On one occasion, Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah) came to visit the Muslim ruler, Haaroon Rasheed. Escorting Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah) was Siraaj, the attendant of Haaroon Rasheed. (While they waited for Haaroon Rasheed to see them,) Siraaj bade Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah) to sit by Abu ‘Abdis Samad, who was the tutor of the children of Haaroon Rasheed.

Siraaj then said to Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah), “O Abu ‘Abdillah! These are the children of Ameerul Mu-mineen and he (Abu ‘Abdis Samad) is their tutor. Why do you not give him some advice in regard to their upbringing?”

Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah) turned to Abu ‘Abdis Samad, the royal tutor responsible for the upbringing of the ruler’s children, and among the valuable advices which he gave him was the following:

“The very first thing that you need to commence with, in order to instil piety and righteousness into the children of Ameerul Mu-mineen, is to ensure that you yourself are pious and righteous. The reason is that (since you have been appointed as their tutor and they look up to you,) their gazes are fixed to your gaze (i.e. their mindset and ways will be a reflection of your own mindset and ways). Accordingly, they will regard as good that which you regard to be good, and they will regard as evil that which you shun and leave out.” (Hilyatul Awliyaa vol. 7, pg. 286)

When we view the above statement of Imaam Shaafi‘ee (rahimahullah), we find that it contains a very valuable lesson in regard to the upbringing of children, and this lesson is that actions speak louder than words.

One is the verbal instructions which the parents give to their children, and another is the manner in which the parents themselves conduct. More than the verbal instructions – it is the conduct of the parents that makes an impression on the hearts and minds of the children.

Obviously, if the father tells his son to go to the masjid for salaah, but the father himself performs his salaah at home, then the son will gain the impression that salaah in the masjid is actually not that important. Likewise, if the father prohibits his son from using vulgar language and speaking rudely to people, but he himself does so from time to time, then his prohibition will be construed as empty words and will go unheeded, as his actions convey a different impression.

Similarly, if the mother speaks to her daughter about hayaa (modesty), staying away from interacting with boys, dressing in a concealing manner, etc. but she herself is guilty of being casual in communicating and interacting with strange men, and dressing in a revealing manner, etc. then the lesson will not leave the desired impression on the heart and mind and the child will not imbibe the desired qualities.

Thus, at every moment, it is imperative for us to lead by example. We need to be the people today that we want our children to become tomorrow. If we find, at any point, that our children are conducting incorrectly or have imbibed some bad habits, then we must first introspect and determine whether it was us from whom they learnt these bad habits. We must then engage in istighfaar and rectify our own lives so that we can set a positive and pious example for our children.

May Allah Ta‘ala bless us and our children with piety, aameen.