted to Islam. I make it a point to learn from a variety of sources to ensure that I maintain a balanced view and don’t conflate culture with religion. I’ve read historical accounts of the Prophet (pbuh), read English translations of the Qur’an, and I’ve taken Islamic classes on and off. But the deepest and most profound understanding of Islam that I’ve experienced to date is with the Arabic language itself.
Ancient Languages & Root Systems
Arabic, like other Semitic languages and older languages like Greek and Latin, are comprised of root systems. That is, the words are made from a base which can then be used to create many other words. For example in Greek, the root dem means people, and from it you can derive words like democracy, demographic, endemic, pandemic. The root chron means time, and from this root we derive words like chronological, synchronise, and chronic.
With root systems, the language can be extended metaphorically and more descriptively than with non-root systems. The three spoken languages of Ahl al-Kitaab as well as the first written language of the Gospel (Ancient Greek) are all root system languages. This is no mistake. The Qur’an says:
The Most Merciful, taught the Qur’an, created man, and taught him eloquence.
This verse refers to eloquence in language. The depth of these languages allows a level of description that cannot be achieved in non-root systems. This is why English translations often fall short of the true beauty of Qur’an, and why I enjoy Arabic lessons so much.
The Beauty of Arabic
Arabic is known as a consonantal root language, because the roots are made up of three (sometimes four) consonants. These consonants have profound meanings where the connection between words can seem subtle and poetic. For example, the root (ج ن ن) means hidden or to hide. The words jannah, which means heaven or garden, and jinn come from this root as they cannot be seen, but so does the word for embryo (جنين). In this blog post, we’ll explore three words associated with parenthood, dive into their deeper meanings and consonantal roots, and insha’Allah pick up some themes to get you thinking about conscious parenting.
The Prophet (pbuh) was never known to be cruel to children. He never spanked or even raised his voice to a child, and even gave children allowances during prayer. There is a hadith which talks about the Prophet (pbuh) shortening his prayer upon hearing a baby crying, knowing that the crying would distress both mother and child. He often had his own grandchildren with him during prayers. In one hadith, he was praying with one of his grandsons present. While he prostrated, his grandson climbed on top of him. He remained this way for a long time, so much so that those that were praying with him thought he might have received some revelation. But the Prophet (pbuh), in his mercy and kindness, replied:
Nothing happened, but my son was riding on my back and I did not want to hurry him up until he had had enough.
One can genuinely feel the love that is radiated when reading these snippets of the Prophet’s character. As Muslims, we should strive to emulate this mercy, love and kindness with our own children. It is no coincidence that almost every surah in the Qur’an begins with Bismillah, ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim. Allah (swt) wants to remind us of His eternal and all-encompassing mercy over and over again, so that we know that not only we are under His protection, but that we also have a duty of mercy and compassion towards others, especially those which He has entrusted into our care. Looking at the root of the words rahma, and rahim, (ر ح م), we see a general theme of three words: mercy, compassion and gracious. Then there is one word in particular that stands out: womb (رحم). Subhanallah, how beautiful is it that Allah (swt) chose the same root that is fitting enough to be two of his 99 names for the Arabic word for womb. The womb, where we first nurture and develop our children, is truly a place of mercy and compassion. Consider the care and compassion afforded to pregnant women and their babies. Not just mother to unborn baby, but community to unborn baby. Everyone feels responsible for making sure that this little life remains safe.
Allah (swt) also describes our children as a source of barakah for us. The root of the word (ب ر ك) is defined generally as blessed or blessing. It is the same root of the word mubarak. But barakah as a concept in Islam is much deeper. Barakah is a spiritual presence and revelation that flows directly from Allah (swt) to those worthy of receiving it. Parenthood, in all of it’s challenges, is also a source of healing, blessings, and closeness with Allah (swt). Present, specifically conscious parenting, allows us to let go of animosity and negative feelings. It instils love and compassion in our children. Through conscious parenting, we learn about ourselves and seek to heal wounds of the past so as to provide a sounder childhood for our little ones.
Finally, I want to focus on one last word: amanah. Our children are described as an amanah on to us, which means they have been entrusted into our care. The root of the word (أ م ن) has several key themes: trust, security, belief, safety. Amanah is not only being entrusted, but also fulfilling and upholding those trusts. In other words, we are entrusted with our children, but with the understanding that we will uphold our moral obligation to raise those children and that we will be accountable for our actions towards those entrusted into our care. Amanah is also described as the concept of free will in Islam. Understanding that we are there provide a safe, secure environment for our children, but rather than chaining them in control, understanding that they are their own creation with free will.
Deeper Meaning for Deeper Parenting
Here are some words that I didn’t discuss: obedience, respect, control, authority, fear. Why? Because these concepts have no basis in Islamic parenting, which is evident from the Qur’an and accompanying texts. Raising children is about love, kindness, mercy, guidance, and trust. It’s about recognising that your child is not yours to control. That your child will one day grow up and be their own person, and our job as parents is to give them the tools to be the best version of themselves. To leave them with the best impression of us, of them, of their Creator.
I have a large age gap between my older and younger children, and so am extremely blessed to go through motherhood “twice.” Although I had an authoritarian approach with my older children, I’m making a concerted effort to be authoritative with my younger ones. I can feel the difference in my parenting within my own heart as I take a more compassionate and child-centred approach to parenting. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be:
And know that your properties and your children are but a trial and that Allah has with Him a great reward.
Our children are a test for us precisely because conscious parenting is hard. Barakah doesn’t come from barking orders and commanding obedience. It doesn’t come from a one way relationship where the parent is in control and the child doesn’t question. It requires an immense amount of compassion, mercy and guidance.
Abu Huraira reported: Al-Aqra’ ibn Habis saw the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, kissing his grandson Al-Hasan. He said, “I have ten children and I do not kiss any of them.” The Prophet said, “Whoever does not show mercy will not receive mercy.”
Tune in to my post this week, where I will discuss the four different styles of parenting and how they relate (or don’t relate) to Islam.