By: Yahiya Emerick
I just read a very interesting story. A teacher gave her students the following assignment: ask a parent what their dream life was when they were a teenager, and then write an essay comparing it to your own dreams for your future right now. Accordingly, a teenager asked her mom about her aspirations when she was young, and the mother replied, (reflecting her Sixties hippie roots,) “I wished for a simple life, living on a farm commune, growing my own vegetables and being happy.”
The daughter paused for a moment and stopped writing down her mother’s words. “What’s wrong?” Her mother asked.
“It’s sort of embarrassing,” the teenager replied, “because all I want is to drive a Lexus and get a good job.”
In the first place, this may seem to be a harmless little story to elicit a chuckle. But it got me thinking. How many Muslim “activists” have I met, who spent all their free time doing da’wah and promoting Muslim causes, only to lose their own children and spouses to the kufr lifestyle? It’s pretty amazing that that would ever be the case. But I’ve seen it first hand and it isn’t pretty.
Of the activist who is never home, we have no doubt about why he or she may lose their families. After all, THEY WERE NEVER HOME. And even when they were, all their mental activity was directed towards planning things or having phone conferences. We all know at least one person like this. Is it because it’s easier to be in the Masjid all day, surrounded by things that are easy to control, at least easier than an unruly child. Or has the activist become so filled with Islamic romanticism they live in a dreamland of khalifas, movements and spiritual battles? Only Allah knows for sure.
But what about the other kind of activist? The one who is so skilled and full of energy that they can tear through any da’wah task outside the home and still have plenty of juice left over to “do da’wah” in the home. I’ve met quite a few of this category also. I’ve even taught the children of such “Super-Da’ees” myself in the various Islamic schools I found myself in. Here are some interesting observations, but first, an introduction to the topic of giving da’wah in the home.
You hear a lot from people, from conventions, speeches, khutbas, etc…about the family being the number one priority for da’wah. Few speakers, however, give any realistic ways of doing it. It seems to me that the only method of “doing da’wah” that most people are familiar with is the challenge them/give a lecture format. In this format, one person assumes another is completely wrong. Then he or she proceeds to lecture them endlessly to bring the other person into enlightenment. Almost every Muslim activist I’ve ever met does this type of da’wah. Does it work? I’m usually the only convert at most gatherings I attend (male, at least). You decide.
How does the Super Da’ee relate Islam in his or her home? I will describe for you examples I’ve seen with my own eyes. A father and son come to my book table. The son is, by all standards, an Americanized teen. The father is an immigrant, middle-aged, Masjid-going and reasonably well-off financially. As the son is looking at the videos, the father endlessly lectures the son about why he should pray. It looks like a well-rehearsed script. The son’s face darkens in annoyance and he whispers, “You don’t understand.” But the father, who is too busy lecturing on the merits of the prayer, didn’t hear him. I suspect he has probably never really heard his own son- ever.
A mother with a loose, see-through head-scarf (dupatta), precariously, (and obviously temporarily) perched on her permed hair, wearing the typical colorful shalwar get-up replete with nail polish and Gucci bag, is walking near the entrance to a Masjid during a social gathering. Her teenage daughter is standing near her, wearing nail polish, make-up, tight, tight jeans, a short sleeve shirt and no head-covering at all. (Talk about dressed to attract!)
A group of teenage “Muslim” boys walk by shouting and talking about sports and girls. This girl flirts with them and is about to follow them when the mother calls her daughter back and gives her a long lecture about why “Muslim” girls shouldn’t hang out with boys alone.
Here’s a favorite of mine: I know of a father who literally terrorizes his family with endless talk of Islam. To the point where pouring a cup of water in the home is to invite a lecture on the merits of water in Islam. Obviously, his children can’t stand Islam because they equate it with their father’s droning, boring and endlessly running voice.
Each of three examples has one common denominator: a parent who is forceful about giving some Islamic teaching, but who then goes about it the wrong way. The first parent never listened to his son, and instead, was totally unaware that his son was completely won over by modern, popular teen culture. If he would have developed a good relationship with his son, and been a consistent role-model for him from his earliest memories, his son would have been praying all along. Lecturing a fifteen year old about prayer isn’t likely to make him want to start.
The second parent didn’t follow Islamic dress requirements herself (and who knows what other Islamic deficiencies there were) and therefore didn’t encourage any sense of an Islamic identity in her daughter, at least as far as dress is concerned. Instead, she allowed her daughter to develop a completely non-Muslim style of fashion that apes the modern “liberated” woman who dresses only to be seen of men. Most probably her daughter hangs out with boys in her public high school everyday as well. If the mother allowed these unIslamic habits to develop, then what good would all the forceful lectures do? Her daughter imagines herself to be a scantily-clad beauty in a Madonna music video while her mother envisions her to be an Urdu princess ready for her Raj after eight years of college.
And finally, one parent took da’wah to the extreme and made his family tired of Islam by his constant nagging. This is against Islamic protocols of giving da’wah as even the Prophet, himself, used to scold those who made people tired of too much “religious talk.” Check on this topic and you’ll find many examples.
So what’s the best way to give da’wah to your family? The wrong approaches, as highlighted before, include: not being open to your family members as individual people with thoughts and feelings, being insincere or a hypocrite and finally, going overboard.
The right way to do da’wah in your home is to start with yourself first. You could literally spend your whole life working on your own faith and actions without ever even talking to anyone else! You are the first priority in da’wah. Are you sincere? Are you being true to yourself. Do you know something is bad but then do it anyway?
What do you know about Islam? Is it possible that you may harbor feelings of racism, hypocrisy or unIslamic cultural traditions from your upbringing? Nearly every (but not all) immigrant Muslim I know, for example, has some seriously unIslamic cultural attitudes or practices which are often right under their noses. And racism and hypocrisy can creep into all of us if we aren’t careful.
People know who is real. A popular American novel entitled, “The Catcher in the Rye,” has, as its main theme, a disillusioned young boy in a world full of hypocrites. All he wants is to meet someone who is “genuine” and not a “phony.” Your own children know if you’re real or not. And it’s sad to say, but it’s almost always true: the manners and attitudes of the child are an uncamouflaged reflection of what is in the deepest heart of the parents. Whatever is hidden in the core of your heart will come out loud and clear in their demeanor and attitudes. If your kids are not so good Islamically, be afraid for your own soul.
If you’re living as a true Muslim, not a perfect one, but a trying one, then everyone sees it in your manners, speech and behavior. You’re not yet saying a word to anyone, but you’re giving da’wah. The best da’wah is not words- it’s actions, it’s attitude, it’s genuine. Knowledge of Islam is not to be measured in how many du’as a person knows or surahs memorized. Even parrots can be taught to say surahs but no one puts kufis or hijabs on their feathered heads. Islamic knowledge is displayed in what no spoken word can say. If you’re around a good-hearted person, you can feel it. You want to be around that person more and to do what they do and to be like them.
Have you ever wondered why everyone wanted to be so close to the blessed Prophet? Eman, goodness and wisdom emanated from him. Think of people in your life who had these qualities about them. One student told me his grandfather was the sweetest Muslim ever. A girl told me her mother was her Islamic role-model. A bunch of kids in a class named the local Arabic expert as their favorite teacher to be around. What were the qualities in all three of these individuals? None of them ever lectured anybody. (I’ve met and known all three.) One was a hafiz, one a homemaker/Islamic activist and the other a scholar. But when you met them, they often said very little about Islam directly and they certainly didn’t lecture or come off as arrogant.
What united all of them was that they were real, sincere believers. So it’s not how many “study-circles” you hold with your family, it’s not how many Surahs you make your children memorize. It’s not even sending your child to a Sunday school or an Islamic school that is the key. Rather, the key is you.
If you’re a trying, sincere Muslim, you don’t talk too much- about anything- and you perform good deeds as secretly as possible and you try to be as peaceful and helpful to others as you can without asking anything in return. (You also take your pleasure in simple things, not expensive vacations and lavish living.) You prefer others over yourself and you don’t display your wealth or worldly success by accumulating the finest cars, homes and clothes. Anything else is folly and you’ll pay for it one day. A good guidebook to Islamic humility is called, “God-Oriented Life” by Wahiduddin Khan. It contains the most beautiful hadith/ Sahaba advice I’ve ever seen.
Don’t be a Muslim “activist” if all your activity is going to be outside the home. And don’t be an Islamic “terror” to your family: coming in like a whirlwind, from time-to-time, upsetting the normal schedule of everyone, even if you’re enraged by what you see your family doing. Because if your family is doing things that are not good Islamically, then where were you all those years when those things were being built up in their minds and habits. A series of lectures or thrashings on your part won’t change their attitudes.
Only when others see Islam make a meaningful change in your life will they be willing to try the same. That is the real da’wah to the family, that is the only message that they will listen to and the only way to make Islam survive in your family tree. Think about it.