Are We Teaching Children to be Materialistic?
How often do parents buy their children toys, junk food and knick-knacks? What were the reasons for buying them? Sister Yasmim Ibrahim examines this habit that has become second nature to most parents.
I loaded bag after bag into the trolley in an easy rhythm. I set the trolley into motion and started to push it in the direction of my car. The trolley made the short journey a painfully slow one. I pushed and tugged the laden trolley. The trolley protested every step of the way. The cries and squeals of children bouncing from one car to the next, followed me as I continued, determinedly coaxing the trolley to the car.
'Mum, what are you gonna get me today?' 'Dad, I want a power ranger! When are you getting it for me?' 'I want...”' These exchanges continued as I tugged the trolley along the bumpy carpark.
How many of us have experienced this situation before? Our plastic shopping bags groaning under pressure as well as having to contend with petulant children moaning for even more?
Even Fatima (r), the daughter of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s) made a modest request to her father. As a young wife, she would often work so hard that her hands became covered in blisters. She went and asked her father, Prophet Muhammad (s) for a servant. When he heard of her request he asked, 'Shall I not tell you of a thing which is better for you than a servant? When you go to bed, say Subhanallah thirty three times, Alhamdulillah thirty three times and Allahu Akbar thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant.' (Bukhari)
We are all human so we all have needs and wants. Even though Fatima (r) was nurtured in the purest Islamic environment, she made requests of her parents. We all do. We are all humans. We have to make a decision and determine what is moderation and what is excessiveness. What can we leave for the Hereafter?
The needs of a person can be divided into spiritual and material needs. In Islam, there is no argument that these are the basic human rights of every individual. As a parent, the responsibility is to impart spiritual knowledge and set appropriate role models for the children. We are responsible for developing childrens' characters, upbringing, education and initiation into the Islamic way of life. We mould and encourage our children to develop into Muslims of fine character.
Pre-Islamic societies could be described as capitalist or materialistic societies. Acquiring possessions and property was an essential aspect of life. However, Islam is a perfect balance of spirituality as well as satisfying material needs. In Islam, a person's rights relate to moral, cultural and ideological aspects as well as economic and social rights.
Children regularly make demands to buy toys and products which have been well marketed. For example, if your child approached you requesting a Power Ranger, Barbie doll or even a Game Boy how would you respond? Most parents would respond by refusing straight away, or refusing and then reluctantly giving in to the request, or simply buying the child the item and thus meeting the child's request. What would you do? Why?
Perhaps in different situations, you have responded in all of these ways. However, what really happens when we are always buying our children presents or rewards? Firstly, children become immune to our generousity. They soon lose appreciation for these gifts. A child who has a full toy box will soon lose interest and discard anything new, to lie forlorn on their accumulating pile of possessions. As adults we know that something which has been acquired easily, soon loses value.
Allah (swt) has given us many examples of those who have been blessed but not grateful. One such example is mentioned in Surah Al-Khaf (18:32-43). Two men were blessed with Allah's (swt) generosity and given a garden of grapes and date palms. One of the men said, 'I am more than you in wealth and stronger in respect of men.' The man's companion reminded him that everything in life is from Allah (swt) and reminded him of the Day of Judgement where we will be accounted for our actions. The first man placed so much importance on his wealth and acquisition of possessions, that he forgot it was Allah (swt) who had generously given them to him. As a result, Allah punished him by encircling his fruits with ruins, leaving him to suffer poverty.
Greed was a
characteristic of the misguided man in Surah Al-Khaf. It lead to his
demise. Greed is not a suitable characteristic for Muslims. Greedy
children become greedy adults. Islam is about moderation. We should only be
excessive in worshipping Allah (swt). Greediness is a product of Shaytan.
It makes us forget our duties towards Allah (swt). When giving to our
children, we need to ensure that we are not excessive. It is perfectly
natural for a parent to show their child love and affection by showering
This view was advocated by our Prophet (s), 'Of all that a father can give to his children, the best is their good education and training.' (Mishkat)
Rewarding children can be used as an important tool to teach Islamic values. Children can be reminded that if they are good Muslims, insha Allah, Allah will reward them for their good deeds with Jannah (Paradise). By rewarding children, their gift can be a symbol of Allah's gift to His obedient slaves - Jannah. Use every opportunity you have to remind your children of Islam and the limitless rewards provided in Jannah. Let this be your motivation to reward your child.
Next time you head for the toy department, think carefully and remember the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (s). Consider why you are buying your child this item? Are you being excessive or moderate? What could you give your child in place of this?
are you going to buy me?' Her mother did not respond.