Monday 26 November 2012

Tarbiyah – Correct Upbringing

Something that is very important to me is bringing my children up in the best way possible.  For me this means raising them with good manners and good character and this includes being strong in their faith.  I have tried my best, but I always feel that I could do better.  I suspect this is the case with most parents – they are never satisfied at the job they are doing.

Now that I am at home full time with the children, I had planned to focus on a few habits the children have picked up and review where I had been doing a decent job and where I could improve.  There are a few habits which have been concerning me, some swearing that has crept in and Little Lady’s bad temper being two.

This week my mum said to me that now that I am home, I need to focus on the children’s manners – she said that she didn’t feel that the children had particularly great “tarbiyah” or upbringing and that I needed to rectify this.  At first I felt a little hurt and defensive – after all it is not for lack of trying and there is nothing that is more important to get right, so I could not stomach the idea of doing a bad job.  Then I thought on what she had said.  I believe in taking criticism on board and thinking through what might have prompted it, even if I don’t agree with it.  When it comes from my mum, I am minded even more to reflect on what has been said.

I felt a bit lost as to how I could assess whether I was raising my children well and what else I should be doing or not doing.  I realised that I needed to go back to a definition of what tarbiyah was.  In Arabic tarbiyah means “growth” or “cultivation”, for Muslims this term is used generally to refer to a child’s development and education.  I have come across a number of definitions:

  •  “to take care of that which is necessary for the development of the one being raised… the word Ar Rabb (the Lord) is derived from the word tarbiyah (to nurture)” (source).
  •  “ nurture, rear or to take care of a child from stage to stage until he / she becomes obedient and righteous” (source).
  • “rearing and raising a good righteous Muslim that is sound and complete in all matters such as health, mentality, religion, spirit, ethics, management and creativity” (source).

When I think of what is considered tarbiyah in my parent’s culture, it tends to mean certain things:

  • Being obedient to your parents (and to pretty much anyone else older than you that happens to be around)
  • Speaking good Urdu
  • Being seen and not heard
  • Not getting messy or dirty.
  • Never, ever answering back
  •  And I am not sure what else....

In the weekly halaqah (study circle) I attend, correct tarbiyah of ourself and our children is something that the women have been going over.  The key elements of good tarbiyah and tools for developing it that were discussed are:

1.       Iman or faith – basically meaning that we should teach our children that everything is from Allah (SWT), that He created us and that He fulfils our needs.  We should turn to Him in our difficulty and rely on Him only.

2.       The Sunnah – ensuring that we live by the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  This requires us to study how he lived his everyday life, how he conducted his business and relationships and then to emulate this where appropriate.  Very often, we will say that something that is sunnah is not obligatory but just encouraged.  This leaves us the option of dropping the sunnah from our everyday lives.  In reality we should value the sunnah and work hard to make it a reality in our and our children’s lives.

3.       Salaah or prayer – We should encourage our children to join in the five daily prayers so that it becomes a lifelong habit.  This habit also instils discipline in other areas such as cleanliness and timekeeping.  Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us to encourage our children to perform their salaah from the age of seven.

4.       Knowledge – we need to educate our children regarding their faith from a young age so that they know what is halal and haram, what is permissible and forbidden and how to conduct our everyday lives in the way that Allah (SWT) has commanded.

5.       Remembrance – This requires us encouraging our children to remember their Creator throughout the day through their “masnoon” prayers such as those for entering the house, entering the bathroom, before eating, before sleeping, on waking etc.  This also requires us to teach our children to use Islamic expressions: saying Bismillah when starting anything new, Alhamdulillah rather than saying OK, Masha'allah when they like something, Astughfiruallah when they don’t. 

6.       Ikhlaq or good character – this focuses on the way we behave towards others.  Islam provides guidance on the best way to behave towards different people – respect for our elders, kindness towards our youngsters, and civility towards our neighbours.  Islam outlines the rights of each family member, of neighbours, of the poor and of the stranger, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.  One element of this is reminding our children that a Muslim is one from whose tongue should feel safe and that we should take care never to engage in backbiting or slander.

7.       Sincerity – everything we do should be to please Allah (SWT).  Our good deeds our rewarded on the basis of our intentions.  Often our children will try to please or impress us.  We should remind our children that everything that they do should be to please Allah (SWT) to gain the true reward.

8.       Calling to Allah – this one might sound strange when exploring raising children, but I included it because I remembered something that my husband said to me “as soon as you stop influencing others, they are influencing you, i.e. you either share with others about Islam and make an impact on those around you or you let society and your environment in general impact on you and shape you”.  I believe we should encourage our children to be proud of their deen and to dress, behave and live accordingly.  In doing so they become a form of dawah for their friends, peers and teachers.  I remember one of my friends telling me that my daughter had asked if she was Muslim and when she had told her no, she thought my daughter had looked so disappointed, Alhamdulillah I realised then that Islam had become the norm and default rather than something which makes them different.

I used the list above to make a more honest assessment of how I am raising my children.  This made it easier to determine what I am doing right and what I could do better rather than just feeling like a failure.

Little Lady is prickly and gets angry quickly.  I realise that this comes from me as I struggled for years to control my temper and the younger children have generally seen me calmer and more in control than my first born might have.  I recognise that she is a natural leader and very spirited, but at the same time she needs to be kinder to her brothers who she gets fed up of and rude to very quickly.  I did not want to make her obedient by breaking her spirit, at the same time I knew I needed to address her rudeness that sometimes comes through.  The baby has been a Godsend in this respect.  She is a daily reminder that Little Lady was once as small and sweet as this and that sweetness is still there.  The baby brings out a loving, sweet and patient side of Little Lady that is a joy for me to see.  I have been praising and rewarding Little Lady every time she is kind and helpful with her little sister to teach her this is the kind of behaviour I want to see more of and I have noticed her trying to get her youngest brother to calm down and behave as well.  I am struggling with reminders to be kind when she loses her temper and this is something we need to work on.  On the other hand she conducts our daily family taleem (Islamic studies) each evening and helps me the most with housework and chores.

There are two sources which I have been using to help me manage this behaviour:
Discipline without Disrespecting a fantastic free e-book by Grandma Jeddah (here)
Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child by Dr Laura Markham (here)

Little Man is like his dad, easy going and kind.  The main thing I have to work on with him is the way he interacts with technology.  If he gets anywhere near our computer or mobile phone, he refuses to listen to anything anyone says.  On being kicked off he gets uncontrollable and rude.  Both gadgets have passwords in our home, but I don’t believe in completely blocking all access to these for the children.  They are allowed to use the computer as a reward on weekends or to do homework, but somehow one person (LL) ends up hogging the computer.  All I have been able to do to manage this is be very strict about computer use and take my phone everywhere with me (Gorgeous has managed to crack the pin code once already after disabling it numerous times).  Little Man is such a demon about phones though, that any cousin, uncle or aunty in the vicinity will get harassed until he gets a turn, which then means that both LL and the phone have to be found because he has run off with it.

Gorgeous is a very physical, rowdy, happy child with no idea of volume control.  He has broken things all over the house, but in truth his jumping on beds, off sofa’s and down stairs doesn’t much bother me.  I love his rowdiness.  On the other hand when he gets upset he jumps up and down and shouts.  His temper disappears as instantly as it appears, but it appears loudly enough to disturb the whole house.  So at the moment we are working on trying to find a different way to express his disquiet when he gets into an argument with his brother or sister.  I have told him I cannot understand him when he is shouting or whingeing, so he has to talk normally.  I have stuck to my guns on this and it has started to have an effect, although I can see this will take some time.  The arrival of the new baby has also exacerbated matters so I will have to be patient.  On the other hand his teacher mentioned his good manners and good behaviour in class, so he is capable of being calm.

In all, this gives me some clear things to work on, rather than some vague sense of things not being right.  At the same time, it helps me to identify some things which might be considered bad manners but which do not bother me as much.  Prime amongst these for my children is asking for things.  Little Man in particular is a foodie in the making and cannot contain himself when we go to visit friends.  On one occasion, he came out and asked the hostess when she was going to go in the kitchen and get the food.  In our (Pakistani) culture traditionally you never ask for food, unless amongst very close friends and only take it when offered, this is probably to avoid embarrassing a host who might not have anything available to fulfil a request.  This particularly stands for children.  So when LL goes to his Nan’s and the first thing he asks is what there is to eat, it looks like he has no manners.  This one doesn’t particularly bother me and I have always encouraged my children to ask and ask again when they want something – a habit encouraged more in the West I think.

Insh’Allah I hope to keep learning more and working hard on this one.  It occurred to me recently, that when I study and work hard to learn and achieve something, I usually find a way to do well why should this be any different?  The guidance is available in the Quran and the Sunnah if we care to take the time to learn and practise insh’Allah.  I believe our children are our greatest legacy and sadaqah jariyah (continuing charity) and I can live with failing in other things but not on doing a bad job of raising my children.

Insh'Allah I would love to hear from others about what has worked for them regarding theirselves, siblings or their own children, particularly practical things we can do or resources that they have found useful.


  1. Excellent tips!!! They are really helpful in these days of parenting theories that seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum!! I've heard about Grandma Jedda's book as well, guess it's time to read it!

    1. Definitely worth a read sis, may Allah reward her for her good advice insh'Allah.

  2. Ur article put me at ease... I was having such a doubt filled day.. because my 8 year old girl is not longer the sweet 4 year old who hung onto my every word.. put things in perspective.. parenting is a lifelong learning program .ur words makes me realize we have to be patient and not give up .
    "I believe our children are our greatest legacy and sadaqah jariyah (continuing charity) and I can live with failing in other things but not on doing a bad job of raising my children."true.

    Posted by Umm Salihah at 23:09 "

    1. I can totally understand, I was looking at some old pictures of her my sister had and she was such a sweetheart, so happy and full of laughter. Thing is, it's still there, the sweet soul emerges when she is calm, but then it gets buried under the crankiness when her brothers annoy her or she gets stressed - that's something she has learnt from me unfortunately.

      I'll keep working on her, or with her I should say, after all each day is a new chance for us to do a good job as parents.

  3. I loved this post! Great points and an excellent reminder! Jazakillahu khayran sis!

  4. Jazakumullahukhairan!
    This is nice post.This is a beautiful way to share the knowledge and provide the update to people.Almighty Allah is so kind and Mercyful He'll give the reward for good deeds we are doing.

  5. Thanks for your sharing, I actually almost desperate for thinking about myself, latter after read your post wake me up about my responsibility for doing tarbiyah for myself, my family, my neighbour, my country and next for the world....
    Jazakillah khairan

  6. Assalaamualykum dear sister
    A beautiful post with such useful reminders for us all... Btw, since your hubby in SA ask him to look around for the abridged version of Fazaile amal (aimed at kids1) inshaAllah.

  7. MashaAllah.
    This is very informative post. Upbringing of children in correct way is very important and difficult task for today mothers & families. We must give proper time to children and teach him good manners that make them succeed in the world.

  8. All Muslims might have read that a human being would cease to survive when he dies but his good deeds (charity) or sadaqah jariyah will continue to survive. There are so many people who have more money than they need to support their families. Such people should also think for those Muslim girls and boys who never get admission in any school only because they do not have any money.

  9. Ma Shaa Allah nice experience you have shared with us. Quran Reading and then understanding it with the translation is the way to tarbiyah of our children. Thanks

  10. Masha Allah very informative post.

  11. Assalam aley kum Um Salihah.May Allah reward you for all the excellent and useful information you have provided. I wanted to ask your permisson to include some of your points on Tarbiya in a brief book I am writing? It will be a source of sadqa jaaria for you as well as me inshaAllah. Plz let me know. JazaakAllah khair sister. ( a hopeful sister)

  12. Assalam aley dear sister Um Salihah. Sorry for re sending this message as I am not sure my previous one was published. May Allah reward you for providing this excellent and useful information in your post. I wanted to ask your permission to use some of your points on Tarbiya to include in a book I am writing on Muslim parenting. It will be a source of sadqah jaariah for you as well as me inshaAllah. Please let me know. JazaakAllah khair. A hopeful sister

    1. Assalam-alaikam Sister,
      yes I am happy for you to do that, but please would you be kind enough to link back to the original source in this blog.
      Also, if you e-mail me when the book is complete, I can share a link to it for people that might be interested insh'Allah

  13. very nice post for tarbiyah of kids