Undoubtedly, our children do as we do more than what we say. Building a community for our children then squarely falls on us showing them how it is done.
Building a Truly Islamic Community for Our Children
For most Muslims, the word Ummah is synonymous with the concept of Islam. Ummah is loosely defined as a community bound by faith in the Oneness of our Creator. More broadly, a community is defined as a group of people who either live in the same area or share the same views, interests etc.
Both these definitions are well accepted (borderline taken for granted) – almost leaving us wanting a true appreciation of the depth or substance behind the notion of a community.
Why community is important for Muslim children
The presence of a community in one’s life is multilayered – where and how we fit in can arguably become more complex as the layers get denser. In the first instance, we have our parents and siblings as our immediate circle. We then have our wider family circle, our cousins and close friends. If we cast the net further, we all belong to a neighbourhood, a city, a country and ultimately, we are all citizens of the world. What transcends above this all (and should pigment our presence in all other forms of the community) is our Muslim identity. The idea that we are part of a community that is (or should be) bound by its love for our Creator, His Messenger (pbuh) and the Ahlulbayt (pbut).
The modern Muslim parent in the west finds themselves dealing with a cauldron of complexity. Slowly inching out of a pandemic, in the shadow of the older generation’s idea of a community – how do we build one for our children? Perhaps the first thing to think about is, what sort of community do we want to build for our children?
A community built on the bedrock of a strong value system feels like the right way forward.
An environment where we are kind, generous, inclusive, empathetic, compassionate, curious, truthful, open-minded, accessible, and confident. Whilst these values exist in most of our households, one may argue that some elements have crumbled around the edges – and there is a quiet urgency to protect the foundations. In tandem with this, as a society, we seem to be recoiling from collectivism into individualism.
Some of us may remember stories our grandparents and parents told us about their childhood. How each child in the neighbourhood would gather after school to play – and all parents would be at ease. How when they went to the mosque and did not behave appropriately, the elders would not hesitate to correct their mistakes. The common denominator in both examples seems to be a sweeping level of trust and undertones of the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.
Striving for collectivism, not individualism
Analysing the above examples in the context of our world today – we live in a much more complex world, where unfortunately safety is a real concern. However, it would not be wrong to say that our notion of a village has become much smaller than it would have been at the time our parents or grandparents were growing up. This brings us back to the idea of collectivism vs individualism and our position in the wider community – particularly our faith-based community.
It would be safe to say that the older generation grew up in an era where their wider communities (i.e. faith-based communities, neighbourhoods etc) were bound by collectivism; our wider communities are instead laced with a watered-down version of it. Is there a way, in the world that we live in today, that we can find a middle ground to balance our sense of self with a greater sense of community (the latter referring to a wider community)?
I believe there is. Think about a nuclear family – mum, dad and child(ren). Each family seeks to create their own value system, which they endeavour to pass on to their children as a legacy – this also contributes to defining their sense of self as a family. This nuclear family has a strong bridge between itself and its extended family/close friends. A bridge nurtured by a set of values which may include: love, trust, compassion, empathy, honesty and integrity. At the time of our parents and grandparents, the bridges beyond extended families remained strong – due to the above-mentioned concept of collectivism. In our world today, it is these bridges to the wider community (i.e. neighbourhoods, faith-based communities etc) that need close attention – if we are truly focused on building a strong community for our children.
One may ask – well how do we fortify the bridges from our individual ecosystems to the wider community, more specifically our faith-based communities? There are many ways – but there is one aspect that warrants a deeper look. One of the hallmarks of a healthy community is its ability in developing its members and enable them to become the best versions of themselves. An aspect of our global culture today is our (sometimes hyper) sensitivity. It is no surprise that we tend to walk on eggshells around people because we do not want to offend them. As noble as this intention may be, it stifles the opportunity for constructive criticism.
Working towards respectful and constructive community relations
It goes without saying that there is a way of delivering constructive criticism. Also, we may have to rethink how open we are to looking at things differently and pondering other people’s suggestions in bettering ourselves. Think about the time when Imam Hassan (pbuh) and Imam Hussain (pbuh) corrected the way an older member of their community performed Wudhu by asking the elderly to watch them perform Wudhu and point out any mistakes. This simple example goes to show how we can create a safe environment for constructive criticism simply by espousing three qualities: treating others the way we would want to be treated, creativity in our approach and empathy. This would greatly contribute to fostering mutual trust between fellow community members –building a community that genuinely cares for one another. One can only go through the hassle of showing another a better way of doing things – if they truly cared.
Undoubtedly, our children do as we do more than what we say. Building a community for our children then squarely falls on us showing them how it is done. It is a complex matter. However, if we pick one tool, for example: learning how to give and receive constructive criticism with the intention of being and helping our community members be the best versions of themselves – imagine how much more we would have to show Allah on the Day of Judgement.