Raise your young boys to be men. Raise your young girls to be women. Let their natural masculinity and natural femininity, respectively, be allowed to surface and nurture it instead of stifling it.
Sometime last year, we were visiting family. I was sitting in the front room, close to the front door of the house, with my kids and relatives, relaxing.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door and one of the little kids (not one of my own) ran and immediately flung the door open excitedly. We heard a man’s voice issue a greeting on the doorstep.
I was not wearing my hijab and, while I was not visible yet if the man stepped into the house and turned his head to the side, he would see me. I looked around me frantically for my hijab, but it was not next to me on the chair I happened to be sitting on.
The next part happened swiftly, in quick succession. Before I could say a single word, my oldest son, 8 years old, immediately assessed the situation and ran to stand directly in front of me, putting his body between me and the man at the front door. He had his back to me, stood facing the strange man. His younger brother, my 6-year-old, saw his brother’s stance and ran to stand right next to him. Meanwhile, my 5-year-old ran and grabbed my hijab, which my 2.5-year-old Khalid had been playing with earlier. He came over and handed it to me. I quickly put it on.
A minute or so later, the man was gone.
But I still had tears in my eyes, as I gazed in wonder and awe at the wall of boys in front of me. They stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a wall, using their bodies to block the man’s view of their mother.
I had not asked them to do that, nor had I explicitly instructed them any time in the past to do this particular action in case of such a random situation.
Generally, they knew that Muslim women cover themselves in the presence of strange men and that Mama can only take off her hijab in the context of family. We had talked about the concept of الحياء (hayaa’), modesty, which is a beautiful Islamic value that is important for both men and women. In everyday life, they observe how their father–the man of the house–is with their mother.
But it shook me, in the best of ways, to see them apply such general knowledge to a specific situation. It touched me deeply to see their instinctive response, their natural desire to defend, their masculine protective nature in action.
Once we were alone again, I hugged each boy in turn and thanked them. They saw the tears in my eyes and asked me why I was crying.
I said, ” ! الحمد لله! أنا بربي رجال! ”
“I’m raising (doing tarbiya of) men, alhamdulillah!”
They stood taller, their backs straight, grinning with pride and satisfaction.
We live in a world where so many different elements combine together to villainize, pathologize and criminalize masculinity.
Men are stifled, their nature deemed “toxic” and their instincts are seen as primitive and oppressive. Under the oppressive influence of feminism, modern society punishes any overt displays of masculinity or femininity, railroading both boys and girls and the men and women they grow up to be, into a strange androgynous creature, neither here nor there.
But we Muslims know that this is extremely harmful to our children, both boys, and girls. Celebrate your daughter’s femininity and your son’s masculinity and treat these traits as a good thing. The aim is to ease their transition into adulthood and help them find their footing as men and women inshaAllah.
Renowned physician and psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax writes in his book Why Gender Matters:
“The transition to adulthood. More than in any other realm, there’s where modern society lets kids down. We offer our children no guidance about what it means to be an adult woman or an adult man. No other culture has ever abandoned young people making the transition to gendered adulthood as completely as the twenty-first-century post-industrial societies of North America, Western Europe, and Australia/ New Zealand.
In traditional societies, the transition to gendered adulthood is a matter of great importance…One hundred years from now, scholars may look back at the disintegration of early twenty-first-century culture and conclude that a fundamental cause for the unraveling of our social fabric was the neglect of gender in the raising of our children–not only in our schools, but also in the disbanding of gender-separate activities across generations, and in the near elimination of single-gender communal activities: women with girls, men with boys. I wonder what those future historians will say about how long it took us to recognize our mistake, to recognize that gender matters.” (Why Gender Matters, p. 250-251)
What modern American non-Muslim researchers like Dr. Sax are finding out and suggesting has long been known by Muslims, taught to us as an integral part of our deen from the time of the Prophet ﷺ. These concepts and values have been commanded by our Creator, Allah, who has fashioned boys and girls, men and women.
May Allah grant us the wisdom to apply these teachings in our tarbiya of our children, ameen.