New site address

As if I haven’t made things complicated enough already…

I will be putting all new content under a new address. I’ve outgrown the cliched “road less traveled” concept, and need to refocus the purpose of this.

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The Muslim Educator



Bedtime drama

Zaynab. Oh, Zaynab. This child is my teacher.

She has a very specific bedtime ritual composed of a set of top-secret yes/no questions she asks me (out of respect for her, I can’t divulge the questions). If I’m not there, Siraj is an acceptable alternative.

This used to annoy me to no end. Eight questions back to back at the very time when my body has already shut down for the night. I would answer them curtly or irritably, and invariably she would get upset. Real mature of me, right? I decided to just tell her, “Zaynab, I just get so tired at this time; it’s hard for me to answer these questions.” She did not take it well.


Siraj had been observing me getting irritated over this for some time and he finally told me, “Look, you need to understand that these questions are very important to her, so you should respect that.” I was shocked into silence for a moment.

“Oh my God, Siraj. You sound like my therapist, Jerilyn.” He’s not the type to talk feelings, so I would have never expected this insight. Since that day, I have not once responded with irritation to her questions.

She knows that I’m not a big fan of the ritual, though. So there was one question in there that, due to changes in our house, became inapplicable. She would still ask me that one. I would sometimes try to get out of it, but she would persist with it every single day. She’s ornery like that. One night she said, “Do you know why I still ask you that question, and sometimes add others? It’s because I need to teach you patience. You need to learn to be more patient.”

Did I mention that she’s my greatest teacher?


Her room door. If only I could be this cool.

 Recently,  Zaynab called me out again on my question/answer etiquette. In my haste to finish, sometimes I speed through by saying “Mmm hmm” or “Uhh uh” instead of “yes” or “no.”

She cornered me: “Why do you sometimes make those sounds instead of talking? When your friends are talking to you, do you just say ‘huh’ to them or do you actually talk? That’s not good, Mommy, that’s not good.”

It was one of those proverbial lightbulb moments. I finally understood her need behind the questions. She feels inattention and parental distraction and frustration quite keenly, and so she created this connection ritual each night as a reassurance to herself and a test for me. The questions sound silly and inconsequential, but what she’s really asking me with them is, “Do you love me unconditionally?”; “Are you always going to be there for me?”; “Can I count on you?” This was my chance at redemption and absolution at the end of each hectic, imperfect day. This was my chance to make things right, even when I’ve yelled and growled, been distracted or absent.

I finally understood. “Okay, Z, let’s do this one more time tonight. I think I understand.”

Before she even started in with the questions, she launched herself into my arms. “I love you sooo much!”

This time, instead of “mm hmms” and grunts, I said, “Yes, dear.” or “No, silly goose.” She grinned and engaged with me on a much deeper level than earlier when I was mentally checked out. It was her way of saying, “Yes, Mommy, you finally understood me.” At last, all was right in her world, and she could sleep with her heart at peace.

I had pulled this down a while back, but I’m taking a tentative return from hibernation. I’ll stick my head out for a bit like an ostrich and see if I’d like to maintain the blog. It may be sporadic, so if you would like updates, please follow via email.

WalkMS 2010

This year a friend of mine whose husband has MS was so kind as to organize a team for the local MS Walk. These walks are sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and benefit their programs and services. Our team was called “Muslim Support” and we had nifty matching t-shirts with our team name on the back. We made shirts for our kids as well, saying “I (heart) Someone With MS.” There were three paths: 1, 3, and 5 miles each. Needless to say, the MSers and their families in our team took the 1 mile path. The others were feeling adventurous and so took the 3 mile.

I realized afterwards that having MS is somewhat like being on that walk. You start off the day at the starting line with everyone else, but you plod through your day slowly and deliberately while everyone else goes by as if they are going twice the speed.

Then, when you both reach the finish line (we all did close together in our case), you realize that they have done three times as much as you did, but in the same amount of time.

While you go off to recoup, the rest go off rushing throughout their day through numerous other tasks, while you struggle to regain strength from the first task.

This is your brain on MS. This is your body on MS.

The more and more a person progresses through the years with the disease, no matter what fancy medications they are on, the result is that this dichotomy between “normal” and “MS” only becomes more and more pronounced.

It is part of my lack of acceptance of this fundamental truth of MS that leads me into trouble sometimes. I don’t want to accept that I can’t do fifty million things in one day, so I say “damn to hell with the MS, I’m gonna do it!” and the MS just says, “screw you,” and raises its head in vengeance. My husband said one time when I fell into an MS slump–“You knew this was coming,” and I did.

That’s why the job of the caretaker is so hard because they see us struggle with the acceptance of our limitations, with the acceptance of dependency on medications, with the acceptance of dependency on rest and people’s help. And the most they can do is advise and support–only we can wrestle ourselves into accepting the realities of what is happening to our bodies.

Us MSers on the walk were fortunate enough to have our beloved spouses with us, and our children and families, plodding along beside us, and walking side-by-side with us as we crossed the finish line. And they alone know the true triumph of being able to do that feat of walking so far–something that normal people would take for granted. So we can only hope that as we plod along and our steps get slower and slower, that we’ll have those beloved caretakers by our side, matching their steps to ours, hoping that they don’t mind taking it slow, and hoping they get the reward for sharing our struggle.


(btw, I’ll be back to the top 10 Tarbiyah Mistakes notes soon!)

These notes are the continuation of the Tarbiyah lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi. This section is much more fleshed out than the first one, because I had access to the replay and put more information in. The recording of the lecture is available at this link.

Tarbiyah Mistake #4: Making Sure that 90% of What You Say is Commands, Prohibitions, and Threats

  • We think that leadership = commands, prohibitions, threats
  • Children don’t like being ordered around all the time any more than we do
  • Imagine if our spouse or boss was constantly giving commands, prohibitions, and threats–how would we respond?
  • We have a lot of fear, stress, and we take it out on our children when we constantly snap at them
  • There are two issues involved in a child’s behavior:
    1. The child learning and knowing what to do
    2. The child having the self control to implement what they know
    • A child may, at a certain age, have the first, but not the second. They know what to do, but don’t have the self control to be able to follow through on their knowledge
    • Children learn through example and instruction–this is how we teach them the “dos” and “don’ts” so that they know what to do
    • Children develop through relationships, and that is how they develop the self control over time to regulate their behavior.
    • It is problematic when we have an eye on compliance rather than relationships

  • The real message we are sending: “if you don’t obey me, one of us is going to collapse.”
  • “I am the older one, therefore I am going to subdue you.”
  • We do these behaviors supposedly because we love them
  • So, what do we do? == Build a relationship out of love
  • If someone you love and respect asks you to do something, do they have to threaten you to do it? No, we will do it lovingly, effortlessly, voluntarily.
  • This is what Allah wants from us. “Laa ikraaha fid-deen.” There is no compulsion in religion.
  • Yet Allah gives us commands. We enter in Islam of our own free will, we obey Allah out of our own inner desire to obey him.
  • Imagine that the government/sultan put a soldier over every citizen commanding them to pray–this is not what Islam orders. We pray out of our love for him.
  • Allah is exalted over all examples, but this is what we want with our children, that they obey from a desire and love to obey him.
  • This is why the Prophet had the best tarbiyah–Allah is the one who developed his character. Hadith: “Addabanee rabbee wa ahsana ta’deebee” My Rabb taught me manners and perfected my manners.

  • We don’t want everything to be a confrontation
  • We want the obedience to come out of the love
  • Is this idealistic? We think it cannot be done but we have to change our way of thinking
  • “But it’s my right that my child obey me”
  • However, the right of the child of the parent comes before the right of the parent over the child.
  • If the parent doesn’t fulfill the child’s right, how can they expect that the child fulfill their right?
  • Tip: Quality Time
    • The best quality time is sharing a task and cooperating to complete it. This develops relationships and shows the children their dependence on the family unit.
    • The idea is not that we always have to be looking for “fun” and “entertainment.”
    • The antithesis of moral development is the child’s attitude: “I don’t need you, I can do anything I want.” This breeds arrogance and builds the confrontational attitude.
    • Sometimes we ask for it when we thrust independence on the child too early–then when they demand premature independence, we get upset.

Tarbiyah Mistake #5: Assuming Your Child Thinks Like You

  • You assume that they can maturely rationalize everything that you can maturely rationalize.
  • Ex: Father tells very young son who is bike riding, “don’t go around the corner.” When son repeatedly disobeys and finally father yells and explodes, son tearfully asks, “dad, what’s a corner?”
  • This goes back to the last point–if we are commanding all the time, where are the times where we sit down and just make them understand?
  • “I didn’t understand what you meant”– we should take the statement at face value, don’t assume child is lying to you. If you do that and assume they are a liar, they will eventually become a liar.
  • “Ok, what did you understand?” — when you ask that, it will become clear what they really understood.
  • Negative attitude–“I understood what I ordered you, if you didn’t understand it, then it’s your problem.”
  • Understand their developmental levels, and develop realistic expectations
    • Sometimes we set our children up for failure because we give overly high expectations (i.e. things that are beyond their developmental level)
    • Sometimes when we are patching up wounds of previously detrimental failure, we might want to set the bar a little lower so that we set them up for success instead of failure.
    • This relieves our own stress–because the more we are negative with our kids, the more negative we feel, and so therefore the more positive we are with our kids, the more positive we are in ourselves.
  • We sometimes end up as a blown fuse–we have no energy left, and our kid may only be five.
  • Tarbiyah has to be dynamic to fit the different stages of development.
  • e.g. responsibility is developed slowly over time, and we develop it slowly over time
  • One of those aspects of development is that attachment should be at its peak when the child is an infant.
    • e.g. Dr. Sears
    • Unfortunately, when we talk about attachment, people may think we are “hippies” but in reality the focus these days on attachment is a backlash against the previous advice
    • separation anxiety–it’s like a message to the parent, don’t push this child away, they are designed to be attached to you at this time.
    • One form of trauma occurs when there is a premature reaching of stages, so a premature detachment from parent before it is developmentally appropriate.

Up next insha Allah… Tips 6 & 7…

The following notes are taken from a lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi on April 14, 2010. The following notes are her points, as noted down by me (so they are not a word-to-word transcription). Any extra explanatory notes, points, or opinions from myself are added in blue. (they are mostly opinions LOL 🙂 but this is my blog, that’s what it’s for!)


Tarbiyah Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Spouse–someone who differs from you in the fundamental issues of life and parenting

(In order to provide some background, there was a lecture prior to this where the sister addressed what tarbiyah is: it is character development. This is in contrast to ta’leem, which is mere instruction. She noted that tarbiyah is a process and it is relationship-based. It is not the mere transmission of information that occurs at set time intervals. Based on this background knowledge, then, the purpose of choosing a spouse is that one selects someone that will facilitate this blessed mission of tarbiyah.)

  • Sometimes we forget that one of the main purposes of marriage is to contribute to the growth of the Muslim ummah, and so we must put this goal in our mind when looking for a spouse
  • Even after marriage happens, we sometimes put this goal on the back burner because we wish to spend time getting to know and enjoy one another before having to worry about kids. That is fine as long as one remembers the long-term goal and strives towards it.
  • The first night of the marriage is sometimes referred to as Laylat-ul-Binaa’: the Night of Building. We need to make our marriages like this. Some men are not concerned with building so much as breaking down their wife, and this is not acceptable.
  • (missed some information)
  • What if the marriage has already happened and the husband and wife are not on the same page?
  • In all cases, but especially in this case, the husband and wife need a Family Mission Statement where they clearly define the goals of their family.
  • Note: this idea is taken from Steven Covey in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. The sister will be doing a program exclusively on this topic but if one would like to read more about family mission statements, this book would be the source.

Mistake #2: Consider Tarbiyah as Beginning At a Later Stage in Life

There is a story about a man who came to a shaykh seeking to learn about tarbiyah. The shaykh asked him: “How old is your child?” and the man responded “One year old.” The shaykh said, “You’re already too late–you’ve missed the boat!”

  • We have to view tarbiyah as something that begins at birth.
  • And this starts by the mother forming a healthy attachment with her baby
  • Breastfeeding is important because it is the way we have this first bond with the child
  • We must identify what our child needs from us and no one else– the importance of the mother figure in the early years of child development
  • Note: It is pretty standard in our Muslim community for us to be pro-breastfeeding for the most part (this is changing somewhat as the newer generations of Muslims who are raised here are more connected to American culture than the culture of their family of origin). For many people, the reason that they are not able to do this first critical form of tarbiyah is that they don’t receive the correct support and information to succeed at breastfeeding. We should make this a priority in our communities to support breastfeeding by encouraging Muslims to be involved in the La Leche League–there are a few fantastic Muslim LLL Leaders that I know of, but we need tons more. Too many women are not able to do what they desperately want to–i.e. breastfeed–because they are not supported in the hospital and at home afterwards and given the tools to succeed. This should be a community effort, wallahu A’lam.
  • When we think of tarbiyah of an infant, we erroneously assume that it means turning the child into a baby genius, and that perhaps we are serving our children well by training them to listen to mozart and do math.
  • In reality, when we consider IQ (intelligence quotient), it is less important than EQ (emotional quotient). Emotional development is what we need to be focusing on at this age via attachment.
  • When studies look at young children’s intellectual intelligence vs. emotional intelligence, the ones who were better students in high school were the ones who had a higher EQ vs. IQ.
  • Sometimes our own emotional development is lacking and so this reflects in how we treat our children: so when we interact with our children, we ourselves display infantile behavior, and what that reflects is that our own development was incomplete–i.e. in some areas of behavior, we don’t display development past a 4-year-old level.
  • Example (from one of the parenting books used as a source): a father, who is also a pediatrician, found that whenever his son would receive a toy, would display bizzare behaviors towards him–not letting him play with the toy, feeling jealous and spiteful, etc. Through long hours of therapy he realized that as a child he wasn’t allowed to play with toys, and he was taking out his feelings on his child.
  • (Even though this is an extreme example, the point is) that we often do similar things, and we don’t realize that what is going on is that we have our own emotional issues that we have to deal with.
  • My personal bias in this issue is that as a community we need to be more open minded about the importance of mental health and de-stigmatize seeking help via therapy and counseling. Think of how many people could be helped if they were to feel free and comfortable about seeking help. Again, like the breastfeeding issue, we have a lack of Muslim professionals in this area and so we need people to fill this void so that we can help people be better people and parents.

Mistake #3: Letting the Children Run the Family

  • This is not what you think it is, folks…
  • We have a tendency to engage in reactionary parenting. In other words, rather than the parents being the leaders of the family and deciding its direction, the children’s behavior becomes a trigger point for the parents’ behavior, and parenting becomes a mere chain of reactionary behaviors.
  • When we go out of control at our children, we claim that “they pushed our buttons.”
  • However, if you are already programmed right, no matter what buttons are pushed, the correct program will run.
  • We need to change ourselves from reactionary to visionary leaders: we need to embody Principle Centered Parenting.
  • Steven Covey terms it Principle Centered Leadership, however in this context, the important leadership we are discussing is parenting.

(coming up next… points 4-6…)

I just attended a fantastic halaqah… and those sisters who know me personally may feel free to email me and request that it be sent to them insha Allah, but the topic was:  Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes. Tarbiyah, as you may know, is the process of character development that we engage in with our children. So before going to the class, my thought was–Ouch!–we get to hear 2 hours of the ten biggest things we do wrong every day with our kids?

But as Allah (swt) says: “And remind, for verily, the reminder benefits the believers” (Adh-Dhariyaat: 55). Sometimes a swift kick in the proverbial arse is what we need to make a firm commitment to change, and boy was this a kick.

I really would like to take the time to type up my notes, but until then I will leave a teaser–I’ll put the ten points she mentioned, then come back with the notes as I can get them out (maybe 3-4 at a time). If you would like to get this and other blog updates straight to your inbox, feel free to add your email address in the box at the top of the right column and you will get the posts as they are published. In the future if you would like to unsubscribe, you can easily do so through the emails themselves, or just post a comment and I’ll unsub you.

Here goes, Letterman style—

The Top Ten Mistakes of Tarbiyah

  1. Choosing the wrong spouse–someone who differs with you on the fundamental issues of life and parenting.
  2. Considering tarbiyah as beginning at a later stage in life
  3. Letting the children control you and run the family
  4. Making sure that 90% of what you say is commands, prohibitions, and threats
  5. Assuming that your child thinks like you
  6. Using injurious and harmful words
  7. Never explaining anything and expecting immediate and prompt blind compliance
  8. Comparing your children to each other (in looks or behavior) and show favoritism
  9. Lying to your kids
  10. Assuming that you are the source of guidance for your children

Now…I don’t like leaving things hanging like that, because some of these are not clear in what they mean and I’m sure leaves the person scratching their head and saying, “but…”

However, the notes are long, I’d like to do them justice, so they will be back another day bi ‘idhnillah.

As a clue to some of the points of the halaqah, I’ll say that some of the topics mentioned include Steven Covey, Dr. Sears, racism, totalitarianism, family mission statements, principle-centered leadership/parenting, and punishment.

Ready? Check back soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to discuss the points so far…