Editor’s note: The author of this article has chosen to write anonymously in order to protect the identity of their child.
I’ll admit it. I used to be complacent. A decade ago, my children were young and happily attending Islamic school. They were memorizing Qur’an, socializing with other Muslim kids, willingly joining us for salat in our home and activities in the masjid. In those days when I would hear about a Muslim teen in our community who had started dressing immodestly. . . or one who had been caught with a boyfriend or girlfriend behind the school. . . or one who consistently skipped prayers . . . I thought, alhamdullilah my kids are not like that.
If I’m being completely honest, deep down inside I also sometimes thought, What did their parents do wrong to get such a misguided child? This assumption, of course, implied that I was doing something right. That my children’s current acquiescence to the rules of their faith was my doing. That my husband and I could take all the credit for their innocence and love of Islam.
So often in life we find that the very thing we judge others for – the thing we smugly think could never happen to us – will come back to bite us. And in my case, sadly, it did.
My daughter wore hijab until she was seventeen. Then one day she removed it, not with hesitance or regret, but with grim determination. In retrospect, I guess I should have seen it coming. She had been dropping hints for a long time. She had cried about the tactless and hurtful comments about her Islamic dress that she’d heard from non-Muslim peers and complete strangers. She had complained numerous times about the inconvenience of wearing modest swimwear at the beach because all the material weighed her down, and she felt she looked like a “freak” amongst her bikini-clad contemporaries. She had argued countless times that Muslim men had it easy: they could blend in with Western society and wear almost anything they wanted. They usually did not face the same harassment that Muslim women did. No matter how many times I tried to explain the reasoning behind Islamic rulings, remind her of Allah’s wisdom and love, and encourage her devotion to her faith, my words increasingly fell on deaf ears.
Still, the fact remains that I was surprised and heartbroken when my daughter decided to remove her hijab. Even more concerning, her faith started slipping away bit by bit – missed prayer by missed prayer – over the subsequent months. I tried many times to change her mind, but ultimately, I felt powerless to stop the downward spiral. At this point, my intelligent, strong-willed daughter was listening only to her peers, social media influencers, and even the books she read in school. All of these made her feel like her faith was a prison that she needed to escape.
I was a teen once. I remember the allure of the “freedom,” “independence” and “glamor” that the world promises to individuals who follow their whims and desires. I realize that as an adult, it is far easier to embrace modesty, humility, and submission to God; but for many adolescents in the modern world, adhering to Islam can indeed feel like grasping a burning coal, as our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) predicted.
Eventually, due to my daughter’s deviation from the Straight Path, I realized that my children’s guidance was not in my hands. Yes, I have a responsibility to do my best to be a good Islamic role model and teacher, but my efforts are not necessarily enough to secure my children’s hearts to Allah. Only He SWT can guide, and He is the Turner of Hearts. “Verily, you [O Muhammad] guide not whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He knows best those who are the guided” (Quran 28:56).
I grieved privately for months. Finally, I hesitantly opened up to some close Muslim friends about my experience. I was immensely relieved when they confessed similar stories: many of them also had teens who were struggling to practice, or barely practicing, or not practicing at all. Of course, I was not happy to hear this news, but I admit it gave me some solace to know I wasn’t alone. Those parents, my friends and contemporaries, were excellent Muslims. They prayed and worshiped as a family, led a wholesome life, set a good example, and invested in Islamic schools, homeschooling, and Qur’an lessons. And yet, many of their teenagers had still drifted from their deen. It was a tragedy, yes, but clearly it wasn’t entirely the fault of us parents.
Talking with other moms, I also realized that the Muslim community’s reaction to misguided youth is, generally, very unhelpful. The teens feel so judged and unaccepted that they stop attending Islamic events and start avoiding practicing Muslims altogether. One friend’s daughter noticed that when she stopped wearing hijab, some of the “aunties” who had known and loved her for years were suddenly cold and distant. In part, I can’t blame them. They were probably saddened to see a young woman abandon an important act of worship. Perhaps they were even worried that she would influence their daughters and encourage them to stop dressing modestly. I don’t entirely fault them, but I do know the community’s rejection hurts teens deeply and pushes them even farther away from the deen.
Whether you can relate to my situation or not, if you are a Muslim parent, I have some words of advice. These are words from a distraught mother whose own child has wandered off the Straight Path and whose constant prayer is for her child’s repentance.
- Don’t get complacent. If your young children are enthusiastically practicing their faith, that is wonderful. But do not mistake that for a guarantee of future adherence. No matter how much they seem to love Islam now, still make du’a for your children’s guidance on a daily basis. Their faith will likely be tested in the teen years, and peer pressure is perhaps worse than ever because of social media.
- Never be arrogant if your children are “good Muslims.” If they love Islam, and if they continue on the Straight Path, it is a blessing from Allah, not a bragging right.
- Don’t condemn people silently or, even worse, backbite them verbally. We know that speaking badly about someone is like “eating the flesh of your brother,” according to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
- Keep in mind: we never know who might stray from the Straight Path. It could be me, or you, or any of our children. We all must work continuously to maintain and strengthen our faith. Even the Prophet (s) who was the most perfect human and the most beloved by Allah SWT, continually made the du’a: “O Turner of Hearts, keep my heart firm on your deen.” If the Prophet (s) supplicated Allah SWT to help him keep his faith strong, who are we to be complacent about our iman?!
- Supplicate for any wayward child. The best thing you can do for a youngster who has stopped practicing is to make sincere du’a for them. Do it with compassion, sincerity, and humility. Know that each prayer we make for another person is answered by an angel saying, “And the same to you.” By making heartfelt du’a for another child, then, we are also protecting our own, insha’ Allah.
- Continue to treat them like your brother or sister in faith. Even though they might not look or act like a “proper” Muslim right now, they still have a seed of iman in them, insha’ Allah. We do not know what lies in another person’s heart. Errant Muslims still deserve our kindness. Indeed, perhaps because of their precarious situation, they need even more of it.
- Be supportive of that child’s parents. Do not treat them differently, nor presume that their child’s behavior is their fault. Remember that some of the strongest Muslims of all time had family members who did not embrace Islam. Prophet Nuh had one son who remained a disbeliever, refused to board the ark, and eventually drowned. Even Prophet Mohammad (s), whose beautiful example inspired countless individuals to accept Islam, could not convince his uncle Abu Talib to acknowledge the truth.
- Guidance is in the hands of Allah SWT, and a person’s current behavior does not necessarily reflect the quality of their upbringing. Remember that there are many forces working against Muslim parents’ best intentions. Keep in mind that teen rebellion is a common – if not justified –phenomenon.
- Do not assume this is the end of their story! Insha’Allah their period of disobedience, rebellion, and confusion will end, by the grace of Allah. Insha’Allah their parents’ fervent du’as will be answered, and these children will repent and turn back to the Straight Path. Perhaps today’s misguided teen will become tomorrow’s pious adult who knows exactly how to reach confused Muslim youth because she has been in their shoes. There is always hope, insha’ Allah, and a believer is always optimistic about Allah’s mercy and guidance.
May Allah SWT guide our children, forgive our shortcomings, and protect our ummah from anything that turns us away from His love and forgiveness. Ameen.