The Greatest Gift: A Guide to Parenting from an Islamic Perspective Muhammad Abdul Bari Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd, 2002 ISBN 1 84200 0 44 6
Dr Bari, an educationalist, parent and Islamic activist (currently deputy Secretary General of the MCB) has written a timely book that urges parents to become more involved in the lives of their children from the earliest stage. It is a wise message that is especially pertinent to Muslim communities, in which the age-demographic profile points to a dramatic increase in marriages and young families over the next five years. In the UK alone, there are about 300,000 Muslims in the 16-24 age range. It is to them that this book is addressed the parents of tomorrow. Dr Bari is an advocate of 'positive parenting': `Muslim parents should be in a position to train their young ones with enthusiasm and liveliness' it does not matter if they feel out of their depth in specific academic subjects what matters is nurturing trust and offering encouragement from the outset.
He quotes from the great Damascene historian Ibn Asakir on the importance of teaching through play, `If you have a child then treat him like a child. Play with him like a child and do not impose yourself on him like an adult'. There are no simple formulae for positive parenting parents have to absorb and live by an Islamic ethos and Dr Bari provides ample guidance in this regard.
Children continuously put down by parents are psychologically scarred for life. Positive parenting means handling situations such as academic failure or other disappointments sensitively. Dr Bari gives commonsense advice drawing on Islamic values that can be easily forgotten in the heat of the moment or normal stresses of family life.
The old-fashioned authoritarian school of parenting in which a child's life is shaped by military style dos and don'ts diminishes creativity and self-esteem. All-out parental permissiveness doesn't do any favours either. Dr Bari recommends a style in which `parents try to lead their children in a rational manner and give them lots of space, but at the same time explain important things at important steps and keep the reins in their hands. There is room for consultation, give-and-take and accommodation 'the mumin is the believer of the mumin '(Abu Dawud). Parents are genuinely their children's mirror'.
Dr Bari quotes more than once from the hadith: No father can give his child a better gift than good manners, good character and good education (At-Tirmidhi). This 283 page book deserves a place in the bookshelf of every Muslim household with children and young adults. Faith schools definitely help in conferring pupils with a sound grounding in religious values and a sense of identity. However there are only four such state-funded schools in the UK the overwhelming majority will remain in the state schools in which God is largely edited out of the curricula and the primary value is personal choice. This makes it all the more important for Muslim families to take parenting seriously and follow Dr Bari's advices.
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