Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem

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.

baby hand

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

the positions.

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.


30 thoughts on “Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem

  1. JazzakAllah for posting this beautiful and informative article. Keep it up to give more informative points regarding to Islamic parenting. May Allah bless you.


  2. Pingback: Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem – This Beautiful Life of Ours

  3. MashaAllah very beautifully differentiate the two, Ta,Aleem and Tarbiah. May Allah help us in giving a good Tarbiah to our kids. Ameen


  4. As salamualaikum.
    I’m a counsellor by profession.
    Masha allah d articals very very good.
    May Allah guide every parents to help nurture n mould r kids to tp perfection.


  5. Assalamualaikum
    Jzakallah merium.i absolutely agree with you on the aspect of tarbiyah.your ideas are thought provoking and inspiring. I would like to know more about instilling adab and akhlaq.also please do share more on quranic literacy.


  6. Thank you so much for clarity. We parent often focus on Ta’leem at the expense or even neglect Tarbiyah.


  7. Amazing words that reached me at a critical point when I realised my 14yr old is lying about praying Salah. After reading article I realised my efforts in taleem were 70% and tarbiyah was 20%.

    A big turning point for me.
    May Allah make our children righteous.


  8. Pingback: How to get your kids to love salah | Islamic Marriage

  9. What an amazing and thought provoking piece for me. I wish every parent would read and practice this, it would solve alot of today’s parental problems.


  10. I’m a parent to a 11 year old boy,who’s not had a father figure in his life,I try to teach him the importance of Salah,but I’m struggling to get through to him and I’m finding I lose my patience quickly. Is there any Du’a I could recite to help me?


  11. Assalamulaikum Warahmatullah.

    I pray you’re well. Thank you for taking the time to explain the difference between the two.

    I’ve been working with a charity called knowledge to action for the past 2 years now. We work mainly with muslim faith schools and Madrassas on what’s known as ‘Character Education’. Tarbiyyah lies at the heart of what we do and in the coming years inshaAllah we want to make the difference between Tabiyyah, Taleem, Ad’aab and Akhlaq known to parents across Britain along with guidance on how to find balance between them.

    We also produce resources for home schoolers and i can send you a bit more about what we do if it’s of interest.

    Jazkallah Khair

    Umair Saeed, Ilm 2 Amal


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