ARE young humans a prototype of their adult models? This is a matter of debate. One could argue that the youth should spend many years in questioning, exploring, debating, thinking and reading before they come to the stage of firming up their adult contours.
In fact, this process needs to continue well until the end of their intellectual lives. Unfortunately, parents and teachers tend to suppress the natural curiosity of children who then learn to accept and believe whatever they are told or asked to read. This holds true generally for scientific and other disciplines as well as for religious learning, at least in the Islamic world and in the subcontinent in particular.
Muslim children are moulded in the exact form of either the relevant parent or that of another individual. The sight of young boys with coloured turbans or skull caps and girls with heads covered in Pakistan is quite common; they become duplicates mentally too. Many learn to be aalims or aalimas from a young age, which means learning interpretation of the Quran and hadith of one specific sect. From a very tender age, they become infused with the dogma of scholars of one of the many subdivisions of religion who have decided what Islam is (and what it is not).
The Quran highlights the values to be taught to children; privacy, dignity and decency: “O ye who believe! let …. the (children) among you who have not come of age ask your permission (before they come to your presence), on three occasions: before morning prayer; the while ye doff your clothes for the noonday heat; and after the late-night prayer: these are your three times of undress. ...” (24:58).
There are many ahadith about the Prophet’s (PBUH) advice for the young.
The Quran’s style is to make a point and leave it to the rationality of humans to develop it further. Children need to recognise and accept privacy of their parents and by extension of anyone else. This would also be interpreted as always valuing others’ privacy in every sense as one grows up and developing the decency and uprightness in staying away from any matter considered to be private.
The Quran also repeatedly mentions questioning and reflecting; deliberation and debate. This relates to all forms of belief and making use of one’s own abilities. The main strategy adopted by the Prophet (PBUH) when communicating his message was to answer questions. Because of the nature of humans, questions may never end as humans progress and arguments and reflections must continue as the mind develops.
There are several ahadith about the Prophet and his attitude and advice related to the young. He is said to have ended prayers at the cries of a young child and given importance to playfulness of children even while praying and in the mosque. By his actions, he demonstrated his acceptance of other religions and peoples and their rituals.
This signifies his overall approach to childhood and youth in terms of priority to their needs, including play, even at the mosque. Today, children are chided if they play or even laugh in the mosque. No wonder then that many have to be dragged there. As in Turkey, imams need to be taught to play with children as well as lead prayers.
Among the many things, adults make decisions for their children about what is haram and halal. In addition to what the Quran declares as prohibited and allowed, decrees have been produced over centuries and even today on religious legitimacy of various items and actions. However, the indoctrination of children and youth over what is acceptable and what is repugnant for Muslims without proper explanations and context has created its own problems. For example, there have been fights and even murders over water that a non-Muslim has drunk from a tap in a Muslim area.
Music and art are viewed as wrong; cannot the youth decide this for themselves after review of the Quran and tafasir, both by traditional and contemporary/reformist scholars? Exposure to diversity of views is important.
The youth are exposed to hard sectarian information and literature promoting violence. To prevent this, debates must be held with youngsters on religious validity of such leanings.
While children must heed their parents and teachers, they need also to establish a mind of their own and the ability to decide, including upon religious matters. Should they adopt this or that or no sect; should they wear certain clothing that demonstrates their religious inclination; should they decide if they should or should not go to a specific mosque. This can then move on to more serious areas: do they have the right to declare a specific sect kafir;can they kill in the name of religion; by doing so, will they go to heaven; can killers be leaders?
If the young could think about and discuss the validity of beliefs and actions, their intellectual abilities could expand to deciding whether they should merely follow their fathers or take a path that they believe might lead them to the truth.
The writer is an individual contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2022