As our children grow up
to be future mothers and fathers, it is essential to give them the tools to be
able to parent well. Sabnum Dharamsi explains how educating boys may be of a
more challenge than girls

Mustapha is 15. He
stays in bed whenever possible, and his parents wonder what happened to the
sweet boy they used to know. They worry about the man he will become. They’re
concerned when he goes out – they don’t know what he’s up to. Discussions,
shouting, persuading – nothing seems to get through. He doesn’t talk much
anymore. He seems to be surrounded by a wall of silence. They are a bit
intimidated by this tall, silent boy-man. I work with boys like Mustapha,
getting to know who they are. I also work with parents concerned about their
sons. While some boys sail through life, others get into trouble with friends,
the law, or their education. Islam teaches us that children are a test, and no
parent-child relationship escapes that challenge. However there are specific
dynamics to the parent-son relationship that are worth bearing in mind as you
bring up your child. If we can understand them, we can work with them, rather
than get locked into cycles of anxiety, self-blame and guilt. Parents will know
that their sons, by adolescence, need – and demand – to be given more
independence, but with that also comes risk. I think we have different fears
for our boys than our girls: parents intuitively sense that young men are more
likely to be further in danger. And they are probably right; males are more
likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females. More than
three-quarters 77% of all road traffic deaths occur among men. Among young
drivers, young males under the age of 25 years are almost three times as likely
to be killed in a car crash as young females. Boys are expected to take more
risks than girls; it’s ‘cool’ to go faster, to test one’s limits, to break the
rules. Heroes of action films are popular for a reason, they create ideas about
what society demands from men – rebels who take physical risks for the greater
good, earn glory, and a place in the world – the thrill of being alive. Even
though we know these films are not real, they give voice to real desires and
expectations. Although we want to keep our children safe, boys grow into a
world, subject to powerful ideas about masculinity confirmed by society at
large. This has genuine effect on the thinking of young men, who in trying to
absorb and demonstrate maleness, often get it very wrong. Films are not the
only or even main influence, on young people. One of the key elements to
understand is that as young people hit adolescence, not only do they change,
but also family and community expectations of them change dramatically too.
These expectations are sometimes expressed e.g., take care of your sister or
are unspoken e.g., my son will take care of me when I’m older . We have
aspirations for our children, and for boys these aspirations are often that
they should be successful providers, take charge and make decisions, be strong
protectors but also charismatic and witty. As young men carve out their
identity, they are under the influence of intense hormonal changes, plus all
these expectations. When young people don’t live up to our ideals, it can be
excruciating for both the young person and the parent. Religion can have a
moderating effect. The Prophet s was a great role model in many ways, not
least because he was able to integrate multi-faceted aspects of being a man, as
he was a warrior, a leader, a family man and a spiritual being. In the Qur’an,
the Prophet is addressed directly, ‘Truly, you are of tremendous character’
Qur’an 68:4 . To aspire to his character is having faith. He said, ‘I was only
sent to perfect noble character,’ and, ‘The believers most perfect in faith are
those best in character’. If a father can model loving, understanding, and
respectful relationships with his wife and his children like the Prophet did,
it is likely that his son will carry this into his relationships. If, like the
Prophet, a father is modest, then maybe a boy can understand how important it
is to both recognise and enjoy healthy desire, but also understand the need to
exercise self-discipline. If a father can cultivate an environment in which –
like the Prophet – his grandchildren felt free and loved enough to climb on his
back in prayer, then he will have taught his son profound truths about how to
be in relationships, as well as how prayer is about love, not rigidity. It’s
not easy to model these areas of character. In the Qur’an, Luqman shows us how
he speaks to his son. His words convey so much about the relationship between
parent and son – neither harsh nor reproving, but full of love, and guidance.
Similarly, Imam Ali’s a words to his son after returning from the Battle of
Siffin, are so humble that they pierce straight to the heart: ‘My dear son, you
are part of my body and soul, and whenever I look at you, I feel as if I am
looking at myself. If any calamity happens to you, I feel as if it has happened
to me. Your death will make me feel as if it were my own. Your affairs are like
my affairs. Therefore, I commit this advice to paper. I want you to be
attentive to it and to guard it well. I may remain longer in your life or I may
not, but I want this advice to remain with you’. If a parent could speak to a
son like this – telling him how much he would love him to be concerned with
upholding justice, even when it’s difficult, reminding him to be patient in
hard times and never to despair – how powerful would that be? If a parent could
tell his son to focus on not being big-headed, rather than simply ensuring his
grades are high and he wins football trophies, then the father is teaching his
son about heroism that goes beyond superficiality. As Luqman says: ‘O my son!
Maintain the prayer and bid what is right and forbid what is wrong, and be
patient through whatever may visit you. That is indeed the steadiest of
courses. Do not turn your cheek disdainfully from the people, and do not walk
exultantly on the earth. Indeed, God does not like any swaggering braggart’
31:17-18 . These verses tell us that it is not about being arrogant and
self-righteous, but honesty and standing up for justice. At this critical point
where boys are developing their masculine identity, they will recognise and
probably despise a guy who has a swagger in his step and fake bravado. And
boys, perhaps more than girls, have an archetypal yearning for the real hero
inside themselves, which goes deeper than outward shows of status and power. As
God says through Luqman: ‘O my son! Even if it should be the weight of a
mustard seed, and [even though] it should be in a rock, or in the heavens, or
in the earth, God will produce it. Indeed, God is All-Attentive, All-Aware’
31:16 . God Almighty knows not only who we are, but also who we can become.
The deeper we go in the evolution of character, by His Grace, we hopefully come
to realise that it is not about proving ourselves to anyone except God. This is
the gift of tarbiyyah – true education – and to be a part of this gift is the
greatest thing that any parent can do for their son as he transitions into
becoming a man.

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