By Sheima Salam Sumer
01 January 2019
Interview with Sheima Salam Sumer,
trained counsellor and author of “How To Be A Happy Muslim Insha' Allah” and “The Basic Values of Islam”.
Q: How do
you see the purpose of human life, and, in this context, what do you see as the
role of parents in enabling their children fulfil the purpose of their life?
A: I believe
the purpose of life is to worship and know God. I try to be a role model to my
children of a person who is seeking God’s pleasure. A parent’s priority should
be to raise children who seek God’s pleasure.
Q: Have you
tried to explain to your children what you believe is the purpose of human
A: Yes I
have discussed this issue. I simply sit with my kids and have a discussion. I
tell them that this life is a test and the Day of Judgment is our graduation
day. This life is like one day, while the next life is eternal. Discussing the
purpose of life is a parent’s most important job. True success is to gain God’s
approval. But I don’t think many parents discuss this issue with their children
because they only focus on this world.
Q: No parent
is perfect, but how would you define a reasonably successful parent?
successful parent gives their child the physical, spiritual and emotional
support he/she needs. If my child feels loved and provided for, and if he/she
wants to please God, then I am successful. My 12 year-old son praying regularly
makes me feel like a successful parent.
Q: Could you
cite some salient spiritual teachings related to parenting?
your children to serve God. Teaching your children to serve God shows them
their purpose in life.
Take the job of parenting seriously. This
helps parents to self-reflect and improve their parenting.
Show love and mercy to your children. It
improves their self- confidence and emotional development, along with
strengthening familial love.
Be patient with your children. It helps
them to learn from their mistakes without feeling shamed or disrespected.
Treat your children fairly.
Be honest with your children. Being honest
with your children teaches them to be honest themselves.
Play with your children. It creates joy in
the home and strengthens familial relationships.
(perhaps most) people become parents without any proper prior training for
their new role. To take up any job—even a so-called unskilled one—people
undergo some sort of training, but it is shocking how most people don’t undergo
any training for one of the most delicate jobs: of being a vehicle to bring a
child into this world and looking after it for several years. What do you feel about this?
A: I agree.
It’s surprising that parenting is rarely taught in schools. Bad parenting can
negatively impact a person’s entire life.
most would-be parents don’t receive any sort of formal training for their new
role as parents, their style of parenting may simply be doing what they think
is right or what is convenient for them or doing what others do. Or, they may
do just as their parents did when they were children, thus reproducing bad
parenting practices down the generations. In all these cases, their way of
parenting may not necessarily what’s best for the child.
Given this, do you think would-be parents
should receive some sort of training for their new responsibilities? If so, what sort of training do you think it
should be and how do you think it could be structured?
A: I agree
that would-be parents should receive parenting training. Perhaps this training
can be provided by hospitals, or even high schools and colleges. Religious
leaders/ organizations should prioritize parenting training.
At least parents should educate themselves
about proper parenting. There is a plethora of online resources for this. I did
a Google search of “free parenting training” and “free online parenting
classes” and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of free resources!
beings have several types of needs: physical (including food, clothing,
shelter), mental/intellectual (education etc), emotional, as well as spiritual.
Could you reflect on how parents should seek to meet all these needs of their
children, and in a balanced way? Also, could you reflect on the tendency in
many families for parents to focus particularly on the first two types of needs
and neglect the latter two?
A: All of
these needs are important. Without physical needs being met a child’s mental,
emotional and spiritual needs can’t be met. Mental or intellectual needs, like
formal education, are important, but emotional intelligence has been found to
be more important in life.
Meeting a child’s emotional needs, such as
love, belonging, and self-confidence, helps a child to cope with life’s
challenges. Spiritual needs are important because they give children a purpose
to live, which motivates them from the inside to live a good life.
True success is earning God’s pleasure, and
therefore spiritual needs should be a priority for parents. Meeting children’s
spiritual needs is as simple as talking to them about God and involving them in
activities such as prayer.
Many parents may focus on physical and
mental needs of their children more than their spiritual because they are only
thinking of this world. They want their children to be financially and
physically comfortable, but they don’t realize that true happiness comes from
having a positive relationship with God.
Q: In most
traditional cultures, mothers, as home-makers, had a major role in the
spiritual and emotional development of their children. But now many mothers
work outside the home—sometimes because of what is thought of as economic
necessity but also sometimes because some women don’t want to be ‘just
What impact do you think this has on the
emotional and spiritual health of their children? How do you think mothers who
would like to have a life beyond the home could balance this with giving proper
attention to their children?
situation is different. My parents divorced when I was a child, and my mother
worked full-time. But I lived with my grandparents, and that made a huge
difference. My grandmother was kind of like the home mother.
My mother is a strong believer in God and
made sure we received a religious education. She took us on many fun vacations
and made the most of her time with us. With God’s grace, I had a great
childhood with a mother who worked outside the home. I think that having
relatives around helps a lot.
Now I have chosen to stay home with my
children. I felt I would do a better job as a parent by staying home, and,
praise be to God, I don’t need to work for a living. What matters most is
whether children are receiving enough emotional support and guidance.
Some mothers might not like devoting their
entire life to raising kids. They might need an outlet of some kind. The key is
to listen to your heart and intuition. Being a happy mother is more important
than being a stay-at-home mother.
Q: How do
you think parents could enable their children to grow in faith in God and pass
on spiritual/religious values and teachings to their children?
A: We should
encourage our children to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings
about God and faith. We should realize that belief in God is part of their
nature. I love to tell my children religious stories with moral lessons. We
should speak to children’s hearts.
It’s necessary to have good manners with
children. If we treat children with respect and love, they are more open to
getting closer to God. We should teach children to be sincere in their love of
God and teach them what sincerity is.
We should teach children the beautiful
aspects of God, such as His mercy, love, forgiveness, and justice. We should
focus on the priorities of faith and not pressure children with too many rules.
We should inspire with love of God before all else.
parents try to force their religion on their children, employing fearful images
of God. As a result, children grow up thinking of God as a cruel dictator.
Outwardly, they may appear ‘religious’, but this religiosity may be only out of
fear of ‘God’s wrath’, not out of love for God. In this way, they become
How do you see this? How do you think
parents could nourish their children’s religious/spiritual life based on an
understanding of a loving God, and in this process enable them to become loving
and compassionate people as well?
A: I totally
agree that parents should first teach their children about God’s love, mercy,
compassion, and forgiveness. Then children will want to have a relationship
with God. God is Most Compassionate and Most Merciful. God loves us more than a
mother loves her child.
We must focus on a child’s heart to build
his/her faith in God. No child will love a fearful God. Parents must teach that
authentic religious rules are out of God’s love and mercy for us. They must
show the wisdom of these teachings and
how they are for our benefit. I often ask my children what they are thankful to
God for. This reminds them of God’s generosity and love for us.
Q: How do
you think parents could help their children develop concern for fellow
creatures? Please reflect on this based
on your own example.
A: First, I
teach my children that God loves for us to help others. Sometimes if we see a
needy person outside, my kids hand that person a small donation. I also tell my
kids stories about needy people, in order to open their hearts. Doing volunteer
work together as a family is a great way to develop concern for others.
Sometimes parents compare their children,
labelling one as smart, another as dull, etc... Even when the kids grow up,
parents think that the child who is earning more money is a “successful” person
while the one earning less is a failure.
How do you look at this?
This can be very hurtful to children. Every
person is a unique creation of God. Real success is not about having a lot of
money. Success is gaining God’s approval in the next world.
Q: Could you
please share some positive aspects of the way your parents parented you when
you were a child that you may particular appreciate and may be grateful for?
A: I grew up
with my mother, and I appreciate so many things about her. My mother discussed
God and the Quran with us. I remember sitting with her as she talked about the
wisdom of different verses in the Quran. She made sure that we went to a
religious school on the weekend. She paid for tutors to teach us how to read
the Quran in Arabic. She welcomed my questions. I remember asking her why we
could not have boyfriends in Islam, and she calmly answered that it would not
be fair to babies if they were born with unmarried parents. She taught us the wisdom of our faith, and
not just to blindly follow rules. She sincerely loved us and took us on
vacations and fun outings. She was not too strict. She was very kind, generous,
Q: In our
present-day closely-interconnected world, where people from different faith and
ideological backgrounds engage in close interaction, what do you think parents
should do to help their children learn to get along well with people from other
religious, ethnic and class backgrounds?
important to teach kids that it’s okay to be different. Differences are the
reality of life. The key is to treat everyone with respect. Also, God intended
for there to be different religions. So there’s wisdom in this. My kids have
friends from different religions. I teach them about different religions and we
talk about why we choose to be Muslims.
Internet and ‘social media’ have now become pervasive, and are having a major
impact on people’s ways of thinking. In many cases, it is having a very
negative impact on children. What advice do you have for parents in this
important to pay attention to your children’s behaviours. It’s crucial to talk
to kids about social media and how it often gives a false view of reality.
Discussions about the differences between the values of social media and the
values of true faith are necessary. We must encourage critical thinking in our
kids. We should also make religious
teachings clear and simple. We must be parents who our kids feel
comfortable talking to. We must spend more time with our kids so that they
don’t need to turn to social media for support.
primary duty of parents is—or should be—to nurture their children in such a way
that they grow up to be able to function well in the world as mature adults.
This includes enabling them to meet challenges of the real world and also
relating in a healthy manner to other people.
educational institutions focus mainly on the intellectual training of their
students—their studying different academic subjects (and even here, the focus
is on cramming up mountains of information to regurgitate during examinations
rather than understanding a particular subject). Relatively little attention is
given in these schools to character-building of the child, including on helping
the child learn how to handle real-world challenges and to relate well with
others. (With regard to the latter, in fact these institutions instil fierce
individualism and competition). Children may learn things like calculus and the
name of the capital of some remote country but are not taught simple first-aid
or how to be charitable to the poor.
Given this sort of ‘education’, children
who are compelled to study in such schools may receive little input on
character-building or relating harmoniously with others—two basic things for a
well-functioning mature adult.
Q: Could you
please reflect on this? What suggestions might you have for parents in this
regard, based on your own experience?
A: I totally
agree with you. Most of what such schools teach is useless for life. The
priorities are to teach character and religion/spirituality. Even though I
attended sort schools as you mention as a child, I went to an Islamic school on
the weekend. I am currently blessed to be able to home-school my children and
to teach them about human relations and religion. My children currently take
Skype religious classes. If your children are attending what are generally
considered conventional schools, it’s necessary to supplement their education
with positive religious and social experiences.
Q: ‘A family
that prays together stays together’: Do you agree? Do you as a family pray
together? If so, how important is it for you and why do you do so? How do you
think it might help keep the family together and build love and harmony? In
contrast, how do you think not praying together might contribute to conflicts
in the family?
A: I totally
agree: praying together is a practical way to unite the family based on God.
Yes, we pray together as a family, and it is the greatest joy for us. It helps
us to take a break from the worldly life and remember what matters most.
Remembering God together helps us to treat each other with mercy and
God-consciousness. If we did not pray together, God would be on our minds less.
Q: Could you
reflect on some aspects of parenting in traditional societies that you feel
were particularly valuable and that are rapidly disappearing today?
Discipline was more important in traditional parenting that it is today. Today,
many parents try to please their children too much. This creates a harmful view
in children that life is all about them. Traditional societies taught children
to earn things before they receive them. Today, children receive things without
understanding their value. Today there seems to be less family together time
due to modern life’s distractions. Also, especially in western societies today,
the notion of the father as the leader of the family is disappearing. But the
fact is that every organization needs a leader to function effectively, and the
family is no different.
parents today place the responsibility of their children’s development on
others, especially the school. They assume that most, if not all, that the
children need to learn will be provided for by the school (and then, after
school hours, by tutors or by ‘experts’ in various extra-curricular
activities). And so, they spare little time for and with their children,
passing on what is their responsibility to schools and other service-providers,
whom they pay. But of course these service-providers cannot give children the
emotional nourishment that parents can.
Q: Could you
please reflect on this? How have you managed with this issue?
A: Yes, I
totally agree with you. I home-school my children. I know my children better
than anyone. A teacher or service-provider can never give the same emotional
nourishment as parents can. Service providers are trying to fulfill the
requirements of a job, but a parent’s priority is his/her child. Service
providers can’t give individual attention. It’s not realistic to expect service
providers to take the place of parents in raising children.
parents think they own their children, that their children are their property,
because their children have ‘come out’ from them and because they provide for
them. And so, they feel they can deal with them just as they please. From the
spiritual point of view, how do you see this concept of ‘ownership’?
A: It is God
who is the true Owner of everything. In the Islamic tradition, which speaks of
God’s 99 names, one of the names of God is Al-Maalik, meaning “The Owner.” God
is the Owner of everything.
That means that parents do not own their
children. Children are a gift and a trust from God. We will be held accountable
for how we treat them.
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in
Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In
Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women
in West, Islam Women and Feminism