Nurturing Aqeedah, Eeman, and Ihsan In Children

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The principles of aqeedah (belief) and eeman form the foundation of our religion. They are also significant for the task of parenting. The meaning of these terms and their relation to parenting will be discussed in the following section.

The meaning of Aqeedah

Aqa'id (plural of aqeedah) are those things that people's hearts affirm and believe in; things that people accept as true. It is certain and firm belief, without doubt. 'Aqeedah is knowledge that one believes in the heart. In Islam, this would be matters of knowledge that have been transmitted in authentic reports from Allah and the Messenger (SAW) (Salla Allahu 'Alayhi wa Sallam – Blessings and peace be upon him). Allah (SWT) mentions, 

The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], 'We make no distinction between any of His messengers.' And they say, 'We hear, and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination. (Qur'an 2: 285)

People throughout the world have various belief systems, but the only true 'aqeedah is found in the religion of Islam, since this is the complete, perfect and protected religion. Allah (SWT) says, 

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favour upon you and have approved for you Islam as your religion. (Qur'an 5: 3)

And: 

And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things. (Qur'an 16: 89)

The Prophet (PBUH) said: «I have not left anything that Allah has commanded of you except that I have ordered you to do it. And I have not left anything which He has prohibited for you except that I have prohibited it for you.

Allah has guaranteed to protect the Qur' an and Islam until the end of time. Allah (SWT) affirms,

Indeed, it is We who sent down the message [the Qur'an], and indeed, We will be its guardian. (Qur'an 15: 9)

This 'aqeedah, as found in the Qur'an and the Hadith, convinces the mind with evidence and fills the heart with eeman, certainty, and light. Other religions are either based on falsehood or have become distorted, although they may contain some grains of truth here and there.

The importance of Islamic 'aqeedah

True Islamic 'aqeedah is as essential for humans as water and air. Without it, humans are lost and confused. It is the only 'aqeedah that can answer questions that have preoccupied the minds of the human race for centuries: Where did I come from? Where did the universe come from? Who is the Creator? Why did He create us and the universe? What is our role in this universe? What is our relationship to the Creator? Are there other, invisible worlds beyond the world that we can see? Is there another life after this life? These unrelenting questions have existed since the beginning of time and can only be answered by Islam.

The relationship between 'aqeedah and eeman

Aqeedah (belief) forms the foundation and basis of eeman (faith or firm belief). Eeman is based upon aqeedah that is firmly established in the heart. Eeman is verbally declared and is confirmed by actions conforming to the dictates of 'aqeedah. Correct aqeedah is important so that one's eeman will be acceptable and strong. The more knowledge of aqeedah that a person possesses, the more his or her eeman will increase and grow.

The meaning of eeman and Mu'min

Eeman, then, is sincere faith that develops from an individual's belief system. This faith impacts the person's thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions. The Islamic belief system is comprehensive, but is built upon six basic pillars: belief in Allah, the angels, the prophets, the books, the Day of Resurrection and the hereafter, and divine decree. To understand the true meanings of eeman and mu'min (believer), it is prudent to tum to a well-known hadith7 on this topic. In the hadith, Angel Gabriels asks Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to explain the meanings of Islam, eeman, and ihsan.The Prophet (SWT) replied wisely.

On the authority of Umar (RA) - (May Allah be pleased with him) who said: One day, while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), there came before us a man with extremely white clothing and extremely black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and none of us knew him. He [came and] sat next to the Prophet (PBUH). He supported his knees up against the knees of the Prophet (PBUH) and put his hands on (the Prophet's) thighs. He said: 0 Muhammad, tell me about Islam. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) answered: Islam is to testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish the prayers, to pay zakat, to fast [the month of] Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you have the means to do so. He said: You have spoken truthfully. We were amazed that he asks the question and then he says that he (Allah's Messenger) had spoken truthfully. He said: Tell me about eeman (faith). He [the Messenger of Allah (SAW)] responded: It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in the divine decree, the good and the evil thereof. He said: You have spoken truthfully. He said: Tell me about ihsan(goodness). He [the Prophet] answered: It is that you worship Allah as if you see Him. And even though you do not see Him, [you know] He sees you.

The title Nurturing Eeman in Children has been chosen for a particular purpose. As specified in this hadith, there is a distinction between Islam and eeman, and between Muslim and mu'min. In general, a Muslim is a person who declares that s/he believes in the message of Islam [s/he believes that there is none worthy of worship other than Allah and that Muhammad (SAW) is the Messenger of Allah]. A mu'min, or a believer, on the other hand, is someone who truly and firmly believes in Islam and tries to implement it in his or her life. It can also be said that a Muslim is one who declares that s/he submits himself or herself to Allah, while a believer is one who fulfils the requirements of such submission in word and deed. A believer is one whose faith is complete and unwavering; one who entertains no doubts and is ready to strive hard, sacrificing his or her wealth and his or her life for Allah's cause.

A person may claim to be Muslim and practice the pillars of Islam, but have very little or no eeman in his or her heart. S/he may, in fact, be a hypocrite who is pretending to be a Muslim. In this day and age, there are over one billion people who claim to be Muslims. How many of us are really true Muslims who submit to Allah and implement the basic pillars? How many of us are mu'mineen: true believers in the religion whose sincerity and pure intention for the sake of Allah are reflected in all our behaviours? Unfortunately, the answer is probably, "very few". For this reason, it is imperative to teach parents what eeman means and how to nurture it in them and in their children.

Eeman is a more comprehensive term than Islam, and in fact, the pillars of Islam are considered parts of eeman. The nucleus of eeman is the heart, for this is the centre of faith. Eeman also includes sayings of the tongue and actions of the body and has many parts. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Eeman has more than seventy parts; the highest is the confession that there is none worthy of worship other than Allah, and the lowest is removing a harmful object from the road. Salat (prayers), zakat, fasting, and hajj are all components of eeman, as are virtues such as modesty, honesty, and sincerity.

Islam (submission), then, is only one part of eeman. Ibn al-Qayyim wrote that eeman is composed of the following components:

1. having the knowledge of what the Prophet (PBUH) taught,

2. having complete and firm belief in what the Prophet (PBUH) brought,

3. verbally professing one's belief in what he brought,

4. submitting to what he brought out of love and humility, and

5. acting in accord with what the Prophet (PBUH) brought, both inwardly and outwardly, implementing it and calling others to its path.

The three essential components of eeman, as stated by many scholars, are:

1. belief in the heart,

2. profession by the tongue (one's statements), and

3. performance of deeds by the body (one's actions).

 Belief in the heart

The heart is the core and foundation of eeman. The heart must be sound and correct for all else to be the same. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Indeed, in the body is a piece [of flesh], such that if it is good, all the rest of the body will be good, whereas if it be corrupted, all the rest of the body will be corrupted. Indeed, [that piece] is the heart. One of the aspects of this is what scholars call a 'statement of the heart'. This includes recognition, knowledge, and affirmation. The second facet is what is termed 'actions of the heart'. These include commitment, voluntary submission, and acceptance. Other important elements include love of Allah, awe of Allah, fear of Allah, trust in Allah, and hope in Allah. Without these necessary conditions of faith, a person cannot honestly claim to be a mu'min. Stating the profession of faith and belief in Allah and the Messenger (SAW), are not sufficient for complete faith.

Belief in the heart is the most essential component of eeman, since it is the influential foundation for the other elements. To develop true eeman and to protect it, these components must be given their necessary attention. A true mu'min must recognize, desire, and love the truth and have hate for falsehood and disbelief. s/he must love Allah and put his or her trust, hope, and fear in Him alone.

Profession by the tongue

The second component of eeman is profession of faith 'by the tongue', a statement testifying to the truthfulness of his or her belief. This is the testimony "I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah," which a person proclaims to become a Muslim and which is repeated each day in the five daily prayers. This statement is not only words, but a commitment to the religion of Islam with the intention of following its requirements and obligations.

If a person believes in his or her heart but does not state this belief verbally (although s/he has the ability to do so), then s/he may not be considered to be a believer. S/he would not be treated as such in this life or in the hereafter. The verbal profession of faith is an essential aspect for this reason. A person who has the ability to make this statement but does not do so is considered a disbeliever. Those who fear for their lives or are forced to keep silent would not fall into this category.

For the statement to be sound, it must be accompanied by sincerity, correct belief in Allah, abandonment of any form of associating partners with Allah and implementation of the laws of Islam. In essence, belief in the heart must be present for the profession of faith to be complete and honest. The hypocrites are those who make the profession and pretend to be Muslim but the 'actions of the heart' are not present.

Performance of deeds

As a natural extension, the level of eeman in the heart will be reflected in the behaviour of an individual. A heart filled with eeman (trust, hope and fear in Allah) will lead the body to perform acts of obedience and to avoid forbidden or even doubtful actions. It is inconceivable that there would be strong eeman in the heart that is not demonstrated in outward deeds. Therefore, deeds are another fundamental component of eeman. There is also a reciprocal relationship, wherein acts of obedience to Allah will increase the inner faith of a person, whereas acts of disobedience will decrease faith.

The meaning of ihsan

In the hadith regarding Islam, eeman, and ihsan, Angel Gabriel asked the Prophet (PBUH): Tell me about ihsan (goodness, perfection, and excellence). He [the Prophet (PBUH)] answered: It is that you worship Allah as if you see Him. And even though you do not see Him, (you know) He sees you.

Ihsan is the highest level that a human being can achieve. It means to do something in the best way and to attain perfection and excellence in something. In the context of Islamic law, this entails performing acts of worship well and in the manner enjoined by Allah. The ultimate goal of ihsan is to fulfil one's obligations to Allah and to do so in the best manner possible. The essence of ihsan is love of Allah, which motivates the human to try to attain Allah's pleasure.

In a general sense, ihsan also means to deal with others in a good manner and to perform acts of goodness and kindness. In the context of the religion of Islam, ihsan encompasses all acts of goodness toward others. A person with iJ:1santries to give benefit rather than harm to others. His or her wealth, position, knowledge and physical abilities are used to assist and benefit other humans.

According to the famous hadith, the motivating factor behind ihsan is the fact that the person is aware that Allah is watching all of his or her actions. A person who is constantly aware of this fact will attempt to please Allah and avoid displeasing Him. This leads one to love Allah and to venerate and honour Him. For all actions, the intention will be directed for the sake of Allah, which leads to purity and sincerity of the heart. Since the intention will be solely for Allah's sake, the person will also attempt to do everything in the most excellent manner. The result will be that the person excels in his or her submission and obedience to Allah as well in his or her relationships with other human beings.

Relation to parenting

What all of this means for the purpose of our endeavour is that the goal of parents should not only be to develop their children as Muslims, but also to foster firm 'aqeedah and eeman in the heart. If a family spends a great deal of time teaching their children the practical aspects of the religion rather than focusing on 'aqeedah, it is likely that the behaviour will not be enduring. It would be similar to building a house with a very weak foundation; the house is likely to collapse. Children may know how to pray and fast and so on, but it may not be in their hearts to do so. They may complete these acts to please their family or to show off to Muslim friends, but it will not be lasting. What is needed is an understanding of the true meaning of being a Muslim, of being a mu'min, and even of attaining the level of ihsan.

Parents must cultivate this eeman in the hearts of their children, beginning from birth. They must teach their children to sincerely submit to Allah with their hearts, with their tongues, and with their deeds. Children must learn to have fear of Allah, love of Allah, and trust in Allah. Their love of Allah should surpass love of any other person or thing in this world. Allah (SWT) says, 

But those who believe are stronger in love for AlIah. (Qur'an 2: 165)

A man asked the Prophet (PBUH) about the Hour (that is, the Day of Judgment) saying: When will the Hour be? The Prophet asked: What have you prepared for it? The man replied: Nothing, except that I love Allah and His Messenger. The Prophet said: You will be with those who you love. Children should love the truth of Islam and hate disbelief and hypocrisy. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Whoever possesses the following three qualities will taste the sweetness of eeman: One to whom Allah and His Messenger become dearer than anything else, whoever loves his brother (or sister) solely for Allah's sake, and whoever hates to revert to disbelief just as he would hate to be thrown into the fire. They must have hope in Allah's help and rewards and fear of His anger and punishment. When parents have completed this task, they will have nurtured true believers and carriers of the message of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). Imagine a world with one billion believers (mu'mineen).

It should be obvious that the most essential building block in this formula is the belief system - the foundation of faith. Eeman is built upon knowledge of Allah and His Oneness, of His Names and attributes, of His majesty and power, of His mercy and forgiveness, of His will and decree, of His prophets and messengers, and so on. From an Islamic perspective, the importance of correct and resolute 'aqeedah cannot be overemphasized, for beliefs direct practices. The Prophet (PBUH) taught his companions aqeedah for thirteen years before introducing the practical aspects of Islam. This approach was followed to ensure firm eeman and commitment to the religion of Allah. 

If parents were to teach their children only correct aqeedah and nothing of practice, they would have a far greater chance of entering paradise than those who pray and fast and give poor-due, but who also worship graves, for example. This is due to the realization that accurate belief in Allah and His religion is necessary for developing a relationship with Him and for cultivating within us the ability to distinguish right from wrong (conscience). This relationship and ability to discern will then lead us to choose the lawful in each and every circumstance. This choice will be made regardless of the pressure to act otherwise.

It is for this reason that a child who has developed eeman and piety will make the job of parenting an easier one. The choices that a child makes will come from within, with love and fear of Allah, rather than having to be imposed externally. Modem psychological principles focus on the application of consequences for behaviour: rewards for positive behaviour and punishment for negative behaviour. While these techniques may be useful at times, they should not be the foundation of parenting. If parents assist their children in developing internal strength, these techniques will rarely be needed, if at all. The focus for a child with eeman will be to seek the pleasure and rewards from Allah with the profound realization that these are greater than any material or social reward that can be gained in this life.

In the end, parents nurture eeman in their children so that they will be successful, not only in this life, but in the hereafter. This should be the central goal for their children. For success in Islam is not measured by wealth or position, it is measured by sincere obedience to Allah and the attainment of paradise in the next life. Allah (SWT) says, 

But those who feared their Lord will have gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein, as accommodation from Allah. And that which is with Allah is best for the righteous. (Qur'an 3: 198)

Allah (SWT) also indicates, 

Allah will say: This is the Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness. For them are gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment. (Qur'an 5: 119)

Truly that is the great attainment.

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