FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Question: My husband always uses the traditional methods and ways—with all their positive and negative aspects — in dealing with our children. He always says: “My opinion is right and this is the proper way to deal with the children. Our parents used to do it this way and it worked on us.” I feel that this is not right. Can you please advise me what to do?

Answer: Thank you very much, Sister, for your question. To answer this, a few points must be considered. They are:

  • We have to agree first that, as Muslims, our main points of reference are the Qur’an and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad SAAW. We should always refer any question to these original sources. No matter who used any principles before us, we have to check these principles against these main references.
  • The Qur’an condemns blind imitation and suggests that believers should always find and use the proper guidelines to regulate their lives rather than follow their forefathers blindly.[1]
  • Traditions are not necessarily always Islamic. Some traditions may have their origins in Islamic values while others may not, and yet others could be neutral. If the traditional methods your husband is using are based on Islamic principles, you should support him and try to use them yourself. If the traditional methods you are referring to have no basis in Islam, or go against the Islamic spirit and guidelines, it is your duty to kindly talk about this issue with your husband and remind him in a gentle manner that we should not follow these un-Islamic traditions.
  • The statement that “Our parents used to do it this way and it worked on us” should not justify using these methods if they are not suitable for our times and environment. Ali Ibn Abi Taleb RAA is reported to have said: “Raise your children using ways different from the ways used with you, because they were created for times other than your times.”[2] Imagine, this advice was given 14 centuries ago, when life was very slow. What about our time and age? Considering that things are changing so quickly and that the environment in North America is very different from the environment in countries where Muslims live as a majority, we need this wisdom even more, here and now.

[1] (Q43, V22-24)

[2] Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb enscolopedia by Muhammad Jawwad Mughneiah, Arabic, Dar Al-Tayyar Al-Jadeed for printing and Publications, Bayroot, Lebanon, 2004

Question: Can you please advise us of the most suitable way to resolve conflicts among our children? For example, my 5-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son are always fighting about who has the right to play with a certain toy. What should I do with them? 

Answer: Conflicts are part of life and they do happen, particularly among children (siblings), especially when they are close in age. Suitable solutions to such conflicts greatly depend on the reason for the conflict. Most of the time, in the case of young children, the conflict and fight is related to either a toy or a book that each of them want. Here are some guidelines to avoid this type of conflict:

  • Set very clear rules of ownership. If the toy belongs to one child, he or she has the right to allow or not allow the other child to use it; Islam recognizes individual ownership and, at the same time, encourages sharing. Be careful, however. Do not deny anybody a right that is given to him or her by Allah SWT, even in the name of creating more sharing Muslims. This may cause sibling rivalry and resentment.
  • If the toy is common, that is, it does not belong to a specific child, make sure that equal sharing is the rule. Set a specific time for each child to use the toy, for example, two to five minutes per turn, depending on the nature of the toy.
  • Do not rush to solve the problem for your children. Allow them to resolve the situation themselves.
  • Deal with your children equally. Do not favor one child over the other because of age, particularly if they are still young and close in age.
  • Be fair in all your actions with them.
  • Provide them with games and toys that can only be played by more than one person. This will teach them to cooperate and will improve their social skills by making them deal with each other.
  • Tell them stories about the importance of cooperating and how important it is for siblings to bond. Make sure that the language you use is suitable for their age.

We would like to point out here that it is very important to train our children on proper Islamic conflict resolution from a young age. This will help them avoid future sibling rivalries, enmity and jealousy. At a young age, they may fight about toys and books, but if they do not learn proper conflict-resolution methodology and techniques early enough in their lives, their inability to resolve conflicts may stay with them when they grow older, and they may start fighting about more serious matters such as inheritance.

Family is the cornerstone of Muslim society. We should keep it very strong and intact by maintaining harmony among family members and by raising our children with the right Islamic guidance in every sphere of life to ensure the continuity of a strong family unit insha’a Allah.

Question: I read in one of your books about the technique of “Indicate, Educate, Follow Up and Train” to help our children improve their behavior and eliminate their shortcomings. I found it very interesting and I am trying to use it with my children. However, how can I measure the success of my attempts and how long should the training continue?

Answer: We are glad that you find this technique useful and are using it with your children. There is no single answer to this question. The training period could be as short as a few days for minor behavioral problems, and as long as three years for more important matters such as training the child to observe and establish prayer regularly. We can see this in the following statement of the Prophet SAAW: “Train your children to perform prayers at the age of seven and punish them for neglecting it at the age of ten.”[1] The training period depends on a few factors, such as the behavior you want to change, how consistent you are in applying the technique, and the presence of other supporting factors. For example, if the behavior you want to change is fighting with other siblings, the presence of the following factors would help in training the child to change her behavior:

  • Parents must deal with all family members fairly and not favor one child over another.
  • Parents must make sure that other siblings are not teasing the child in question and triggering her to start such fights.
  • A visual follow-up system to monitor the child’s progress can be very helpful. If the child is young (around four to eight years old), a chart on the refrigerator door with check marks or stickers to be granted every time she behaves according to the required standard, or avoids doing the negative behavior, would be very helpful. If the child is older (a teenager or pre-teen), a written contract between the child and the parent to deal with the behavior in question works well for monitoring progress.[2]

[1] Sunnan Abu Dawud, and Tirmidhi

[2] Refer to chapter nine of our book Muslim Teens for details on how to write the contract properly.

Question:What is your view on physical punishment (hitting or spanking) as a way of correcting children’s behavior? Is it okay to spank or hit a child when he makes a mistake? I am confused. Sometimes we get the answer that it is okay and other times that it is not okay. If it is not okay, how do you explain the hadeeth my husband refers to in which the Prophet SAAW says to teach your children to perform salah when they are seven years old and to hit them if they do not perform it when they are ten years old?

Answer: This is a very important question, particularly in the context of North America. To answer this question we have to talk about several points:

  • The proper understanding of the hadeeth of the Prophet SAAW
  • Other sayings of the Prophet SAAW related to this matter
  • Whether or not the Prophet SAAW ever used hitting or physical punishment as a way of correcting children’s behavior
  • The North American environment

Let us discuss these points in detail insha’a Allah.

First, the proper understanding of the hadeeth that your husband referred to is in relation to a man and his wife. 

This hadeeth appears in Sunnan Abu Dawud as well as in the Tirmidhi collection of hadeeth, with minor variations. The lessons derived from this hadeeth are as follows:

  • Salat is a very important ritual of purification in Islam. As a matter of fact, it is the most important pillar, after the shahada, because it links the weak creatures (humans) with their Creator, the Almighty.
  • Training our children for salat should be taken very seriously. It may take up to three years to train them to observe salat regularly and to try their best to perfect its performance. Before parents even consider using physical punishment, they must ask themselves whether they have first spent sufficient time and energy using other, more effective training and tarbiyah methods—such as modeling the behavior they want to see in their child or gently advising the child—or whether they are using physical punishment on the spur of the moment to take their anger out on the child.
  • In extreme cases, after parents spend up to three years properly training the child, and the child is still regularly missing salat or not performing it properly, parents may punish the child physically by hitting him lightly so he can understand the weight of his mistake.
  • According to Islam, the responsibility of administering physical punishment must come only after intense and proper training have failed and after other methods of correcting behavior have failed. Even then, certain conditions must be fulfilled when the physical punishment is administered. The following are some of these conditions:
  • Never hit the face
  • Avoid using your own hand; use a very light object such as a natural toothbrush (miswak)
  • Hitting should be very light and must never leave any mark on the child’s body

All of these conditions indicate that the hitting is very symbolic; it is meant to show that you are disappointed in the child. Again, when parents resort to this technique, they must ask themselves whether they observed all of the above conditions or simply acted out in a fit of rage.

Second, let us look at other sayings of the Prophet SAAW related to this matter.

“It was reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah RAA that the Messenger of Allah SAAW said: ‘The strong person is not the one who wrestles but is the one who controls himself in a fit of rage.'”[1]

“Abu Mas’ud Al-Badry RAA reported: ‘I was beating my slave with a whip when I heard a voice behind me saying: ‘Abu Mas’ud, be mindful.’ I did not recognize the voice due to my anger. As it approached me, I found that it was coming from the Messenger of Allah SAAW who was saying: ‘Abu Mas’ud, be mindful. Abu Mas’ud, be mindful.’ I threw the whip from my hand. The Prophet SAAW said: ‘Be mindful Abu Mas’ud. Verily Allah has more dominance over you than you have over your slave.’ Then Abu Mas’ud said: ‘I would never beat my servant in the future.'”[2]

The above ahadeeth indicate that the prophet Muhammad SAAW clearly instructed his companions not to use force against anyone, especially children and women. Parents should always find other disciplinary measures and never resort to hitting or using force with their children.[3]

Third, let us examine whether the Prophet SAAW ever used hitting or physical punishment as a way of correcting children’s behavior.

“It was also reported by ‘Aisha RAA that: ‘the Messenger of Allah SAAW never hit with his hand either a servant or a woman, but of course he fought in the cause of Allah. He never took revenge on anyone for the torture inflicted upon him, but of course, he exacted retribution for the sake of Allah when the injunctions of Allah were violated.'”[4]

It is very clear from the above hadeeth that the Prophet of Allah SAAW never used force against children or women. As Muslims, we should do our best to take him as our ultimate role model; “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have the best example to follow for he who hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much.”[5]

Finally, let us discuss the situation in North America.

In some provinces in Canada as well as some states in the United States of America, punishing children physically is against the law. It is considered child abuse. The authorities could penalize parents who use such methods by taking their children away from them and placing the children either with the Children’s Aid Society or in a foster home. I do not think that any wise Muslim parent is willing to take the risk of having his child raised by a non-Muslim institution. The harm and consequences of such an act are unimaginable and should not be entertained in any way, shape or form just because the parent cannot control his or her anger.

In addition to the above arguments against using hitting or spanking to correct a child’s behavior, it is clear that parents who do this are setting a bad example for their children. They are sending the message that yes, you can settle conflicts and differences by force. The children may use force against their own younger siblings since their parents feel it is an acceptable method.

There is another very important point we would like to add here. It is related to the low self-esteem of children who are insulted at home and hit or beaten by their parents. As Muslims, our goal is to raise a confident Muslim generation that can stand tall against the monumental challenges that will face it in North American society. We want a generation of proud, strong, confident Muslims. Using force as a means of tarbiyah will never produce such a generation.     

We would also like to remind parents that using force against your children simply to vent your anger is a very serious mistake. Parents should never use force as revenge against children. After all, one of the names of the Last Day is the Day of Qesas (retribution or paybacks). On that day, everyone will have to pay back any rights they may have unjustly taken from somebody else. Even a horned sheep that attacked a sheep without horns during this life will be avenged by the one who was attacked. Thus, if parents hit or beat their children unjustly, they will be held accountable and may have to pay back such deeds to their children on the Day of Judgment.

Parents who think that beating their children is their birthright are seriously mistaken and are definitely committing a serious sin. Hitting children to correct their behavior is a responsibility to be exercised only in extreme cases and only as a last resort, after all other methods and techniques have failed. In addition, when a person severely misuses responsibilities such as this one, the responsibilities should be completely taken away from and not used by that person.

[1] Agreed upon

[2] Muslim

[3] Consult our books entitled Parenting in the West, Muslim Teens and Parenting Skills Based on the Qur’an and Sunnah.

[4] Muslim

[5] (Q33, V21)

Question: As parents, how can we counter the hundreds of messages coming to our children from schools, the media and society concerning un-Islamic values?

Answer: The first issue is that the environment can have very detrimental effects on our efforts to raise our children. The Prophet SAAW stated that all babies are born with a pure nature, and it is their parents (the first circle of environments) who can change this nature and make them either Jewish, Christian, or fire worshipers. This shows how influential the environment is on our children.

Parents represent the first circle of environments that our children are subjected to. In North America, schools and society at large represent another circle affecting our children. Most of the time, the messages they receive from their peers at school and from the media are against Islamic values. Parents have a role in ensuring a proper environment and providing a support system for their children to help them counter these un-Islamic messages. Therefore, if your child is in a public school, you should always try to visit the school to inform the school administration about the needs of Muslim children: make them aware of various Islamic occasions such as Ramadan and Eid, as well as their dietary requirements. Parents can also participate with their children in classroom activities such as show and tell, which will give them an opportunity to correct some misconceptions about Islam. You could arrange information displays about Islam, in an open house format, for example. For this to be effective, parents should occasionally volunteer for school activities.

Other things you can do is to organize camps for Muslim youth where they can live Islam with other Muslim children.

Before children will be willing to listen, parents must have a very good relationship with them. Basically, it is best not to be critical. Instead, be encouraging with the children and be involved in their lives and activities, whether at home or in the community. Whenever they are getting a different message from outside, express your love to them and explain the wisdom behind your objections to that message. And be happy when they come to you with questions.

Question: Do you advise Muslims to enroll their children in non-Muslim activities such as soccer and baseball leagues in the city?

Answer: It is very important for children to be involved in various activities and to live an active lifestyle, which may include sports or being with other children. The best solution is for parents to provide these activities for their children in an Islamic environment, particularly when the children are still vulnerable and in the early stages of development.

In cases where this is not possible, parents may research activities run by non-Muslim groups. If your research indicates that the behavior and language used by the non-Muslim children is appropriate and decent, there is no harm in allowing your children to participate in those activities. An exception would be if the activity is co-ed and the children are in their pre-teen (nine years old and up) and teenage years.

            While your children are participating in these activities, you should monitor and assess any changes in their behavior. If you notice that these changes are negative, then you should try to modify this behavior through discussion and explanation. If this negative behavior persists, you should consider withdrawing the child from these activities if they are the cause of the problem.

            Before each activity session with the non-Muslims, you should encourage your children to observe Islamic behavior during their interaction with non-Muslims, such as wearing proper attire, doing their prayers during breaks, and conducting themselves with appropriate Islamic manners. Remind them that Allah SWT will reward them for their efforts and for being good models of Islam in front of non-Muslims.

Question: How do we balance the need to live an Islamic lifestyle with the need to interact in Canadian society?

Answer: For parents to balance an Islamic personality with interactions in mainstream, non-Muslim, Canadian society, they must raise their children to have a strong Islamic identity and self-confidence. This way, the children will find it possible to mix with non-Muslims and excuse themselves when an un-Islamic act is taking place. For example, if a child is at recess at school and hears his friends saying swear words, he will be able to either tell them not to say those words in front of him, or he will excuse himself and leave the group temporarily. So the child will continue mixing with the non-Muslim mainstream, but whenever something un-Islamic is taking place, he will put his Islamic identity ahead of being with his friends. That takes self-confidence from the child’s side and a very close relationship with his parents. A close relationship means that the parents sit with the child, listen to what went on during the day when he was out, and provide him with comfort and support.

            As an alternative, parents can also provide Muslim groups where he can mix more with children of his own age who share the same Islamic values. Plenty of practical tips on how parents can make sure that their children grow up with strong Islamic confidence can be found in chapter one of the book entitled Meeting the Challenge of Parenting in the West, and chapter four of the book entitled Muslim Teens.[1]

[1] See details in the reference section at the end.

Question: We are new Muslims, having converted just 3 1/2 months ago, and I am having difficulty in finding a balance to prevent our children from regretting their own choice to convert. My daughter has just entered junior high and she proudly started wearing the hijab to school even though she is only 12. She met some girls who were raised as Muslims since birth, and they do not wear the hijab. My question is, how can I encourage my daughter to wear her hijab when the girls who were raised as Muslims do not? Now she does not wear it and she wants to attend school dances with them at night. I will not permit this because I think she is too young to attend dances at night, but they only remain too young for a period of time. What should I do?

Answer: We commend this sister for making the right decision and trying to make her children adhere to Islamic values.

As for how to help your children follow Islamic rules, keep searching for families who are committed to Islam and who apply its rules, even if their children do not attend your daughter’s school. You could meet such families through the mosque in your town or city, or even through Islamic conferences. If you meet families who are committed to Islam, help your children make friends with their children by staying in touch with them, either on a weekly basis if they live in the same city or on a yearly basis if you meet them through conferences. Of course, they can e-mail each other and share their experiences.

Explain to your children that not all Muslims are fully dedicated to Islam, but that you would like them to be around those who are because those are the people of Paradise Insha’a Allah. Getting your children to participate in youth groups in your area and attend Islamic camps during summer vacation and winter break would also help tremendously.

Keep a close relationship between you and your children; listen to the reasons they give for why they want to go to the dances. Explain to them that dances are not going to help them be good people, and that Allah SWT has a much better reward for them in Paradise. Keep working on it and do not feel insecure if their pain does not go away quickly, as long as you are reassuring them and doing the above mentioned things.

A twelve year old is at the beginning of adolescence, and the most important thing for her is the approval of her peers. As a mother, you should do some reading to understand the changes that take place during adolescence and how to treat her Islamically. This will be of great help in dealing with the problem. Detailed information can be found in our book entitled Muslim Teens.

Question: My friend and I had a discussion about praising children. I believe that it is healthy to frequently give positive remarks to children, while she believes that doing this spoils children and makes them arrogant and full of themselves. Can you please advise us on this matter? Jazakum Allahu Khayran.

Answer: Jazakum Allahu Khayran, Sister, for asking this question. This discussion is very common among Muslim parents, and your question has been raised several times during our Positive Parenting Skills workshops.

Actually, both of you hold part of the truth. The full truth and the proper way of dealing with this matter are a combination. In addition to certain precautions that should be taken and observed by parents to prevent children from becoming arrogant due to continuous praise, we have some suggestions about what parents can do to properly give their children positive reinforcement.

  • It is better to make positive comments on a regular basis specifically in reaction to something good that the child has done (for example, good behavior) rather than praise the child all the time for no reason. For example, if your son is helping his sister with her homework, you can say: “Masha’a I like this. You are a helpful person and Allah SWT will reward you for your good deed, Insha’a Allah.” Or when your six-year-old daughter is dressed in new clothes you could say: “That looks nice on you.” These are positive comments that make our children feel good, and it is recommended that every parent make such encouraging comments to their children. On the other hand, when parents repeatedly praise their children with comments such as: “You are so beautiful,” or “You are the best child in the family,” this could make the children become full of themselves and could promote arrogance in their personality.
  • At the same time, parents should teach and train their children to be responsible. They should not accept misbehavior, which should be dealt with promptly using the “Indicate, Educate and Train” techniques, which are described in detail in a previous chapter entitled “Correcting Behavior.”[1]
  • Parents should remind their children that, whenever we are blessed with certain talents, we should be grateful to Allah SWT. This way, our good deeds will be accepted, and we will be rewarded for using our talents to perform any deed or to act in any way that is in line with Islamic values.
  • Parents must also teach their children the virtues of being modest and humble. The stories of the Prophet Muhammad SAAW are the most beautiful tools to help our children realize the importance of these wonderful qualities.

Following the above tips could Insha’a Allah help us make our children feel good when they are being praised for their positive actions, and simultaneously ensure that they do not become arrogant or full of themselves. 

[1] Dr. Ekram and Dr. M Rida Beshir Positive Parenting Skills based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Amana publications, 2004.

Question: I am a father of three children, ages five, three and two. My wife and I are doing our best to raise our children in a balanced Islamic way. Could you tell us what is the appropriate age at which parents should start talking to and educating their children about sex?

Answer: Jazakum Allah Khayran for realizing the importance of raising your children based on proper knowledge and also for being aware that, once your children are ready to receive a certain training, you must provide them with such training in the best possible way. This is commendable.

Educating children about sex is a very gradual and long process. It starts from a very young age and takes various paths. It also requires wisdom from the parents in order to prepare the children and put them in the right mind set for when they reach puberty, at which time they will require a more direct approach to sex education.

For children aged two, three and five, sex education will mainly take the form of training to develop the character of hayaa’ (modesty, healthy balanced shyness, and decency). For Muslims, it is very important to have a character of hayaa’ to the extent that the Prophet Muhammad SAAW said: “For every deen there is a core character that distinguishes it, and the core character of Islam is hayaa’.[1] Here are some practices that will give you an idea of how to train young children to acquire a character of hayaa’:

  • Parents must not let toddlers walk around the house without a diaper. When changing a child’s diaper, some parents may unintentionally leave the child without a diaper for some time because they did not have everything ready before starting the process. The child might run around while the parent is busy gathering the rest of the changing gear. Sometimes parents make the mistake of laughing at the child’s behavior, which may look cute. To avoid such a situation, gather everything you need to change the child’s diaper and to clean the child before you remove her diaper or underwear. When preparing the child for a bath, do not let her walk around the house naked on her way to the bathroom. If you decide to take off the child’s clothes in her room, cover her with a towel and remove the towel in the bathroom.
  • When children reach the age of four, parents should start teaching them about the concept of awrah and covering the private parts of the body. Parents should also instruct and train them that when they are using the washroom they should not allow others (friends or anybody) to enter the washroom with them. They should explain to the children that if they need help in the bathroom, only parents or the person looking after them with the permission of their parents can enter the bathroom with them.
  • At the age of four, children should also be instructed to knock on the door before entering a room whenever the door is closed. As the children get older, parents need to emphasize this behavior more.
  • Around the age of five or six, children begin to be aware of gender differences. At that age, boys prefer to play with boys and girls prefer to play with girls. This is a suitable time to start teaching children about avoiding close physical contact, such as hugging and kissing, with the other gender. Also at this age, children should start wearing reasonably decent clothing. Skin-tight and very revealing clothing should be avoided for both boys and girls. (We do not mean that girls should be wearing hijab at this age).
  • Later, when children are around the age of seven, it is always recommended that swimsuits be chosen to promote the character of hayaa’ in the child. For example, boys should avoid very short or tight swimming trunks. Parents should encourage them to wear loose and long shorts. Girls should be encouraged to wear T-shirts and shorts over their swimsuits.

In addition to following the above tips, parents must ensure that the family observes Islamic manners in the home environment in terms of the TV programs they watch and the language used by the parents and older siblings. Remember that role modeling is the best method of parenting.

[1] Al-Isaba, Version 1.06

Question: We live in North America. This culture is completely different from Islamic culture. For example, people here celebrate several holidays, such as Halloween at the end of October, Thanksgiving towards the end of November, Christmas towards the end of December, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Should we allow our children to participate in these celebrations? If the answer is no, what should we do to prevent our children from feeling inferior to their peers because they do not participate in these celebrations?

Answer: This is a very important question that is being asked in almost every workshop we conduct and every lecture we deliver during national conventions and regional conferences in North America. We also receive similar questions via e-mail from Muslims in various parts of the world.

To answer this question we should emphasize the following points:

  • As Muslims we must be careful not to group all celebrations into one category. Parents should look at each celebration separately and objectively, and then make an informed decision. For example, Thanksgiving is completely different from Christmas or Halloween.
  • Parents should ask themselves the following questions about the celebration under consideration:
  • What is the origin of the celebration?
  • Does it have a religious dimension or connotation?
  • What kind of message will this celebration send to my child?
  • What kind of impression is this celebration going to have on my child?
  • Is it a once-in-a-lifetime event or a regular celebration that will be a part of my child’s life and personality in the future?

If we ask ourselves these questions about the above-mentioned celebrations, we can easily say that we should not celebrate or allow our children to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day.

Thanksgiving, however, may be different. We should give thanks to Allah SWT and teach our children to be grateful to Him for all His bounties all the time, not just one day a year. However, if somebody observes Thanksgiving, this is not a sin or a crime.

Having said this, what should parents do at the time of these celebrations, particularly if their children attend public school where these holidays are regularly observed and encouraged by the school system? Here is some advice for every Muslim parent to help them deal with this dilemma:

  • Meet your child’s teacher early in the school year to tell him or her that your child is a Muslim and will not be celebrating Christmas. However, you do not want your child to miss out on the academic lessons. Since most public school systems use thematic methods for teaching, talking about Christmas in the classroom can start as early as mid-November. Ask the teacher to allow your child to do other activities that are not related to the holiday. For example, your child could draw a star or a crescent instead of a Christmas tree, or write a letter to his grandpa instead of to Santa. This way the child will still be part of the lesson, but with a reduction of the religious aspect of the holiday and its effect on your child.
  • On the day of the big Christmas party, do not send your child to school. Make that day special and fun for your child at home. You could invite some of her Muslim friends, who are also not going to school that day, and have a small gathering for them. In addition to the fun time, you can take the opportunity to teach them about Prophet Issa SAAW, his miraculous birth, the miracles he performed by Allah’s permission, and so on.
  • Be careful not to ridicule the holidays and celebrations of others. Some parents may become frustrated and overwhelmed with their children’s attraction to the beautiful Christmas decorations, and might make comments such as “Christmas lights are ugly!” This is not right, nor is it true. In addition, it could give your child the wrong impression. In such a situation, parents must always acknowledge that the decoration is nice, that the lights look good, and always tell the truth.
  • It is very important to make Ramadan and the two Eid celebrations very special and filled with fun and good memories for your children, to compensate for them not being a part of the other celebrations.
  • Some of the early scholars issued fatwas indicating that Muslims should not congratulate non-Muslims on their religious celebrations. These fatwas may have been applicable during their time and in their environment, but they are not applicable nowadays or in the North American environment. As a matter of fact, other fatwas indicate that there is nothing wrong with extending congratulatory wishes to non-Muslims during their religious celebrations.[1]

Please refer to chapter nine of our book entitled Muslim Teens: Today’s Worry, Tomorrow’s Hope for more tips on how to deal with Christmas and Halloween celebrations. Another good source is the SoundVision Website, where you can find samples of letters to send to your child’s school administration to help you say no to such celebrations.[2]

[1] Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawy. Contemporary Fatwas Volume 3, Dar Al Qalam for Distribution and Publications, Kuwait, 2001. 

[2] SoundVision.com newsletters

Question: My daughter is 16 years old. She has been attending public school. She is graduating from high school this year Insha’a Allah. It is early, but I am expecting her to ask me about going to the prom. I feel that it is not proper for a Muslim girl to attend such a party and I have been hinting to this, but we never discuss it in detail with her (neither myself, nor her father). I am very concerned about this and do not know how to discuss it with her. Can you please advise me on the best way to go about this? Jazakum Allah Khayran.

Answer: This is a very important question that usually occupies the minds of many parents. Prom is an unacceptable activity for Muslims. It includes dancing and drinking. It is also held in an environment of free mixing between boys and girls. All these factors make it an unacceptable activity for a Muslim to attend.

The question now is how to make sure that our teenagers understand this and that they are willing to endure not being a part of the group during this final gathering with their peers to bring closure to an important stage of their life.

As a parent, you can do this by talking to your daughter in a kind manner, recognizing and legitimizing her wish to go and see her friends, say goodbye, attend this celebration, and be a part of everybody’s last memory. Tell her that you really understand her feelings and know that it would mean a lot to her to attend. Show her that you recognize how sad it is for her not to be able to participate. Tell her, however, that it is too bad that prom includes dancing, drinking and free mixing between members of the opposite sex, because that makes it impossible for her to participate in it.

Although she cannot participate in prom, she still needs to say goodbye to her friends in a halaal way that will also be a good memory for her. Together with your daughter, you should brainstorm ways of doing this, taking into consideration that it should be girls only and should not include Islamically objectionable things. Some examples could be:

  • Having a party at your home hosted by your daughter for her girlfriends
  • Going together to a restaurant for lunch and spending the afternoon in a park
  • Going together to a bowling alley for few games and then having dinner together in your home

We hope this will help you with your daughter. Be kind and gentle when you talk to her. We make du‛a to Allah SWT for your success.

Question: My husband and I are always arguing about celebrating our child’s birthday. He says there is nothing wrong with it, while I think birthdays should not be celebrated. After all, wouldn’t celebrating birthdays be a blind imitation of a Western tradition? Can you please tell us whether or not it is proper to celebrate birthdays? Jazakum Allah Khayran.  

Answer: To answer this question properly we have to keep in mind four basic Islamic principles. These are:

  1. The basic asl[1] refers to the permissibility of things. This principle, established by Islam, denotes that things that Allah SWT has created and the benefits derived from them are essentially for man’s use, and are therefore permissible. Nothing is haraam except what is prohibited by a sound and explicit text from the Lawgiver, Allah If the text is not sound, as in the case of a weak hadith, or if it is not explicit in stating the prohibition, the original principle of permissibility applies.
  2. “When the Prophet SAAW came to Madinah, he found that they had two days of celebration and feasts. He told them that Allah SWT has replaced these two days with two better days: the two Eids, Eid ul Adha and Eid ul Fitr.”[2] It is clear from this hadith that the Prophet SAAW limited annual celebrations to only the two Eids.
  1. “Every soul is responsible for what it earns.”[3] The concept of accountability is deeply entrenched in the Islamic system, in all areas and at all levels. Muslims are always encouraged to look deeply into the expected consequences of any action before doing it. If the consequences are expected to cause definite harm, Muslims should try to avoid the action. If the consequences are expected to bring benefits, it is good to do such an action.
  1. Choose the lesser of two evils. This is a great rule in Islamic jurisprudence that was deduced by the scholars from the practices of the Prophet SAAW and the teachings of Qur’an. This rule should be understood properly and applied wisely by parents in the North American environment.

Based on the first principle, some say that there is nothing wrong with celebrating birthdays, since there is no specific text prohibiting it. However, looking at the second principle, we see that the Prophet SAAW clearly instructed us that nothing should be celebrated annually or observed regularly except the two Eids: Al Fitr and Al Adha. Also, the fact that the practice of celebrating birthdays was not known among the early Muslims may raise the question “Why should we start promoting a Western tradition that may not be proper?”

Bearing in mind the above arguments so far, the least that could be said about celebrating birthdays is that it is a questionable or controversial practice. However, this is not the end of the story. There are other factors that should be considered in the North American environment, such as the consequences of celebrating versus ignoring birthdays.

Among the unacceptable consequences of celebrating birthdays in the current Western format is that the birthday person is the center of attention and the only person who feels special during the celebration. This may promote traces of arrogance in the personality of some children and make them full of themselves. Also, the celebration format may be unacceptable to some because of the lavish gifts that some parents buy for their children and the time wasted just eating and playing games.

On the other hand, ignoring the birthday of a school-age child may lead the child to think that his parents do not care about him and that his teacher loves him much more than his parents. This is because teachers in public schools usually wish the children a happy birthday and may even have a little celebration in the class. We do not think that any parent would like to leave his or her child with such an impression.

Clearly, the answer to this question is not a simple yes or no. All of the above factors must be taken into consideration, and the answer could vary from one situation to another, depending on the child’s age and specific conditions.

The reality is that most Muslim parents now in North America celebrate their children’s birthdays. Our objective should be for our Muslim children to give up these celebrations in their current format. However, this objective, though noble, cannot be achieved in only one step. With the parents’ wisdom in dealing with the situation insha’a Allah this objective can be achieved gradually. Here is what we suggest to achieve this goal insha’a Allah in the most amicable way while avoiding the negative consequences discussed earlier:

  • When the child is very young (one to four years old) and is not yet attending school, there is no need for the parents to initiate a birthday celebration for her. No harmful effects can be expected from this practice, because the child is not likely to notice that other children are celebrating their birthdays.
  • If the child is school age, it would be a big mistake to completely ignore the issue of birthdays. In such a situation, the answer could be to celebrate the child’s birthday but in a manner that is low-key. For example, the child could invite two or three of his friends, have a cake and some food that he likes, and play a few games with his friends. He could sit with his parents, either before his friends arrive or after they leave, and discuss what he wants to do throughout the coming year to learn more and be a better person. Thus, you shift the focus of the celebration away from the food and games and toward a more Islamic format of self-evaluation for improvement. This way, as the child is being entertained, he is also learning an important Islamic concept: the concept of self-assessment and auditing our deeds (muhassabah). Parents could use the opportunity to congratulate him for his achievements in the past year. They could also remind him that birthdays are not really big celebrations in Islam, but that they are celebrating his birthday now so he does not feel left out or feel bad. Parents could mention the hadith of the Prophet SAAW that Allah SWT has replaced all celebrations with two meaningful celebrations: Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. This way you have chosen the lesser harm (of having a limited and small-scale celebration in an acceptable format) to avoid a greater harm (the child’s feeling that his parents do not love him and that his school teacher loves him more). Tell the child that, once he is ready to let go of celebrating his birthday, he should tell you. By then you would be fully applying the hadith of the Prophet SAAW.

In addition to the above gradual approach to help your child give up celebrating birthdays, always make the celebrations of the two Eids much bigger and more entertaining for him in every aspect: in the home environment, and with gifts and new clothes so that he can enjoy it more than any birthday.

Another suggestion is that you explain to the children that, during Eid, all Muslims are happy and feel special, while at a birthday party only one person feels special.  

[1] Asl, plural usul, denotes origin, source, foundation, basis, fundamental or principle.

[2] Muslim

[3] (Q74, V38)

Question: Why are many professional women over age 30 not married? Are marriages failing because women nowadays are less obedient than in the past? If a man can marry someone from “back home,” shouldn’t women here be more compromising, since they have less choice?.  

Answer: There are many reasons why Muslim women living in the West in general, and North America in particular, prefer to stay unmarried. Based on our marital counselling experience with hundreds of cases, we find that these reasons have no connection with women being less obedient than in the past, as stated in the question. Here are some of the real reasons why Muslim women are hesitant to marry and why some of them prefer to stay unmarried even after age 30. As listed here, these reasons are not necessarily in order of importance:

  • Compared to a generation or two ago, the number of educated Muslim women has increased tremendously, and many of them are now working in good jobs and fulfilling careers that provide them with great financial independence. For a career women who is enjoying great freedom and financial independence, the circumstances have to be perfect in order for her to sacrifice her freedom and career for the sake of a marriage proposal.
  • The surrounding environment and experiences of others is another important factor making many Muslim women hesitate to get married. The divorce rate in North America is at an alarming level, among Non-Muslims as well as Muslims. These divorce statistics are a huge deterrent. Many Muslim women feel they are taking a great risk and potentially sacrificing a stable life for a marriage agreement that could easily collapse at any moment.
  • Muslim men tend to misunderstand various issues related to Islamic marriage. Just to name a few, these issues include the following:
    • The concept of family leadership (qawamah). This concept is highly misunderstood among many men. It makes some of them behave like dictators and tyrants in their home. Rather than fulfilling the leadership responsibilities and obligations entrusted to them by Allah (swt), such men abuse their status and take it as an excuse to mistreat their wife, insult her, and in some cases become physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. More about the subject of qawamah, its definition and meaning, the obligations surrounding it, and the appropriate and inappropriate use of it can be found in our book on this subject.[1]
    • The status of women in Islam. This is another area where many Muslim men are putting Muslim women down and considering them to be of lower status than men. This is completely incorrect and goes against the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saaw). We touched upon this topic in our answer to Question 8. In Islam, neither gender is superior or inferior to the other. Both genders complement each other. The best and most honourable people in the sight of Allah (swt) are those who observe and fulfill their duties towards Him.[2]
    • The concept of the wife’s obedience to her husband. This is another concept that is misunderstood by many Muslim men. Many men think that this obedience is absolute, like the obedience of a slave to his master. However, this understanding is completely incorrect and has no basis whatsoever in the practical Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saaw). The Mothers of the Faithful, the wives of Prophet Muhammad (saaw), questioned him, had discussions with him and even argued with him on many occasions.[3]
    • Spousal obligations. This is another area that is highly misunderstood by men. Because of this misunderstanding, Muslim wives are at a great disadvantage when it comes to spousal obligations. In the Qur’an, it is very clear, with the exception of the qawamah degree, that most spousal obligations are mutual.[4] This means that if the husband wants his wife to treat him kindly, he also has to treat her kindly. If the husband wants the wife to treat his family members with respect and welcome them in the couple’s home, he also has to treat her family members with respect and welcome them in their home. If the husband wants his wife to beautify herself for him, he must also make himself presentable for her. As a matter of fact, Ibn Abbas (raa) used to be seen trimming his beard, combing his hair, and wearing perfume. When he was asked by some of the Companions (raa) why he was doing this, he said: “I’m beautifying myself for my wife, and this is an order from Allah (swt),” and he quoted verse 228 of Surat Al-Baqarah.[5] Of course, there are certain obligations that are primarily for the husband and others that are primarily for the wife. For example, the husband is primarily responsible for financially supporting the family, while the wife is the main caregiver for the children.

With all of the above misconceptions that usually put women at a disadvantage and leave men to enjoy a great deal of unparalleled and unjustified control over their wife, a Muslim woman would rightly hesitate to enter into a relationship where she would be dealt with as a slave rather than as a human being. Unless men correct their misunderstanding of these concepts and start following the proper Islamic teachings, rather than following cultural interpretations that give them an advantage over women, Muslim women will rightly continue to hesitate to accept marriage proposals.

Finally, don’t think that marrying a woman from “back home” and bringing her to North America is free of problems. It seems like the questioner has a very rosy picture of this scenario in his mind! Think seriously about the following:

  • Cultural differences. In most cases, there are huge cultural differences between “back home” and North America. Any newcomer to North America goes through an adjustment period that can extend from two years to four or even five years. This adjustment period is very demanding on a newcomer because of the lack of extended family and support system.
  • The time it takes a person to get over their homesickness and get used to the cultural differences between “back home” and North America can be very trying on both spouses, and it can be particularly demanding on you, the husband.
  • You may be able to enjoy the blind obedience of a woman from “back home” for a few short years at the beginning of the marriage. But as soon as your wife starts interacting with other Muslim families and tastes the atmosphere of freedom in North America, she, too, will start to demand a higher level of freedom and respect and will no longer be the blindly obedient wife you dreamt of having and wanted to live with.

The solution is not in marrying blindly obedient women from “back home.” The solution is in changing our attitudes, as Muslim men, and in learning how to fulfill our real duties as Muslim husbands, according to Islamic teachings rather than according to cultural norms and biases.

[1] Beshir, Dr. Mohamed Rida. Family Leadership (Qawamah): An Obligation to Fulfill; Not an Excuse to Abuse. Beltsville: amana publications, 2009.

[2] Qur’an (49:13)

[3] See the story of the wife of Omar (raa): when she questioned him about one of his decisions, and he told her not to question him, she responded by saying, “Your daughter questions the Prophet (saaw).” He asked his daughter Hafsah (raa), and she confirmed that the wives of the Prophet (saaw) used to discuss and argue with him about all house-related decisions. (Muslim and others)

[4] Qur’an (2:228)

[5] At-Tabari