Principles of raising children

From Majmu’a Rasail Imam Ghazali

According to Imam Ghazali (ra), child education starts with birth; because personalities of parents have influence on their child’s future personality. He put special emphasis on moral education and expressed his opinions on the subject.

In the introduction to his “Golden Principles of Raising Children,” Imam Ghazali first calls child “Allah’s trust given to parents.” He describes the heart of a child as “a nice, clean, and simple mirror capable of accepting the influence of all types of impressions and influences.” A child’s heart can be inclined towards anything you like.

Imam Ghazali points at the role of parents and caretakers of a child. They have a responsibility in instructing a child that he gains real success in this world and the hereafter. Whether the child becomes successful in the end, they are going to have a share from success or failure.

Imam Ghazali highlights the role of father, quoting a verse from the Qur’an:

“O you who believe! Save yourself and your family from the fire of Hell.” (66:6)

A father commits himself to saving his child from the fires of this world. He struggles, for example, to help his child to have a good worldly life; he does not want him to suffer and become unhappy. Then, for afterlife is not transient like worldly life, saving his child from the fire of the hereafter should be a father’s real priority.

“Teaching the child manners and civilization and educating him in the best of morals and protecting him from bad companions and friends” is the only way of doing this, according to Imam Ghazali.

“The desire for physical beautification, fine dresses, ornamentation, physical ease, and comfort-seeking” should not be allowed to settle in child’s heart. Otherwise, according to Imam Ghazali, “the child, after growing up, will waste his precious life in desiring and seeking these lowly things and will get eternally destroyed by them.”

Following are some quotes from a translation of Imam Ghazali’s “Golden Principles of Raising Children.”* We hope that you benefit from them.

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Necessity and importance of permissible (halal) food

For upbringing of the child and for nursing, [in the absence of the mother] a woman of good character and religiosity should be appointed, who eats lawful (halal) food because the milk that comes from unlawful food, has no betterment or blessing in it, instead, if the child is brought up with milk that comes from unlawful (haram) sources, then evil gets permeated into the very fibre (consciousness/psychology/inner being) of the child, and because of that, the temperament of the child gets inclined towards satanic (evil) deeds. And when [the parent feels that] the child is able to discern between the good and the bad then a complete nurturing of the child should begin.

This [phase of child’s life] is indicated by the appearance of the initial signs of shyness (haya/modesty), because when the child, realizing his respect and honour, starts to feel shy and because of shyness starts to leave doing certain things, then this is only the result of the light of intelligence emerging in him. This [emergence of the light of intelligence] happens to such an extent that he starts to think of some things as good and of some things as bad, and starts to feel shameful about certain deeds and this very realization of shyness (haya) is a huge favour on the child by Allah, the Exalted. And it’s a clear sign that argues for (clearly shows) his moderation of the moral values and the purity of the heart. Instead, we should think of it in this way that this consciousness of the realization of good and bad [in the child], is a glad tiding from the nature (i.e. Allah) that this child upon attaining puberty, will possess perfect intelligence.

That’s why a child with shyness (haya/modesty), should never be left free (liberated), but instead, making use of his shyness (haya) and discernment [between good and bad], a full training should be given to him.

An explanation of the etiquettes of eating

The first bad desire that dominates a child is the greed to eat more; therefore, it’s extremely necessary to teach him the etiquettes of eating.

For example, [the etiquettes are] to eat food only with the right hand, to recite “Bismillah” (“In the Name of Allah”) in the beginning, to eat from the front [of the plate], to wait for others to begin before he does, to not start staring at the food [when others start first], to not even stare at others who are eating, to not eat in an unnecessary hurry, to chew the food properly, to not continuously [or hurriedly] put morsels of food in his mouth [but should do that gradually], to not soil his hand and clothes with the food [by dropping it]. Sometimes, the child should be fed only the bread so that he does not consider the curry [to go with bread] to be a necessity so as to not even be able to do without it. Likewise, one should narrate in front of the child, the undesirability of eating too much, for example, those who eat excessively should be compared to animals. The child should be told to not follow the kids who eat too much and the kids who eat less and are well trained should be praised in front of the child. The child’s attention should be drawn towards sacrificing the food for the sake of others [who are less fortunate] by taking care of the needs of his companions. The habit should be developed in the child to not care too much about [fine] food and to be content with simple food.

A good thought about food

During this stage (childhood/adolescence), he should be explained that whatever permissible (halal) food is there, is also like medicines and the only purpose of them is that the human beings, after eating them, could be obedient to Allah, the Exalted.

An explanation of the etiquettes of dressing

Similarly, instead of colourful and silk clothes, the love and desire for simple and plain clothes should be developed in the heart of the child. It should be firmly impressed on his mind that to wear such clothes is not appropriate and pious people dislike such ways of dressing. Such things (admonitions) should be told to the child from time to time in a generalized way. And it’s an obligation on the parents that when they see any child wearing silky or brightly coloured dresses in front of them, then they should express their disapproval [of such ways of dressing] in front of the child and should instil their undesirability [for such dresses] in the heart of the child. The parents should protect their child from meeting with all those children who are accustomed to prosperity, seeking comforts (comfortable lifestyle), and dressing proudly. They (parents) should also protect the child from the company of all those people who tell him stories about such ways of indulgence [like seeking comforts, dressing proudly, etc.]. Any child, who is left unattended [in such things] during his initial growth (upbringing), after growing up, commonly becomes ill-mannered, liar, thief, tale-bearer, intransigent (stubborn), evil talker, sarcastic, cunning, deceiver, and foolish. The only source of protecting the child from all these evils is good education and training, after that, the child should be admitted into a religious school so that he studies Qur’an and Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessing of Allah be upon him]), acquires knowledge of the conditions, biography, and traditions of Allah’s righteous slaves so that from the early childhood, the love of the saints (may Allah shower His Mercy upon all of them) get established in his heart.

Method of persuading towards good and stopping from evil

Whenever the child displays a good quality or displays a praiseworthy action, then father should praise the child and give him such a gift that will make the child happy and should praise the child in front of others. If the child then does something opposite [to his praiseworthy quality or action], then it’s appropriate to show unawareness of it and [the father] should not dishonour or humiliate the child nor should he highlight the fault. Instead, the father [or parent] should not even let the child know that he even thinks that the child has the courage to do such a thing in front of him, especially, in the case, when the child himself tries to cover and hide the fault. It’s because revealing the mistakes [of the child] at times, is the cause for the child to become more daring to such an extent that slowly and gradually the child does not even care about his faults being revealed. Even after taking such a wise precaution, if the child does the same [bad] thing again, then it’s suitable to rebuke him in private and the fault of the bad deed should be revealed to him and should be told, “Beware! Do not ever do this bad thing again. God forbid, if this is found by someone, then you will get humiliated in front of the people.”

Harms of excessive scolding

But it should be kept in mind that the child not be rebuked excessively, because it creates a habit in the child to listen to condemnation and scolding and increases in him the courage to commit wrongs. And slowly and gradually, the value of admonitions diminishes from the heart of the child.

Similarly, it’s necessary for the father that when he talks to the child, he maintains his awe and fear [in the heart of the child] and should rarely rebuke him. And the mother should make him fear the father when the child is being stubborn and should strictly stop the child from doing bad things.

Prohibition of arrogance and pride

The child should be prohibited from showing pride on anything from the possessions of his parents, his food items, clothes, even from something like his writing tablet and ink. Instead, the habit of dealing with all of his companions with humility, respect, honour, and having pure (clean/civilized) conversation, should be inculcated in him and should not be allowed to take anything from other children. If it’s a child of wealthy parents then he should be explained that the honour and rank is in giving and not in taking, instead, taking [from others] has in it [the characteristics of] lowliness, humiliation, and insult. If it’s a child of poor parents then he should be taught that to have greed and to take something from others is a cause of one’s own insult and humiliation and it’s the characteristic of a dog that it keeps wagging its tail waiting and being greedy for a morsel [of food]. Similarly, the child should be made to dislike gold and silver and should be made to fear the love of these things worse than the love of snakes and scorpions.

It’s because the love and greed of gold and silver, causes far more damage to children and adults than the harms caused by poison [from snakes and scorpions].

Etiquettes of gatherings and conversations

The child should be taught to not spit publicly, to not pick his nose, to not yawn in front of anyone, to not turn his back to anyone, to not sit cross-legged, to not sit while putting his palm under the chin or while supporting the head with hands because all these are indications of lethargy and laziness, in other words, the child should even be taught the proper manners of sitting.

When someone is speaking to the child then he should listen very attentively and should get up to create more space for those who are older and then should sit with proper manners in front of them.

The child should be stopped from useless (evil) talk, dirty talk, cursing, accusations, verbal abuse and should be prohibited from meeting people who do these things because the evil qualities of [one’s] companions, necessarily influence the child [in a bad way]. And the real secret of [proper] training of children is embedded (hidden) in protecting the children from [the company of] bad companions.

Impermanence of the world

It should also be clearly impressed upon the mind [of the child] that the world itself is not the purpose [of our lives], and [the world] is without permanence, and has an ending. Death puts an end to these [material] blessings and the world is only a place we are passing by. It is not a place of satisfaction and [is not] a place to settle. But the world of the hereafter is the real station of peace and tranquillity and a place of stillness and satisfaction and the death, at all times, is in ambush, to end the life of the world.

Who is intelligent?

In reality, intelligent is the one who provides the capital of reliance (provision needed for one’s journey to the hereafter) and good deeds from this mortal world for the eternal life of the hereafter, so that he attains a high rank of acceptance before Allah, the Exalted, and the limitless blessings of the Paradise. If the child’s initial upbringing would have been good, then during adolescence, this discussion will prove to be pleasing to the self (nafs), effective, get inscribed on the heart like an [indelible] inscription on the stone, auguring well for the child.

On contrary to that, if the child’s mental development had been along the wrong lines, then the qualities of evil, shamelessness, desire for eating too much, greed for fine dresses, ostentation and ornamentation, gaudiness, arrogance and pride, would have been born in him, and his heart will refuse to accept this fact (i.e. the impermanence of the worldly life and the need to work for the life hereafter) like the dry wall refuses to accept dry soil (i.e. such teachings will not stick to the heart of the child). In summary, these are the initial matters that need to be taken care of to the utmost.

Child’s nature and parents’ obligation

Since the composition of the child’s heart is such that it can accept the influences of both the good and the bad, the righteous and the evil, it’s the responsibility of the father and the mother to incline the [heart of the] child either to good or to evil.**

Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) says:

“Every child is born on the fitra (nature) [Islam] but his parents make him a Christian, Jew, or Magian.” (Sunan Abi Dawud)

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* Translated into English by Irfan Hasan from the Urdu translation of the book. All explanations given within square brackets and parenthesis were added by the English translator. Urdu translation of this book of Imam Ghazali was done by Sadruddin Hasan Amritsari. Source: archive.org

** Imam Ghazali is not giving us a choice in this matter, but instead, urging us to incline the child towards good. Otherwise, the child will automatically get inclined towards evil due to the parents’ negligence. (English translator’s note)

*** Some words or expressions have been revised by The Pen editor.

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