x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The wisdom and treatment of children

Throughout history, the younger generation has always reflected the way life is changing.

Serge Bloch / www.marlenaagency.com
Serge Bloch / www.marlenaagency.com

"If you want to understand the times you are living in, look at the young," a wise religious man once said. Throughout history, the younger generation has always reflected the way life is changing. In the days of the Prophet Mohammed, a child - Ali bin Abi Talib - converted to Islam when he was 10 years old and had the wisdom and maturity to make that huge decision even at such a young age. The 10-year-old boys of today are mainly experts at PlayStation, the timing of football matches, finding excuses not to go to school and using television as their primary source of information. The majority of children these days are spoon-fed, pampered and pandered to. I remember when I was at school, maids would go in with girls to hold their bags for them and put them in the lockers. And I have on occasion seen an adult ask a child for a glass of water, only to be asked: "What, do you think I am - your servant?"

It is blissful to live the sort of luxurious life we lead in this country, with servants and services freely available, but giving a child a life where he is always waited on is a huge mistake. It is important for our children not to have feelings of superiority but to know that humility and simplicity are the cores of a great leader. When the Prophet Mohammed was young, he was put in charge of tending a herd of sheep. He used to help clean the house and eat with his servant, saying: "I am Allah's servant: I eat like a servant and sit like a servant.'' We have a saying in Arabic: "Sayyed el goom Khademhom", which means the master of people is the one who serves them.

My brother Rayyan took our three younger brothers, Ahmed, Abdulrahman and Hussein, who are aged between seven and 13, along with some of their friends to spend a week in a nomad area that has no facilities. They had to fend for themselves without servants. Rayyan created a rota: every day someone had to clean the toilet, take the bin out, clean the rooms and wash the dishes. I wouldn't have believed it had he not brought back pictures of them doing it. And I know they wouldn't have done it had their trip not had fun mixed in with all the discipline. For some reason, when they returned home they seemed more like grown men than little boys.

The pressure to get good marks places a huge burden on children. For many, life is a treadmill of school, homework, school projects, buying books for school, stationery for school, clothes for school. Their minds are stuffed with theoretical information about life but they have little practical experience of life itself. This holiday season, with its lovely cool weather, is a good opportunity for parents to take their children out of the city for the day. Stop thinking about paying school fees and finding bags and uniforms for them, but be there to answer their big questions, even those you might consider boring or silly. Teach them how to observe the world and share their observations. Pray together, whether in the desert or on the sea. Show them how to act like real men and women. Take them to the wilderness, on fishing trips or camping and be there to guide them through it all. Help our children to be the greatest children ever.

Fatima al Shamsi is away.