Raising a child: Where culture and religion crossed
(This piece was published in Portal Islam & Melayu)
Reading the newspaper report on the ongoing trial of the Malaysian couple in Swedish Court makes me felt troubled. Troubled that what have been so accepted in my culture and even being commanded by the Prophet Muhammad in one of his famous hadith are being subjected to examination using a law that is so foreign and so misleading. Abu Dawud narrated in an authentic hadith that Prophet Muhammad said: “Order your children to pray at the age of seven. And beat them [lightly] if they do not do so by the age of ten. And separate them in their bedding.”
The hadith clearly stated that children need to be taught to pray by the age of seven and to be punished physically if the child refused to pray by the age of ten. Domestic corporal punishments in the forms of small slap on the wrist, pinch or spanking as a means of disciplining a child is not just accepted, rather commanded and commended when it is executed in the right manner whenever the need arise. That is my belief and it will not change just because a country like Sweden enforced a law that banned it.
I am examining this from my own experience growing up and seeing how children are raised in many cultures and religions. I am ever grateful to be raised by a very loving parents whom aside from the abundance of love, sufficient food and nourishment, clothings and other physical needs and wants, but also do not ever hesitated to discipline me whenever they need to be strict and stern, to ensure that I grow up within the boundary of culture and religion. I am grateful that such strict upbringing and the occasional beatings that I received molded me into who I am today. I am a product of such upbringing and I do vision that will be the same way I am raising my four children today.
The religion of Islam which forms the core part of our culture is truly a religion that suits the need of the mankind. This is the religion of moderation which does not only embody the values and norms but also come with a practical ways of realising those values and norms. The creator of the mankind prescribed this religion in such a way that it will fit the human nature in all its virtues as well as addressing the fact that mankind may become strayed at times, in which certain disciplining and punishment is necessary.
Let me portray this using Islam’s perspective of moral values as an example. Allah says in various sentences in the Quran, such as in the Chapter As-Shams (91:7-10) that Allah have given inspiration to mankind that one shall be able to differentiate between good and evil, and the one who will succeed is those who purifies their soul and those who choose to corrupt their soul are those whom have failed. The teachings of Islam do not stop there, just by defining that good and evil exist. Rather the teaching went on further to describe the reward of doing goods and the punishment of following the evil route in life and more over in the Hereafter. And the teachings do not stop there either. The teachings continue, to not only leave the freedom to choose between good and evil to oneself, rather Islam promotes the act of calling for goodness and piety and preventing and prohibiting evil as a family, a society and later the same role needs to be exercise by a nation. Do the teaching stop there? After fostering the environment that promotes good and preventing evil, this religion, by the wisdom of Allah, the All-Wise, acknowledge that in such environment, there will still be some people who will commit wrongdoings, hence the worldly punishment is prescribed and commanded. The teachings of Islam come as comprehensive methods, addressing all aspect of human being and are not to taken in bits and pieces.
The same method and principles are applied in raising a child. According to Dr Abdullah Naseh Ulwan in his book, “Tarbiyah Al-Aulad fi Al-Islam”, the responsibility of a parent in raising a child started in the very beginning, when a man choose a mother for his future child or a women choose a father for her future child. This responsibility of the parents continues in the form of performing a proper marriage, continues throughout the relationship between husband and wife, throughout the pregnancy, child birth, providing sustenance, providing education, nurturing the thoughts and belief, instilling moral values, shaping the behaviour and the entire worldview and ultimately realising the roles in the world as the servant for the Almighty Lord, Allah the one and only.
All these are achieved through love and care, balancing the physical growth in height and weight as well as the mental, emotional and spiritual aspect of growth. In doing so, there are situation that require gentleness and affecetion, there are situation where verbal encouragement and reminders are required, and there will be situation where restrain, a certain amount of anger and punishment is necessary, all in the name of raising a child in the best manner as prescribed by the Lord. Of course, all of these must be within certain limits and should never inflict injury to the child. This is the definition of raising a child that I knew.
Living in a western environment, previously in Australia and currently in Canada, I can see huge differences in this definition. I can certainly appreciate various incentives given to those with children in terms of tax deductions, long maternity (and paternity) leave, financial assistance and government subsidies, various initiatives to ensure that any child can grow in a safe environment and various laws to protect children and ensure that every child shall be able to access basic education and health services. However I do realised that most of the attention are focused on the physical nature of growth while emphasis on values and belief system is lacking. Everybody seems to be left to their own ‘free-will’ no matter how good or bad.
Contrary to all the emphasis given in supporting the physical growth of a child, the system seems to suggest that parents have no role in nurturing the moral values and belief system within a child. The child should not be subjected to any religious teaching as a child at home, and since the public school system must be independent of any religion, the question of religion will ultimately be decided by the child when the mature age of the child is reached. The child should be raised based on their own will, interest and whims and fancies and no one including the parents should be interfering in their decisions in life no matter how bad the child’s judgement is.
As a consequence of such system, I am seeing a declining number of child being raised albeit all the incentive that were made ready for them. Raising a child in general are perceived as troublesome, financially burdening, emotionally stressing, freedom limiting and ultimately do not yield anything worth doing. With all the sacrifice by parents in raising a child, the child will be a free man or woman by the mature age and no parents should have any control of the child. They are free to move out, live their own life and the elderly parents will then head to the retirement home as a couple or even alone. The parents might as well choose not to be a parent, not to have any child and in their sense ‘live their lives to the fullest’, without having to worry about raising a child from the very beginning. This is what I am seeing now. People in my neighbourhood are seems to be more content to have dogs as pets as compared to having a child.
Seeing the experience Shalwaty and Azizul is currently facing and the emotional and spiritual sufferings of their children in the foster care prior to returning to Malaysia, and now living far away from their parents makes me wonder, are these emotional and spiritual sufferings have any meaning to the Swedish? Truly, we are world apart from the very definition of raising a child. Truly we are on different paths that I do not see where the paths may meet.
And I will continue raising my children my way. No matter what. This is what I have learned in my religion, Islam.
Zaizul Azizi Zaman