Helping Parents Come Closer to Allah
A guide for young Muslims in their `Super-Muslim' phase
By Taha Ghayyur
"I have spent several sleepless nights praying to Allah to guide my parents," is what Karima, 15, once wrote.
"My parents are so corrupt that I just hope they could make it to Paradise!" is how Tariq, 19, once vented his frustration over his parents' un-Islamic practices.
Perhaps in every home today, there is a Karima or Tariq, a youth who is concerned about their parents' moral condition. This phenomenon involves a youth whom, perhaps not so long ago, Allah has blessed with His choicest guidance, and they are now struggling to revolutionize their life-style in the light of this new-found faith.
In this energetic `Super-Muslim' phase of our journey to Islam, we find two types of youth:
1. The model of Karima - who is constantly seeking Allah's help in making her parents understand and live Islam; humble and sincere, but simply over-whelmed.
2. The example of Tariq - who is sincere in his relationship with Allah, striving to change himself for the better. In the process, however, he has become a bit arrogant; even though he desires his parents to change and reach Jannah (Paradise), due to his judgemental attitude, he is often frustrated and confrontational with his parents.
The stress and grief a concerned Muslim youth experiences at the spiritual/moral/religious state of their parents is only natural. Inviting our culturally-oriented parents or elder siblings, closer to Allah is perhaps the most pains-taking and distressing task a young Muslim would have to undertake.
We must, however, persevere because we love our parents and would not want them to be among the `losers' in the Hereafter. How could we rest in peace? They have spent their whole life caring for us at times when we were too young to even recognize and appreciate their patience and compassion towards us. At the same time, we could only do so much to help our parents change their lifestyle. After all, it is Allah who is ultimate changer of the hearts.
Before we embark on a `crusade to save' our parents from the clutches of Hellfire, it is imperative that we take the following tips and words of wisdom into consideration:
1. Before anything else, thank Allah to have guided you and empowered you with the beautiful message of His Deen! Express your gratitude through Du'a, praying extra voluntary prayers (Nawafil), and helping those in need. As a result, your relationship with Allah will strengthen and your humility will increase. At the same time, ask yourself: "What and where would I be today, had Allah not blessed me with His Message and Mercy? What makes me feel that I am the only chosen one?" These questions should soften your heart and evoke greater sympathy towards your parents and elders.
2. Your Task: Simply convey the Message of Islam through your actions and counselling, while expressing your sincere love, obedience, care, and wisdom. It is ultimately their decision to choose or not to choose to come closer to Allah.
3. Avoid preaching to your parents: i.e. Help them realise their `opportunities for improvement' through indirect, non-verbal, and non-confrontational means. Perhaps, by now you have begun growing a beard as a brother or have observed Hijab as a sister, memorized a few Arabic words and Hadiths, use phrases like `Insha'Allah' in your conversation more often, and you are all puffed-up and well on your way to becoming a `Super-Muslim'. These dramatic changes in your appearance and style of speech may be shocking enough to your parents. So please, remember not to fire Quranic verses or Hadiths at your parents for the sake of preaching or argument. Parents do not want to listen to their children lecturing them on how and why they are wrong and sinful.
4. Emphasise: Strengthening relationship with Allah, through understanding and studying the Quran. Ultimately, after our death, it's our intimacy with Allah that really matters.
5. Adopt flexibility, give up rigidity: Using wisdom means, doing the right thing, at the right place, the right time. Often, due to our desire for the well-being of our parents, we become stubborn on our stand and expect our parents to follow it immediately. We fail to realize who we are speaking to and the age difference; etiquette and respect is disregarded in the name of `establishing the Truth'. How often we come across young Muslims making a great fuss over their parents celebrating birthdays (which is often part of family custom) to the extent that emotions run high, party is boycotted, and parents/elders are branded `ignorant', `corrupt', `people of innovations'â€¦etc.
While such celebrations are not considered Islamic, we need to evaluate and set our priorities straight: What would you gain for your parent's guidance by using such offensive language and by boycotting a function that is so dear to them? The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once advised his companions:
"Make Islam and its affairs easy for people, and do not create hardships for them (through your behaviour and ignorance). Spread the glad tidings, and do not make people run away"
Sometimes, it may be better to remain flexible and silent in the heat of the moment.
When things cool down, you can discuss the Islamic perspective in greater detail.
6. Change comes gradually: Let's try not to pick the fruits before they are ripe. You can't expect your mother to observe Hijab right after a two-day intense Islamic conference. Nor should you suppose your father praying 5 daily prayers on time the day after his friend took him to a Masjid!
There are no `quick-fixes' in the area of faith and guidance. However, parents do change over time, as they feel embarrassed to see their children striving hard to serve their parents and maintaining their Islamic identity. Parents would rarely admit their faults right away. Therefore, as a good Muslim, remain patient and let the change flow naturally, Allah Willing.
7. Help them distinguish between "Islam" and "Their Culture": It is indeed very challenging for parents, grown up in a certain Muslim culture, to realize the difference between Islamic values and their cultural practices. For instance, in the case of choosing marriage partners for their children, parents' criteria are naturally more inclined towards cultural influences, than Islamic principles. Moreover, there are parents who believe that speaking the mother-tongue is a tenet of Islamic faith, an oft-debated issue among the elders and youth in the West. It is not necessarily the fault of parents; it's the way they were brought up and were taught Islam.
You may work around this problem by occasionally bringing up in your casual family discussions the horrible consequences of those who follow the non-Islamic practices in your culture, such as mixed gathering of opposite genders at social events, pre-marital relationships, practice of interest (riba), immoral/obscene movies and music, etc. At the same time, do discuss an Islamic alternative as well, because mere criticism without any solutions is usually harmful. For e.g. suggest some Halal entertainment to replace cinema trips. Demonstrating Islam's relevance to the contemporary social issue helps a great deal in orienting our parents' thinking towards Islam.
8. Dealing with inferiority complex: Due to the sense of inferiority to the Western lifestyle in the sub-conscious of our parent's generation (since most of them have experienced and lived under prolonged western colonial rule in the past), it is difficult for them to understand how Islam could be 'modern or relevant enough' to face today's challenges.
Too many parents, due to this inferiority-complex, any religious expression seems to be an obstacle in the way of financial and academic progress. Many elders still think Islam is just about rituals, dealing only with 'rewards and sins' in the next life, i.e. Islam has no constructive role to play in one's social, academic, personal, political, and economic spheres of life.
This phenomenon explains why parents frequently encourage their kids to `enjoy life' and `focus on your studies' in the youth because `Islam and prayer are to be kept for the old age or to be practiced by the Maulvis or Shaykhs.' It is precisely the fear of losing us to old-fashioned values that they make a great fuss over our one-hour of volunteer work at a food bank or attendance at a Quran study circle, while they may have no qualms about us hanging out at a mall or going on a school field trip. Be sensitive to their cultural baggage and help them clear this load by demonstrating Islam's practicality in solving their problems, in the ever-changing modern world!
9. Fulfilling your parent's dreams: How often do we hear our parents say, especially to those children showing signs of religious-orientation, "The only thing I want for you is good career and education. Once you are done your school and establish yourself financially, you may go ahead and spend as much time as you like calling humanity to Islam."
While you may consider such wishes as insignificant, it is extremely essential to pay due attention to your parents' genuine desires, especially if you desire their reform. No doubt, most immigrant Muslim parents exhaust their time, energies, and finances to get their kids the best level of education.
Learn to show some gratitude and concern. You cannot necessarily always fulfil their academic dreams for you by becoming either a doctor or engineer, but you can certainly excel in a professional field that you are passionate about and could specialize in. Why can't you help them understand that being a practicing and Allah-conscious Muslim does not mean that you have to sacrifice your professional career?
As an ambassador of Islam to your family, you have an added responsibility of proving to your parents that all their life-long efforts have been worth it. And what could be of greater joy to a parent to see their son or daughter a winner in BOTH worlds? Your `success' in academic career and Islamic activism will Insha'Allah leave a profound imprint on their thinking, hearts, and perception of Islam.
10. Abu Hurairah's Success Story: Keep obeying and serving your parents and be respectful: Obey them as long as they do not ask you to disobey Allah as the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) has advised us, "There is no obedience in the disobedience to the Creator".
Abu Hurairah (radiAllahu anhu), a companion of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) who narrated the greatest number of Hadiths, would often become upset at his mother's stubbornness in rejecting the message of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam). Abu Hurairah (radiAllahu anhu) would engage in verbal confrontation with her because she constantly accused the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) of being a magician.
One day he went to the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) and described his situation in pain,
"O Messenger of Allah! I have always been trying to make my mother accept Islam, but she always refuses to accept it... But today, when I asked her to believe in Almighty Allah, she became extremely angry and started insulting and rebuking you, which I could not stand and tears began to flow from my eyes. O Messenger of Allah! Please pray to Allah that may He open the heart of my mother to Islam." Abu Hurairah has perhaps echoed the voices of many distressed religious youth today going through the `Super-Muslim' phase.
Interestingly, when the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) heard him, he warned Abu Hurairah of his negative attitude towards his mother and advised him to be kind to her, as Allah may soon open her heart to Islam.
Then he prayed, "O Allah! Guide the mother of Abu Hurairah." As Abu Hurairah returned home that night, he realized her mother had just taken a bath and was ready to declare Shahadah, Alhamdulillah.
11. Maintain a light sense of humour: A pleasant environment and good sense of humour win many hearts and develop a healthy dialog. On the other hand, a negative and argumentative person often makes people hate himself/herself. Therefore, make an effort to keep Islamic discussions in the family positive and even entertaining if possible.
The Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) was big on light, decent jokes that made others feel special and closer to him.
12. Spend quality time with your parents: It is strange that so many practicing Muslim brothers and sisters could hang out at Islamic events or simply chat over the phone with friends for hours, yet they have no time to spare for parents. Ever wonder why your parents don't feel the need to listen to you and `your' message any more? I remember a friend of mine, who was Masha'Allah always seen working hard at Islamic events over the entire weekends, once complained about the failure in Dawah efforts to his parents. I asked him a simple question: `When was the last time you sat with your parents, smiled to them, asked them about their day, health, and their worries?' He immediately realized the root of the problem. Such an attitude indeed reminds us of the reality of Prophet's (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) statement about the coming of the Day of Judgement:
"A time will come when people will greet their friends warmly, and approach their parents with cold attitude"
With such minimal and formal contact with our parents, we can't expect our `product' to `sell'.
13. Biggest Mistake: Attacking your parents in front of other family members! Very often we loose our credibility by simply ridiculing, or even politely pointing out the mistakes of our parents in front of others. It only makes matters worse for your Da'wah and generates tension in the family. Perhaps we do it thinking if we discuss `the fault' in other people's presence, our parents may decide to rectify themselves due to the embarrassment.
However, in reality, exactly the opposite happens! Don't forget, in most cases, even if they realize their mistake, at that very moment they would make sure to defend their stand. Last thing your parents would want to do is to admit to their young ones that they were wrong and sinful! Best way is to develop a sincere and intimate relationship with them on personal level, in order to win their hearts and trust for Allah's sake. Refer to books on the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam)'s Method of Correcting Peoples' Mistakes.
14. Give a gift: When was the last time you presented a sincere gift to your parents? Are you aware of the Prophet Muhammad's words, 'Exchange gifts to reinforce love and intimacy'? If your parents like reading books, give them a thought provoking and appealing book on Islam or on the purpose of life.
Reading is one of the most effective ways of change. Reading makes a person evaluate, reflect on, and absorb the message. If they like watching or listening, there are a score of tapes available from the Islamic media today to assist you.
15. Be extra caring and concerned in their difficult times: such as illness, financial problems, depression, etc. This is the phase of life when they need you and are more willing to listen to you; they may finally come out of their superficial world of comfort and taste the reality. They would be willing to turn to an effective 'alternative'.
In fact, most people change their lifestyles and beliefs around in the low phases of their lives. Your presence, physical help, and religious counselling in coping with hardship are crucial at this point. Remember, on the other hand, your insensitiveness and indifference to their trying situation, would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Don't delay your service to them, until it's too late.
The Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) once warned us, 'May he be disgraced,' repeating it three times, 'who finds his parents, one or both, approaching old age, and he does not enter Paradise by serving them.'
Perhaps you may even take this opportunity to make them think about the purpose of their life, the certainty of the uncertainty of death, and recommend them to turn to the Qur'an and Allah (awj) for help. People's hearts melt and are overcome with peace and tranquility as soon as they begin to understand the meaning of the Qur'an.
As one revert to Islam once put it, "The most fascinating thing about the Qur'an is that as soon as you begin to read its message, you automatically begin to realize your mistakes". What more do you need?!
16. Have your meals together as a family, whenever possible: Sharing food together brings people's hearts together, coupled with Allah's blessings. It is also perfect time for discussions. It's a proven way of effective communication and of increasing affection.
17. Arrange an exquisite pot-luck get together: Organise a one-dish party, where all your close friends and their parents are invited. Make sure the parents have minimal involvement in cooking and logistics. Parents should come as guests, and you, the "religious" kids, should serve that evening!
At first, your parents may laugh at the idea even. However, when they come together and see your love and dedication as a group, they cannot but help understand your desire for their guidance. Moreover, it will help them realize that their `kids are in safe hands' and that they are `fun-loving' people. It will give the parents a sense of belonging in a more religious setting.
18. Consult your parents' religious friends: Sometimes finding a religious friend or relative of your parent, who has some influence on them, could also help. It's been observed that some people just change and return to Allah as soon as they find a good environment and a role model that they admire. If you know some friend of your father or mother, who is caring, social, and a practicing Muslim, you might want to request them to communicate with your parents more often and invite them to the social gatherings of the noble people.
19. A Simple Thank You: How often do you say simple 'Thank You' or 'Jazakallahu Khairan' to your parents for daily favours? And what about their perseverance in raising you as a good Muslim? Don't forget, chances are, they are the first ones to have taught you 'La-ilaha illallahâ€¦' (There is no God but Allah), the first pillar of Islam that we claim to live by today.
You owe them a big Jazaks, every breath of your life!
20. Involve parents in decision-making: When was the last time you consulted your parents regarding your academic goals? Did you ever update them on school grades (apart from the reason that the grades may be floating `below the C level', hence not too impressive!)? Do you discuss with them the Islamic criteria that you wish to use in selecting your marriage partner? Simple acts of mutual consultation or 'Shura', gives everyone opportunity to `open up', share, and listen. It also generates a sense of confidence and trust in parents.
21. Do not stress yourself out: We know even the Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) was warned by Allah in the Qur'an to not to be so distressed over the state of his beloved uncle, Abu Talib, after the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) had exhausted all the efforts to remind him about Allah's message, promises, and punishment.
In fact, in Surah Al-Kahf 18:6, Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says,
"Perhaps, you would kill yourself (O Muhammad) in grief (and concern) over their footsteps (for their turning away from Allah), because they do not believe in this narration."
Remember Allah's words:
"O you who Believe, seek help through Patience (Sabr) and Prayer (Salah). God is with those who are patient."
(al Baqarah 2:153).
Have you been praying the Salah (daily prayers) regularly yourself?
22. Don't give up saying Du'a: Sincere Du'a (supplication) to Allah can change many things. Therefore, make Du'a as your primary tool in helping your parents come closer to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.