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The Jihad of the Parents 17 August 2009

Posted by MOZAFFAR in Misc.
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One of the greatest struggles of the young Muslim American is the struggle to be good to his/her parents.  It is such a challenge that perhaps everything else, everything else, is easier.

The challenge has multiple sources.  Consider American culture.  It is a natural part of the personality of democracy, that we become innately resistant to any sort of authority figure (or any sense of an authority attempting to impose anything upon us).  Consider the rhetoric against the Soviets through the Cold War, and that same rhetoric against Muslims in particular (though often people of any religion, especially Catholics):  control.  Nobody here seemed to care about the Afghanis, except when the Soviets or the Taliban were in power, and that concern — despite the rhetoric — had little to do with the Afghanis, and everything to do with the spin the politicians directed to us:  “the bad people must be stopped, because if they are not stopped, they will try to control us.”  The point is that it is in the nature of democracy that we will resist control, and thus entities will exploit events by spinning them to reach that sentiment.

Consider American pop culture.  How frequent is it that we see television shows and films that feature parents as either rigid, unfair authority figures, or as fools?  Some situation comedies have a foolish father as the foundation of the entire series.  A wonderful exception to this norm is The Cosby Show.  The point is that not only do we have the seeds of resistance against the parents in the political personality of our society, this resistance-impulse is also fed to us through so much of pop culture.

But, for the Muslim, it does not end there.  In addition to the normal day-to-day, decade-to-decade life struggles that everyone in America has, and in addition to the drive to consume that so many Americans have succumbed to, and in addition to the common struggle that everyone in America has in trying to make sense of this rapidly changing environment, the Muslims in America have had two serious additional burdens.  First, they are struggling in defining themselves as Muslims in America, American Muslims, Muslim Americans, etc.  Second, they are struggling in defending themselves against the barrage of attacks in political culture, pop culture, and in many cases, their day to day lives.  The point here is not to plead victimization.  The point is that the common Muslim parent is also struggling — along with his/her child — to understand and navigate these additional burdens.

And, there is another serious factor. Too many parents, especially from particular cultures, invest far more energy and verbage in criticizing their children, and far less energy and verbage in supporting, encouraging, and nurturing their children.  A child needs validation from the parents.  The children of Yaqub (Jacob) -p- were willing to hurt their brother Yusuf (Joseph) -p, motivated mainly by their jealousy for their father’s love.

Put all these factors together.  The resulting challenge is that not only is the Muslim son or daughter being programmed to resist his/her parents, but s/he is also unwilling to get answers or support from the parent out of fear of being emotionally beaten.  And, if s/he were to seek answers, s/he is unable to get answers from the parents because the parents themselves do not have the answers.  In simple words, the jihad to be good to the parents is — for many young Muslims — harder than all other jihads.

Thus, many Muslims have chosen the wrong route:  they have consciously or unconsciously rejected their parents.  Some have chosen complete rejection of their parents while others have chosen complete abandonment of their parents.  Many, however, wrestle with this struggle:  the Islamic injunction to be good to the parents.  The struggle is so difficult, it is such an uphill battle that the path is unnecessarily full of frustration and disappointment.

Unfortunately, it is a perpetual cycle.  It is very hard to break from the shell that you have been raised in.  Much of our adult choices — especially in our own parenting — are choices made in response to the way we ourselves were raised, mitigated by habits ingrained in us.  The result is often that we sometimes raise our children, instead of raising them we sometimes respond to our parents.

The cure, however, is already given.  The greatest of jihads is the jihad of the self.  The world around you will not change, and do not expect your parents to change.  What is left:  your only cure is to change yourself.  And, those issues we have explored, and God-willing, will explore further.  The point of this piece is to draw attention to the problem.

And Allah knows best.

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