By Mohammed Saleem
Ramadan often elicits childhood memories of our parents going to extra lengths to make it special, waking up in the middle of the night to make us that gourmet suhoor (breakfast) before the dawn of our first fast. It is a time we become more thankful for what we took for granted, not only for the food on our tables, but for the parents who provided it for us, at all hours of the day and night.
Fasting fosters gratitude, and now, as adults, some of us with children of our own, our thanks and prayers for our parents should naturally increase. And as we honor our mothers and fathers, perhaps it is also time that we as parents also give thanks to our children for the special gift they gave us.
So to all our children, thanks for the sleepless nights. Thanks for all those times spent feeding you, rocking you, and trying to comfort you as you cried endlessly through the night. Thanks for all the nights when we stayed awake so you could sleep.
New parents are encouraged, as an act of thanks and as a recommended practice according to the majority of schools, to perform the sacrifice of the `aqeeqah (ritual after the birth of a baby) to celebrate the birth of a child. Its similarity to the sacrifice of Eid-ul-Adha bears mentioning. Just like in the sacrifice of Eid-ul-Adha, in the `aqeeqah, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) wants us to ask ourselves the same fundamental question:
What are we willing to give up, to sacrifice for Allah (swt), and what are we willing to sacrifice for others?
The most commonly asked question a new parent gets from just about everyone is, “How are you sleeping?” Why? Because most of us know that when you have a newborn you are not going to be getting much sleep. You have to sacrifice your sleep. So by doing the physical sacrifice of the `aqeeqah, it as if Allah (swt) is teaching us at the earliest stage of parenthood that the road to being a parent is about sacrifice. Sacrifice your sleep, sacrifice your wealth, sacrifice your time. Extinguish your ego, your nafs, for your child, and for Allah (swt), because the road of sacrifice for others, and doing for others, and giving for others, is the road to the nearness of Allah (swt).
We all know the famous hadith (narration) of the Messenger ﷺ (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), who said that none of you will truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.1 Some scholars, like Imam an-Nawawi, who included this hadith in his Arba`een, even state that this mindset applies to our relationship to all the children of Adam, both in the fold of Islam and in the fold of humanity at large.
Applying this hadith is a challenge, because it’s in our human nature to be selfish. It’s not that we actively hope that others don’t do as well as us; it’s just that we hope we are doing better. We like to have more than others; we want to be surpassing others. If life was a race, we would naturally want to end up first.
With our children, though, it’s different, because the race suddenly turns upside down. It is in the nature of the parent that we will always want our children to not just do as well as us, but in fact to do better than us and to have more than us. Even if it’s at our own expense, even if we have to sacrifice something of ours own for them, we want to see them come out on top and be first.
In experiencing parenthood, Allah (swt) is showing us that within all of us, there is that seed of emotional and spiritual potential for selflessness. Yes, we can love for others what we love for ourselves. We do it for our children everyday. Now, learning from that, the challenge then is to apply it to everyone.
Once, when the Messenger of Allah SAW kissed his dear grandson Hasan ibn Ali, the man sitting next to him declared that he had ten children and did not kiss any of them. The Messenger SAW stated, ‘Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy’.2 When Bedouins once came to the Messenger SAW and asked if he kissed children, while stating that they themselves surely did not, he replied, “Can I put mercy in your hearts after Allah (swt) has removed it from them?”3
Our relationship with our children is an opportunity for cultivating rahma (merciful love), but it does not end with them. Rahma is so expansive that it cannot be compartmentalized or restricted in our heart; hence the Messenger ﷺ made a connection here for us that the absence of affection to a child testified to the absence of generalized rahma in these Bedouins, and that that had an effect on society as a whole.
The seed for rahma in our interactions begins in the heart and at home, and perhaps that is why Allah (swt) made it so easy for us to naturally love and sacrifice for our children. Not only does it enrich our lives and theirs, but it is an essential training for the heart. With that training, our service, generosity and mercy to our families can diffuse and translate outward into the society. We can begin the process of learning to love for all our brothers and sisters what we love for ourselves.
That process is crucial to the main objective of our lives, to be servants of Allah (swt). The best servants of Allah (swt) are the people of ithar (preference), those who work and live for others. That is where the beauty of life resides.
So to all of our children, thanks for the sleepless nights. Years before we ever taught you to ride a bicycle with training wheels on the driveway, those sleepless nights were your training wheels for us, teaching us about who we can be and the ideals we should strive for.
Perhaps, one day, by Allah (swt)’s grace, we can finally ride out on our own into the streets of the larger world with rahma, serving and living for all the children of Adam as we have for you, implementing the command of the Messsenger of Mercy SAW, on the journey to seek Allah (swt)’s nearness and His pleasure.
Thank you for the sleepless nights, O Allah (swt)…