The Apprentice

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

As someone who had no younger sibling; who never in her life babysat any little children for even an hour; who has more than the average penchant for personal privacy, solitude and demarcated boundaries of living space, I often find myself at the receiving end of the following question:

How can  you have your children (now numbering three, masha’Allah) around at home all day without going crazy?

I was at some point along the first-time parenting journey myself such a skeptic who would have asked any other homeschooling mother exactly the same question! What’s more, I would have privately questioned her sanity or marveled at her – what was for me – an almost superhuman level of patience and forbearance.

However, this post is not about homeschooling per se, perchance I alienate those conscientious parents who are striving to bring up their children well but choose to send them to school, lest they stop reading ahead with a dismissive eye roll.

In this post I want to talk about how, as a parent, something inside me regarding my inner views about parenting changed along the way, and today I want to talk about just that i.e. what changed.

Answer: My own mindset – the way I chose to perceive the presence of my children around me for most part of the day – tantrums, bawls, dirty diapers, runny noses, incessant interruptions, and unwelcome preemption, et al.

I was once a snap-happy, cranky, short-tempered, prone-to-scream-at-the-drop-of-a-hat mother; at least I hope that now, I am less of that, as compared to when I had just one toddler and blew a fuse as soon as she climbed up on a chair and toppled a bowl of hot milk or tea on the dining table as soon as I turned my back.

Fact is, it was analysis of the words of Allah in the Quran, and incidents in the seerah of His Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم] that made me change the way I thought. There are a few historic events narrated in the Quran that highlight how someone young, a child or a teenager at the most, helped an adult in his or her work, quest or journey.

Consequently, now when I look at my children and realize that they are just that – little human beings pre-programmed by Allah to act and react a certain way to environmental stimuli because of the age they are at – I cringe and seek forgiveness from Allah for my past skewed perception of them as a new parent.

The sister of Prophet Musa helping her mother get him back

A young mother-daughter duo worked as a team once to deal with the separation of a new baby boy. Yes, I find it endearing to read in the Quran, how the older sister of Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] helped her mother fend off anxiety and sorrow after the latter submitted to Allah’s command and put her infant son afloat in a river inside a chest:

إِذْ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى أُمِّكَ مَا يُوحَى

“Recall (when) We inspired in your mother that which is inspired,” [20:38]

وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى أُمِّ مُوسَى أَنْ أَرْضِعِيهِ فَإِذَا خِفْتِ عَلَيْهِ فَأَلْقِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ وَلَا تَخَافِي وَلَا تَحْزَنِي إِنَّا رَادُّوهُ إِلَيْكِ وَجَاعِلُوهُ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

“And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto you and shall make him (one) of Our messengers.” [28:7]

Anyone who has a baby (and even those who don’t) can perhaps only imagine the pain Prophet Musa’s mother must have felt upon being separated from her infant boy; how she must have summoned up enough fortitude and trust in Allah to cast her baby into a chest along a flowing river! Yet, she did it.

After her infant vanished from her sight, and her heart became empty, her “apprentice” came to her aid:

إِذْ تَمْشِي أُخْتُكَ فَتَقُولُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى مَن يَكْفُلُهُ فَرَجَعْنَاكَ إِلَى أُمِّكَ كَيْ تَقَرَّ عَيْنُهَا وَلَا تَحْزَنَ وَقَتَلْتَ نَفْسًا فَنَجَّيْنَاكَ مِنَ الْغَمِّ وَفَتَنَّاكَ فُتُونًا فَلَبِثْتَ سِنِينَ فِي أَهْلِ مَدْيَنَ ثُمَّ جِئْتَ عَلَى قَدَرٍ يَا مُوسَى

“Behold! Your sister went forth and said, ‘Shall I show you one who will nurse and rear the (child)?’ So We brought you back to your mother, that her eye might be cooled and she should not grieve…..” [20:40]

Why did the sister step in to help? I think that perhaps if the mother had herself followed the chest containing the infant down the river, it would have roused onlookers’ suspicion that the infant belonged to her i.e. it was her own son.  Further, since the Israelites were killing the male babies that year, the baby might have gotten killed as a result.

In order to be discreet in the pursuit of the baby, and also perhaps because a young girl child can run faster without garnering others’ attention to herself in public, than a mother whose heart is torn with sorrow, the older sister of the infant Musa not only kept the floating chest in sight but also played a key role in Allah’s plan of returning him to his mother without being killed that year:

According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir: “Then, his sister came and said,  هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتٍ يَكْفُلُونَهُ لَكُمْ وَهُمْ لَهُ نَـصِحُونَ – “Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and look after him in a good manner?”. She meant, “Shall I guide you to someone who can nurse him for you for a fee?” So she took him and they went with her to his real mother. When her breast was presented to him, he took it and they (Firaun’s family) were extremely happy for this. Thus, they hired her to nurse him and she achieved great happiness and comfort because of him, in this life and even more so in the Hereafter.”

By pondering on this incident in the Quran, I realized that Allah has used even young children to establish His decree on earth and used their “services” to carry out his Divine plans.

Could it be that children are smarter and more capable of handling responsibilities than we think?

The young lad traveling with Prophet Musa to seek knowledge

In Surah Al-Kahf, Allah describes how Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] firmly resolved to go on traveling until he could meet and attain knowledge from Khidr. Interestingly, he had a young lad with him throughout his journey, who was called Yusha Bin Nun, and their closeness in mutual companionship is evident from the way they talk about matters:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّى أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا

“Behold, Moses said to his attendant, “I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel.” [18:60]

The Arabic word used for the young lad is “فَتًى”, which means a youth in the prime of life (Lane). This implies a boy who is a tween or in his early teens.

At one point in their journey in the quest for knowledge, this young boy – the apprentice – played a key role in informing Prophet Musa [عليه السلام], when the latter asked him to bring him his food, about how their fish had escaped from them and taken a route in the sea, and how Shaitan had made him forget to inform him before about this:

قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَ إِذْ أَوَيْنَا إِلَى الصَّخْرَةِ فَإِنِّي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ وَمَا أَنسَانِيهُ إِلَّا الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ أَذْكُرَهُ وَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ عَجَبًا

“Did you see (what happened) when we betook ourselves to the rock? I did indeed forget (about) the Fish: none but Satan made me forget to tell (you) about it: it took its course through the sea in a marvellous way!” [18:63]

The escape of the salted dead fish into the water was actually meant to be a signal from Allah that they had reached the place where they would find Khidr (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). When the lad told him this, Prophet Musa replied: “This is that which we have been seeking!” and then they both retraced their steps to that point in order to finally find and meet Khidr.

This incident brings to light quite a few things about adults dealing with youths:

  1. Adults should delegate responsibility to young people (tweens, teens, or even younger) and allow them to help them in their daily tasks, especially during strenuous journeys.
  2. We should take our children along on quests for knowledge of Deen.
  3. It really is okay for children to hang out with adults, contrary to the contemporary trend of pressuring children as young as two to “socialize” mostly with same-age peers and friends.
  4. Adults should have a frank and friendly relationship with younger people, especially their own children, students or helpers. Such an open and friendly relationship can make both benefit from apprenticeship. It was this easygoing openness that allowed Prophet Musa’s attendant to openly tell him about the escape of the fish, and admit that it was Shaitan that had made him forget to tell him. Note how he doesn’t lie nor give flimsy excuses, but comes clean and speaks up honestly.
  5. Adults should forgive and overlook the mistakes and errors of youths, as did Prophet Musa.
  6. One of the biggest advantages of being old(er) is that younger ones can serve you! E.g. Bringing you your food when you are tired. 😉

Prophet Ismail helping his father build the Ka’bah

Another interesting and historically poignant event narrated in the Quran involves a father-son duo doing what many father-son pairs would love doing in any era: a construction or building project. Only, the building they were putting together was no ordinary one:

وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ

“..And We imposed a duty upon Ibrahim and Ismael, (saying): Purify My house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship).” [2:125]

وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

“And when Ibrahim and Ismael were raising the foundations of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! You, only You, are the Hearer, the Knower.” [2:127]

We already know that Prophet Ibrahim was quite old when two sons, first Ismail and then Ishaq, were born to him. This indicates the considerable age difference between Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail when they were instructed by Allah to not just construct the holy Ka’bah, but to also purify it from the filth of idols and other physical and sexual impurities (Tafsir Ibn Kathir).

Once again, the Quran encourages us parents, albeit indirectly, to employ the aid, help and companionship of our children, even when the latter are young (barely out of childhood) in all our endeavors, but in particular, in those of our efforts, activities, toils and quests that are aimed at seeking the pleasure of Allah and upholding or propagating the Deen of Islam (monotheism).

In the above verses, it is obvious that not only did the young son help his elderly father physically build the Ka’bah, but he also helped him purify it, then engaged along with him in earnest supplication to Allah that He accept their efforts.

Contrast that to how some modern-day parents are themselves extremely active in propagating knowledge of Deen and doing Da’wah, yet their children are always in others’ company, be it nannies when they are younger, or secular-minded (or even atheist) friends when they are older.

I have personally attended religious talks in homes where the youngsters are never in attendance as their mother or father discusses/teaches the Quran to others. They are either watching television, out socializing with friends, or shut up in their rooms studying for exams.

It is a bit alarming to witness some Muslim families in which the parents are righteous and obey the tenets of Islam, and on top of that, they have been doing active teaching of the Quran and sunnah since their children were minors, yet as these children of theirs grow up, they seem to disregard obedience to even the obligatory rules and commands of Islam, such as praying all the five daily salah‘s or observing hijab at the mandated time.

As the years pass, a clear diversion is seen in the lifestyle and religiosity of the children of some da’ee’s and religious teachers, from the path of righteousness that their parents have adopted for themselves, so much so that, as the parents go off for recurring umrah, hajj, and Islamic da’wah retreats, the young children stay back at home, going out on dates or to drinking parties with their romantic partners and other friends. Are you surprised? It is more common than we acknowledge.

The Quran should make us modern-day parents who think that religion is a personal matter and a “choice” that their little children should make on their own once they reach the age of maturity, wake up and smell the coffee: we should take our children along with ourselves on the journey towards Allah as soon as we can, since they are little (even babies), and try not to leave them with human or digital babysitters to “come towards religion on their own”, when they get older.

In answer to the question…

I have alhamdulillah come a long, long way since my perception of my children as noise-creators, troublemakers, clutter-generators and stress-inducers who need to be run after and coerced to behave properly.

Now I see them as my young “apprentices” in the path of Deen, albeit ones who need a stern eye and a reprimand here and there when they, acting upon their natural human instincts, act naughtily or behave mischievously.

I find myself enamored by their honesty (they are frank and upfront to the point of being totally blunt), intrigued by their relentless spontaneity, and in complete admiration of their positivity and lack of grudges and enmity for others.

I now love having these wonderful beings in my life 24/7, because contrary to what it appears to be like, I am learning immensely from them. For the first time in my life, I am spending days and nights in the company of human beings who have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an incessant curiosity about the world around them; an insatiable ability to ask questions until they get satisfactory answers, and a refreshingly tireless interest in others, especially in their Lord, Allah, and in the reality about the life of this world.

As little hands help me pick up the crumbs from the carpet, fold the laundry, wipe the counter and even massage my forehead when I am tired, I sorely regret and seek forgiveness for ever considering these “apprentices” to be the cause of unwelcome interruptions and “disturbances” in my so-called hitherto peaceful and methodical life, and thank Allah with the bottom of my heart for giving me little helpers in the path of His Deen, who will hopefully always be by my side as we tread along it to reach the final, coveted destination: Allah’s pleasure in the Hereafter.

This article was also cross-posted on MuslimMatters.org.

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11 thoughts on “The Apprentice

  1. Loved it :), Jazakillah Khairan.

    This should go out to all moms who can’t wait till their kids go off to school so that they can have some peace and quiet in the house :D.

    Having said that, this having kids around 24/7 and not going crazy is surely easier said than done. I still think it’s a herculean task. I mean, maybe your kids are the quiet/easy to deal with kinda. I’ve seen such amazing kids around. But I’ve also seen some who just cannot sit still for a single second. I’m wondering what’s a mom supposed to do then if she has such a kid and if she has susraali responsibilities of managing the house, cooking etc .. ?

  2. I seriously loved this piece and by the will of Allah swt it has helped me realize a lot. Jazakillah khair for taking the time to write it.
    May Allah swt bless you & your family with khair in duniya & akhira Insha Allah.

  3. As Salamu Alaikum wa Rehmatulahi wa Barakatuhu
    Its really beautiful how you get into the depth of verses of The Quran to take out lessons from them to apply in your daily life.
    May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala guide us all to ponder deeply on the Quran.
    JazakAllahu Khairan Katheera for another thoughtful post.

  4. Assalamoalykum
    jazakALLAH khayer, it was indeed a pleasure to read :). i agree , parenting is a thing that you learn as you go along 🙂

  5. This is my favorite article by you so far. The end made me smile and I can relate to what you are saying. I am trying to give dawah to family members with young kids so that they too think of their kids as blessings and joys and apprentices rather than interruptions/disturbances of their life. Although I find that my iman and righteous deeds need to be increase in order to speak out for the truth so working on oneself is key to good dawah.
    jazakallahy khayir for the awesome read.
    May allah make this journey towards His Pleasure successful for you and your family.

  6. Salaam Alaykum, as noted previously, “idh” translates as “remember/recall” not “when”, when it commences at the beginning of the ayah. Hope the translation is amended accordingly.

  7. Masha‘Allah, this was spectacular. It’s always refreshing to be able to categorize and look at Qur’anic verses from different perspectives. This has me thinking of other Qur’anic parent-child relationships, such as Maryam (radhiAllahu ‘anha) and Isa (‘alayhis salam), Yaqub and Yusuf (‘alayhumus salam), Dawud and Sulaymaan (‘alayhumus salam), and others.

    I wonder if there’s any records we have of Hawwa (radhiAllahu ‘anha) and her parenting techniques. It must have been something else for her as the first mom and seeing murders and so many other things in her life :).

  8. Mashallah…..a very revelant post for me. As a mother to two young daughters, I often find myself guilty of being a “snap-happy, cranky,short tempered , prone-to-scream at the drop of a hat” mother. May Allah (SWT) give me and all parents the patience and wisdom to realize the enormous blessing that He has bestowed upon us and make them our apprentices in our Deen.I’m sharing this on my Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/muslimparentsforum

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