During the course of my life, my parents have taught me hundreds, if not thousands, of important things. From the most mundane skills to the most profound ideas, much of what I know comes from my mother and father. There are some lessons, however, that tend to stand out beyond the others; inspirations or examples that have become part and parcel of how I conduct my life, lessons I want to pass onto my children. I want to share the five most valuable lessons my parents taught me, and I urge you to reflect on what the five most important lessons are that your parents have passed on to you.
1. “Dogs bark, and Caravans Move On”
This is a rough translation of an Urdu saying that is near and dear to my father. He often repeats it to me when I feel frustrated at others, or circumstances, that seem to be hindering my progress or messing up my plans. In essence, my father is telling me not to be distracted by the many insignificant side-shows that line the journey of life. Whether I am suffering career or personal disappointments, my father is lovingly telling me to keep my eyes on the prize and move along. When others try to bring me down, this is my fathers way of telling me to ignore the barking dogs and keep my wheels rolling.
2. “Dry-Clean your Soul”
When I first was heading off to college, to live on-campus no less, my mother pulled me aside and told me the following: “We all make mistakes, and sometimes we sin. We get stains and soil our soul the way a shirt gets dirty from wear and tear. But what do you do with a soiled shirt? You clean it so that you can continue to wear it with your head up. In the same way, you clean your soul with salaat.” Before hearing this, I used to think it was hypocritical of people who sinned to then go stand in front of Allah swt and pray. But this beautiful lesson taught me two important things: first, none of us is perfect, but salaat helps us get nearer to perfection. Second, never to despair in the Mercy of Allah swt – knowing we are imperfect, He blessed us with prayer so even the worst of sinners can find redemption. No matter how low you may feel because of something wrong you have done, salaat can purify you and rectify your situation with Allah swt.
3. “Its all an Amanaah"
Ever since I can remember, I have heard it over and over again that any education or skills that I have are simply a trust, an amaanah, from Allah swt. My mother sweetly pounded into me the understanding that getting degrees was not about making money (after all, our sustenance is already decided). With education came the responsibility to use it to help the community, both Muslim and non-Muslim. God didn't give me those degrees for nothing. Thanks to this lesson, from a young age I have found myself constantly motivated to do community service work knowing that my knowledge and skills are not for my sole pleasure. Every single one of us has skills, knowledge, or experience that can be used in the service of uplifting others; we should all feel obliged to give back what we can. I hope to instill this lesson in my children so they become adults with a drive to serve others.
4. “Say Whatever You Want”
Ok, I admit, this is one lesson I am still struggling to implement. My father has always taught me and my siblings that its not what you say, its how you say it. Being pleasant even when telling the listener things he or she doesn't want to hear can make all the difference in your point getting across. Being kind in your speech not only increases your credibility and preserves the other party's dignity, it is also from the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the many Prophets before him. Remember, even Moses was told to address Pharaoh with gentle and kind words. Pharaoh – the most wretched man of all creation! Even for someone like him, Allah swt commanded a Prophet to use good and kind language. So go ahead, say what you want (with wisdom though!) but just say it nicely.
5. “Walk the Talk”
I have never forgotten an incident from when I was around 10 years old. I asked my father if I could have his pen. My father was an employee of the U.S. Government for almost 30 years. He always had a U.S. government-issued pen tucked in his front pocket. I knew he had countless of these black pens rolling around in his briefcase and car. One of those shiny official government pens could significantly raise my status in school (or so I imagined). My father said no, I couldn't have it. Why? He explained, “These pens are not mine. They belong to the government and are only for government use. Using them for anything other than work would be wrong. I never use them for personal business, so I'm sorry, you cannot have it. I will give you one of my personal pens”.
Another time, also when I was around 9 or 10 years old, we picked up some food from a drive-through and had driven half-way home when my mother realized that we had gotten too much change back. It was less than a dollar. We were all hungry and the food was smelling great, so it was to my great chagrin that my father turned the car around to go return the extra change.
The lesson I learned from these two events, along with many other similar ones, is that our children watch what we do and how we do it very carefully. We are teaching them morals and lessons, whether we want to or not, with our deeds and words. The fact that these incidents made such an impression, even though at the time I saw no lesson and was probably a little miffed, motivates me to try and always do what I preach. I know that my little girls will remember the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that the smallest act of good or evil that they witness could have profound effects on their character. Talking about morality or ethics with your children does not have nearly the same impact as acting in a moral and ethical manner. So be cognizant of the fact that you are always teaching lessons through your actions.
These are five of the most important lessons I learned from my parents. I hope they become valuable lessons for others too. Whether we realize it or not, we all operate according to principles and lessons imparted to us by our parents. Take an hour, jot down the five most important lessons your parents taught you, and email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “Lessons” in the subject line. I will be compiling them to publish so that thousands of others can benefit from the beautiful lessons of our parents.
-Rabia Chaudry, Esq.