When you hold your child in your arms for the first time, you pray with all your heart that they may not experience any pain and hurt, that they may always have comfort and solace, and that the ugliness of the world does not tarnish them and their innocence.
Yet, such is this Ḥayāt ad-Dunyā (The Worldly Life), a transitional place, full of tests and trials, a place for learning, spiritual development, and growth. In this life, when the tests and trials are failed and spiritual growth does not take place, the human being descends into moral degradation and degenerate behaviors. We aim to continue to guide our children on the path towards moral decision making and guiding them to make the best choices they can whilst being surrounded by a society that drives them away from God. We aim to develop and nurture socially conscious children in a world that is everything but.
A socially conscious child is a child who at their core is a God-conscious child, a child who is able to see and identify justice and can grow into an adult who can discern truth from falsehood, deeper than the levels of superficial existence.
Here we provide four ways to develop this foundation in our children so that they may be able to view this world, the corruption that exists within it, and behave justly in spite of it.
- Parents as Primary Role Models
A family unit can be likened to a small society1 and the parents are the managers or the leaders of this society. The foundation of a successful society is justice and so it remains that for a family to be successful and for children to be raised as God-conscious, the foundation of the family unit must also be justice derived from a Godly perspective. “Selflessness, love, affection and unity is possible only in an environment of justice and equality. Children will get proper upbringing in this atmosphere. The inherent traits of children will find expression and they will learn to be just and fair from the example set to them by their parents. If parents are ignorant of the need for justice and fair play, so too will their children.”2
Children are born with an innate need and desire for justice. For example, if a child left you with a dessert that belonged to them and they went to grab something and when they returned to you, a piece of their dessert was gone, they may look at you accusingly, communicating a breach of trust.3 It is because at their essence, even a child can understand when an injustice takes place, it is our responsibility to ensure that we cultivate this within them and allow them to continue to identify and therefore act with justice in all aspects of their life.
“Islam has also made it the duty of the parents to observe justice between their children, so as to condition them to accept this vital trait and refuse oppression and enmity. One of the bases for bringing up children is to be just in all circumstances when dealing with them, for when they witness oppression being applied in the father/mother relationship they cannot be expected to be just or fair in their conduct with others. If children are exposed to oppression it grows into their natures, thus they become destructive elements in society.”4
Allah (swt) has said, “And We inspired the soul with knowledge of evil and piety. Those who purify their souls will certainly have ever lasting happiness and those who corrupt their soul will certainly be deprived of happiness.” 5
When our children are fighting, arguing with us, or just plainly not listening, it may become easy to ignore what is right to do and allow our feelings to overcome our decision making, instead acting out of anger, frustration, or exasperation. Every moment in our relationships when our emotions can overtake our intellect, is the very moment when we must take a step back and discern how we should be acting and not how we feel like acting.
It is also important to note that justice and equality are not the same thing; we would not treat our spouses in the same way that we would treat our children, or treat our parents in the same way that we may treat our friends. Justice requires us to understand the needs and rights of who we are dealing with, and ensure we do our best to meet those needs in a God-conscious manner.
As parents we must understand what it means to act with justice, regardless of our own feelings and egos in the matter, but instead, keep justice and mercy at the forefront in the dealings within our families – between our spouses and with our children.
- Encourage Societal Awareness (Locally and Globally)
In our efforts to raise justice oriented families, we must also set our sights on understanding the society around us and examining where there may be a lack of justice and how we may be able to play a role in remedying that. It is important to raise children who can see the world outside of themselves, to look at those in their extended families, friends circles, and greater society with love, compassion, and care.
As an individual living in North America, I have a responsibility to look at the society within which I function and live and ascertain whether it is a just society. Whether the institutions that are upheld within it are justly directed or if they are corrupt and facilitate further corruption. I therefore have a further responsibility to be aware of what role I am playing in either helping ensure justice or if I play a role in furthering corruption (Godlessness), and how I must adjust my role in that. This analysis can take place on either a local level (banking, politics, entertainment/news outlets, healthcare, education etc.) or at a national level (governance, policy making, federally funded institutions, etc.).
Beyond looking locally and ensuring that my behaviors and my way of living is being mindful of the society within which I live, I must also look at the global world and determine where oppression and injustice is taking place. Primarily, I must focus on my Muslim brothers and sisters, where is the Ummah hurting and what is my role in alleviating their pain and suffering? This takes us to our next point, education – for we cannot understand how best to act unless we can understand the situation, context, and levels of oppression and injustice.
“A man had a pet dog. He went out to fetch something from the market leaving his infant child in the care of his dog. When he returned to his house his dog welcomed him outside the house with a blood-stained mouth.
He thought for a moment that the dog had devoured his child and under the heat of passion he fired his gun and killed the dog there and then and went inside hurriedly. There he found his child well and alive.
He did not know, a wolf used to visit the town and since the door of his house was wide open it went inside and wanted to devour the child. The dog jumped upon the wolf and in battle he overpowered it and tore it into pieces and thereby saved the child from the wolf’s clutches. But the man in his extreme haste fired at his faithful dog which had saved the life of his child.
The man repented of his action and came to rescue his dog but it had already died. The man said that he looked into the eyes of his dog which were lamenting over his wisdom and saying: “O man! How hasty do you happen to be? You should have first entered the house and seen for yourself the true situation. Why have you killed me?’” 7
The above anecdote beautifully illustrates the need for seeking further clarification, understanding, and awareness of a situation prior to merely reacting. For many a times, a lack of education may lead us instead to furthering an injustice rather than righting a wrong or pursuing justice.
When we look to gain an awareness of the local or global situation within which we live, and educate ourselves on how to best be on the side of justice, we must first ensure we are aware of what tools we are using to gain this knowledge. Three questions we can ask about the tool or source we use include:
- Who is advocating for this tool/source?
- Where does the funding for this tool/source come from?
- What goals and purpose do these tools/sources have?
Once these questions are answered, we can begin to intelligently move forward whilst understanding potential biases, narrative framing, and reasons behind calls to action.
Next, the information that we gain, whether it be for a situation on a local, national, or global level we can then attempt to make an informed decision on how to move forward and act in the genuine best interest of the people or matters in question.
- Amr Bil Maʿrūf – Promoting Goodness in Society
The people in a Muslim community are bound together through the bonds of wilāyah (religious guardianship of the Ahlul Bayt (‘a)). “It is wilāyah that makes an integrated and fully functioning body out of the faithful. It is wilāyah that melts any kind of self-centeredness and egotism and causes love and self-sacrifice to flourish. Wilāyah is the spirit and [the] soul of Islam and it can give spiritual life to Islamic communities.”9
In Ziyārat ʿĀshūrāʾ, we are encouraged to demonstrate a practical aspect to this wilāyah, through “loving the Imām’s friends and to fight against his enemies. […] It is by no means enough that one just loves Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) and considers Yazīd as an enemy, rather one must love their (Ahlul Bayt) friends and makes efforts to remain always at peace with those who are at peace with them forever, right up until the Day of Resurrection. This is the real challenge; otherwise just to love the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) is not difficult. The only time one should be able to claim that one loves the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) is when one loves their friends and by no means harms or hurts them.”10
In utilizing this concept of wilāyah, we must create a community amongst ourselves that encourages communal love and behaviors in line with the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa). This would include, supporting each other in Godly endeavors, watching out for each other, supporting tarbiyyah (the upbringing of people) and parenting, and promoting education for Godly pursuits. The other side of the coin would include standing up for peoples, communities, and against the oppressors whether they be local or abroad. This would require a level of awareness, critical thinking, and discerning judgment. As a community we would need to encourage each other in gaining an understanding of who the oppressors are, how they operate, and furthermore standing firm against them in every way possible.
All in all, this very cursory look at the foundations for raising a socially conscious child in today’s day and age are a general guideline that requires each family structure and community to work amongst themselves to cement what that looks like in every unit, specifying it for their needs and gaps.
1. Amini, Ibrahim. Principles of Upbringing Children. Ansariyan Publications – Qum, 1980.
4. Musavi Lari, Sayyid Mujtaba. Youth and Morals, The Role of Justice in Society. https://www.al-islam.org/youth-and-morals-sayyid-mujtaba-musavi-lari/oppression
5. Sūrah ash-Shams (91), Verses 8-10
6. Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #6134
7. Qara’ati, Muhsin. Lessons from Qur’an. https://www.al-islam.org/lessons-quran-muhsin-qaraati/social-justice
8. Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #6124
9. Shomali, Mohammad Ali. A Probe into Wilayah and its Social Dimensions. https://www.al-islam.org/message-thaqalayn/vol-10-n-3-autumn-2009/probe-wilayah-and-its-social-dimensions-shomali/probe
11. Jami’us Sa’adat, vol. II, p. 223