I believe that the stories of the holy Qur'an are some of the greatest miracles. So I stop and contemplate them many times believing in the deep meanings within each one. One of the stories that never fails to hold my attention is the one about Prophet Nuh (Noah) — peace be upon him — and his son. There is a unique dialogue that took place between the father and the son who refused to accept the message; the son insisted on disbelief, going with those who denied the truth of Prophet Nuh's message.
The pure fatherly feelings of Prophet Nuh toward his disobedient son is thrown into the spotlight when Allah's miracles come to the aid of Prophet Nuh. The flood had begun and the prophet and his followers were about to board the ark. At this moment, Prophet Nuh does not forget his son despite the Prophet's belief, and the Qur'an describes this touching scene between a kind father and a disobedient, unbelieving son:
[And it moved on with them amid waves like mountains, and Nuh called out to his son, and he [the son] was aloof, "O my son, embark with us, and be not with the unbelievers] (Hud 11:42–47)
A Lesson in Education
Let's stop and learn, as parents and as educationalists, from the above verses and the story. The first thing to observe in this context is that many parents, especially religious ones, imagine that they can impose this commitment to religion on their children and that as long as they are religious, their children have to be so. Parents can get so nervous and worried if their children show any rejection or resistance to this enforcement. This fury can create a violent attitude toward dealing with children as their parents impose what they see right. The confrontation becomes more acute, and the situation is no longer a healthy education process. Certain questions arise, like:
- "How can I accept my son to be like that?"
- "How can I imagine that my daughter is like this when I am the practicing Muslim whom others take as a role model?"
We believe that we love our children "conditionally" (that is, for them to be in the best condition), even if we have to impose, for we are doing it for their own good.
Going back to the story of Prophet Nuh, he did not see his fatherly authority as one to impose faith on his son. He did not see his son's rejection of the truth as a reason to be outraged enough to give up the approach of dialogue. In that bleak moment, he told his son,
[O my son, embark with us, and be not with the unbelievers.] (Hud 11:42)
The son being assured, knowing his father's methods (i.e. his father wouldn't force him to do anything) and thinking he is completely safe, did not board the ark. Prophet Nuh's natural response as a father moved him to beseech help from Allah, Who gave judgment:
[O Nuh! Surely he [your son] is not of your family; surely he is (the doer of) other than good deeds; therefore, ask not of me that of which you have no knowledge] (Hud 11:46)
At that point, Prophet Nuh complies with the command of Allah and asks for forgiveness.
The issue then is easier and clearer. Parents will not be able to impose guidance on their children. The method of upbringing is one of dialogue, understanding, and advice; when the children make their own choices, they take responsibility for these willful choices. Parents should not carry the burden of what their children have done. Prophet Nuh made every effort to guide his son to the truth until the last moment, but his son insisted on his choice.
What the story of Prophet Nuh and his son calls for is balance and moderation in weighing things. It is neither an over-reliant, passive outlook that does not interfere in directing children because Allah decides their fate based on their choices, which we cannot change, nor is it a materialistic outlook that sees the situation as if they were only causes and theories to apply and get calculated results as if in a laboratory where we prepare formulas and equations and worry if the next step does not go as planned.
Balance from the parents' side in raising their children leads to calm and stability for their children, and it helps them to lead a life free of excessive worrying. Prophet Muhammad had a strong relationship with his uncle who supported his call to Allah but died as an idolater. It is Allah's will to teach humanity that faith in Almighty Allah regarding the issues of its daily life lends them tranquility and comfort on all levels whether it has to do with money, children, and one's marital life or parents. The Qur'an also affirms this method, not just in parent-child relationships, but also in marital relationships as with Prophet Nuh and Prophet Lut (Lot) and their respective wives.
Let the final reminder be as follows:
[Surely you cannot guide whom you love, but Allah guides whom He pleases, and He knows best the followers of the right way] (Al-Qasas 28:56)
Dr. Amr Abu Khalilis a doctor of psychiatry in Alexandria, Egypt and General Manager of the Center for Social & Psychological Help also in Alexandria.