You see pictures of the “ideal Muslim family” in brochures and nasheed videos. A bearded dad with a son in a kufi and Mom and daughter, donning hijabs, are smiling from ear-to-ear as they walk hand-in-hand to the mosque. Or you might see images of families gathering after dinner to discuss a hadith, the father leading the prayer at home and a bevy of kids eagerly following him.

Yes, some families are lucky to have this ideal scenario in their lives, but others are not. If both partners have a similar R.Q (religion quotient), parenting is much easier.There is no bickering about waking up for fajr, about not eating from a particular restaurant or clothes shopping with pre-teen girls. Everyone is on the same page and life is good.

However, in many cases like the Sidiki* family in Trenton, NJ, this Utopian existence is limited to magazine advertisements. At their home, Dad stays home while Mom is bitter about chauffeuring the children to the mosque. Dad feels his only responsibility is to earn. He doesn’t stop them from attending mosque activities, but he is never a part of it.

“It bothers me when my sons don’t see their Dad go to the masjid,” Habeeba Sidiki says. “I am singlehandedly responsible for my children’s tarbiyah [moral development]. If I don’t do it, they won’t develop a strong bond with the masjid and will end up like their Dad.”The roles are reversed in the Hammad* household in San Diego, Calif., but the issues are eerily similar. Tarek is concerned that since his wife does not wear the hijab and wears capris and sleeveless tops, she is setting the wrong example for their young daughters who may want to dress like Mom.

“My wife is a fabulous mother and may Allah accept all her good deeds, but when it comes to dressing, we get into fights for the sake of our girls,” Hammad says. “I became more aware of my religious obligations much after we got married and I hoped she would change, too.”We posed these scenarios to Madiha Haroon, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Naperville, Ill. She has been counseling individuals, couples, families and adolescents since 1998.

“In such situations, I hear more of an‘I’ than a ‘we,’ which raises a red flag right,”Haroon says. “If I don’t take them to the masjid, they won’t go and I want my girls to dress more modestly. Our conversations need to begin with what both parents want and how you will come to a decision as a couple. The ‘we’ needs to be there.”

Intention Check

In Islam, actions are based on intentions and it is crucial to keep that in check. Do we take our teens to religious study circles to portray a holier-than-thou attitude to our partner or are we doing it to raise better children? If you are doing it for the right reasons, than any effort needs a prerequisite, and that is duaa. Whether it is specific duaa you read in times of difficulty or just utilizing your personal hotline with your Creator in any language, we need to couple our effort with right intentions and prayer.

“If you take the kids to the masjid as a way to ‘get back’ at your husband, then it is not going to work for you or your children,” Haroon says. “Mom shouldn’t shoulder more responsibility as a way to belittle Dad.”Instead of saying how Dad needs to get his act together, phrases like, “Dad isn’t ready to go to the mosque regularly yet” and “We should respect his decision and pray he joins us soon” may be more honest responses as opposed to always making excuses for him. “As two adults, spouses cannot be clones of one another,” Haroon says. “You cannot force something on another adult, but you should try your best to have a united front for the kids.”

It may sound hypocritical to show the kids that the parents agree when they actually don’t, but for a five-year-old, the stability they get from knowing the two most important people in their lives want the same thing can be worth it. For older kids already picking up on parental disagreements, it might be more realistic to explain that while Mom and Dad don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue, they have agreed to meet in the middle for the sake of family unity.

For a Mom to say, “I am not ready to wear the hijab yet, but I am very proud of your decision” is better than having your head in the sand and ignoring that this conflict exists. Haroon is seeing more of a trend these days where one parent is more religiously inclined than the other. She feels that there is not enough research done as it is a relatively newer phenomenon, but it is something that should not be ignored. Perhaps nowadays people have Islamic information at their fingertips—literally—with smart phones and tablets. The average age of couples going for Hajj has been decreasing. Add to that, seminars on weekends and webcasts by young scholars, there is an abundance of information available. Younger Muslims are learning that you can practice your faith while going to school or climbing the corporate ladder.

 Rewind : Choosing a Partner

Some parenting conflicts can be avoided if you marry someone close to you on the piety spectrum; but it is not a guarantee. Oftentimes, even though a practicing Muslim realizes that his potential spouse is not as religiously inclined as he is, he hopes “she will change over time” and some parents just find solace in the fact that “at least he’s marrying a Muslim.” However, if we were to follow our role model, we would learn from the Prophet Muhammad that:

“A woman is married for four reasons, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her piety. So you should marry the pious woman otherwise you will be losers.” (Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Sahih al-Bukhari & Muslim)

“Whoever comes to you and you’re pleased with their deen and character (khuluq) marry them! If you don’t, there will be corruption and great harm in the earth.” (Narrated by At-Tirmidhee)

Uncovering the “Why” Behind the “No”

“Everything is not this black-and-white.We cannot make sweeping assumptions about why a dad is not taking his children to the masjid (or any other issue) without acknowledging that there might be many factors involved,” says Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain and executive director of the

Islamic Center of New York University. “He might have been hit by the Quran instructor when he was young, he might not be comfortable going to a particular masjid or there might be a bevy of other concerns that only he knows.” Latif believes that it is crucial for both

parents to sit with someone that knows the family dynamics and can make an evaluation specific to their circumstances. Is the father robust in other relationships or parenting duties, and is he just lacking in the religious education department, or is he an uninvolved parent all around?

The communication between the couple shouldn’t be argumentative or confrontational, but should try to unearth the root of the problem. He believes that at times, adults also need incentives and positive reinforcement rather than always being nagged.

And while taking the children to activities and playing an active role in their lives is important, so is letting the children know that they are loved unconditionally. You need to tell them how much you love them, like the Prophet did, says Latif.

In a hadith narrated by Bukhari, a companion, Al-Bara’ said, “I saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, when al-Hasan was on his shoulder. He was saying, ‘O Allah, I love him, so love him.’”

According to Barbara Frazier, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Gainesville, Fla., different parenting styles is the No. 1 issue that couples bring to marriage counseling.

“Parents feel a great deal of responsibility where their children are concerned, so parenting decisions have a high level of importance that often is quite emotionally charged,” Frazier says. “Most of us come with a parenting style, even though we may not be aware of it. When we become parents ourselves, the blueprint from our own families of origin are already set.”

Fast Forward : Do Not Despair

Parenting can come with some pride, but it should come with an ego. We shouldn’t feel like I am the only one who can do a good job raising the kids Even if both parents were on the same page in the parenting guidebook, there is no guarantee that they will raise stellar kids. Even prophets had problems with their children. Prophet Nuh preached for more than 900 years, but his son did not accept his teachings until the very end. Similarly, Prophet Yaqub had exemplary children like Prophet Yusuf but he also had other sons who were willing to abandon their younger brother in a well. Just like the quantity of children you are blessed with is ultimately decided by Allah, so is their quality. We need to do our best effort by providing them with a stable environment by resolving conflicts amicably, by ensuring they move in good company to practice their faith and then after we have tried our best—we need to leave the rest to the Most Knowing, the Most Wise.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees

Kiran Ansari lives with her husband and two children near Chicago, Ill.  Republished with permission from ISNA.
photo credit: gwen via photopin cc