By Ruqayyah bint Joan
It is narrated that a man came to a knowledgeable person from among our pious predecessors and asked him, "I just had a child, what should I do?" The answer came, "If you are just now asking this question, then you have already lost."
This narration shows how serious Muslims used to be about raising children. So much so that they told this man, who had just had a child that he had lost. This is because they believed correctly that the proper upbringing of a child begins even before the child is conceived. It begins by us being good Muslims ourselves, choosing good mates and educating ourselves about Islam, and how to be good parents and how to raise good Muslim children. Unfortunately, many Muslim parents today do not understand the importance of raising good Muslim children the way they should. This is why we find young Muslim girls giggling while talking to boys, talking about "he's sooo cute" and "I think he likes me." We find that young Muslim boys are getting Muslim and non-Muslim girls pregnant out of wedlock, and we find Muslim children of all ages turning to their parents and asking, "How much longer do I have to be Muslim?" Or, "I can't wait to get out of this house and stop practicing this stupid religion." (We seek protection from Allah from this.)
A while ago, a Muslim sister came to me seeking advice about what to do about her daughter who had run away from home to be with her Muslim 'boyfriend.' What could I say to her, except what the knowledgeable men had said to that man who came to them asking the same question, you have already lost.
As we go about our daily lives, pursuing our occupations as homemakers, doctors, businessmen, teachers or whatever they may be, how often do we forget that the most important job we have is being a shepherd, and that it is this job that Allah will call us to account for on the Day of Judgment. For Allah's Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said,
"All of you are shepherds and each one is responsible for his flock. A leader of a people is a shepherd and responsible for them. A man is a shepherd over his family and is responsible for them. A woman is a shepherd over her husband's house and his children and she is responsible for them. And a servant is a guardian over his master's property and is responsible for it. So all of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges." (Bukhari)
As parents, Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, has made us responsible for our families. It is the primary responsibility of parents to raise their children as Muslims. And therefore, as shepherds we must never give our children the impression that Islam is merely a series of rituals to be done in a certain way, day in, and day out. Rather, we should be keen to tell them and to convey to them Islam as a complete way of life, and it is the way of life that brings about true peace and happiness, in this world as well as the hereafter.
As shepherds, we must realize that it is our responsibility to guide our flock and to keep them away from the prohibited pastures. "Whoever indulges in these suspicious things is like a shepherd who grazes (his animals) near the hima (private pasture) of someone else and at any moment he is liable to get in it. (O people) Beware! Every King has a hima and the hima of Allah on the earth is His illegal (forbidden) things." (Bukhari)
Are we allowing our flocks to graze in the hima (prohited things) of Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala? Are we allowing our teenage daughter to go out without the proper hijab, or our teenage sons to talk to girls on the phone, because we are in America and everybody does it? Or more importantly, are we allowing them to do these things, because we ourselves do not find anything wrong with them?
Many parents feel as though they have fulfilled their duty of being a good shepherds (raising good Muslim children) by simply enrolling their children in the "Islamic Sunday School" at the local masjid. What we tend to forget is, children develop their opinions of Islam from the attitudes of their parents, and the importance that Islam is given in the home.
As parents, are we outraged when our children bring home bad grades from school, yet we are indifferent when that same child misses salah. Are we more concerned with our child's place in Harvard than we are with his place in the hereafter? Are our homes places where the Qur'an is only dusted off for the ritualistic reading during the month of Ramadhan? Is it a place where only fard salahs are observed and Allah and His Messenger are almost never mentioned? Then we are teaching our children that Islam is only worth a few hours on a Sunday morning, so we shouldn't be surprised when they begin to treat it that way.
So, how do we become good shepherds? The first step is to make a self-evaluation. We need to ask ourselves, are my feelings about Islam in accordance to what Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, requires of me? Does my action match my speech? How much of my time do I spend learning about Islam and/or worshiping Allah? Only after affirming the strengths and weaknesses of our own Islam and constantly striving in our practice of Islam, can we begin to guide our flock on the path that is pleasing to Allah.
As parents and as shepherds our primary responsibility is fulfilling the commands of Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, "O you who believe, save yourselves and your families from the fire." [66:6] Our flocks are the future of this deen. Are we raising them to be good shepherds?