Sh. Salman al-Odah was asked, “How do you get your kids to love the salah?”
The first thing he said was, “Have them love you.”
Learn this life lesson: tarbiyah is founded upon relationship.
Tarbiyah is the raising up and education of a child such that she can reach her full potential as a human and a Muslim. It is different than ta’leem, which refers to fact-based education.
We often confuse the two, giving our children ta’leem when they need tarbiyah.
Ta’leem is teaching our children the how-to of the prayer. Memorizing the duas, learning
Tarbiyah is the cuddling after the prayer when we ask each other, “What did you ask for in sajdah?”
Ta’leem is memorizing ahadeeth and verses.
Tarbiyah is the dinner-table banter where we talk current events and other issues on our mind.
Ta’leem is studying fiqh.
Tarbiyah is the loving conversation we have about an incident that happened at school.
Ta’leem is studying seerah by memorizing dates and events or preparing for a quiz bowl.
Tarbiyah is snuggling in bed and telling stories of brave heroes of the past.
When we were at Umrah, Ustadh Abu Eesa stressed this point a great deal and it has caused a seismic shift in my own approach to teaching my children. I had asked him if he had a suggested program of study for school-aged children. He responded by saying that he was no expert on education and he would leave that to the experienced teachers to develop such a program. He directed us instead to focus our efforts on building relationships with our children as our tarbiyah.
“Tarbiyah,” he explained, “is an emotional, not a physical exercise.”
He went on to explain that in the Qur’an, we are taught the dua for the parents as follows: “O Allah, have mercy on them, as they rabbayaani when I was young.” In other words, have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me when I was young. It doesn’t continue the theme of mercy and say “have mercy on them as they had mercy on me,” rather, it says “have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me.” It is this tarbiyah that a parent does for their child that brings the mercy of Allah upon them.
Long after facts have come and gone, what a child will remember are the memories she has cuddling on the couch, laughing at stories, and warmly basking in the glow of a parent’s attention and love. This relationship is what builds the person up, not the facts and pieces of knowledge imparted.
This does not mean we do not teach facts and knowledge! Those who follow my work know that I do indeed spend time on this ta’leem. You need to discern the difference between the two themes of ta’leem and tarbiyah though, so that you give adequate time to each.
Most importantly, you must understand that you, dear parents, are indispensable. You CANNOT outsource tarbiyah. You can send your child to classes and masjid programs for ta’leem but this can never replace tarbiyah. The cuddling on the couch, the lively discussions around the table, the one-on-one chats before bed….these are the things that only a parent can do. And these are the things that build the foundation of the Islamic akhlaq and adab (morals and manners).
Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly explained the dua of mercy for the parents. The post has been updated with the correct explanation.