Bridging the Generation Gap
Those who pray, ‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are pious.’ Those will be rewarded with the highest place in Paradise for their steadfastness. There they will be met with greetings and peace. There they will stay – a happy and resting place. (Al-Furqan 25:74-76)
Those who believe and their offspring follow them in faith, We unite them with their offspring. We deny them not of the reward of any of their deeds: each person is in pledge for his own deeds. (Al-Tur 52:21)
Many people complain of generation gap and talk about how to bridge it. When we look from the Islamic point of view we can say that there are two types of generation gaps: Negative and Positive: Negative generation gap means lack of communication, lack of respect, lack of trust and care between one generation and the other. This is, of course not acceptable in Islam. There is, however, a positive generation gap which means independence, self-reliance, open mindedness, fresh ideas and fresh blood. This brings progress, growth and development of culture and civilization. Islam stands for balance, equilibrium, without any extreme in any matter. Islam accepts the positive and rejects the negative. Islam does not teach ancestor worship but teaches respectful relations. The Qur’an has criticized, on the one hand, the ancestral traditions that are devoid of meaning “deen al-aba’” ; but, on the other hand, it has honored the righteous traditions of the pious forefathers “millat abikum Ibrahim.”
Negative Generation Gap is a recent phenomenon in human societies. It has come due the loss of multigenerational family system – children, parents and grandchildren often used to live together. Children used to grow up listening to bedside stories from their grandmothers and going out for walk with their grandfathers. Individualism is another factor that has created generation gap. Individualism is a philosophy that emphasizes egotism, liberty, freedom from authority, etc. Lack of quality time between parents and children is another reason for creating generation gap. Due to economic pressures, father and mother both work, parents do not have much time to spend with their children. Few years ago a survey said that, on an average, parents speak to their children less than 15 minutes a week. Furthermore too much groupings and artificial caucusing – babies group, youth group, elderly group, everybody with his/her own group – these groupings have intensified the generation gap.
Negative Generation Gap is an unnatural phenomenon. Communication between generations is highly important for the development of human culture and society. Generations generally care and respect each other. Allah has built humanity on this love and care. There is a natural love between parents and children, between the elders and younger people. Human society grows with learning. Learning is a cumulative act. One generation imparts knowledge to another generation and the next generation builds on that knowledge. For learning it is necessary that there must be communication, understanding, trust, respect and honor between generations. Communication also brings cooperation and collaboration, peace and harmony. Islam teaches respect of elders and love towards the younger people. Islam teaches that believers are those who pray for those who went before them, not like the people of hell whenever a generation comes, it curses the previous one (al-Hashr 59:10 and al-A’raf 7:38).
How to bridge the negative gap? Conscious efforts should be done to develop love, peace, harmony, care and kindness among the generations. As much as possible Muslims should have multigenerational homes, or there should be more frequent visits between parents, grandparents and children. Parents should give more time to their children and if grandparents are living then there should be more and frequent visits with them. We should be open and friendly to our children, allow them to ask questions and take their questions seriously. Children should not be intimidated or humiliated if they make mistakes. We must try to understand them and help them. Islamic upbringing has both: right knowledge (Ta’lim) and deep moral and spiritual training (Tazkiyah). Parent should be good role models. Shura is an important aspect of Islamic life. Shura is based on the Islamic dignity (karamah), justice (‘adl) and equality (musawat). Shura should be built from home. We should not expect perfection; because there are no human beings who are infallible, except the Prophet of Allah. However, we are supposed to remind and help each other to grow in goodness and become better people. Another important thing to remember for understanding the generational difference is to understand the difference between religion and culture. Not everything of other cultures is forbidden and not everything of your ancestral culture is part of your religion.
Some generation gap is also natural and necessary because of the movement of time, changes in socio- economic conditions and each generation having its own opportunities and challenges. The Second Caliph Sayedna ‘Umar – may Allah be pleased with him- used to say:
“Honor your children and teach them good manners and know that they are created for a time different from your time.”
We do not want to make our children our ditto copies, they should have their independence. They have right to hold ideas different from ours and even to criticize us in respectful manner. It is possible that sometimes their ideas and ways are better than ours. We should give them space to grow, learn and make their own decisions. We should not make them totally dependent upon us. We should give them responsibilities at home, in business and involve them as soon as they are ready in leadership positions.
Our children in America have great challenges before them. We want them to be strong and committed Muslims who shall prove to be good individuals, good family members, good neighbors, good citizens of America as well as good citizens of the world. We have to maintain and continuously develop the resources to realize our vision and mission. May Allah help us in this task. May Allah protect our young generation and keep them on the right path. Ameen.
(Khutbah at ISOC – Jumada al-Ula 24, 1429/ May 30, 2008)
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