Raising Children as Citizens of the World
By Wahida C. Valiante
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
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
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..."
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
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:
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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