It’s important for parents to recognize their pivotal role in shaping citizens and future leaders of our nation
I am often asked what I miss the most about living in the United States. My answer is always the same: I miss the way Islam is practiced in the west.
Allow me to explain.
When you live away from home, you retain a mental image of the place in your mind. The image I held of Kashmir for years was of a simple place where traditional values mattered and the vices that I saw in America were unheard of. Since my return home to Anantnag in 2015, this image has long been shattered.
Ten years ago after just graduating from college in the US, I came home to spend some vacation time with family. During my few months off, I audited classes at a local university. This was my first exposure to the Kashmiri education system. At the outset, I was impressed by the dedication of my peers – despite the frigid temperatures in the month of January when I could hardly move my hands – the students were deeply engaged in their studies. But there was one young hijabi girl who I noticed would often disappear during the course of the day and skip classes.
Anyone vanishing in a place like Kashmir is certainly cause for concern and one day I asked her close friends if she was okay.
To my shock, I learned that the girl was skipping classes to go out with her boyfriend who would pick her up on his motorcycle. They would spend the day together and he would drop her back at the university so she could get on the bus to go home. Her parents, of course, had no clue.
This experience was just the beginning of a string of incidents I have heard about or seen in Kashmir. Most recently, a friend shared that her Kashmiri colleague who lives in India met with a Kashmiri girl setup by the family manzimyour.
They spent time together at a restaurant and when it got late, he casually invited her to “just spend the night” in his Delhi hotel room. The girl agreed and spent the night in the same room as a guy she had just met.
A few weeks ago, a boy from a “well off khandaani family” was recommended to a friend as a rishta. On face value, everyone sang his praises. But when we dug deeper through our network of friends, it was revealed that the same “khandaani boy” drank alcohol.And again, the parents were oblivious.
The question that begs to be asked is ‘why?’ Why is it that a place once known for its adab and traditional values has so quickly become a place where a guy can feel comfortable inviting a girl to spend the night with him and the same girl has no hesitations in doing so?
Why is it that Kashmiri boys and girls are so easily sucked into the Indian college culture of drinking, clubbing and dating?And why are only the un-Islamic western values seen by many of the youth as ‘progress’?
For me, as an outsider looking in, the answers are apparent. There appear to be two major reasons: the way Islam is preached and propagated here; and the way parents parent their kids. Perhaps some of you will find this part of the article blunt but this is a truth that needs to be said.
Islam in Kashmir is being preached in a manner that can do only one thing: drive someone away from it. The mullahs with their stern faces and pants above the ankles are the first to pass judgment and tell you that you are a “bad Muslim”.
The Friday khutbahs here sound like they are preparing people to wage a war. The parents here force their kids to blindly memorize verses without having any understanding about its meaning or context – basically making their kids become like ‘donkeys carrying books’ or people carrying knowledge but with no true understanding of it.
Many of the overtly religious people have egos the size of the sun and are swift in passing their fatwas on what/who is Islamic and who isn’t.
Most unfortunately, the azaan – which is supposed to be a beautiful call to prayer – is very often given by someone who should never even be asked to read a newspaper aloud.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, chose Bilal (RA) to give the azaan specifically because he had a melodious voice.
In Kashmir, however, it seems a beautiful voice is often not a criterion. The religion of humility and mercy has been turned into a religion of arrogance and ignorance here.
On the contrary, the way Islam is preached in many masjids in the West is based on the Islamic values of love and kindness. The khutbahs are relatable and the Imams are approachable. They preach on Fridays about everyday life problems and the Islamic perspective on how to handle them.
The Islamic Center of NE Florida, which I was a member of, has khutbahs on everything from relationships to Islamic banking. The imams don’t judge you for being a ‘bad Muslim’ because they know that only Allah can judge His creation, and even He waits until the Day of Judgment to do so.
Parents send their children to Islamic school on Sundays so they can learn the pillars of faith and practice them in real life. Kids learn Qur’an along with its English translation and lessons from the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, life.
And most importantly – kids are taught about who the Prophet, peace be upon him,was and the values of love, mercy, justice, patience and kindness that he stood up for.
Many college students don’t get sucked into the western culture of drinking and partying because every college campus has a Muslim Students’ Association where they can have fun with Muslim friends, while also deepening their faith.
People of other faiths are never judged or turned away but welcomed at Islamic Centers to have an iftar meal during Ramadan or just learn about Islam.
All of the above has led to the creation of a community of Muslims who love Islam and the Prophets (PBHT) and practice the values of Islam on an everyday basis. And it also has led to a growing number of non-Muslims embracing Islam as their way of life.
For those of us who grew up in the 1990s and before, childhood was a simple experience. There was no Instagram to show off self-obsessed pictures on, no Whatsapp to constantly text on, and no doctors were seeing kids for video game addictions.
Children were raised by a ‘village’ – most mothers stayed at home to focus on raising their kids, and grandparents/aunts/uncles all contributed to ensure the kids were given a good upbringing.
Ironically, in today’s complex world where vices loom at every corner, there is a dire need for the ‘village’ but it no longer exists.
In fact, often neither parent is truly available to raise their child. Why? Because in the rat race to have the biggest house, the fanciest car, and the most-talked-about khaandar, both parents have entered the workforce to keep up with the ‘laug-kya-kehenge’ and to ensure that their beloved kids have all the video games and toys they demand.
While back in the day parenting was an active concept of passing along wisdom and life lessons to kids, today, most parents are so engrossed in their phones and finances that they don’t know their kids have boyfriends/girlfriends or drink alcohol.
None of the parents of the individuals mentioned in the incidents above had any idea of the secret lives of their children. And none of the stories above are fabricated.
Because parents are not available, kids turn to the outside world for role models. And unfortunately, since Islam was just blindly enforced in the ways mentioned earlier, they hardly ever look to the life of the Prophets (PBHT) or sahabas as their role models.
Instead, they turn to Bollywood and Hollywood ‘heroes’.And those individuals propagate a culture of objectifying women, dating, partying, and drinking as the only way to enjoy and have a good life.
Eventually, when these kids start college, they practice the same values their Bollywood idols made to seem ‘cool’.
So they end up dating, drinking alcohol and doing drugs with the simple reasoning of: ‘what’s the big deal? Everyone else is doing it’.
So where do we go from here? The first step towards change is awareness and the second is acceptance. It’s important for parents to recognize their pivotal role in shaping citizens and future leaders of our nation.
Parenting is an active role and parents can’t be replaced by school teachers, the Imam or the TV.
Religious teachings should be discussed like the Prophet, peace be upon him,did with the sahaba - using reason and with kindness and mercy.
Parents should explain the logic behind the teachings of Islam and not just force opinions on their children.
It’s important to recognize that the challenge of western and Indian cultures infiltrating our value system is real and isn’t going to go away.
What we can control is how we prepare our children to tackle these challenges. Will they succumb to peer pressure and follow a path because ‘everyone’s doing it’ or will they have the strength of character to do the right thing, even when their parents aren’t looking? You, as a parent, can influence which path they choose.