An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

The Tawhid of Tarbiyya — How To Bring Up Children By Sheikh Fadhlallah Haeri

In Education on November 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm

(originally published at

In this  wonderful talk (linked above) by Sheikh Fadhlallah Haeri, the wisdom and teachings of the Islamic spiritual tradition on parenting are explored.  SFH expounds upon the following saying of Imam Jafar al-Sadique (ra):

Leave your child to play for the first seven years, then teach him manners during the next seven years, then keep him in your company for the next seven years. Thus, if he turn out to be a decent and successful person, then it’s good (for you), otherwise he belongs to them who do not have any merits and decency in their nature.

What I find so wonderful about this saying is the division of 21 years into 3 cycles of 7 years each, and how each cycle is associated with a developmental stage of consciousness. It’s interesting to note how other holistic education traditions also have the number 7 clearly stated in their cycles. With the National Curriculum and all the requirements of what children must know at Key Stage 1, I love the idea of just play. I am a firm believer in children learning in their own time, provided the right circumstances are created. Much like an expert gardener can’t make a plant grow but will know the conditions needed for the growth to happen and how to create those conditions. Maybe more striking to me, however, is how the saying speaks so directly of the shift in relationship between the parent and child during the 3 cycles of play, education, and friendship. This invites me to be a more conscious parent and understand the change in dynamics at different stages of the parent-child relationship, maybe analogous to a sema ceremony, with changes in frequencies at different stages of the ceremony affecting the listeners’ state of consciousness. Also, if I am consciously aware of my role during each stage, I actively welcome the development and growth of my child into the next phase by creating the space or conditions needed for it. This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen many occasions where parents have spoken to toddlers as though they were 40, and other occasions where parents have spoken to grown-up sons/daughters as though they were still 5.  Incidentally, one version of the quotation that I’ve heard says, at the age of 21, let them go.

The idea of befriending the child also reminds me of the relationship between the Prophet Abraham (as) and Ismael (as). It seems the relationship wasn’t an authoritative one or one of blind obedience, as it is sometimes portrayed. Rather, Abraham consults his son, seeking his opinion (mashwara).

37:102 (Asad) And [one day,] when [the child] had become old enough to share in his [father’s] endeavours, the latter said: “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee: consider, then, what would be thy view!” [Ishmael] answered: “O my father! Do as thou art bidden: thou wilt find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity!”

Ismael’s response is beautiful in that he attributes his own patience to Divine will. Ultimately, SFH says, it is our Rabb (Educator/Sustainer), who gives us tarbeyah, as we learn to know the Divine through safeguarding our fitra.

  1. Beautiful, thank you.

  2. Thank-you for sharing this. Much to reflect on and learn from here xx

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