A few weeks ago I was reading a book called “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax. The book was rather alarming because it pointed to some disturbing parenting trends coupled with a lack of discipline with respect to our newer technology- screens and the internet. Leonard Sax is a pediatrician and he bases his observations on thirty years of clinical practice as well as citing studies in the medical literature. Some people say Sax approach to parenting is rather traditional, but I like it. Many of the qualities Sax urges parents to instill in their children are qualities which Islam and the Quran also value. SO my khutbah today will be an exploration of three character traits which Leonard Sax says are crucial to the development of healthy young adults and how these traits are manifested during Ramadan.
The first trait is perseverance. Sax believes if children are not taught perseverance they become fragile children who turn into fragile adults. Children need to learn that they may not succeed the first time they try something, they may need to be patient and work harder to achieve goals, and that their self worth is not built around easy success. He gives two examples, one is a boy who plays video games all day and has a certain measure of accomplishment doing this. His father suggests that he try out for the football team. The boy does, but is told by the coach that he will have to lose 15 pounds, do a rigorous work out schedule and may not be on the starting team. The boy decides not to try out and returns to his video games because that is easier for him. The father lets the boy do so with the refrain, “He should do what makes him happy.” This attitude is, Sax feels, bad parenting because the boy is not learning perseverance. Another example is a girl who takes a challenging AP Physics class. The girl had always gotten straight As and saw herself as a stellar scholar. She started the AP Physics class and it was not easy for her. She really had to struggle even to get a B. This experience plunged her into a near catatonic state of depression because her whole self-worth and identity had been built around this image of herself as the super brainy student. This extreme reaction to a bit of challenge is what Sax calls “fragility”.
Does the Quran value perseverance? Yes it does, and I will give some examples. Sometimes, the word used is “steadfast”.
"Seek Allah's help with patient perseverance and prayer. It is indeed hard except for those who are humble." (2:45)
"Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere." (2:153)
“Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives, and the fruits of your toil. But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, 'To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.' They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord, and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance." (2:155-157)
“Or assumed you that you would enter the Garden while God has not yet know those who struggled among you and known the ones who remained steadfast?” (3:142)
“Oh you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy. Vie in such perseverance, strengthen each other, and be pious, that you may prosper." (3:200)
"Patiently, then, persevere - for the Promise of Allah is true, and ask forgiveness for your faults, and celebrate the praises of your Lord in the evening and in the morning." (40:55)
How does perseverance manifest itself during Ramadan? Well, it seems self-evident, we have 30 days to fast. And at this time of year, the days get slightly longer and it can be really hot outside. You have to be careful and pace yourself because dehydration can be a real problem. Fasting is about endurance, which isn’t terribly glamorous. It’s about hanging on with sheer willpower, and that is tough. Ramadan is not just about fasting, it is also supposed to be fasting while maintaining patience with others and having good behavior. This is not easy when you are hungry and thirsty. It is really easy to get angry and snap at people, much harder to maintain calm and have patience. Also, with our schedules in the West, we often don’t get enough sleep during the week and have to struggle doing our jobs while sleep deprived in addition to being hungry and thirsty. Sometimes people can’t fast because of medical or other health considerations. Sometimes people have to break a fast for these reasons. Just because you can’t fast does not mean you are a bad Muslim. Many people feel very guilty if they can’t fast, and they shouldn’t. Your identity as a Muslim is not solely based on whether you can fast or not. Don’t be a fragile Muslim.
The second quality good parents should teach their children is self control. This character quality is reinforced by psychological research which has shown that children who have the most self control, this is tested by how long they can delay getting a reward (delayed gratification), these children have the highest success in life as measured by education and income levels.
A big problem with our Western technological society today is that the internet and social media do not encourage self control. These technologies encourage excess and binge-watching and instant gratification in the form of “likes” and numbers of followers. Most of use grew up in environments where television was only on for certain times of the day, and certainly, when children’s programming was only a small portion of that time. Today, children have access 24/7 to any show that appeals to their tastes and the only thing that restricts them is parental authority. If parents do not implement rules and restraint with regards to screen time, children will not learn self control. Social media does not teach self restraint.
Does the Quran value self control or self restraint? Yes does it, and I will give some examples but first some language and translation caveats. Sometimes the language that is used is for self control is translated as “purify” or “purification”. The other word that is used in Quran is “sabr” which is translated in a variety of ways but typically as “God consciousness” or “God fearing” but which I think you could interchange with self control or self restraint.
"No one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but persons of the greatest good fortune." (41:35)
“And as for him who fears to stand in the presence of his Lord and forbids his own soul from its whims and caprices then surely Paradise is the abode. (79:40-41)
“…and by the soul and what shaped it and then inspired it to its acting immorally and God-consciousness. He who makes it (the soul) pure prospers. Surely is frustrated whoever seduced it.” (91:7-10)
How does self control manifest itself during Ramadan. Well, the Quran spells that out pretty clearly:
“O those who have believed! Formal fasting was prescribed for you as it was presecribed for those before you so that perhaps you would be Godfearing.” (2:183)
The final quality which Leonard Sax says parents need to inculcate into their children is humility. Children need to know that they are not necessarily the best at something, that the world does not revolve around them or cater to their tastes. Humility is the building block to maturity and acknowledging the needs of others as well as the community as a whole.
Again to bash our preoccupation with social media (creator of the "selfie": social media encourages self promotion and self aggrandizement and pairs this activity with a vision of self identity based on how many “friends” you have (quantity over quality) or “likes” you get on your Facebook page.
Does the Quran value humility? Please judge for yourself from this small selection of verses:
“The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace.” (25:63)
“Call to your Lord humbly and inwardly. Truly He loves not the ones who are aggressors.” (7:55)
“Before thee We sent (apostles) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility. When the suffering reached them from us, why then did they not learn humility? On the contrary their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their (sinful) acts seem alluring to them.” (6:42-43)
I would also like to add a nice hadith I came across:
Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “No one who has the weight of a seed of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” Someone said, “Indeed, a man loves to have beautiful clothes and shoes.” So the Prophet said,”Verily, Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people.” Sahih Muslim 91
Does humility play a role in Ramadan? This is not as obvious as the previous traits, but I think it does. I find it humbling that at the end of the day, when we break our fast, we have pure clean water to drink and good food to eat. Sadly, this is not the case in so many parts of this world. We have been blessed by Allah in this regard. While fasting, it is humbling to know how dependent my body is on food and water. I realize, pretty quickly, that I have limits. I cannot”do it all”, and I must slow down. Some things in Ramadan just don’t get done, and that is ok. I find it very humbling when non-Muslims make a solidarity fast with me. They don’t have to fast, but they see the value in fasting and they want to show they respect me and my religion. I find it humbling when I drive by a sign in someone’s yard that says, “To our Muslim neighbors, Blessed Ramadan”. For many people, who we are and how we behave, our personal interaction with non-Muslims—that is their introduction to Islam. It is a very humbling feeling to know that your behavior represents Islam for those outside the religion.
In conclusion, Ramadan can be a great teacher. Ramadan can instill in us the character qualities of perseverance, self control and humility. These are not easy lessons by any means, but as Muslims who believe in delayed gratification, we think these qualities will help us in this life and in the next.