Muslims regularly quibble about Islam’s different schools of thought. But what often goes missed is a much needed debate about the different schools of emotion that are pervasive in our communities.
For far too many Muslims, scare-mongering and guilt-tripping emerges as the modus operandi of choice. Kids are told that if they are too lazy to pray, it is because the devil is weighing them down. If they want a new toy, they are shamed into the knowledge that poor kids out there cannot have that same toy. They are chided with a single contrite “Haram!” – or forbidden – when they are on the brisk of doing something wrong; if an explanation is given it is “because it’s a sin and it leads to hell.” When quizzical about certain gray matters, they are told to go with the safe bet rather than responsibly seek and attain proof that quenches their hearts and minds.
This may well be an effective approach to securing religiosity, but if unmitigated (as it almost always tends to be), it can create a culture of mental stagnation and melancholia – a breed of automatons that is reproached, rather than inspired into faith. Such an approach risks unduly transforming what ought to be an awakening into little more than a burden. Not surprisingly, since human nature is to seek relief from burden, many find themselves subconsciously developing relief mechanisms that include willful acquiescence to life’s many distractions. They end up relegating Islam to the back seat, invariably reducing their affair with God to rote mechanical rituals, if that. Others sway to the opposite extreme, becoming religious hardliners who exude outward religiosity but lack inner peace and who scurry to sheltered seclusion from a world they dismiss as a temptation rather than embrace as a rich universe of opportunity.
Instead of guilt-tripping, an alternative approach, one that I would argue is truer to the spirit of Islam, is conscience-building. This necessitates a return to intellectual stimulation, a cornerstone of the bygone golden ages that seems to have virtually vanished from Islamic early education the world over, only to be replaced by a cacophony of anxious teachers and parents dishing blind – if well-intended – orders and admonishments. The mind is God’s greatest gift to human beings. The journey to God is naturally synonymous with a deep stimulation of the mind as well as the heart. Muslims are entitled to understand the wisdom, and feel the beauty, of their faith. Scare-mongering will not accomplish that, inspiration will.
Respect your child’s religious inquisitiveness and respond with intelligent persuasion rather than preset conclusions. Help them capture the glow latent in Islam. It is not enough that they do something; they must be encouraged to think about it, and be able to draw real comfort from it. Tell them that God is all-powerful, but remind them that He is all-forgiving. The path of every prophet to God-consciousness began with contemplation, a lean exercise of the mind. Instilling fear of God in your child is a must, but it should never come at the expense of instilling the love of God. Tell them that Islam is crucial in their lives, but explain to them that Islam is a journey not a destination.
Islam was never meant to induce paranoia about our world, it was meant to arm us with the perception and nuance to embrace it in full while circumnavigating its pitfalls. Faith is supposed to help us become conscientious, compassionate and constructive leaders of the world – not wary, heavy-hearted recluses who squat the earth as a time-filler until the afterlife. If anything, our successful patronage of this world, leaving it better than we found it, is the path to bliss in the next.