Why am I Doing this to my Kids?

Sources of Negative Parental Behavior


Our behavior toward our children can be easily categorized into positive and negative parental behaviors. Positive parental behavior is every act a parent does that helps his child feel good about herself and her identity as a Muslim and, as such, makes her proud of who she is and brings her closer to Islam. On the other hand, negative parental behavior is every act a parent does that results in his child feeling bad about himself and his identity as a Muslim and, in turn, this specific action, when repeated, affects the child’s personality negatively and drives him away from Islam. In this article we will focus on the   reasons behind negative behaviors of parents in an effort to help them recognize these reasons and try to avoid them when they interact with their children. This in turn will be of assistance to parents and help their efforts in raising Muslim children who are proud of their identity as Muslims and confident of themselves.

Here are some of the sources of negative parental behavior

  • Lack of experience: This usually happens with the first child in the family. Both parents have no experience and have never been through this before and don’t know what to do. They may have learned some theory, but this is not enough; they need the practical experience. Lack of experience also manifests itself with every new situation parents face. For example, when they are blessed with a second child, this is a new position that they have never been in before. When the child goes to school for the first time, again, this is a new circumstance they’ve never experienced before. Usually the solution to such a dilemma lies in asking other parents who have been through this before and learning from their knowledge and familiarity. However, one has to be careful not to ask just any parent. Always try to find someone with a positive and successful experience in raising children.
  • Only using inherited methods of Tarbiya: Most of us inherited certain habits and learned certain ways from our parents when we were young. These ways may have been suitable for our time and environment, but are not necessarily suitable for our children and their environment. As parents, we shouldn’t use all these inherited ways and apply them to our children without first ensuring that they fit their times and environment.
  • Blind imitation of others: This is where some parents are affected by peer pressure and follow others without checking the validity of their tarbiya techniques. For example, a father may buy a car for his teen as soon as the teen turns 16 years-old just because he found out that his colleague has bought a car for his son of the same age. He may even say: “Why shouldn’t my son have a car? We are not less than them in anyway.” This is blind imitation and usually is not healthy. Children are different and what agrees with one child in a certain place may not agree with another in a different place. As parents, we always have to try to see what is the best way to deal with our children.
  • Fulfilling unfulfilled desires through children: This is a common source of negative parental behavior. Some parents who couldn’t achieve certain goals during their youthful years tend to push their children to try to achieve these missed goals. A father who was hoping to be an engineer and couldn’t, for one reason or another, may force his son to study engineering even if it is against his son’s wishes. A mother who always wanted to be a medical doctor, and couldn’t become one for one reason or another, may push her daughter to study medicine even if it is not the daughter’s desire. This is a major source of negative parental behavior. If parents can convince their children that a particular field of study is good for them, and the child accepts it, that is all right. However, it is very wrong to push or force children to choose certain areas of study just because parents like them. Parents should not view their children as just extensions of themselves. They are complete human beings. They have their own personalities and their own ambitions.
  • Day-to-day pressures and lack of skills: There is no doubt that Muslim families living in North America face a tremendous amount of day-to-day pressure; especially in their early years of settling here. These pressures manifest themselves in feeling homesick, especially among women, non-working mothers, who spend most of their day at home, without much involvement in community affairs. Fathers usually face the pressure of work outside the house and as soon as they are home, they don’t want to go out again. They feel tired after a long working day and if their spouse asks them to go out with them they usually prefer to stay home. This could be a continuous source of friction between parents, which compounds the problem and is reflected in how they deal with their children. This type of problem can be solved easily if the women we are referring to acquire certain skills, like driving a car. During the day, they can go and visit other Muslim families, socialize with them, and give their children the chance to meet other children of the same age. However, some Muslim sisters are handicapped by the traditions of their country of origin that don’t allow her to gain the practical skills needed for the survival of the family in the West. These continuous day-to-day pressures have a big negative impact on the way parents deal with their children. It leaves the parents with the feeling that their children are more of a burden than a blessing, and are just too difficult to handle in this so-called modern society, far away from the support of the extended family.

By identifying these various sources of negative parental behavior, it is our hope that parents will take steps to deal with them and thus avoid them in their interactions with their children.


Where do you Fall on the Spectrum of Parenting Styles?

Every mom and dad has a parenting style based on his or her personality type, background and experience. Experts say that there are four styles of parenting; these are:

  1. Permissive
  2. Free-reigning
  3. Authoritarian
  4. Controlling

These styles each have their strengths and weaknesses, but in general, they either build self- esteem or tear it down. The fifth style is the ideal one. It is nurturing and setting limits. It is possible to scar your child’s self-esteem if your style becomes extreme. Though most parents fall somewhere between overly permissive and controlling, you should know the strengths and weaknesses of your style as a parent and make adjustments that move you towards the ideal. Let us now provide some details about these styles so you can discover which style best describes you:

  • Permissive. A permissive father often has trouble setting boundaries. He would make comments like, “All right, you can stay up A’isha, I know you like this program.” Or he will say, “Didn’t you hear me calling you for dinner? Well, sit down; I’ll put your plate in the microwave so you won’t have to eat cold food.” You see, this father is a strong nurturer and a weak limit-setter.   
  • Free-reigning. A free-reigning mother will sometimes get too wrapped up in her own affairs to tend adequately to the needs of her son. “Ahmed, if you think I’m stupid, that’s your problem.” she’ll say. Or: “Work it out yourself, I’m busy.” This type of mother is weak in nurturing and in limit-setting.
  • Authoritarian. An authoritarian father would often fail to listen to his daughter or show respect for her ideas or opinions. He makes comments like, “It’s time for bed, and no arguments Fatima.” Or “You are late for supper, that means you don’t eat tonight. End of discussion” This father is a weak nurturer and strong limit-setter.
  • Controlling. A controlling parent nurtures and sets limits for his child, but frequently goes overboard in supervising him, a trait common among perfectionist parents. A mother of this type will make a comment like, “Asmaa’, get off the floor or you’ll get your clothes dirty.” Or “Aly, this is what I want you to wear to the mosque.” This type of mother is a strong nurturer, but she sets too many limits.
  • The right balance, nurturing and setting limits. Moderation is promoted by Islam in every aspect of life. In surat Al Baqarah Allah says:

“And thus we have made you an Ummah of moderation (justly balanced Ummah)” (Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 143). On that basis, the ideal type of parent is the one who achieves the right balance between nurturing and limit-setting. They are firm in setting limits, yet they allow their children freedom within those limits. They make comments like “Sumaiya, I wish I could let you stay up, but you have school tomorrow, and I don’t feel good about you missing out on the sleep you need.” Or “You are late again for dinner Aly. How can we work this out?” This illustrates the ideal balance between encouraging children and disciplining them.

Most parents see themselves in one or more of the above categories. Our goal as parents should be to build our strengths, work on our weaknesses and try to move towards the ideal. Here are some suggestions to help you begin this move:

  • Be honest with yourself. Circle the quotes from the above examples that sound most like you. Find out which parenting style you identify with, and which category you fall in.
  • Encourage yourself. Make a list of your parenting strengths and how they can benefit your children.
  • Encourage your children. Note one weakness in your parenting style. What message does it send to your children? What can you do this week to make this message more encouraging? Can you say to them I’m sorry for this and adjust your style to improve this weakness?
  • Talk to other learned members in your community, especially those who have some religious knowledge and practical experience in successfully raising good, well-behaved, and confident children. Have regular meetings with them and learn from their experiences.
  • Make a decision. No matter what style characterizes you, decide and promise yourself not to overprotect, humiliate or demand perfection from your children. These three are the main contributors to raising a child with low self esteem. Remember that Allah said:

لا يكلف الله نفساً إلا وسعها

“Allah does not put a burden on any soul more than what it can bear.” (Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 286).

The prophet, peace be upon him, said:

ما أمرتكم به فأتوا منه ماستطعتم

“Whatever I order you, do as much as you can.” [Agreed upon]

  • Read Parenting literature written from an Islamic perspective and use various principles and experiences detailed in the literature to modify and improve on your style.
  • Perform Salatul Hajjah ( صلاة الحاجة ) more often and make lots of dua’a to Allah to help you improve your parenting style.
  • Keep in mind that the purpose of this exercise is to help you as parents in raising happy and righteous children, with high self-esteem.
  • Monitor your progress and repeat the exercise if needed.

Remember, parenting is the noblest task that a person can assume and will be highly rewarded by Allah SWT. It is worth the effort, hardship and time that one would endure in the process.   


Written by Mohamed Rida Beshir


In his wonderful book Letters to My Elders in Islam, Dr. J F Dirks, under the title of “On Spousal Abuse” says, “a couple of years ago, a social worker at a community mental health center in a distant American city contacted me about an urgent problem a member of her staff was encountering. It seems that one of our Muslim sisters had sought help at their clinic because she had been physically abused by her husband on several occasions. While the husband had agreed to meet with the mental health staff, he had adamantly insisted that it was his religious right to beat his wife and had apparently proceeded to quote from the Qur’an in support of his claim.

ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٲمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِنۡ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ‌ۚ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ۬ لِّلۡغَيۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ‌ۚ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهۡجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلۡمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضۡرِبُوهُنَّ‌ۖ فَإِنۡ أَطَعۡنَڪُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُواْ عَلَيۡہِنَّ سَبِيلاً‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّ۬ا ڪَبِيرً۬ا

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and their husbands) and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g., her chastity, property, etc.) As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.”[1]

The social worker informed me that this is not the first such occurrence of spousal abuse by a Muslim husband. She went on ahead to tell me that community health clinics and battered women’s shelters around the country were ever more frequently encountering cases where Muslim husbands were claiming that it was their religious right to strike their wives, often leaving them horribly beaten”[2] 

The Soundvision web page on Domestic Violence is full of horror stories on Muslim husbands physically abusing and mistreating their wives. In some cases, this abuse even resulted in death[3].

Having counselled many Muslim families, we know that this ill and unacceptable behavior exists among some Muslim husbands. The irony of the situation is that, as we have seen in Dr. Dirk’s story, most of those who practice this crime justify their actions using the Qur’an. They always quote verse 34 of Surah Al-Nesaa’ (Chapter 4) which is known among Muslims as the verse of Qawamah.

Does Islam Promote Spousal Abuse?

There is no place in Islam for spousal abuse. There is no doubt that Islam liberated women and contributed positively toward the restoration of women’s dignity and rights. Any fair-minded people who study the original sources of Islam, i.e., the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad SAAW, would undoubtedly and easily reach this obvious and clear conclusion. However, many cultural practices of some Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds are completely contrary to Islam’s teachings regarding women. These practices have certainly contributed in a negative way to the status of women in Islam. Islam holds women in a very high and noble position as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as daughters, as aunts, and as grandmothers. Needless to say, if we compare the situation of women before the advent of Islam in various corners of the globe, including the Arabian Peninsula itself, with what Islam did for women, we can see the huge difference in women’s status and rights in favor of Islam.

However, this is not the image and impression that non-Muslims have about Islam and Muslim women. In fact, it is not even the understanding among many Muslims, due to so many cultural distortions. Realizing this, in the recent century particularly, many scholars have elaborated in various works in many languages on the true status of women in Islam. Among these works are, Status of Women in Islam and Polygamy in Islamic Law by Dr. Jamal Badawi, Women in Islam and Muslim Society by Dr. Hasan Turabi, Feminism and Muslim Women by Sajda Nazlee, The Place of Women in Islamic Life by Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, and Women Between Islam and Western Society by Maulana Wahududdin Khan[4]. These books have enriched the Islamic library and provided much needed material for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to understand the true position of Muslim women in Islam.

On the other hand, many unfair writers, orientalists, secular Muslims, and supporters of the feminist movement, have tried to condemn Islam and label it as demeaning, humiliating, and unjust toward women. They have accused Islam unjustifiably by saying that its teachings encourage the mistreatment of women and favor the male gender over the female, which is far from the truth. In recent years, with the increase in domestic violence, particularly in North America and among Muslim families, these writers have also incorrectly tried to link this increase to the concept of Qawamah. Let me say it loudly and clearly, our faith has no room for domestic violence, but unfortunately some Muslims are committing it, sometimes in a fit of rage or as a way to resolve marital conflicts. This is completely unacceptable from an Islamic point of view and is strongly condemned by Muslim scholars, leaders, and community activists alike. Islam should not be held hostage by the behaviour of certain ignorant and disobedient Muslims.

Facts about Family life in Islam

To shed more light on this issue, we would like the reader to consider the following facts:

  • The two most important foundations of the spousal relationship in Islam are Mawadah[5] and Rahmah,[6] as stated in the Qur’an.[7]
  • In many places in the Qur’an, Allah SWT advises husbands to treat their wives in a very kind and dignified way, even during the most difficult times of a relationship, such as times of separation and divorce.[8]
  • Numerous teachings of the Prophet Muhammad SAAW emphasized being gentle and kind in all dealings, and particularly in the marital relationship. Here are some examples:
    • “Kindness and gentleness are not found in anything, but they add beauty to it, and if they are withdrawn from anything, it is defected.”[9]
    • “Those who are deprived of leniency are deprived of all good.”[10]
    • “Allah is kind and He loves kindness in all affairs.”[11]
    • “Allah is kind, and He loves kindness and confers upon kindness that which He does not confer upon severity and does not confer upon anything else besides it (kindness).”[12]
    • “A believing man (husband) must not dislike a believing woman (his wife). If he dislikes one of her traits, he should remember that there are other traits that he likes.”[13]
    • “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character, and the best of you are those who are best to their wives.”[14]
    • “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I’m the best among you to my family.”[15]
  • The Prophet Muhammad SAAW used to be in the process of serving his family, but when prayer was called, he would go out for prayer.[16]

The above is obvious testimony that Islam promotes a kind, positive, and healthy relationship between husband and wife. The spirit of the spousal relationship in Islam is that of compassion and cooperation, for the good and wellbeing of the family in particular and of society in general. Islam doesn’t promote a spirit of ill treatment, hatred, and violence – far from it. However, to achieve the positive spirit of kindness that is sought, both husband and wife have to work together in properly understanding the concept of Qawamah and in purifying and cleansing their souls.[17]

Some may argue these points, asking how this fits with the Qur’an’s use of the word Daraba[18] as one of the means to deal with the wife in the case of Nushooz,[19], as stated in the Qawamah verse.[20]

To respond to this argument, one has to look and examine the verse at hand on a deeper level. This work was detailed in my book on Family Leadership.[21] Here is the main conclusion of this research after surveying various books of Qur’an interpretation:

General interpretation of the verse

In general, verse 34 of Surah Al-Nesaa’ speaks about four main ideas. These are:

  1. Men are entrusted by Allah and given the responsibility to be the leaders of the family institution. They have to provide for the family and take full care of its needs.
  2. The main two reasons Allah appointed men to be the leaders of the family institution have to do with the attributes He SWT endowed them with, as well as the responsibility of men to do their best to financially support and provide for the family.
  3. Women are divided into two camps with regards to the issue of men’s leadership of the family. The first camp is represented by women who are righteous and obedient to Allah and to their husbands, as long as the husbands don’t ask or instruct their wives to do something contradicting Allah’s orders. The second camp is represented by rebellious and persistently disobedient women.
  4. A three stage approach should be followed in dealing with persistently disobedient and rebellious women. First to admonish them, second to forsake them in bed, and finally to Udhdhribuuhon.

Key Arabic words

After reviewing various available translations of the verse in the literature, we find that the two key Arabic words most relevant to this topic are Qawwamoon and Udhdhribuuhon. My research on the word Qawwamoon in various dictionaries as well as the use of the word in the Qur’an shows that it is a comprehensive word that means family leadership or guardianship. It covers and encompasses a wide spectrum of qualities and meanings that can contain at least the following elements:

  • Carrying responsibility and trust
  • Taking care of or caring for
  • Protecting and safeguarding
  • Maintaining
  • Supporting
  • Providing
  • Offering family leadership
  • Helping and assisting
  • Cooperating
  • Coaching, mentoring, and guiding
  • Consulting and counselling
  • Providing security and safety
  • Managing the affairs of
  • Administrating and supervising
  • Bringing good values to the relationship

As for the second word, a review of the use of the word in the Qur’an and various literature and translations, and keeping in mind the context of the verse at hand, show that there are three groups of meanings for the word. These are:

  1. Beat or hit them in a gentle manner or lightly. Some scholars prefer to use the word strike instead of beat or hit
  2. Distance yourself from them
  3. Have sexual intercourse with them

Upfront, we refuse to believe that the meaning of the word Udhdhribuuhon is an order from Allah SWT and a licence for men to beat, hit, or strike their wives even lightly. Our rejection of this meaning is based on the Prophet’s practice. As reported in Sahih Muslim, he SAAW never laid a hand on a lady or a child. Had this been an order from Allah SWT to use, the Prophet SAAW would have been the first one to comply.  

The Qur’an does not promote spousal abuse

After doing a detailed study of this verse, we can declare with certainty that Islam and the Qur’an do not promote spousal abuse. Here is some of the evidence and witness to that fact:

  • In the verse of Qawamah, Allah SWT appoints men to be the protectors, maintainers, and supporters of their womenfolk. They have to be kind, and do their best to provide for them and bring every good value to the relationship. It is illogical to think that Allah SWT would ask men to do this and in the same verse would allow them to physically abuse women.
  • The word Daraba was used in the Qur’an to indicate many meanings, as the analysis of Dr. Abusulayman showed in his book Marital Discord, Recapturing the Islamic Spirit of Human Dignity.[22] The meaning he selected is for the husband to distance himself from his wife if the first and the second stage suggested in the verse of resolving the conflict doesn’t work out. The next stage after this would be for family arbitration, as suggested in verse 35 of Surah al-Nisa’. This is a very legitimate understanding, and it fully agrees with the spirit of human dignity promoted by Islam in all areas of life, and particularly in family relationships as we indicated above.
  • Another meaning of the word Daraba in the Arabic language is to have the very close intimate relations that take place between married couples.[23] A husband would first use the two stages described in the verse. He would admonish his wife (the stage of Mawe’zah) first, then he would refuse to share her bed (Hajr fi al Madaje’) for a certain period of time with the purpose of making the wife realize the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of its consequences. After this, he would be able to return to having intimate relations with his wife. This intimate act, particularly after a period of abstinence due to an existing conflict, is known to bring spouses very close to each other and could open the door for gentle discussion, which may help in easing the tension and resolving the disagreement.
  • As for those who insist that the meaning of the verb Daraba in this context is to hit or inflict physical pain, before using the verse as permission to do this, we remind them of the following:
    • The Prophet Muhammad SAAW never hit with his hand either a servant or a woman, but, of course, fought in the cause of Allah. He never took revenge on anyone for torture inflicted on him, but, of course, exacted retribution for the sake of Allah when the injunctions of Allah were violated.[24]
    • The Prophet Muhammad SAAW, on many occasions, advised the believers to be kind to their womenfolk and not to hit them.
    • According to the majority of scholars, the three stages described in the verse should only be used if the Nushooz is certain.
    • The husband cannot use the third stage of the process before exhausting the first two stages. This means that he should not use his hand to hit or inflict physical pain on his wife before admonishing her first and staying away from her in bed for a period that could range from one month to four months. If the first two stages are to be followed properly, then certainly, by the time the third stage is to be applied, the husband will be completely calm and may not at all hit his wife.
    • As Sh. Muhammad Al Ghazaly said, “looking closely at the Sunnah of the Prophet SAAW, however, I cannot find a justification for this last measure (darb) except when the wife refuses vehemently and persistently to engage in intimate relations with her husband, or when she brings male outsiders into their home in the absence of her husband, both of which represent, as we can see, very serious problems indeed.”[25]
    • Even if a husband decided to apply the third stage after a month or four months, it is symbolic at this time, and he must observe certain etiquettes in administering this disciplinary measure, such as:
      • Using a very soft object such as a tooth brush or a Miswak;
      • Avoiding the face; and
      • Not yelling, shouting, humiliating, or calling her bad names in the process.

Considering all of the above, it is clear that the process recommended by the verse of Qawamah is very gentle and has nothing to do with domestic violence. It is completely different and can’t be compared to domestic violence in any way. Domestic violence is usually resorted to as the first option to resolve the conflict by those who practice it. It is done in a fit of rage and has nothing to do with Qawamah[26]Qawamah cannot and should not ever be used as an excuse to practice the heinous act of domestic violence, which clearly falls outside the realm of the beautiful religion of Islam. 

[1]              Q4, V34

[2]              Dr. Jerald F. Dirks, Letters to My Elders in Islam, Amana publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA, First Edition, 2008, pp 93-94

[3]              See Soundvision web page on Domestic violence at http://www.soundvision.com/Info/domesticviolence/

[4]              Please refer to the reference section of my book “Family Leadership (Qawamah) An Obligation to Fulfill, Not an Excuse to Abuse” Amana Publications, First Edition 2009 for a more exhaustive list on works about women in Islam

[5]              Mawadah emphasizes a deeper sense of love with gentle and kind treatment, which brings the best behaviour out of the person and the relationship and contributes to the righteousness of both spouses.

[6]              Rahamah means compassion, leniency, and kindness.

[7]              (Q30, V21)

[8]              (Q2, V228, V231, V233), (Q4, V19)

[9]              Muslim.

[10]            Muslim.

[11]            Agreed upon.

[12]            Muslim.

[13]            Muslim.

[14]            At-Termezi.

[15]            At-Termezi.

[16]            Al-Bukhari.

[17]            See chapter 7 of our book Blissful Marriage; new edition, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA, 2005.

[18]         Daraba as an Arabic word has many meanings such as travel, depart, block, prevent, distinguish, draw, strike, part and separate, etc. See Dr. Abdulhamid A. Abusulayman’s, Marital Discord, Recapturing the Islamic Spirit of Human Dignity. The International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, VA, USA, 2003.

[19]         Comes from the word nashaza, meaning (“It became raised” or “it rose”). The technical or legal meaning of the term nushooz is when each spouse transgresses, treats the other in an improper way, and is hostile towards the other. See the detailed meaning of the word Nushooz in Dr. Saalih ibn Ghaanim Al-Sadlaan’s, Marital Discord (al-Nushooz). Translated by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo. Al-Basheer Publications and Translations,  1996.  

[20]            (Q4, V34)

[21]            Dr. Mohamed Rida Beshir, “Family Leadership (Qawamah) An Obligation to Fulfill, Not an Excuse to Abuse” Amana Publications, First Edition 2009

[22]            Same as number 18.

[23]            Aby Alqasem Al-Husain Muhammad known as Raghib Al-Asfahany, Al Mufradat fi Ghareeb Al-Qur’an. Dar Alma’refah lel- Tebaa’h wal Nashr, Beirut, Lebanon.

[24]            Muslim.

[25]            Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ghazaly, A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an” Volume I, page 63, translated by Ashur A. Shamis. International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, USA, 1420AH/1999AC

[26]            Check the Soundvision web page on Domestic Violence for more details on the reasons for such ill and unacceptable behaviour