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Raising Children as Citizens of the World


By Wahida C. Valiante

[Wahida C. Valiante is a social worker who specializes in family therapy, family mediation, domestic violence, and post traumatic stress disorder. She is the national Vice-President of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and is a longtime political and social activist. She sits on several organizational committees whose focus includes the alleviation of child poverty and implementation of social reform. She also maintains a private cross-cultural consulting, training and counseling practice in Toronto, Ontario]

The maiming and killing of Palestinians, Chechnyans, Iraqis, Kashmiris, Afghanis and many other innocent people around the world are a daily occurrence. The world may be inured to it because it has become routine, or because the victims are of a different faith and color or race.

But parents wonder how to explain this collective human propensity for brutality and inhumanity, mass killing and extermination to their children. We may offer them intellectual justification or hide behind the historical reality of ancient hatred, but we can never convince them of the necessity of such brutality and inhumanity.

The children must wonder whether the leaders of the nations are capable of telling them the truth, or their parents have the ability to teach them how to create a world where peace, liberty, justice and equity, rule of law, economic fairness, human equality, and international human rights would prevail. 

The racism, greed, and religious hatred that have fanned the fires of war are still alive on the pages of newspapers, magazines, films, and novels, and they continue to pose a threat to the cultural and religious identity and well being of billions of people worldwide. How to ensure that the children become upright world citizens and spared the vicious cycle of ethnic and religious hatred, human greed and lust for power?

Will the children, be able to  transcend ethnic and religious hatreds, and the lust for power and wealth, to foster a global civil society based on the principles of fundamental freedom and human rights for all ?

It will depend on what and how we teach and nurture our children, the future generation-in-the-making, to be good and worthwhile citizens of the world. There is indeed a way out of the vicious cycle.

Across the ages and throughout the world, parents, teachers, philosophers, religious and civic leaders have wrestled with the question of how to raise morally and ethically responsible citizens in every society and civilization. Today, the task before parents is greater: they have not only to raise good citizens of the state, but also to train them to be good citizens of the world, to be part of humanity and the community of nations.

These days, to meet their own needs, parents increasingly rely on day care centers, baby sitters, tutors, educators, health care providers. early childhood classes and organized social activities. As partners in our children's education, however, we simply cannot abdicate our nurturing responsibility and leave outside educators and other professionals to instill ethical and moral values in our children without reinforcement and role models at home.

Children need role models, and parents are their primary examples. To be good role models themselves, parents must also have models or mentors of their own whose example they can emulate. For Muslim parents, the ideal role model is the noble Prophet Muhammad. "Indeed, in God's Messenger, you (men and women) have a good example for all whose hope is in God and in the Final Day and who remember God frequently." (Qur'an, 33:21) The Prophet's actions and deeds were local, but had global implications in terms of promoting social justice, economic equality, and harmony between different cultures, races, genders, and religions. We need to translate those Islamic global values into day-to-day reality for our children if they are to be worthy future representatives of God in the world community.

The most difficult and demanding challenge for parents today is not determining which civic or religious ideals to pass on to their children, but how effectively to translate them into daily routine. How can parents achieve this when both are juggling multiple jobs? Burdened by social and economic pressure, crime, violence, stressful family relationships, and a confusing political environment, they feel their confidence continually eroded as they try to be good nurturers and role models for their children. Therefore, parents also need guidance to help them translate Islamic ideals into daily life and the lives of their children. All this begins at home.

We must nurture and protect the family as the primary unit of social system and the natural environment for maximizing children's physical, psychological, and moral growth. Children need a safe, peaceful, tolerant, understanding, loving, free, and just environment in which to grow. As we move into the post-modern world of parenting, we must find fundamental universal principles to serve as signposts. A wealth of such principles, or signs (ayah), can be found in the Qur'an. While, these vital signposts already exists in our daily rhetoric, parents need actively to apply them in their own homes . They need to understand the concepts and underlying meanings of these Qur'anic principles, and translate them into everyday reality.

Children should be raised to understand fully their own rights, obligations and responsibilities as Muslims as well as of their parents, community , society and ultimately the world itself. The Qur'an directs the children persuasively, appealing to their emotions.

It asks children "to show kindness to parents; and if one of them or both of them attain old age then not even a word of disapprobation or disgust be uttered, let alone repulsing them". They should be addressed politely and graciously, lowering unto them the wing of humility and kindness. The Qur'an links worship of God with kindness to parents.

"Your Sustainer has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you show kindness to parents..." (Qur'an, 17:23-24)

"And We have enjoined on the human being to be kind to his parents..." (Qur'an, 31:14)

Children must understand what it means to be a Muslim. It means, first and foremost, to believe in God, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all peoples and the universe. The Qur'an tells us that God's creation is "for just ends" and not in "idle sport"; humanity, fashioned in "the best of moulds", is created to serve God. 

According to Qur'anic teachings, service of God cannot be separated from service to humankind, or - in Islamic terms- believers in God must honor both their obligations to God and to His creatures. Fulfillment of one's duties to God and mankind constitutes 'righteousness' (Qur'an, 2:177).

These basic concepts are first put into practice in the home; among our extended families, our friends, schools, places of work and worship, our communities, our country, and, finally, in the world. It involves parents in setting limits, formulating rules and teaching children to take moral responsibility for their own behavior as 'vicegerents' of God as they prepare to inherit the global culture now being promoted so assiduously. 

There are certainly no guarantees, but with these principles in mind, parents can expose the youth to basic global Islamic values and concepts, thus preparing them to be good citizens of the world. To achieve this goal, children need to know how to apply and integrate these basic Qur'anic principles to daily life:

  1. Children must be able to think critically and rationally if they are to understand the Qur'anic principles governing human behavior in order to maintain a proper balance between knowledge ('ilm) and behavior ('amal)
  2. Children should know their rights and responsibilities, which according to the Qur'an, begin at home and continue in concentric circles, encompassing the local and global arena.
  3. Children should understand the importance of volunteering: at home, regularly helping their parents; and in the community by helping neighbors, sharing their time with the elderly, visiting the sick, and sharing resources with others.
  4. Children should learn to fit in with others. It means resolving conflicts with fair words, not clenched fists; it also means listening to one another, expressing oneself, developing self esteem, being a good team player, having good manners, and demonstrating civility to all.
  5. Children should learn to participate actively in the political process, so as to improve economic and social conditions, both locally and internationally. They need to understand that global action has local impact.
  6. Children should make the natural environment part of their entire life's concern. As stewards (or caring preservers) and inheritors of this planet, it is their task to take responsibility for the world's finite resources and seemingly infinite consumption habits. This means getting them committed to recycling, reusing materials , preparing and eating healthy and locally produced food, taking care of plant ecology and managing wisely the goods we have.
  7. Children should be engaged in projects involving people in other countries to learn how to accept and celebrate human differences and gain self-confidence. They need to know that there are many others' with whom we share this planet earth and its resources.
  8. Children should understand that history indeed matters. The Qur'an draws attention repeatedly to the misdeeds of previous peoples, and to their destruction as the consequences of those misdeeds. The warning is that if the past produced all those disastrous results, or if, conversely virtuous deeds in the past bore fruits in the form of good results, there is a relationship between the past, present, and the future - and it is significant in fashioning human life.
  9. Children need to understand where they come from and feel sufficiently confident in their own religious and cultural identity to appreciate other's customs and practices.
  10. Children should experience the continuing,  stable love of family and friends. This means being able freely to express emotions - love, humor, and respect - within the family.

Throughout history, parents have been there to provide civil society well adjusted, hardworking and honest future citizens. Effective civic education based on Islamic concepts indeed begin and continue at home where the laying of foundations is a daily process for the development of ethical and moral values reinforced through interaction with school and the larger community. Regardless of what messages children receive from schools, day care, or pre-school, they learn many of their profound lessons at an early age from their own family members.

Therefore, the family must be protected as the fundamental unit in society, and as the natural environment for children's emotional, physical, moral, religious and social well being and growth. Since children learn their first lessons in citizenship at home, parents must take the initiative , and be fully engaged in this process as the driving engine of society.

 This article was published in "The Quest for Sanity" by The Muslim Council of Britain

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