You come home from your stressful day at the office, having faced the enormous traffic jam on the way, and all you desire is some peace and quiet, and a warm drink. The moment you step in, loud, jarring sounds greet you from the television set the kids are watching. Mama is shouting at them to keep the noise down, as she quickly tries to whip up some dinner after her own tiring day at work. The house is a mess, and the telephone and cell phone ring at the same time. You barely greet your wife with the liable assalaamu alaykum before slumping into the recliner, remembering that email you have to send. You switch on the laptop to do that before you change your clothes, realizing that neither your wife nor your kids have really acknolwledged your arrival....
Sound familiar? This is a common scenario on any given weekday in modern Muslim households. Having to work round the clock to bring in a double income, raise a family, keep the house as up-to-date as the Joneses, and still follow the obligations of Islam is one of the major goals of Muslim families. There are, however, several ways to find quality time to spend with your spouse and children.
- Parks: If the father returns late from work, it's the mother's job to ensure that her children get adequate physical exercise every day, especially in the summers. If they live in an apartment, then going to a nearby park or playground for an hour will lift everyone's spirits. If the house has a back or front yard, a mini pool can be inflated for outdoor sun and fun in the summers. Hammocks and trampolines can also be accommodated, if the budget allows. Skipping ropes, hoola-hoops, roller-skates, and cycles can also be gifted to the children, in addition to playing outdoor games.
- Weekend outings: At least everyone can look forward to some entertainment on weekends! Rather than go to the movies and spending hours sitting still before a huge screen, go on a trip to the zoo, museum, or amusement park. Go on a road trip to visit a relative; the time spent in the car can be used to catch up on each other's lives, and have meaningful conversations. You can have a small-scale outdoor barbeque on Saturday or Sunday with just the kids and their friends. The bottom-line is to enjoy time together, and any fun activity can be employed for this purpose.
- Restaurants: Family restaurants provide a fun hour or so for the whole family to eat their favorite meals. This option should not be used too often, however, as it can prove to be expensive; it can also lead to unhealthy eating habits, particularly if too many junk-food outlets are in the picture.
- Daily evening religious education or circle: Muslims should study Islam together as a family.
"And warn your nearest family members." [Qur'an 26:214]
A great way to make sure that everyone sits together for at least a few minutes each evening, is to take turns in reading out something from the Quran, books of ahadeeth (Prophetic narrations), or any good, soul-enriching, reflective Islamic literature that teaches good actions, morals, etiquette and manners. If the children are younger and a parent supervises their homework, this activity can be carried out right after homework is done.
- Board games: Productive or educational board-games can be played at night, as an alternative to television viewing. Word games that boost vocabulary are a good option, such as scrabble and crossword puzzles.
- Doing household chores together: This option is a good way to establish a positive work ethic within the family unit, and it works best when the kids are older. Washing the dishes, cutting the vegetables for dinner, setting the table, doing the laundry (from loading, washing, drying to folding), dusting the furniture, lawn-mowing and gardening -- all these chores can be divided so that one person does not get burdened, and everyone contributes positively in the running of the house. Grocery shopping can be a fun activity too, if the kids help their parents in fetching things from the aisles in the store to their shopping cart. The important thing is to spend time together rather than remain shut up in their own rooms while at home.
- Visiting the mosque: A visit to the mosque is a must, particularly for Muslim families living in non-Muslim countries, where the aura on every Friday and that during the holy months of Ramadan, Muharram and Dhul Hijjah remains unchanged. The family should attend religious talks and seminars given by learned Muslim scholars. They should also pray together, whether at home or at the mosque. For example: everyday, Daddy can lead a supererogatory prayer at home, so that his children maintain the habit of praying in congregation.
- Counseling: Muslims are supposed to watch out for one another and exhort one another upon patience and constancy on the path of Islam. Where better to start than with one's own family? Whether it's one or both parents advising a child (advising, not lecturing to the point of rebellion), or the spouses seeking help from one another, or even an older sibling mentoring a younger one in sports or studies, individual problems can be easily solved as long as there is mutual respect and concern in the family, without the invasion of privacy.
- Outdoor sports: Besides just visiting the park regularly, Muslim children should stay active and healthy by taking part in official (school) and amateur outdoor sports -- in particular, archery, horseback riding and swimming.
`Uqbah Bin `Amir [may Allah be pleased with him] states that he heard the Messenger of Allah - Muhammad [may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him] saying, "Whoever abandons archery after having learnt it, is not one of us....". [Reported by Sahih Muslim]
- Lead a simple life: Cliched though it might sound, have you ever thought about your household being sans television? Have you even considered giving it a try? Is buying a new set of shoes and clothes really necessary on each Eid? Is it so indispensable for every family member to possess their own personal iPod and cell phone? When you buy something, is it on the basis of need, or compulsion? Answering these questions will definitely help you re-align your major goals in life, which, for any Muslim, should not be the acquisition of wealth or possessions. Enjoying the simple pleasures in life is more important than accumulating material possessions. So, lead a simple life; eat little and wholesome food; keep all useless pastimes at bay; and focus more on human relationships and character-building, for a more fulfilling family life
The point is to create and sustain strong bonds of love, friendship, and companionship whilst performing the mandatory daily tasks that are due on each individual in the family. The strength of any relationship depends heavily on good communication. Channels of effective communication can only be maintained by spending "quality time" together. For a Muslim family, for whom the primary goal is seeking the pleasure of Allah, nothing can be a more treasured blessing than this time spent together.
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes regularly for the Islamic Family Magazine, Hiba. She has also recently self-published her first book.