Home Family and Marriage The morals of children and parents

The morals of children and parents

By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

Transalted by: Fatima Makkeh

Q: Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib (a.s.) counseled that parents should rear their children in a manner different than the one in which they were reared, on the premise that they were born in a different time. What is the significance of  an outlook that takes time difference into consideration? What is the role of past methods and experience?

A: What Ash-Sharif Ar-Radi related in Nahjul Balaghah (Peek of Eloquence) is, "Do not mold your children's ethics according to yours, for their time is different from yours." When we wish to analyze this narrative, we must take note that there is a difference between the principles and the ethics which form the behavioral aspect of life. If we wish to delve deeper into the matter, then we must state that ethics is of two categories: morals that are immutable and morals that change.

Immutable morals comprise the pure morals necessary in thought and deed for daily living, necessary in every time and place (e.g., truth, honesty, chastity, and the like) from the best ethical models for a perfectly integrated human life.

The morals that change are manners and methods of interaction which reflect social interaction and ways of living in the evolution of the self, etiquette, and protocol. The etiquette of respect, speech, political or social relations changes from time to time.

Take clothing as an example. What is important is not to wear what the Prophet wore, or what the Imams and their companions wore. Every epoch has its form of dress, and it is possible for us to employ the modern items people have invented while developing various forms of eating, dress, and other things. A tradition was reported from Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.): "The best dress of the time is the dress of its people," i.e., a person should wear what the people wear.

The morals Imam Ali (a.s.) referred to, therefore, are those that change and are reflected in daily relations and manners, and every new horizon. We find that, in the past, man had limited horizons. People's values were limited to their lives and to working in order to reach particular, limited ends. But life has expanded, and with it knowledge. Changed also are the ways of instruction and the benefits. Thus, the Imam wanted to say that one must be aware that temporal values change with time, to prepare the future for his children, that he may mold them for the ethics of that future time and that they will not be out of tune with their time and place. The Imam did not mean the methods people invented, no matter how little they are in keeping with the limits imposed by Allah, the Most Exalted, for there are types of clothing which are not harmonious with decency. This changed value may thus clash with an immutable precept. There is no way, for example, for us to agree on women's fashions in public, since even where they direr from the changing issues in actuality, they clash with established morals.

The Imam's position had to do with ethics that change, being the result of the normal course of life which brings difference and development, on the condition that temporal values do not clash with immutable, established morals.

Q: Is the required emulation of the Prophet (p.) and the Members of his Household (a.s.) something absolute, because of their standing, or does the issue of conditions, developments, and needs of the time qualify this emulation?

A: When we wish to emulate the Prophet and the pure Imams, we must study the factors behind their conduct, and whether this conduct was by virtue of their being paragons whose actions are not linked to time and place, or was their conduct dictated by the specific conditions which made them act in a specific manner? If other conditions occur, the matter may not be one of emulation, but exactly like a Shar'iah ruling that must be based on lack of precedent, and when a different situation comes up, then the ruling is changed to reflect the relevant circumstances.

Therefore, the actions of the Prophet or the infallible leaders do not indicate obligatory emulation, because an act may be compulsory, or it may be commendable, and indicate only legality and not compulsory imitation. When we observe that the Prophet did something, or practiced something, we must study whether his action was determined by the circumstances and the issue subject to circumstance, or this issue contains elements which are intrinsic to the action.

Emulation is not to be taken from any single occurrence as absolute. Rather, the action of the Prophet must be studied. We hold that this action may take the form of a method for calling to the way of God, without discounting the need for another method. This is because the Prophet had acted in a particular manner relative to circumstances. The need for propagation had called for a specific method. There may be situations with different circumstances which need different methods.

Therefore, Islamic propagation did not need a structured methodology at the beginning of Islam. However, later circumstances may have dictated a structured format. Moreover, the great challenges which others have had to face through a structured format dictate that we, too, must draw up our methodology based on Islamic perspectives.

This does not mean that everything that does not have precedent is to be deemed as a novelty, or that the precedent must be absolutely emulated. We must analyze every new occurrence in terms of its concordance with the functional Islamic principles, and study that which occurred before. Was it normal for the time and circumstances? Or was it a Shar'iah action independent of time and place?

Q: Does the parental monitoring of the behavior of their sons and daughters constitute interference in the latters' private affairs?

A: There is a form of primitive, retrogressive supervision which causes the person to live in what is like a stifling nightmare that throws his life into confusion, with severe problems, where he finds himself besieged by your inquisitiveness or "spying", if one may use that term.

Supervision is absolutely necessary for knowing about our youth, students, and sons. We must make supervision something good so as not to affect youth in such a way as to be a problem, except in certain situations where we wish to exert some pressure on them to let them know they are under supervision; so that they may not go astray or advance too far in what may cause them severe problems in life.

What we mean is monitoring of the youth's studies and associates, and trying to find out his weak points in order to draw attention to them afterwards. It is necessary that this monitoring be psychologically sound, not one that afflicts his mentality or presents a problem. You may find some children looking at their parents or their teachers with dislike or hatred, benefit little afterwards from any advice that these parents or teachers may have given them.

We must make our children and students like us. This may be done by astute methods which do not adversely affect them in their developmental stages of life.

An excerpt from the book: “World of The Youth”