Community

‘Like Holding a Burning Coal’

Published July 28, 2021

By Laura El Alam

For this article, five Muslim mothers confided in me, sharing their concerns, frustrations, and wishes with regards to their children’s practice of Islam. Most chose to remain anonymous, and so their names have been changed. However, their examples are real, and many parents will relate to their stories.

Amina and her husband are practicing, enthusiastic Muslims who raised their children to pray five times a day. Since their kids were little, they have consistently worshipped together as a family and tried to make salat a positive experience. Nevertheless, to her frustration, Amina’s teenage sons are frequently lazy about making wudhu and performing their prayers. They even lie, sometimes, when questioned about it.

Although she loves Islam deeply and has tried to instill that love in her children, Marwa is facing parenting challenges. Prayer is a constant struggle for one of her teenage daughters, yet the teen refuses to attend any Islamic classes or workshops. With Marwa’s other daughter, the argument that skinny jeans are not proper Islamic attire is an ongoing battle.

Ayat and her husband are knowledgeable and sincere about their deen. They have always striven to raise pious children, but both of their adolescent daughters resist wearing hijab. Ayat and her husband caught their 10-year-old son searching for indecent images of women online, and their 13-year-old son had a secret girlfriend with whom he was communicating on an unauthorized device.

These are all earnest Muslim parents who have tried their best to raise their children well. They not only “talk the talk” by teaching their children about their faith, taking them to Islamic classes and activities, and making the masjid a regular part of their life, but they also “walk the walk” by following Islamic guidelines and leading by example. Nevertheless, their children are wandering off as-serat al-mustaqim, the straight path.

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. Ask any modern-day Muslim parent what one of their main challenges is, and they will almost certainly tell you it is raising their children to practice their deen fully and willingly. Even those adults who practice Islam diligently and try to model excellent Islamic character can find themselves confused and frustrated with children who rebel against the Islamic morals and regulations they were raised to adhere to.

It appears that we are living in the time that the Prophet (s) predicted when he said, “There will come a time when holding on to your religion will be like holding burning coal” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi). Even while so many Muslim parents find themselves in a similar, heartbreaking predicament, most are unwilling to discuss it. They fear judgment and condemnation by the community and wish to protect their children — and themselves — from scrutiny.

The Problems and Their Causes

The main difficulties parents are seeing with their children today involve a lack of dedication to the five daily prayers, disinterest in learning about their faith, noncompliance with Islamic dress code, the desire to date, and viewing inappropriate online material. There are undoubtedly other issues, but those themes arose over and over in the interviews.

While child rearing has always been difficult, life in the twenty-first century is particularly daunting. With technology that brings the whole world to their fingertips, today’s youth have easy and often unfiltered access to unlimited material, too much of which is inappropriate and unconducive to an Islamic lifestyle. Throughout history, most parents have had to contend with issues of peer pressure, hormones, and a certain amount of adolescent rebellion, but nowadays Muslim moms and dads also have to cope with the pitfalls of social media, rampant mental health issues, online pornography, and the glorification of lifestyles that Islam does not condone.

Carissa is a mom in the United States who is trying to raise her children to be practicing Muslims, but it is a struggle. “Living in the States and being exposed to so much that is not reflective of Islam is hard and does not promote practice,” she says. “When I compare how my husband grew up, learning about Islam every day in school, along with knowing Arabic, it’s difficult to see how my children are growing up. I feel they are losing so much.”

Aya adds, “The environment is very powerful. Media especially. We are letting movies, shows and social media raise our kids then trying to throw them in an Islamic school or Sunday school to fix them or keep them safe. These media are designed very powerfully with full knowledge of human neuropsychology and biology. They are created to be hard to resist and to hook us and shape our minds and behaviors. I don’t think enough of us realize that truth, and we are in actuality seeing the results of kids raised by the media, not by our tarbiyah. We are too busy on our phones, running around, cooking, chores, etc., and the little time we do spend is not enough to overcome the sheer quantity and quality of the media they consume.”

In Marwa’s opinion, there might be a deeper issue at hand. “Sometimes,” she says, “kids’ rebellion and lack of interest in practicing Islam has nothing to do with Islam itself; it could be an underlying mental health struggle or depression that we are not picking up on.” She advises fellow parents, “Please, please keep the door of communication open, and allow them to seek help when they need it.”

Do Parents Feel Comfortable Talking with Other Muslims About this Problem?

“I do not feel comfortable for fear of being judged by others,” answers Marwa. “I do talk to select people who have genuine love and concern for our family, but in general I do not discuss with others. Unfortunately, as a community we are very judgmental, and that is one of the causes of our kids’ rebellion. They feel more comfortable discussing their issues in a circle at school than with community members.”

Ayat agrees. “I imagine the community at large would be unduly judgmental and maybe stigmatize the kids when they are only beginning to form who they will be and still have the chance to change for the better,” she states.

Amina feels differently. She reports, “I absolutely feel comfortable talking about these issues. Working together to address these issues in our communities will strengthen our Umma. Hiding things doesn’t make them go away. I do think the Muslim community is changing with the tide. We are all parents and can understand the challenges we all face. I think when given the opportunity, we are more supportive than we believe is possible. Mostly our own fears and insecurities keep us from sharing our struggles.”

What Kinds of Help and Resources Are Needed?

According to the moms I interviewed, Muslim communities need to invest in more and better classes for the youth. Also, community leaders and mentors who work with kids need to be up to date with modern issues and know how to approach tough topics with tact and healthy communication.

“I wish our local mosques had more specific classes geared toward educating kids about Islam and Islamic manners,” says Carissa. “I would hope they would give me encouragement that kids growing up in the States can be good Muslims, despite not being surrounded by it.”

Marwa adds, “I wish the community were more educated on the importance of having open discussions with our youth and not shying away from taboo subjects. This is a major problem in our community, and the youth are so lost trying to navigate being Muslim in the public school system without proper Muslim mentorship. We need leaders in our community who are equipped to address the youth, can speak to them at their level and who are familiar with —and not afraid of —talking about ‘stuff.’ We also need Muslim mental health experts who are available to our youth to help them process their thoughts and feelings. I am seeing an improvement in this area but there is still so much need for resources in the Muslim mental health field. We also need our leaders to speak more openly to parents and have hard conversations. We cannot solve a problem that we do not acknowledge we have.”

Aya would like to see “Better-run Islamic events for kids. We tried multiple schools, camps, halaqas, etc. but they were never very well done. [They were] boring for kids, alienating, unprofessional, unaware of modern culture and issues, and too focused on fear.” She adds, “The kids in the group were even worse than public-school kids and my own kids in many ways, like trying hard to be bad, as if to imitate the worst non-Muslims. I wish there was a really positive environment, especially for boys with men as role models and leaders. One problem I believe is the lack of good Muslim men willing to invest in the next generation.” Amina says, “I wish we had more opportunities for mentoring kids. We should create more social initiatives so kids can form bonds with others they trust and admire.”

Those of us who are active in the masjid should take these suggestions to heart. Sometimes it takes just one person to spearhead a movement that makes a significant, positive impact on many people. And, while it is easy for us to complain about a lack of suitable classes and activities for Muslim youth, we must also ask ourselves why we aren’t doing anything about it. Perhaps we are the ones who need to volunteer for our children and their friends, whether by teaching a class, chaperoning weekly outings, forming a parents’ group to discuss issues and brainstorm together, or mentoring.

Other Proposals

Nadia moved to Egypt, and her experience there has influenced the way she raises her children. She suggests, “I would highly highly encourage Muslims to move overseas and find a place which works for them. I think this is largely left unsaid because many people who moved to certain countries had bad experiences, but alhamdulilah the earth is vast. And there are so many places to raise children that can yield much better results than we are currently seeing in the West. With the same amount of effort we put in the West, it is much easier to have much better outcomes in terms of a much more integrated Islamic identity for the children. They are simply not as exposed to much of the filth and ideas that are easily accessible in the West. Of course, bad exists everywhere but the relative difference is still big. There is a factor of a healthy level of guilt that exists in Muslim societies that really does become part of the psyche. Also, there are cultural factors that come into play that minimize the harms of exposure to failed ideas.”

Marwa advises, “Dua is the most powerful way to make any difference, and Allah knows best. For the younger children, rewards and praying together as a family helps a lot. A strong foundation will help them navigate their way back to Allah, it will take time for them to see this for themselves.”

Aya believes “…this is part of our test of life. We love our kids so much. We want the best for them and we don’t want to lose them. But ultimately, they belong to Allah, and Allah knows if there is any good in them and He is the Guide who will guide them if there is. But it’s a desire of ours that we want our kids to be successful. We wish to be with them forever in Jannah. I wish the community would not be judgmental. Allah is the judge. What we need from the community is love, the love of the fraternity of Islam, and nurturing. And honestly, we need more people being good examples of our deen when it comes to mercy, teaching, and cultivating goodness.

From these sisters’ experiences, we can draw some conclusions:
•  We should not judge people harshly, even if we believe their children are not practicing up to our standards, and even if we think the parents are making mistakes. Many moms and dads are trying their best. Some might not be, but Allah SWT is the judge — not we humans who cannot see the whole picture. Insha’Allah, the misguided children will turn back to the straight path. We should approach the topic of rebellious kids with optimism, dua, support, and a complete rejection of backbiting or gossip. After all, we cannot guarantee that our own children will never make a public mistake or lapse in their adherence to Islam. How would we want them to be treated?

Not a single soul is completely immune to the chance of misguidance, and so we should constantly ask Allah SWT to keep us on the straight path and never become complacent or arrogant. In light of this, the Prophet (s) taught us this dua: “O turner of the hearts, keep our hearts firm on your religion.”

•  Our youth need more inspiration, supervision, and quality attention from their parents and other community members. It is up to each of us to figure out how to orchestrate that. It might mean much tighter supervision of technology and social media use. It could entail putting greater effort into cultivating friendships with like-minded Muslim families or increasing our own knowledge of Islam so that we can be effective teachers for our children. Our love, attention and attempts at genuine connection with them are powerful tools. Also, the power of a parent’s dua for their child cannot be overestimated.

•  Whatever efforts we make, we should remember that the Prophet (s) said, “Allah says: ‘I am just as My slave thinks I am, and I am with him if He remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than they; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.’” Therefore, even if we take baby steps towards progress, Allah SWT will reward and increase our efforts, insha’Allah, and magnify them.

Laura El AlamAuthor Laura El Alam is a prolific writer whose work has been featured in various magazines. She frequently addresses issues related to converts’ experiences, women’s right in Islam, racism, and Muslim-American identity. You can follow her on Facebook at her page The Common Sense Convert and visit her website, Sea Glass Writing & Editing.

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