May 31, 2011

Beautiful Reminder: Raising Daughters in Islam

Although widely spread, it's a false notion that a Muslim mother's value is in bearing and raising boys. This notion is not from Islam, but is rooted in pre-Islamic cultural practices where female children were seen as a disgrace and buried alive. In fact, Allah, the Most High, condemns such ignorant practices in the Qur'an.

Allah says in Surah An-Nahl, verses 58-59: "And when one of them is given the news of (the birth of) a female (daughter), his face becomes dark while he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the bad news he has received. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her (alive) in the ground? Certainly, evil is their decision!"

For Muslim parents, raising daughters is a way to Paradise.

The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'ayahi wa sallam, said: "Whoever has three daughters whom he provides shelter for, supports and marries off, Paradise becomes absolutely binding for him." It was said, 'What if they are two (daughters)?' The Prophet said, "Even if it's two." (Ahmad, Bukhari)

In Muslim and Tirmidhee, it's reported that the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Whoever supports (i.e. raises) two girls until they reach adolescence (and get married), he will come on the Day of Judgment (like this) - him and I," and he interlaced his fingers.

The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam said, was also reported to have said: "Whoever has a female (daughter) and doesn't bury her alive nor scorn her nor give preference to his male child over her, Allah will admit him to Paradise." (Abu Dawood)

In the book, Raising Children in Light of the Qur'an and Sunnah, the story is told of an Arab man who went by the kunya Abu Hamzah Ad-Dubbee. The man married and hoped his wife would give birth to a boy. When she delivered a girl, the man deserted her tent out of anger and went to live in another place. One day he passed by her tent and overheard his wife playing with their daughter, saying:

"Why doesn't Abu Hamzah come to us? He stays in the house next door to us, angry that we don't deliver sons for him. By Allah, this is not in our hands. Rather, we only accept what is given to us. We, much like the earth, are farmland, we simply produce what they plant in us."

When Abu Hamzah heard this, he was overcome with compassion, entered the home, and kissed the heads of his wife and daughter.

May 19, 2011

Umm Uthman on Creating Children's Spanish Islamic Resources

Umm Uthman is a Puerto Rican mother of three currently living in Maryland, U.S.A. She is the the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, an adult Spanish Dawah site, and founder of Hablamos Islam Ninos, the companion website to Hablamos Islam, which offers Islamic literature and activities for children in Spanish. She is the author of three bilingual Spanish/English Islamic children's books, Un Velo y Una Barba (A Veil and a Beard), El Preguntador (The Questioner), and El Primer Dia de Ramadan (The First Day of Ramadan). 

1. In your experience, how many and what kind of resources are available for Spanish speakers?
Alhamdulillah, I think there are a growing number of resources for Spanish-speaking adult Muslims. These include literature as well as websites, audio, and videos. However, I think the Spanish-speaking Muslim community is lacking resources for Muslim children, something, in my opinion that is a vital piece of the puzzle if you are trying to raise the future ummah. If you go to an Islamic bookstore, masha’Allah, there are tons of Islamic books for children in Arabic and English, and there are even educational toys and games with Islamic themes. If you try looking for these in Spanish, you will be out of luck.

In my five years as a Muslim mom, I have only found two Islamic books for children in Spanish and one very humble Spanish children’s online magazine. My husband and I even asked brothers and sisters living in Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, for children’s books and they told us that even they had none. I am surprised that there haven’t been more efforts put forth to close this dangerous gap.

2. I think people have a tendency to easily identify areas that need improvement, but taking the initiative to create change is another story. What inspired you to step up and fill the gap in Spanish Islamic resources for children?
After I had my first child, I decided that I wanted him to learn Spanish as his first language, just as my husband and I had. It was important for us so that he could communicate with his grandparents and other family members whose stronger language or only language was Spanish. We both come from non-Muslim families so it was also a way to ensure that even after we are gone, insha’Allah, our children could continue giving dawah to our family, as well as to others who speak Spanish. One of the ways I wanted to teach my children Spanish was by reading to them in that language and I didn’t just want to stack up on regular storybooks; I wanted Islamic literature in Spanish.

Therefore when I saw that there were no Spanish Islamic children’s books, I began trying to contact Islamic publishing companies so that they would allow me to translate their children’s books from English to Spanish. I offered this service for free, only hoping to build my son’s library, but unfortunately I was either turned down or ignored completely. At that point, I took it upon myself to write some of my own books and illustrate them with the goal of publishing them and with the help of my husband, designed a website for Spanish-speaking Muslim children called, a spinoff of our dawah-based site for adults Hablamos Islam literally means “We speak Islam;” we added “niƱos;” which means children for the kids’ site.

3. What kinds of resources does Hablamos Islam Ninos offer? Are they just for Spanish speakers?
We offer free activity and coloring pages, e-books, videos, poems, and an online store where parents can purchase our books. All our books are printed bilingual English/Spanish so even English- speaking Muslim families may benefit insha’Allah, however, at this time our site is only in Spanish. Insha’Allah, if we see the demand for it, we will consider making the site bilingual, as well.

4. What Islamic lessons and/or values do you aim to teach through your children’s works?
We want to teach children Islam in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, in a way that they will understand and appreciate. The goal is for Muslim children to be conscious and proud of their Islamic heritage, to know why they are Muslim, as well as the tenets of their faith. I think parents steer far from these goals due to the mass media and consumerism to which children are exposed nowadays. Children are caught up in a world of fantasy, where they are taught to idolize fairies and superheroes. However, we have our own superheroes to look up to like the prophets and the companions, and Alhamdulillah, they were all real. This is what we need to teach our families.

We have to teach our children Islam from an early age so that they may become righteous in their maturity, insha’Allah. Their deeds are a continuous blessing for us as is reported by a hadith of the Prophet, sullalahu alaihi wa salaam, that he said:

“When the son of Adam dies, his (good) deeds come to an end except for three: A recurring charity, a
knowledge that is beneficial or a righteous child that supplicates for him.” (Muslim)

Insha’Allah, our goal is that our children will have the knowledge and motivation to be that for us.

5. From where do you seek inspiration for your works and how do you decide which projects to
I believe my greatest inspirations are my own children, but I also think of my friends’ children and other Muslim children in all parts of the world who need these resources. I look at what is already available in other languages and decide what is most beneficial and what I am capable of doing. I have so many ideas, but I have to manage my time wisely so I choose what is most feasible for me. One of my ambitions is to also make resources available to non-Muslim children for educational purposes, insha’Allah. Schools in the US and in other countries allow some cultural and religious education to expose students to different celebrations and traditions, so I would like to provide resources to schools to facilitate this process, insha’Allah.

6. I noticed that the Hablamos Islam Ninos website also offers articles for parents. How important do you feel the parent’s role is in their children’s learning process? How do the works you create facilitate parent involvement?
Parents play a key role in child development and education. They are their children’s first teachers and they will continue to be their educators and supporters throughout their lives, insha’Allah. Therefore, it is extremely important for parents to navigate our site and choose the tools they will present to their children, as well as help them in the process whether it is by explaining a video or asking them questions about an activity or reading them one of our books. Everything on our site is meant for the family as a whole, not something which you can just sit your child in front of and expect him/her to navigate through. I think even parents can benefit from the content on our site or from our books even if they are specifically geared towards the youth.

7. What impact, if any, has your efforts as an author/ educator had on your relationship with your
One of the most rewarding results of all of this is holding one of my books and reading it to my kids and them actually enjoying it. That’s what it’s all about! It is a way to connect with them in an even greater scale. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I am spending too much time working when I need to be on the floor playing with them so I try to manage my time around their schedules. In the long run, I pray that this work will pay off and they will understand why I did it. I want them to be proud of me and say, “Wow! My mommy and daddy did this!” insha’Allah.

8. What impact, if any, have your efforts had on your relationship with Allah?
SubhanAllah, I don’t think I can ever do enough to please my Creator. Working in dawah or just researching or translating something that has to do with Islam is either teaching you something new or reinforcing already-acquired knowledge, so you definitely feel some closeness with Allah as you strive to do something for His Sake. I can only hope and pray that He accepts what I am doing as a good deed and forgives me for whatever wrong I do. We always have to recheck our intentions in everything that we do, making sure that we are doing it to please Allah and not to please others or to show off. May Allah protect us from having pride or from becoming one of the hypocrites. Ameen.

9. How do you create balance between your work as an author/educator and your duties as a mother?
I try to work around the kids’ schedules, making sure to do anything that requires me to sit at the computer for hours when they are sleeping. As far as other things, I try to incorporate them into their time. For example, I illustrate my own books, so while my sons draw and color, I am also sitting with them doing the same, masha’Allah. It gives me a chance to not only spend quality time with them, but also to finish some work! Likewise, we usually shoot any videos while we are with the kids outside, either at a park or playground, or even at the masjid. We make sure they are having fun and playing while we work and alhamdulillah, it works out well.

10. What advice, if any, do you have for moms seeking ways to create children’s resources?
Alhamdulillah, Allah has blessed mothers with mercy and compassion towards their children. We are able to do so much for them by Allah’s Mercy and cannot imagine our lives without them. He has also equipped us with the tools we need to be good mothers. We don’t necessarily need to be super crafty to teach Islam to our kids. Masha’Allah, Allah’s creation is all around us to use as examples for them! We can get creative or we can do simple things.

One example of doing something simple is going outside with your child and pointing out all the different animals and plants we see, reminding them that Allah is the One who created all of them. Afterwards, we can have our children paint a picture of what they saw and/or learned. You can look back at that painting and remember the lesson for that day, insha’Allah. In addition, there are many websites and blogs (including that feature creative activities for educating Muslim children.

Really, all we need is to make du’a to Allah to make things easy for us and be imaginative. We are already ahead of the game; we are mothers who are Muslim!

May 16, 2011

Children's Rights: To Live, Have Their Expenses Paid, and Be Treated Justly

In pre-Islamic times, the birth of a child wasn't always welcomed news. Often, children were killed by their parents because they feared falling into poverty. But when the Qur'an was revealed, Allah, the Most High, prohibited this practice.

Allah says in Surah Al-Isra', Ayah 31, "And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide for them as well as for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin."

Commenting on this verse in his tafsir, Ibn Kathir said, "This ayah indicates that Allah is more compassionate to his servants than a father to his child because He forbids killing children just as He enjoins parents to take care of their children in matters of inheritance."

Islam not only affords children the right to live, but also the right to be financially supported, and to be treated with justice.

In his work, Essential Rights, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Uthaymeen says, "One of the due rights of children upon parents is to spend for their welfare and wee-being moderately. Over spending or negligence is not condoned, accepted or even tolerated in Islam. Such ways [have a] negative effect on the child regardless of the social status. Men are urged not to be miserly to his children and household, who are their natural heirs in every religion and society...They [the children] are even permitted to take moderately from their parents wealth to sustain themselves if the parents declined to give them proper funds for their living."

In the Sunan of Abu Dawood, it's reported that the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam said, "It is sufficient sin for a man that he neglects those whom he supports."

In the Sahih of Bukhari and Muslim, it's reported that a woman named Hind bint 'Utbah once came to the Prophet and said, "O, Messenger of Allah. Abu Sufyan is a very miserly man and he doesn't give me what suffices myself and my child, except what I take from him without him knowing!" Upon hearing this, the Prophet, sallallahu alyahi wa sallam, said "Take what suffices you and your child in goodness."

Expanding upon on the rights of children, Shaykh Uthaymeen said, "Children also have the right to be treated equally in terms of financial gifts. None should be preferred over the others. All must be treated fairly and equally. None should be deprived his gift from the parents. Depriving, or banning the right of the inheritance, or, other financial gifts during the lifetime of the parents or preference of parents for a child over the other will be considered in accordance to Islam an act of injustice. Injustice will definitely lead to an atmosphere of hatred, anger and dismay amongst the children in one household. In fact, such an act of injustice may, most likely, lead to animosity amongst the children, and consequently this effect [the] entire family environment."

In Bukhari, it's narrated that a man once came to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and told him that he had given a gift to one of his children. The Prophet asked, "Did you give the rest of your children a similar gift?" The man said, "No." So the Prophet responded, "Then fear Allah and be fair towards all of your children."

May 5, 2011

A Mother's Milk: Why Do We Have Breastfeeding Issues?

Umm Sayf Sarah Zitterman is an American mother of three, with her fourth on the way inshaAllah, currently living in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia. She is a La Leche League Leader and an IBCLC Certified Lactation Consultant. 

Alhamdulillah. All Praise is to Allah. I praise Him and I seek His guidance. And I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but the One True God, and that Mohammed, peace be upon him, is His final prophet and Messenger.

It has been clearly established that breastfeeding is an obligation of the Muslim mother. It is a right that her child has on her, and one that she may not forsake without an Islamically accepted excuse, such as a true medical problem that prevents her from doing so. In addition to that, we are, as mothers bombarded with information about the benefits of breastfeeding. There is no doubt that “breast is best”. But, despite all of this, we find many mothers, Muslim and otherwise, who stop breastfeeding before the two years prescribed by Allah are fulfilled because of problems they encounter and lack of support to overcome those problems.  Additionally, we find other mothers who do not attempt breastfeeding at all; from fear of encountering problems, assumptions that it will be too hard, and lack of support for the mother during this sometimes trying time.

It is true, breastfeeding is a completely natural act. It is the only way that the human species has survived, and was the only way human babies were fed – except an exceptional few – until the early 19th century. Despite this fact, we find that mothers and babies often experience difficulties breastfeeding, especially in the first few weeks but sometimes beyond that period as well. So, why is it that despite the fact that breastfeeding is itself completely natural, some women encounter many problems and bumps along the road to a happy successful breastfeeding relationship?

In times past, women were surrounded by other women and their babies. They may have seen their own mother nurse younger siblings, or perhaps their older sisters nursing their babies. Neighbors, aunts, grandmothers, all would have breastfed their children, and most women would have seen the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child develop at some point in their lives. And, when the time came for a woman to start her own family, she would likely have had many women in her life to turn to for advice if she did herself encounter problems breastfeeding her child. The nuclear family and extended family usually lived in close proximity to one another, and made knowledge about breastfeeding part of the cultural tradition that would have been passed from one woman to another much like the cooking of favorite cultural dishes was, and like favorite family recipes still are passed today from grandmother to mother and from mother to daughter.

In today's world, we find two major differences from this historical paradigm. One is that there are so many women who are NOT breastfeeding, or who simply quit when they encounter hurdles. Sometimes we find our mother's generation did not even attempt to breastfeed because of the formula companies' advertising, which, though now better regulated in much of the world, often led women of the past generation to believe that formula created in a lab was actually SUPERIOR to human milk. Astaghfirullah! So, even if extended family is close by, their advice may not help the new mother continue past these hurdles and into a successful breastfeeding relationship, and may sometimes even be detrimental! Another issue is that even if women in the new mother's family have breastfeeding experience, often extended families are spread out across not only the region but sometimes the entire world, making this knowledge unaccessible for the new mother.

So where can she turn? Who can she ask and get sound advice from if she does encounter breastfeeding hurdles? Now the Lactation professional (IBCLC), as well as the lay breastfeeding volunteer (La Leche League Leader, Peer Counselor, or other), have stepped up to fill that void. The new mother can attend support group meetings, call volunteer lactation support persons by phone, contact them by e-mail or in online forums, and even hire professional lactation consultants to help them. Additionally, many women across the world can access sound advice from internet sites and blogs like this one.

Insha'Allah in the weeks to come, we will address some of the most common breastfeeding issues that women encounter, and how we can overcome them. May Allah bring good to you and to us from this endeavor, and may He continue to bless the Muslim mothers everywhere in this ummah.  AMEEN.