Sunday, August 14, 2011

Poor parenting and national looting

Reeling from the massive violence across Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron blamed pockets of society that had not only broken down but were “sick” and that “poor parenting” was responsible for the looting.

His diagnosis is painfully accurate; unfortunately the treatment cannot be surgically swift. For children are products of circumstance and training both in turn heavily dependent on economics and religion. And parents today are faced with infinitely greater challenges than their parents and grandparents were.

It was entirely liberating to realize that I was not the only one that grew up with visual discipline; robot-like I lived in fear of imploding as I followed the eye-bulging, frowning, or eye-brow raising of my mother. Essentially all of my generation has been on cruise control! And all my cohorts agree that this visual discipline is now an act of the past.

With parental commands or requests ours was a culture of yes. In families of today a parental request cannot be simple, it must be rationalized and negotiated and the response is also not simple but a debate. And somewhere along the way the hierarchy in the family unit has been lost. For reasons unclear to me the youth of today has tilted the balance of power in its favor, and bewildered parents struggle with varying grades of rebellion. How are robots supposed to deal with temper tantrums? Or with children demanding apologies from parents, or threatening to call the authorities with tales of abuse?

The Ten Commandments urge believers to “honor thy parents”. In Islam disobedience to parents falls in the category of a major sin, just under shirk or associating anyone with God and akin to murder and adultery.

The family is the basic structural unit of society and its cohesion and well-being is vital to society’s benefit at large. The violence in Britain has strong economic reasons as well: the deprivation of a particular segment of society has simmered for a long time and has now reached an explosive point.

The video footage of the looting really does tell the story of societal breakdown. One sees an injured youth bleeding profusely and two other young men coming to his aid. And as they purportedly help him they steal his wallet and other items from his backpack. Endless stories of shops emptied out and videos of gleeful youth parading the loot are shocking.

While poverty can be a game-changer, we are generally ambassadors of our families. And as far as looting goes we either saw our parents do it or did not listen to them when they tried to teach us good moral values. The plunder of Pakistan’s exchequer falls under the same premise-familial looting or personal failure.

Various methods are used to teach integrity and I remember a heart-warming story as a child that was repeated on many an occasion. Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani was leaving home and was given a vest lined with gold coins by his mother with the express advice to tell the truth under any and all circumstance. Sure enough he was held up by robbers and when asked about money duly reported the gold coins. Shocked by his candor the robbers spared his life and his coins.

Preserving the family unit and imbuing good moral values is heavily dependent on creation and maintenance of the hierarchy within the family. While Islam promotes shoora (consultation), democracy is a great idea and discussion is vital to the healthy resolution of issues, parents must be treated as parents and not buddies or worse, servants.

Whatever the packaging the bond of love between parents, especially mothers, and children cannot be negated. God takes the name Al-Rahman (The Beneficent) from rahm or the mother’s womb, underscoring the love that a mother feels so naturally for her child. There is a slow but steady erosion of this premise among Muslim families especially when points of contention or issues of discipline arise. The growing tendency to tie actions or history to this love makes discipline very problematic. For all the parent is trying to practice is the concept of “tough love” to institute sanity in chaos.

And where one wonders is the kind of love that Owais Qarni, one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) companion’s, felt for his mother? She asked him for water but by the time he got it she fell asleep; he stood by her bedside all night in case she awoke looking for it again. His treatment is the ultimate; the Quran recommends the basic in Al Isra (17:23) “Your Lord has decreed good treatment to parents, whether one or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them any word of contempt or repel them and address them in kind words”

Society cannot count on the chance that parents and children will get along. The larger onus, at least in Muslim societies lies with children and understanding the very distinct orders laid down in Islam. Regardless of the age of parents or the child, irrespective of the education of the parents, mindless of the wealth of the parents or the lack thereof, at the end of every issue parents enjoy a higher stature and must be obeyed.

The Imam of my mosque said it well: included in sabr-fi-ta’a (patience in religious practice) is patience with parents and remembering that after worshipping God is the treatment of parents.

If we want to avoid societal failure as seen in London then the current trend of contempt toward and equality with parents must stop and change to a culture of cohesion, an attitude of yes and a posture of humility.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at