Parenting and the role of Muslim women

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

Rabi' al-Thani 16, 1431 2010-04-01

Special Reports

by Quraysha Ismail Sooliman (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1431)

In the search for excellence, we often forget the basics because excellence is a prevailing attitude, not an exception. Parents have the most daunting task of all; they are entrusted with the future of their children.

When asked for a format or recipe to raise “good children” a Muslim sister described her first meeting with her newborn: “As I pulled the blanket from his cheek, I smiled in awe at his fragile face. No one was watching over my shoulder; this little creature was mine, and I could do whatever I wanted. I felt it was appropriate to take care of something that no one had thought of arranging thus far: introductions. “Assalaamu-alaikum,” I whispered, “I’m your mommy.” I stroked his face and then asked the rhetorical question that every mother has asked since time immemorial. “Now…how am I going to raise you?’”

As Muslim parents struggle with the upbringing of children due to societal influences, peer pressure and consumerism, the Muslim Women’s Network of Laudium in conjunction with the Cultural Section of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran hosted a conference on Parenting and the Role of the Woman in Family Life in Islam. The conference was held on Saturday March 13 at the Halima Hall in Erasmi.

Muslim women should assert their identities and be confident in their roles. We should never submit to being judged according to Western standards. We often bring ourselves down to the level of others…” said Dr. Sayyedeh Susan Marandi, guest speaker from Al-Zahra University in Tehran. Dr. Marandi reminded participants of the great role women have to play, not only in the home but in the world. “As the prophets were sent to guide, advise and steer people to the truth, God has entrusted the mother with this very same responsibility,” she stated. A wise man once said, “One good mother is worth a hundred school masters.” And that’s where the learning begins.

The 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was a two-week meeting which concluded on March 12. In addressing the plight of women and children and the injustices that still exist, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that he laid the blame squarely on all 192 countries as they lacked the political will and implementation strategies necessary to address these problems. But “the problem is more systemic in that the secular values that underpin the international system as fashioned and advanced by the West are inherently defective and amoral to the mutual rights and obligations of the male and female gender as Allah Almighty has created them,” said Advocate Abu Bakr Mahomed. Also a Hafiz-e Qur’an, Advocate Mahomed reiterated the reality of the individual and society as real entities; hence Muslims should extend themselves beyond the selfish “I”. And responding to this theme, Waheeda Maria Carvello, Chief Education Specialist (CES), urged all to be aware of the plight of South Africa’s children, especially those in the semi-rural and rural areas. In highlighting the gap between privileged and marginalized communities, Ms. Carvello drew attention to the need for Muslims to extend their humanity to all people. “In Islam, preparing ‘our children’ to face the challenges of modern society is an inclusive struggle of humanity. Education is a right and not a sectarian privilege,” she said. It was essential for all parents to remember that “there is no such thing as someone else’s child.”

“If you ask me, is our education system adequately preparing our children to face the challenges of modern society? I will tell you that the curriculum and the policy is, but it’s the service delivery that is dysfunctional and harming our children” said Ms. Carvello, tearfully. The memory of a semi rural school with 120 grade-twelve learners packed into a classroom that has the capacity only for 40 learners was still overwhelming for this gentle woman. “The children sit practically on top of each other, under the desks and chairs and against the wall. They are so desperate for an education!”

After gaining political freedom in 1994, we said, “free at last.” Free from minority domination and oppression, free from exploitation. But never once did we stop to think about the challenges that we, as a new democracy would face. We have a history of displacement, of economic breakdown and social challenges. This meant changing parenting patterns, high dropout rates at schools, low levels of education and the breakdown of family structures. And now we have poor leadership as well. Parenting in the 21st century has become a profession that requires expertise and skill. Najmunesa Solomon has had 25 years of experience in working with grassroots communities. As a mother of five, she deftly described the various temperaments children have.

“Understanding your child allows you to communicate with them in a way that they can comprehend,” she said. Ms. Solomon, also a CES, focused on the holistic development of and interaction with children. In combining all the aspects of parenting and the challenges that face today’s parents, Sheikh Nuru raised perhaps the most important question of all: Are we aware of the importance of parenting before the birth of the child?

“Parenting in Islam consists of two areas — before birth and after birth,” said Nuru. This was the concluding message. Parents need to take responsibility for their actions, for it was important for parents to live the same things they preach. As Advocate Mahomed said, “Children’s rights in Islam go beyond the limited understanding of Western societies, it includes the four rights of children before they are born!

And thus, as the learning began in the lap of the mother, so too is the inheritance of knowledge distributed.

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