Nadia and Zana Mohsen:Raising children islamically [Archives:2005/807/Opinion]

January 13 2005

By Umm Ibrahim
For Yemen Times

It is said that in every difficulty or tragedy in life, there is a lesson to be learned. The story of the Mohsen sisters is one such case.

Zana and Nadia Mohsen, the sisters whose stories appeared in a series of investigative articles in Yemen Times Online, seem to have touched a nerve with the world-wide community.

Readers of the Yemen Times were anxious to learn of the fate of Nadia, hoping that she was faring well, despite her supposed “desperate situation,” that was described by her mother and sister Zana. There was a sigh of relief among followers of the story when they learned that Nadia had in fact led a rather content life, has a beautiful family, peaceful life, and genuinely appears to be happy. Whether Zana's own account of what she encountered during her time in Yemen is completely true, it is definitely not a fairy tale either, and there may be some truth to her own personal experiences that she recalled in her books. That is not for us to decide; rather we should consider what there is to be learned from the whole experience.

I sincerely believe that there is a great lesson to be learned from this story, and however twisted Zana's rendition of the tale may be, the underlying problem of the improper upbringing of children is the issue that deserves further thought.

The story of the Mohsen sisters is not an uncommon one, unfortunately. Nearly every person of Yemeni descent has heard of such a tale, and the blame often goes to the child, to the non-Muslim parent, or to both. It is usually the father that has made the gravest of mistakes in the upbringing of his children.

It is not uncommon for Yemeni immigrants to the U.K., U.S. and other western countries to marry local women, many who hope to maintain citizenship that will allow them to remain in the said countries and work.

According to the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, our spouses and children have rights over us. Teaching a non-Muslim wife about the teachings of al-Islam is obligatory for the husband, regardless of whether she chooses to remain a Christian or a Jew. Even more important is the teaching of al-Islam to our children, in the hope that we give them the tools that they need to navigate in the world. The teachings of their religion will provide them with the means to react in difficult situations, and the willpower to not participate in many activities that their peers are participating in.

Immigrant parents unfortunately often become preoccupied with earning livings and before they know it, the toddlers have become school children, and the youngsters have become teenagers.

It is usually around the time that children reach adolescence that parents begin to panic. They begin to wonder why their teen will not obey them as they did when they were younger. They also wonder why the teen no longer finds it important to respect their parents.

There is a common scenario for immigrant fathers: he begins to wonder where he went wrong. Did he teach these children to pray, to fast, and to go to the Islamic center? Did he teach them the importance of respecting of their parents as is stated no less than 15 times in the Qur'an, and is taught in many traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Did he teach by example that Muslims do not drink, date, take drugs, and explain why these things are forbidden? Was he a good example for his wife and children? Did he emulate the essence of Islam in his relationship with them? By adolescence, it is too late, unfortunately, to ask these questions.

Did he talk to them about his home country? Did he take them there whenever possible to visit family, and to learn about the unique culture? Or will they be sent off in the hope that all will turn out well?

Sending the children (mainly daughters, but sometimes sons) seems like a quick solution to make up for lost time that should have been spent teaching and raising them. Unfortunately, sending your daughter off, even willingly, without he father to represent her is a mistake. Her father should always be there for her to teach her and represent her. Such a trip should ideally be made when the daughter is mature, and after a series of trips throughout her life in order to acquaint her with the culture and ways of life in Yemen (all of the problems are equally applicable to boys).

It is not reasonable to expect someone who has never been exposed to their religion or culture, to be able to accept or even understand the concept of moving to another country and marrying someone from a completely different background, with different ways of thinking. It is clear that this is a process that will take time, it is not an overnight solution to a lifetime of neglect.

I am thankful that Nadia's story turned out well, and I was intrigued by her beautiful family and by her happiness. The fact that her husband has stayed by her side for 20 years should be appreciated, and the fact that he has not used her as an entrance visa to Britain is obvious from the two decades that they have lived together in Yemen.

Umm Ibrahim is the nickname of a London-based Muslim contributor to Yemen Times who had offered to present her opinion about the Islamic teaching of Children and how it could help to avoid repeating the experiences of Nadia Mohsen.