If you’re familiar with our work, you will know that we come from a place of love. I believe, that if we do something out of love for Allah, rather than fear, we really ‘mean’ it and are more likely to enjoy it and repeat it time and time again. With this in mind, I wanted to reach out to you all with something that has been on my mind - the threat of hellfire used as a parenting tool in the Muslim community.
A narrative to illustrate my point
A young woman has been divorced. She has three young children, between the ages of 4 and 10. She loves them dearly. The time comes when somebody of great standing in the community, impeccable character and steadfast deen proposes to her. He is the kindest, most gentle, man she has ever met. He loves children and is immensely good with them. She accepts the proposal. She begins to tell her children about this man, to introduce the concept of him before they meet. The woman is very eager to make her children fond of the man. She tells them that they are about to meet someone, so they better be on their best behaviour, because the man they are meeting will punish them and hurt them if they are not. She goes on to tell them about various tools the man has, at his disposal, with which he may punish them. Are you dumbfounded? Quite rightly so. Why would this woman tell the children such things? Even if they were true, there is so much more to say about this man, which would nurture a fondness in their hearts for him, instead of fear.
I’m sure you get the point. Use love, instead of fear, when building your child’s relationship with Allah. If you wouldn’t say fearful things about someone you want your children to like – why say them about Allah?
The threat of Allah’s punishment and hellfire
A child's heart is pure and delicate. They laugh easily, but also cry easily. In fact they can go from one emotion to another rather quickly. This is because they are capable of feeling love very easily, and also prone to fear. Fear can be paralysing. You will know this if you've ever experienced a child being scared of water, because of one bad experience at a swimming pool. Or scared of the vacuum cleaner, because the huge, scary, loud machine, once took them by surprise.
With a child’s delicate disposition in mind, I want to address the use of the threat of Allah’s punishment and hellfire when trying to get children to behave, or even when teaching them about the deen. The truth is, that Allah does not punish children. He does not hold them responsible for their actions until the age of puberty. Pushing a fear of hellfire and punishment in small children can be extremely detrimental to their relationship with Allah. Their Iman is just beginning to gently grow, like a seedling pushing a shoot out of the earth and experiencing the comfort of the rays of sun for the first time. If you place something heavy on that shoot when it is not yet ready, the Iman is likely to be extinguished before it has the chance to blossom. Instead, nurture that Iman gently, with love. Over the years, it will grow big and strong in sha Allah, like a tree. At that point, even if you are to place something heavy on its branches, it won't crumble under the weight of it. It is ready to take it on, absolutely strong with faith and the certainty that Allah is merciful and loving. Therefore, I suggest using love in abundance when talking about Allah to children. If any questions about hell arise, they can be handled tactfully, according to what the child is ready to hear (until they have branches).
Fear vs Love
With fear as your weapon, you might be effective in getting your child to stick to the right path, but will they be doing it out of a fear of Allah, or a love for him? Will there be a bounce in their step? Will they have Allah in their hearts every second of the day, during the good times and the bad? Will they have a comfort in their soul? A hope in their heart? Sincerity in their prayers? I promise you, they will have all the above if you use love instead.
Furthermore, I worry about the likelihood of a child taking their faith into young adulthood. If a child, in his formative years, has been raised with the fear of Allah, they are more likely to go off the rails when something ‘bad’ happens in life. This is because a strong foundation of love for and trust in their creator has not been built. When faced with a test, the teenager, or young adult loses grip, and may take on a ‘why should I care?’ attitude. They may also confuse their fear of Allah with their fear of you, for example, they may stop praying because you’re no longer keeping watch.
My brothers and sisters, love goes a long, long way. If you want your child to build an everlasting relationship with Allah, use love to nurture it.
Zanib Mian is author of Migo & Ali: Love for the Prophets, 30 Hadith for Kids and ten other children’s books, including mainstream titles. Follow Zanib on Instagram @zanibmian.
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