"Just talk to them please?"

“Just talk to them please?”

A few years ago, I was rushing to an appointment and I received a phone call. As my phone rang, I looked at the screen debating whether I should answer this unknown number or simply silence it and continue with my plans. I answered the call with great skepticism wondering, “Who gave my number out and who is calling me?” I answered the call and on the other end a man obfuscated his anonymity by asking how I was doing. In a series of rapid-fire answers to help him get to the point, I finally got him to proceed with his request, “I have a son and he is 18. He doesn’t really want to pray anymore and I feel that he doesn’t want to be Muslim. Can you please talk to him? Can you speak to him to get him to understand and appreciate Islam more? I’m worried, he goes to college now and he doesn’t listen to me.” I eventually figured out who it was and I proceeded to help him with a few pointers that can be shared with you all:

  1. People don’t have switches – No one has a “taqwa – God consciousness” switch that can be turned on or off at will. More importantly, Imams, scholars and teachers cannot and will not undo nearly 20 decades of parenting or lifestyle habits. Statements such as, “Get them to obey me!” or, “Can you talk to them about Islam and get them to change?” are insulting to the very knowledge these people seek in order to bend the inevitable to their will. Furthermore, no farmer ever woke up and cursed the seeds he planted yesterday because they didn’t germinate today. Change is organic and takes time. Even if this 18 year old man decided to change immediately, change requires time. Change also must be from within. Me speaking to him for one hour will not work.
  2. Honing in on the Problem – There is a big difference between one who is worried about their crumbling relationship with their kids in contrast to one who attributes teenager problems to the lack of religiosity. The former requires professional counseling and therapy. The latter requires proof that the lack of religious knowledge or practice is what drives “rebellious behavior.” I personally doubt that teens and young adults “disrespect” parents due to the lack of Islamic knowledge or practice. The problem is more with the family dynamics on parenting, rules and communication. For starters, evaluate your relationship. Teenagers don’t suddenly “ignore” their parents. Do you only speak to them when there is a problem? How much time do you spend with them?
  3. Lifestyle – For many people, religion is an afterthought. Many parents simply regurgitate to their kids what they were taught. At best families get their kids to attend weekend school, memorize a few surahs and hear a few anecdotal facts about Islam. Thus, an important set of questions that must be posed to families:
    • How much of a role Islam play in your life?
    • Do you have a vision for your family to learn more about Islam?
    • Is religion used in a positive or negative method in parenting, rules and communication?
    • What is your definition of a “good Muslim?”
    • Is there a difference between spirituality, religiosity and faith? If yes, how so?