Sunday 11 December 2016

Is Raising Good Muslim Children in the West Impossible?

Even as I write the question in the title I have to admit that I am a little biased. I was born and raised in London and I am trying to raise my children here. So what prompted the question? I went to pick up Darling from nursery this morning and said hello to some of the mums I meet there sometimes. One of them mentioned her daughter was Darling’s best friend, and I told her that her daughter’s name was mentioned daily in our home often alhamdulillah.

Another mother asked Darling’s besties mum how long before she was moving to Pakistan. She explained that they were still setting up a factory there and would move the family back there as soon as production had started. The other mum asked her why she wanted to go back and she replied that she couldn’t see a future here, that no matter how much you worked it wasn’t enough to live comfortably and the kids turned our strange here. She did mention too that they had no family here.

A tiny part of me did feel like exclaiming “we aren’t all messed up!!” Over the years, I have heard stories of families, including one of my dad’s friends, selling up and moving to Pakistan either because they thought their money would stretch further or because they thought their kids would get a better upbringing. Some stayed, many came back once their money ran out and they realised no one wants to know you if you are penniless, even all the relatives that helped you spend the money. Sometimes their children grew up and insisted they wanted to come back to the UK. One of my friends moved for the benefit of her daughters’ religious education, she struggled with the change in the environment, but stayed long enough for both daughters to become alimah (scholars) and then returned here with them. Then there are numerous friends and acquaintances that talk about moving to places like the UAE to provide their families with a more halal environment.

So are kids raised “back home” in Muslim countries better brought up? Do they have better manners? Are they more religious? My own thought on this matter is that it depends on the way they have been brought up and how you define well brought up. From my experience of my family and the families of friends, there is no shortage of spoilt, ungrateful or messed up kids back home. We also hear about the ones that have turned out well.

I do think it is a little bit easier back home in some regards: some values, such as care of the elderly and respect for your parents are ingrained into society and internalised in a way that they are not as much in other parts of the world. The way our children talk to us here is much more familiar and can be taken for rudeness. On the other hand the things that are influencing our children here: internet, mobile phones, social media etc. are now present in Muslim countries too and the children there are as up to date on the trends as the ones here are.

At the same time, I questions what we consider as well-brought up. There are some things that I think are universal: respect for parents, respects for teachers, and kindness towards your extended family, there are others which I think are not. My mum would often tell us how good our cousins are, massaging their mothers feet when she would come home from shopping. We would just go “eeewwwwww, we’re not doing that!” and think how good our cousins were at playing the grown-ups.

My kids are comfortable in disagreeing with me and debating an issue with me. In Pakistan, this might be considered as bad manners, but I don’t see it in that way. I have always said they can disagree with me as long as they do so respectfully. Here we are taught to question and be critical as part of our education. In Pakistan, I haven’t seen this in the past, certainly my husband’s generation was educated through rote learning, I suspect this may have changed now.

I hope this lady is happy if she moved to Pakistan, I hope her children are raised beautifully and she is pleased with them. In contrast I love the approach my husband has taken. He believes that you get what you strive for. If you are here to make as much money as you can, then perhaps you will. If you are here for your children to get the best upbringing, whether that means academic schooling or Islamic upbringing, then perhaps you will achieve that. In doing one, you may miss out on one of the others, who knows. But if you are here for your faith, as a da’ee, one who shares and teaches the faith and who’s biggest anxiety is that of our beloved Prophet (saw), to share the message of Islam, then, again, you can hope to get what you have worked for: a life filled with the beauty of faith, and perhaps the same for your family. My husband would say that you either influence your environment as a da’ee or you let it influence you. I you are a da’ee, then I think there is no East or West for you and I believe that Allah (SWT) will take care of the tarbiyyah (correct upbringing) of your children and safeguard their iman. I am reminded of a beautiful poem by the Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal, which was left in a comment on this blog:

Tu woh Yusuf hai ke har Misr hai Kan'aan teraa
You are the Yusuf for whom every Egypt is Canaan

(from jawab-e-shikwa, by Allama Muhammad Iqbal)

For the da’ee every Egypt is Canaan.

I would love to hear from readers about their views and experiences. Is it better back home?  Is environment too big a factor to ignore? Are children better brought up there? Are we doomed to messed up kids in the West? Or do you think it’s less about where you live and more about how you bring them up?


  1. I really loved your post and I relate to it so much, because I have young kids at home, and I often wonder if I am doing everything right in the way I am raising them. I do think that the problem with raising kids in the "West" vs "back home" is the kinds of things our children are exposed to early on in their formative years, vs. perhaps "back home" , kids are a little bit more sheltered still. The western things are of course there now, but still not in such a magnitude as in the western countries. I live in the US and I have stayed for extended periods of time in both Jordan (my husband's home country) and in the UAE (where my sister in law as well as brother in law live) so I had a chance to observe my nieces and nephews of various ages in those countries, as well as my own kids here in the US (my kids are 6 and 9). I think the biggest challenge I face is the kinds of things my kids hear at school (a public school) from their friends of various faiths, and even the kinds of things they hear in cartoons and movies. Yes I try to limit and censor the things they see but I realized early on that kids are being bombarded from all angles with inappropriate messages, images and topics, and it is impossible for me to stop that, uneless we never leave the house and loose all contact with the outside world. I try to take a different approach now, I discuss with my kids things they hear from their friends, or things they see on tv, and I teach them about what our (mine and my husband's ) expectations are, what is the right correct behavior, what would a good Muslim do. I realized that i cannot fully control what my kids come in contact with, all I can control is what I teach them. As for my nieces and nephews overseas (ages 3 to 22), I think that the ones living in a smaller town in Jordan are a still a little bit more sheltered then the ones living in Dubai. The kids in Dubai are exposed to a lot of American movies and tv, and they are surrounded by a large number of American, British and Australian kids going to their school, so growing up there is a little more similar to my kids' experience here in the US. What I did observe, and what I really did not like was the way all the boys in the family are spoiled and allowed to engage in behaviors which I would never allow my son to do, simply because they are boys. I feel like boys in Jordan and Dubai are way more misbehaving, spoiled and not expected to do much, simply because they are boys. For example, my son and my daughter are expected to complete chores equally, there is no such thing as boy chores vs. girl chores. Both are taught to help me in the kitchen, do laundry, clean their room. I did not see the same thing in the way my nieces and nephews are brought up in Jordan and Dubai. Boys seem to not be expected to clean up after themselves, help out etc, as the girls are. So in that regard I like that my kids are growing up in the United States where my daughter will have more equal opportunities, and possibilities. I do think that it's good for my kids to visit their dad's home country as much as they can (which sadly we can only afford every 3 years or so) so they can see how life is different in a Muslim country as opposed to a Western Country. Also, I think it's super important for me to pay close attention to what kids of friends my kids associate themselves with, because unfortunately there are a lot of kids whose values and behaviors are unacceptable to me, and I need to limit their influence on my kids.

    1. there is no such thing as boy chores vs. girl chores.
      That's a great, unexpected and welcome news for me. Have they started treating men and women equally in the US? Since when?

      I tried to look up for equality in where they mention the names of some of their "men" who come to our Asian countries and who are considered role models and ideals back there. Couldn't see much of equality there! Could find only "men".
      Well, maybe back home they would be equal. So I searched the list of occupants of the apparently most powerful house there, the White House. Couldn't find equality. Not a single girl in the list. But for now, let alone equality, not even a single oddity! Sorry, baby Hillary!

      What about the list of the richest, the most powerful "men" there. It too turned out to be just a men's list with bits of oddity thrown in here and there.
      Anywhere else where I could see this equality? Apart from the centers of artificially and unnaturally enforced gender upheavals, the laboratories of "positive" discrimination and discriminatory reservation.

      Well, I hear they have released a list of Ashley Madison users. Maybe there I will find equality, at least!

      Or is it just some feminist mirage where women are equal to men and where women need men like fish need bicycles (Irina Dunn).
      Why can't we just accept the truth that we are not same as men and hence not equal, with our own biological needs and duties, emotional specialties and singularities, different from and unequal to men's. It's true that all men and women should get their just rights, but equality -- if it could be achieved, they would have achieved in the on-battlefield army, in White House, in the gang of rich and wealthy. At least by now!

      By the way, here's some quotes from gender-equality propagandists and family-disintegration advocates:
      "The nuclear family must be destroyed." (Linda Gordon)
      “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking this institution.” (Sheila Cronin)
      “I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.” (Andrea Dworkin)
      How sick these enemies of God and of natural order can get! Do we want to live in their ideal, utopic dreamland!

  2. Assalam Alaykoum,
    Agree with you Sister and with Magdalena as well; I just like to think about good examples who despite growing up in the west became extraordinary people for example Imam Omar Suleiman. He said in one of his videos that he wasn't a very good muslim until the end of high school and started to turn more towards religion then. (Both his parents were practising so it wasn't the lack of Ibadah in their house)
    My problem with the West is more about the anti Muslim behavior and dangerous people that are so many here; drog users/dealers, pedofiles, racist, jobless people who have nothing to do(but blaming immigrants for taking " their" job and wandering around all day- seriously sometimes I scared even go close to them as you never now what drug effect they are under..
    All this in the East are different...I know there are good and bad everywhere but the ratio matters...for example in my husband's home country Algeria, everyone send children to shops and they go to shool alone from primary while here I would not do this until they are teens and even them I would worry for them.
    However the boys being spoilt thing is especially true - and girls should never show feeling or express their will - this all makes me sick as it is not what Islam teaches us, and I'm not going to raise my boys like that.

    1. drug users/dealers, pedophiles, racists, jobless people who have nothing to do (but keep blaming immigrants for taking "their" job and wandering around all day
      For a short time, it felt like you were talking about my home-state Bihar, the poorest state of India, which was ruled by Lalu Yadav for a long time. One of the jokes his haters popularized was: The then Washington President Bill Clinton met Lalu and said to him, "Hand me your Bihar for a year and I will turn it into New York." Lalu replied, "Give me your America for a day and I will turn it into Bihar."

      Well, not sure if that really happened! 
      Of course, there is a major difference. We Biharis never blame migrants. In fact, we are the biggest migrants of India, fondly nicknamed "Beggar Bihari (Bihari Bhikhari)".
      By the way, what you are facing there, we Biharis face here (probably in a lesser degree) in different parts of India, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, unfortunately more so from Ulamaa. Alas! Nobody cares to remember:
      دَعوها، فأنها منتنة (صحيح البخاري: 4905)
      “Stop this. It stinks!”

      When some minor dispute arose between a Muhajir (a migrant from Makkah) and an Ansari (a native of Madinah) in 6 AH, the Ansari shouted out to his people: Help! Help! O Ansaar!

      Allah's Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "What's this slogan of Jahiliyah? Stop this. It stinks!" (Bukhari 4905)
      They were out on a military expedition. The local leader Abdullah ibn Ubai, a Hypocrite, got angry or maybe he thought the situation could be made into an opportunity. He announced to those around him: "It's you people who have made these Muhajirs so powerful. Just stop spending on the people around Prophet. They will leave him forever and the Prophet will be left alone. All his power and influence will vanish."
      He also declared, "Let's return to Madinah. And then, we, the powerful, will expel these miserables from our land."
      Allah didn't like it. Regarding his suggestion to stop spending on Muhajirs, Allah said: "It is Allah who in fact OWNS the treasures of the skies and the earth, not you. You people just don't understand."
      Regarding Ibn Ubai's incitement to the "powerful" locals for expelling the "miserable" migrants, Allah said: "It's Allah, His Prophet and Believers who are in fact honorable and powerful. You people are just clueless."
      (The Qurän 63:7-8)
      So are we!! Alas! Not much difference here between us, the supposedly knowledgeable Muslims and the actually ignorant Kafirs!

  3. You are the Yusuf for whom every Egypt is Canaan
    Thanks for remembering the comment. Here’s one more from the same Allamah Iqbal (May Alläh keep him in His mercy!).
    طارِق چُو بَر کنارۂ اُندُلُس سفینہ سوخت
    گُفتَند: «کارِ تُو بہ نگاہِ خِرَد خطاست
    دُوریم اَز سوادِ وطن باز چوں رَسیم
    تَرکِ سبَب زَ روئے شریعت کُجا رَواست»
    خَندید و دَستِ خویش بَشمشیر بُرد و گُفت
    «ہر مُلک مُلکِ ماست کہ مُلکِ خداے ماست»
    (Payame Mashriq by Iqbal)
    When Täriq (landed on Spanish coast) and burnt his ships,
    Some companions said, “Rationally speaking, it’s a mistake of yours.
    “We are far away from the neighborhoods of our homeland. How are we going to return?
    “Since when has avoiding the means become acceptable in Sharï’ah?”
    He smiled. He placed his hand on his sword. And he said,
    “Every land is ours, for the entire land of Allah is ours.”

    As for the sword, it was not there to spread ideology, or to invade and conquer, to rob and plunder, to colonize or to – its modern avatar – “modernize”; but – oh my gosh – to actually rescue a Christian girl, the daughter of Count Julian from her rapist. She was learning in the Royal Training Center and His Filthy Majesty Roderick was struck by her beauty and he started raping her. She somehow managed to send the message of her misery to his father, who then approached the Muslim governor of Africa for help. He agreed to risk his small army, sending Täriq to Spain with just 7,000 mujahideen to rescue this stranger lady. Tariq was facing an army that numbered more than a hundred thousand. Täriq, with Alläh’s help, went on to rescue entire Undulus from Roderick’s injustice. (Dimashq ke qaidkhaane mein by 'Inäyatulläh Altamash, p.34)

    1. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

      Sorry for my erroneous translation above. The correct translation would be:

      «ہر مُلک مُلکِ ماست کہ مُلکِ خداے ماست»
      “Every land is ours, because it is our God's land.”