I was with one of my older relatives yesterday and he was looking back over the past 70 years of his life with me and particularly his experiences as a father.
He has two grown children whom he had a bit later in life, a 23-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter.
The son is a personal trainer at a local gym, spending most of his time at the weight rack working on getting bigger. He still has a semester or two left before he graduates undergrad because he had taken some time off and flunked out of some classes and switched majors multiple times in college.
The son is doing a bit better now in his life, but the father was telling me of how winding and painful the path has been.
The trouble started very early on because the father and the mother were not at all on the same page when it came to childrearing. The parents fought constantly over how to raise the kids, taking turns accusing one another of being too strict and too lenient. The mother was coddling and pampering, the father tried to instill discipline and order. The TV was blaring almost all day, running in the background. The kids of Muslim immigrant parents were watching and learning from American non-Muslim kids on TV how to treat parents. Both parents worked and the kids went to public school and hung out after school with non-Muslim kids. Neither parent allowed the other to act without sabotage.
The kids saw the parents’ confusion and chaos and latched on to bad friends from the neighborhood at an early age.
The son was introduced to drugs at the age of 13 by his friends. The parents didn’t find out until a few years later. The son was taught to take the usual precautions so parents don’t catch him high: eyedrops to counteract the redness of the eyes that weed gives, cologne to eliminate the odor of weed from his clothes, etc.
But eventually, the parents realized that their barely-teenaged son was smoking weed regularly. They were utterly heartbroken and also furious. They were at a loss as to what to do.
As usual, each parent took a different path. The mother was extremely emotional and allowed her emotions to drive her reaction, often cornering her son as he tried to leave the house, following him around at 1 am trying to see who he was meeting up with and screaming at him to be a good kid and stop smoking.
The father tried yelling as well initially but saw immediately that use of force would go nowhere with his son. The boy was too big to force now, and he had become sullen and stubborn as a teenager, and he clearly valued his pothead friends over his elderly immigrant parents. The father saw all this in a flash and backed off, trying to find another strategy to reach his son.
The years passed, and the son increased in his marijuana usage and also became brazen about it, growing desensitized to his mother’s ranting and screaming and to his father’s quieter disapproval. He would walk into the house at 2 or 3 at night, high out of his mind, and walk peacefully past his stunned parents waiting up for him, to his room without speaking to anyone.
He became heavily addicted to marijuana and smoked every day. He was now in college (still living at home with his parents) and quickly failed out of freshman year classes. He made other friends who could sell him weed and explored other types of drugs as well.
His parents took different tacks over the years, trying to reach him, connect with him, find a way to help him overcome the weed addiction and pray daily, fast, attend salat al-jumu`a at the masjid with his father. Nothing they tried worked: not the long, quiet talks with his father and not the wildly emotional rants of his mother.
One night, as the son prepared to go out to meet up with his friends, his mother came into his room, enraged. “Where are you going? It’s almost midnight!”
“I’m gonna see my friends,” he said, turning his back to her and reaching for his car keys.
His mother tried to grab the keys out of his hand, but he was 18 years old and much taller and stronger than her, and he easily held the keys up out of her reach.
She planted herself firmly in his way, blocking his path to the door. “You’re not leaving tonight!” she screamed up in his face.
“Yes I am,” he replied calmly, coldly.
Back and forth they went, until the son grabbed his mother by the shoulders and shoved her aside, hard enough to knock her onto the bed behind her. She fell back, more shocked than she had ever been in her life. Where is the precious son she had loved and coddled? Who was this rough stranger?
When the son was 22 years old, he became a drug dealer. He was approached by some suppliers with a proposal: take this amount of weed and sell it to your friends and acquaintances for us, and you get a certain amount of free weed in return. The deal was made, and the son started bringing home big bags of what the parents belatedly realized was marijuana.
They grew more worried than ever. This was flirting with illegal stuff now, much more directly. But as usual, the son was completely unconcerned with what his parents thought or wanted. He set his own course, right in front of them.
But things started escalating in terms of danger. The kids who were buying from him were his buddies and sometimes they didn’t pay on time and he would let them defer payments. But every week, he still owed a specific amount of money to the dealers, and they were definitely not his friends. They wanted their payments in full on time.
The boy went to his father, asking to borrow $80. The father asked why, and the son simply said that he owed some people money. The father wasn’t sure if this was related to weed. But he felt trapped. He gave his son the money.
But he was uneasy. After another incident, as the son stumbled home high again and got into yet another fight with the parents, the parents threw his clothes out into the driveway of the house and said, “Get out.”
The son grabbed a bag and started packing his things, ready to leave, unmoved. But after a few minutes, the father calmed down enough to tell his son to come in and stay home, and we will figure things out in the morning. It was the middle of the night and tensions were high. The son and father walked into the house and shut the front door. The crisis was averted for the night.
A few weeks later, there were strange cars coming to the house, cruising up and down the street slowly. Strange young men knocked on the front door, asking for their son. That night, the son went to his father and asked for $150.
This time the father was sure. His son was asking him for money to pay back the drug dealers who were after him. He was late with a payment and they were hounding him. It was getting very, very dangerous.
The 70-year-old father cried as he shared this incident with me. “I’ve lived to see the day when I would pay for my son’s weed so his dealers don’t hurt him.”
I reassured him, telling him that alhamdulillah his son was doing better now. After that final incident, he stopped dealing weed. He still smoked it himself but was trying to cut back. He turned to work out and weightlifting at the gym to stay away from the weed and its old circles. He was trying to study and get better grades in his classes so he can finally graduate and get his bachelor’s degree. He was praying sometimes. He was better with his parents.
Muslim parents, moving to a non-Muslim country can improve your financial standing and material possessions, but often at the cost of your children and their deen.
Some Muslim families have no choice and for various reasons, circumstances dictate that they live in America or England or whatever other western country. Watch your Muslim children and be intentional about tarbiya. Communicate well, openly, and clearly with your spouse about your parenting strategies and work out your differences behind closed doors. Don’t sabotage one another’s parenting out of bitterness or spite. Be a team and present a united front to the kids so there is no confusion about the rules.
Do not allow your kids unfettered freedom of movement or over-exposure to the popular western monoculture (especially via the television and social media networks). Do not yield to the dictates of cultural trends and non-Muslim social rules in raising your Muslim children.
And from beginning to end, place your trust in Allah and have tawakkul, making dua day and night.
May Allah grant all Muslim parents wisdom and insight, and all Muslim youth guidance and safety, ameen.