The idea of being a role that leads by example is powerful because it engenders respect and gathers together many outward righteous acts: calling the adhān and iqāmah, and then leading the family in Prayer; performing wudoo in front of the children; the mother putting her hijab on in front of her daughters; the father giving charity to the poor; the parents sitting down and eating together out of one tray, etc. The effectiveness of this method of leading by example is proven by the hadeeth:
عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، – رضى الله عنهما – أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم خَرَجَ عَامَ الْفَتْحِ إِلَى مَكَّةَ فِي رَمَضَانَ فَصَامَ حَتَّى بَلَغَ كُرَاعَ الْغَمِيمِ فَصَامَ النَّاسُ ثُمَّ دَعَا بِقَدَحٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَرَفَعَهُ حَتَّى نَظَرَ النَّاسُ إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ شَرِبَ
Jābir ibn ‘Abdillah (رضي الله عنهما) reported that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) went out to Makkah in Ramadān in the Year of Conquest; he and the people fasted till he came to Kurā’ Al-Ghameem and the people also fasted. He then called for a cup of water which he raised till the people saw it, and then he drank. (Muslim, 1114) This occurred when the people were uncertain regarding whether they should break their fast even though they were suffering from thirst during the journey, so the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) led by example and the people followed.
Likewise, with our children, the parents must lead by example; make haste with good deeds and be foremost in studying the religion; putting to one side tiredness and sleep for the good of the children; side-lining the purchase of goods that are non-essential so the money is better spent on the children’s Islamic schooling, family ‘Umrahs, conferences, classes, and Islamic library, etc. Your children will remember this model and duplicate it for their own children. Bad conduct is also duplicated, so beware of negligence, laziness, being late to pray, avoiding gatherings of knowledge, eating what is harām, listening to what is harām, watching what is harām, earning from what is harām, because the children will follow you in that.
I touched on this earlier, but I’ll mention it again here. Parents should be leaders in goodness and be dynamic so that children are enthused, and do not see contradictions. It should never be a case of “do as I say and not as I do”! It would not be right that parents command their child to pray and they themselves are lazy with the Prayer and delay it until they nearly miss it. Or that the father forbids his son from smoking, yet he himself smokes. Or that the mother commands her daughter with truthfulness, yet she herself lies. Or that the parents teach their children to be kind and dutiful to them as parents, yet they see their grandparents being neglected. All of this is reproachful behaviour. Usāmah ibn Zaid (رضي الله عنه) said that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
يُجَاءُ بِالرَّجُلِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَيُلْقَى فِي النَّارِ، فَتَنْدَلِقُ أَقْتَابُهُ فِي النَّارِ، فَيَدُورُ كَمَا يَدُورُ الْحِمَارُ بِرَحَاهُ، فَيَجْتَمِعُ أَهْلُ النَّارِ عَلَيْهِ، فَيَقُولُونَ أَىْ فُلاَنُ، مَا شَأْنُكَ أَلَيْسَ كُنْتَ تَأْمُرُنَا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَى عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ قَالَ كُنْتُ آمُرُكُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَلاَ آتِيهِ، وَأَنْهَاكُمْ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَآتِيهِ
“A man will be brought on the Day of Resurrection and thrown in the Hell-Fire so that his intestines will come out, and he will go around as a donkey goes around a millstone. The people of Hell Fire will gather around him and say: ‘O so-and-so! What has happened to you? Didn’t you used to order us to do good deeds and forbid us to do bad deeds?’ He will reply: ‘Yes, I used to order you to do good deeds, but I did not do them myself, and I used to forbid you to do bad deeds, yet I used to do them myself.’” (Bukhāri, 3267)
In essence, the actions of the parents and their example are real key indicators to the children as to what is allowed and tolerated and what is disallowed. So, the cultivation through example quite often has a greater effect than preaching, encouraging and warning. A child seeing someone that he loves, honours and respects behaving in a noble manner, following the Qur’an and Sunnah, being truthful at all times, kind and charitable, uncompromisingly avoiding bid’ah and misguidance, and displaying bravery and courage has an immense effect on his/her upbringing and his capacity to be a good parent himself in the future.
Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, did not send the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to teach and guide the people until Allah had already prepared him for the task such that he was already an example even before he was inspired with the Revelation. He was known for virtuous manners, truthfulness, good character and feeding the needy. When he received Revelation for the first time, he came to his wife Khadeejah (رضي الله عنها) and said: “Khadeejah, I don’t know what’s happening. I am afraid for myself.” Then he informed her about what had taken place. She said: “By Allah! Allah will not forsake you. You tie the bonds of kinship, you speak the truth, and you help those in difficulty.”
Sa’d ibn Hishām ibn ‘Āmir entered Madinah and went to ‘Ā’ishah (رضي الله عنها) and asked her, “O mother of the believers! Will you inform me of the manners (khuluq) of Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم)?” She replied: “Do you not read the Qur’an?” He replied: “Yes.” She said: “Indeed the mannerism (khuluq) of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was the Qur’an.” (Muslim, 746) In another report, she said: “O my son! Do you not read the Qur’an? Allah stated:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَى خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
‘And verily, you (O Muhammad) are on an exalted standard of character.’ The conduct (khuluq) of Muhammad was the Qur’an.” (Reported by Abu Ya’lā, 8/275, with a saheeh chain of narration). Ibn Rajab stated: “Meaning that his manners were the manners expressed in the Qur’an, and his etiquette was the etiquette expressed in the Qur’an. He was pleased with whatever was praised in the Qur’an and he whatever affair was disparaged in the Qur’an, then that same affair would anger him. And there occurs in a narration from ‘Ā’ishah (رضي الله عنها): ‘His character was the Qur’an. He was pleased with whatever was pleasing (to Allah) in it, and he was angered with whatever angered (Allah) in it.” (Jāmi’ Al-‘Uloom wal-Hikam, 9/148)
A teacher, a parent, a shaikh and an advisor should be a righteous and pious example in his speech and action. Nothing should be apparent from him except piety and righteous behaviour; nothing should be uttered from his mouth except the truth. Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
دَعْ مَا يَرِيبُكَ إِلَى مَا لاَ يَرِيبُكَ فَإِنَّ الصِّدْقَ طُمَأْنِينَةٌ وَإِنَّ الْكَذِبَ رِيبَةٌ
“Leave what makes you in doubt for what does not make you in doubt. Indeed, the truth brings tranquillity while falsehood sows doubt.” (Tirmidhi, 2518)