Sunday, March 21, 2010

Golden Principle of Raising Children-Disciplining the Soul -Imam Al-Ghazzali (rha)

The following is from Imam Ghazali's: Disciplining the Soul (Kitab
Riyadat al-Nafs), being Book XXI of Ihya' `Ulum al-Din (The Revival of
the Religious Sciences) translated by T.J. Winter (Shaykh Abdal Hakim

NOW that the way in which young children are disciplined is one of the most important of all matters. A child is a trust in the
care of his parents, for his pure heart is a precious uncut jewel devoid
of any form or carving, which will accept being cut into any shape, and
will be disposed according to the guidance it receives from others. If
it is habituated to and instructed in goodness then this will be its
practice when it grows up, and it will attain to felicity in this world
and the next; its parents too, and all its teachers and preceptors, will
share in its reward. Similarly, should it be habituated to evil and
neglected as though it were an animal, then misery and perdition will be
its lot, and the responsibility for this will be borne by its guardian
and supervisor. For God (Exalted is He!) has said, Ward off from
yourselves and your families a Fire. A father may strive to protect his
son from fire in this world, but yet it is of far greater urgency that
he protect him from the fires which exist in the Afterlife. This he
should do by giving him discipline, teaching him and refining his
character, and by preserving him from bad company, and by not suffering
him to acquire the custom of self-indulgence, or to love finery and
luxury, in the quest for which he might well squander his life when
older and thus perish forever. Rather should he watch over him
diligently from his earliest days, and permit none but a woman of virtue
and religion to nurse and raise him; her diet should be of permitted
things, for there is no blessing [baraka] in milk which originates in
forbidden food, which, should a child be nourished on it, will knead his
native disposition in such a way as to incline his temperament to

When the signs of discretion appear in him he should again be watched over carefully. The first of these is the rudiments of
shame, for when he begins to feel diffident and is ashamed of certain
things so that he abandons them, the light of the intellect has dawned
in him, whereby he sees that certain things are ugly, and different from
others, and begins to be ashamed of some things and not others. [1]This
is a gift to him from God (Exalted is He!), and a good foretoken that
his traits will be balanced, his heart pure, and his intellect sound
when he enters upon adulthood.

The child who has developed the capacity for shame should never be neglected; rather this and his
discretion should be used as aids in his education. The first trait to
take control of him will be greed for food; he is to be disciplined in
this regard, so that, for instance, he picks up food only with his right
hand, says 'In the name of God' when raising it, eats from that which
is nearest to him, and does not start eating before others. [2] He
should not stare at his food or at the other people present, neither
should he bolt it, but should chew properly; he should not eat one
mouthful after another without pause, he should not get food on his hand
or his clothes, and he should acquire the habit of sometimes eating
nothing but bread so that he does not think that the presence of other
kinds of food is inevitable. He should be made to dislike eating large
quantities by being told that this is the practice of animals, and by
seeing other children reproached for overeating or praised for being
well-mannered and moderate. He should be made to enjoy giving the best
food to others, and encouraged to pay little heed to what he eats and to
be contented with its coarser varieties.

­­­­­He should be encouraged to like white rather than coloured or silk garments, and made
firmly to believe that these latter are proper to women and to
effeminate men, and that [true] men disdain them. This should be
repeatedly emphasised to him so that he dislikes and criticises the
wearing by any child he sees of silken or coloured clothes. He should be
protected from children who are accustomed to luxury and comfort, and
to wearing expensive garments, and from mixing with all who would speak
to him of such things and thereby make them fine in his eyes. For the
child who is neglected in the early years of his growth will usually
grow up to be ill-natured, dishonest, envious, obstinate, inclined to
theft, backbiting, and excessive chatter and laughter, and slyness and
immorality, from all of which things he can be protected through a sound

Next he should be busy at school learning the Qur'ân, the Traditions, and tales of devout men, so that love for the
righteous may take root is his heart. He should be preserved from those
varieties of poetry which treat of lovers and passion [3], and from the
company of such men of letters as claim that these things are part of an
elegant and sophisticated nature, for this would implant the seeds of
corruption in his heart. Whenever a good trait or action manifests
itself in the child he should be admired and rewarded with something
which gives him joy, and should be praised in front of others; likewise,
when once in a while he does something bad it is best to pretend not to
notice and not to bring it to the attention of others (but never to
reveal to him that it is something which others might be bold enough to
do), particularly if the child himself has diligently endeavoured to
hide his action, for the exposure of such deeds may cause him to grow
emboldened, until he no longer cares when they are made public. Should
he repeat the action, he should be privately reproached and made to feel
that it was a very serious thing, and be told, 'Beware of doing
anything like this again, or I shall tell others and you will be
disgraced in front of them!'. He should not be spoken to at length every
time, for this would accustom him to being blamed for his misdeeds, and
destroy the effectiveness such words have upon his heart. A father
should rather preserve the awe in which the child holds his speech by
reproaching him only sometimes: similarly the mother, when reproving him
should frighten him by [threatening to mention the matter to] his
father. He should not be permitted to sleep by day, for this conduces to
laziness, and should always be allowed to sleep at night, but not on a
soft bed, which would prevent his members from growing tough. His body
should not be allowed to grow fat, for this would make it hard for him
to renounce self-indulgence; instead he should be habituated to rough
bedding, clothing and food.

He should also be prevented from doing anything secretly, for he will conceal things only when he
believes them to be ugly, and if he is left to continue these practices
will grow used to doing ugly things. He should acquire the habit of
walking, moving about and taking exercise for part of the day so the he
is not overcome by idleness, and should be taught not to uncover his
limbs or walk fast, and not to dangle his arms but to keep them close to
his trunk. He must be forbidden to boast to his fellows about any of
his parents' possessions, whether these be money or property, or about
anything he eats or wears, or about his tablet and pencase, and should
become used to being modest, generous and mild in speech to all with
whom he associates. He should be prevented from accepting anything from
other boys, if he is from a wealthy and powerful family, and be taught
that it is honourable to give, and base and blameworthy to take; while
if his parents are poor he should be taught that greed and taking from
others is a disgraceful and humiliating practice fit only for dogs,
which wag their tails hoping for a morsel.

Children should always be made to deem the love of gold and silver an unsightly thing, and
should be warned in this regard even more vigorously than they are
warned about snakes and scorpions, for the vice which consists in such a
love is more dangerous to them (and to adults also) than poison.

A child should be put in the practice of not spitting, yawning or wiping
his nose in the presence of others, and taught not to turn his back to
anyone, or to cross his legs, or lean his chin and support his head on
his hand, for these practices indicate the presence of sloth. He should
be taught how to sit, and be forbidden to speak excessively, it being
explained to him that this is a sign of impudence and the custom of
children from low families. Making oaths of any sort, whether true or
false, should be forbidden to him, so that he never acquires this habit
as a child. He should be put in the habit of never speaking before
anyone else, and of speaking only in response to questions and in
proportion to them, and of listening properly whenever an older person
is speaking, and rising [when he enters], and making a place for him and
sitting facing him. He should be forbidden to speak loosely, or to
curse or insult anyone, or to mingle with those who do such things, for
these habits will inevitably be acquired should he fall in with bad
company, the preservation from which is the very root and foundation of
the education of children. If his teacher strikes him he should not cry
out and sob, or seek anyone's intercession, but should rather bear his
punishment, and be told that to do so is a mark of courage and manhood,
while to cry is the practice of slaves and women.

After school, he should be allowed to play in a fashion which gives him some rest
after his hard work in class, although he should not be allowed to grow
exhausted. To prevent a child from playing, and to fatigue him with
constant lessons, will cause his heart to die and harm his intelligence,
and make life so hateful to him that he will cast around for some means
of escape.

He should be taught to obey his parents and his teacher, and all people who are older than himself, whether relations or
not, and to look upon them with respect and admiration and not to play
in their presence. As he reaches the age of discretion he should not be
excused the ritual ablutions and the Prayer, and should be told to fast
for a few days during Ramadan, and should be prevented from wearing
gold, silk or embroidered clothes. He should be taught about the limits
[4] laid down by the Law, and put in fear of theft and unlawful gain,
and also of lying, treachery, deceit, and all the other traits which
tend to predominate among children. If he is brought up in this way,
then as he approaches adulthood he will come to understand the reasons
which underlie these things, and will be told that food is a means of
maintaining health, and that its sole purpose is to enable man to gain
strength for the worship of God (Great and Glorious is He!), and that
this world is without reality, since it will not endure, and that death
must bring its pleasures to an end, and that it is a place through which
we pass but in which we cannot abide, unlike the Afterlife, in which we
must abide and through which we cannot pass, for death awaits us at
every moment, and that therefore the intelligent and insightful man will
lay up provisions in this world for his journey into the next so as to
gain a high degree in the sight of God and abundant bliss in the Gardens
of Heaven. If his upbringing was sound, then when he attains to
maturity these ideas will have a powerful and wholesome effect which
will leave an impress on his heart like an inscription on stone; had it
been otherwise, so that the child had grown accustomed to play,
boastfulness, rudeness and insolence, and greed for food, clothes and
finery, his heart will shrink from accepting truth in the manner of a
field where crops wither because of its dry soil.

It is the beginning which should be supervised carefully, for a child is a
creature whose essence is receptive to both good and evil: it is only
its parents who cause it to be disposed to one or the other. As the
Prophet said, 'Every child is born with the sound natural disposition
[fitra]: it is only his parents who make of him a Jew, a Christian or a

Sahl ibn 'Abd Allâh al-Tustarî said, 'When I was [only] three years old I used to say the midnight prayer, having watched
my maternal uncle Muhammad ibn Suwâr doing this. One day he said to me
'Do you not remember God, your Creator?' and I asked, 'How should I
remember Him?' 'When you put on your bedclothes, say in your heart three
times, without moving your tongue, "God is with me. God beholds me.
God watches over me". This I did for several nights, telling him
what I had done. Then he instructed me to say the same words seven times
each night, which I did, and then eleven times, upon which I felt a
sweetness growing in my heart. When a year had passed, my uncle said to
me, "Keep doing what I have told you until you enter your grave, for it
will help you in this world and the next". I continued to do it for
several years, finding a sweetness within myself, until my uncle said,
"Sahl! If God is with somebody, and beholds him and watches over him,
can he then disobey Him? You should never do so".

'Now, it was a habit of mine to keep my own company, and when they sent me to school I
said, "I am afraid that my concentration will be lost". But they made it
a condition upon the schoolmaster that I should be with him and study
for a certain period each day, and would then come back home. And so I
went to school, where I memorised the Qur'ân by the time I was six or
seven years old. It was my practice to fast every day, my only
nourishment for twelve years being from barley-bread. When I was
thirteen I came across a question [which I could not answer], and asked
my family to send me to Basra to search for the answer to it there [5].
When I arrived, I asked the scholars of that city regarding it, but not
one of them was able to provide me with a satisfactory response. I
journeyed therefore to 'Abbâdân [6], where I met a man named Abû Habîb
Hamza ibn Abî 'Abd Allâh al-'Abbâdânî, who was able to answer my
question. I then stayed with him for while, benefiting from his
discourse and taking on some of his good manners, and then went back to
Tustar [7]. Now I restricted myself in the matter of food to buying for
one dirham a measure [8] of barley, which I would cause to be ground and
baked, and of which I would eat one ounce [ûqiya] before dawn, without
any salt or other food, so that that one dirham sufficed me for a whole
year. Then I resolved to fast for three days at a stretch, and then
break my fast, and then for five days, and then seven, and at last
twenty-five days. This I did for twenty years. Then I went out, and
wandered in the earth for several more years, and then returned to
Tustar, where I prayed all night for as long as God willed.' Said Ahmad,
'I never saw him eat salt until he went to meet his Lord'.


  1. Assalamu 3laikum. LOL.. that Ustaiz Mahmoud's daughter in the photo. Ma'shallah.

  2. Waalaikumsalam, yes MashaAllah, isnt she gorgeous?May Allah (swt) protect these girls from harm InshaALlah and May they grow up to become pious muslimahs and hafizahs InshaAllah:)