“O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever befalls you; for this is firmness in (the conduct of) affairs. And swell not your cheek (in pride) at humankind, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God does not love any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in your pace, and lower your voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.”
Bringing up children in the 21st century is no easier, nor is it any harder, than bringing up children in any century. Of course, each time period has its unique problems but generic advice will always offer the best solutions because the nature of the human being remains unchanged.
The above quotation is a verse taken from the Holy Quran. It reminds those who adhere to its teachings of the advice given by a father in previous generations to his son. I chose that verse to introduce the subject matter I am writing on today.
I come from a culture and a community which is often accused of giving preference to males over females. I am often asked about the East Indian community’s and, by extension, the religion’s position relative to the role of females and why there seems to be more favour given to males.
While a lot of what people think is generally their perception, some truths are found in cultures where male dominance seems to be the norm. And, oftentimes, the lines between what the culture dictates and what the religion teaches are blurred. So what one finds in many communities are cultural practices overshadowing what the faith actually teaches.
The faith I subscribe to gives equal balance to males and females in the sight of God, each gender having rights and responsibilities. Each having accountability for his or her actions. The onus is on both males and females to live life responsibly and to be good, moral and upright citizens.
In some cultures and societies, and this, by the way, is not only found among Muslims, parents’ attitudes differ when it comes to raising boys compared to raising girls. In several cases, boys are given much more freedom and choice whereas girls are much more sheltered. The merits or the disadvantages of such arrangements have been debated and can be argued for eternity.
I suspect that many parents will tell us that there are no guarantees either way and one has to do the best one can to raise one’s children. One aspect that seems very successful in many ‘eastern’ cultures is the insistence on family life and family structures. Extended families continue to play a role and this tends to help in
Raising children, both male and female, to grow up to be honest, decent and outstanding human beings is the task. Some cultures and even faiths may subscribe roles to each gender. Some may choose to abide by these assigned roles; others may choose otherwise. The reality is that parents, one or both, must do their utmost best to raise their children as best as their can, equipping them with the necessary tools to survive life and all the opportunities and challenges it gives.
Both males and females, in my view, have to work together for a better society and a better world. If both genders see life as a competition where one feels one is stronger or weaker than the other, then coming together will be difficult and working together even more problematic.
Many cultures, faiths, communities and even families throughout the world offer very good examples of how societies prosper when men and women work together and compliment each other in their roles and responsibilities.
Sadly, much emphasis is given to the differences, the clashes and the disparities. We should focus instead on understanding our mutual rights.
Men and women both deserve to be cared for and nurtured. In my faith, men are generally seen as the caretakers and protectors of women. And while some may interpret this to mean male dominance, there is no evidence to prove that taking care of and protecting the female gender equates to dominating women.
If someone believes such, then they are grossly mistaken.Our faith’s history is replete with women who have been outstanding leaders, scholars, academics and even successful in business.
Our world has witnessed the ravages of male dominance and we continue to witness it in many places. And while much success has been gained in securing women’s rights in many other parts of the world, the tendency in several places is to go to the other extreme. Finding the right balance seems to be elusive.
Instilling this sense of shared responsibility, mutual respect and common vision is the task of parents in the upbringing of their children. Recognition of the differing natures of men and women is also important. This recognition does not in any way mean inferiority or superiority of one gender over the other. That is simply the way men and women have been created.
In those families that recognize the task of providing their children with this understanding, one will generally find harmonious relationships. One will also find it being passed from one generation to the next.
I understand my role as a male is to take care of my family. This understanding is given to me by my faith and was also reinforced by my upbringing. I also appreciate that not all males can take care of their families alone and so their partners are their helpmates. I also recognize that in some situations, there are no males shouldering that responsibility and females have to struggle to overcome that deficiency.
The world is not perfect and so there is no perfect fit for every situation. What we can all aspire to is building a better world for every human being regardless of the circumstances.
The verse I quoted from the Holy Quran gives some tips on what a father should instill in his son. Lessons in the value of prayer, doing right, shunning wrong, having patience in adversity and, most importantly, not being proud and boastful. This lesson is equally important to our daughters.
I believe also if we raise our males to be responsible men, then we solve a great deal of our social problems. This is a challenge we should face as it seems that much discussion today is surrounding males not living up to their responsibility. We should bring to the fore more often the positive male role models. I commend those who are actively making the effort to reform our young men and ensure they grow up to be the best they can be.
Recently, I took the opportunity to visit the Nature Fun Ranch in St Andrew. Congratulations to Corey Layne and especially his team of young men who were exceptional in their service to the primary school children I attended with. It is initiatives like these that we must promote, support and commend.
I also recognize a south coast restaurant where I got outstanding service a few months ago by an almost all male staff.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)