Posted by on Aug 22nd, 2009 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


ON July 3rd 2009, I, my mother, father, sister and her two young children – Matthew and Maya – jetted off to Jamaica, the West Indies for a “mini” vacation.  My father and I returned to New York to attend to business matters; we returned on July 8th.  My mother, sister and her two children stayed on until July 11th.  Our larger objective was to attend a wedding ceremony in Kingston, the capital, but we also stole some time to travel throughout the island, see the people and enjoy the scenery.

 There is some truism to the statement that as children we inherit childhood memories about the land of our birth and its attendant culture.  As adults, these memories remain cemented in our minds and function as “subjective” indicators that allow us to either assimilate or accommodate with other cultures we become accustomed to later on in life.  Our parents, on the other hand, are wholly unconcerned with other cultures they come in contact with and consequently retained their cultural roots in toto ; their main concern, consequently, is to further their children’s education in a land they know nothing about through toil and sweat.  For reasons unknown to social scientists, however, many children of immigrant parents choose not to accommodate their parent’s cultural apparatus with the host culture, thereby assimilating completely within the American culture.

 Consequently, great chasms of miscommunication (or, no communication) between children and their parents become painfully obvious.  Children of parents who immigrate to the United States, for example, often accuse their parents of being “cultural dinosaurs” or “not moving with the flow” and their attitudes towards their parents are condescending, dismissive and often arrogant.  Not only do a great majority of children of immigrant parents lose their cultural identity but they lose their religious identity as well.  Simple disagreements between parents and children these days often become violent.

 Rarely do adults, these days, and children in particular, sit with their parents and admire their undaunted determination to see to it that we, their children, succeed in life.  My “mini” vacation offered me the unique opportunity to do just that; often I sat, reposed on a hot sunny day, with my parents and their brothers, sisters and distant relatives; and I would pepper them with questions like, “What was I like when I was a child?”  Their answers were often amusing.  My mother recounted a true story to me about an incident at Catholic school where I misbehaved and the school administration summoned my mother to discuss it.  The administration told her that one of my teachers, a nun, tried to punish me for misbehaving but couldn’t catch me!  At that juncture we all laughed.  Since then, however, my sincere respect for my mother and father has deepened tremendously.

 I now cherish my mother.  She is an only child. My mother never finished high school and never attended college.  When she met my father, who then became a newly-minted licensed master plumber at the age of 21 (the certificate still hangs in their home), she attended a vocational school for girls where she learned secretarial work and some nursing skills.  Allah (SWT) Blessed her with six children.  Knowing that she didn’t procure a formal education, her number one priority was to guide, with great fortitude and discipline, all her children to cherish the value of a good education and to excel; and she never spared the rod!

I have now grown to respect my father.  In a land whose culture is deeply patriarcical, he shouldered the responsibility of maintaining an economic base that allowed all his six children to attend an “elite” Catholic school in the heart of Kingston.  My father never finished high school and never attended college, yet he was respected among his peers as a gifted plumber.

My father once related a story to me about his forays into the apprenticeship as a plumber with his mentor.  On his first day as an apprentice he and other boys watched as the mentor taught them how to repair a broken sewer line.  The mentor broke the pipe and sewage spilled out.  He then told my father, only 14 at the time, and the other boys to “get in there and remove the sewage” with their bare hands!  At that point, my father told me, he jumped in and started doing just that.  The next day, my father told me, over half the boys never returned to the site!  For over a week, he told me, he constantly scrubbed his hands until the stench of the sewage subsided.  All he had in his possession was one shirt and one pair of pants.  After returning home from his apprenticeship his mother would washed them and the next day he went on his way.  He stayed on with this mentor for another seven years, until he procured his license and began working on his own.

 I now know that my father decided to enrol us in Catholic school for purely educational reasons, yet he fears God.  As a young man living in a colonial culture during the 1950’s, there were times, he told me, when he entered banks with all white tellers, bankers, and the like; and he was determined to see to it that his children would one day occupy these and other prestigious positions.  A Catholic education in Jamaican society was and still is the only vehicle through which children later become politicians, doctors, scientists and engineers.   Living in a colonial society in those days did not produce many options; conscientious parents would declare sending their children to Catholic schools a primordial duty.  In point of fact, the British colonial empire that once enveloped half the planet instituted Catholic schools throughout their colonies to recruit intellectuals who will one day assume the position of “intermediaries” between the mother country and their native political and social institutions.

When my father and I arrived at the home I and my brothers and sisters spent our childhood, he stepped out of the car and kept repeating he built this house!  I suddenly realized he was proud of his accomplishment.  It was a hot and humid evening; the time was around 11:30 p.m.  He often told me that he and his brother built the house, along with others of course.  He and his brother learned masonry by imitating their father, who was an expert mason.

 I say all this in some detail to illustrate the intensity to which all parents, whatever the economic and political circumstances before them, ensure that their children excel.  Yet many children and, yes, some adults do not appreciate their parent’s sacrifice.

 Just a few days ago I met a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, a mother herself, who told me how highly my mother talks about me when they go to church meetings.  I told her it is a Biblical Injunction, according to the Holy Bible to “honor thy father and thy mother”.  She then told me, and I will never forget it, that a mother can take care of 11 children, but that 11 children cannot take care of their own mother!

 I remember a Friday sermon given a few years ago by an Imam; the topic centred on the unique relationship between a mother and her child.  The sermon was given as Eid-ul-Adha was approaching, and he recounted in vivid detail the ultimate test that Allah (SWT) meted out on his beloved prophet Ibrahim (alihis salam) whereby the prophet was commanded to sacrifice his son Ishmael (alihis salam) fi-sabi-lillah.

During the other half of the sermon, however, the Imam switched gears to recount the excruciating situation surrounding Hagar and her son, Ishmael through a Hadith.  Allah (SWT) Commanded prophet Ibrahim (alihis salam) to order Hagar to leave and take her son to the desert.  Alone with no food and water and with the hungry and thirsty child in her possession, Hagar desperately began running to find food and water between two mountains, Safa and Marwa, to find sustenance for her and her defenseless son, Ishmael (alihis salam).

Allah (SWT) Ordered the Angel Gabriel to scratch the Earth with his heels.  Water poured out in abundance, thereby granting Hagar and her son sustenance; as Hagar drank the water “her milk increased for her child” (Sahih Buhari, vol. 14, Book 55, Number 584).  The Imam, a burly but gentle-man who stood over 6 feet tall, choked back tears; prior to this he disclosed that his mother passed away a few weeks earlier.   This Hadith is narrated by Ibn Abbas (ra).

 I will end this column with three precious Hadiths relating to parents.  They, along with other Hadiths and verses from the Holy Quran, grants us a unique opportunity to reflect deeply on the unique contribution of parents:

 Narrated Abu Huraira: A man came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your father. ” (Sahih Buhari, Volume 8, Book 73, and Number 2):

 Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr: A man said to the Prophet, “Shall I participate in Jihad?” The Prophet said, “Are your parents living?” The man said, “Yes.” the Prophet said, “Do Jihad for their benefit.” (Sahih Buhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 3)

 Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr: Allah’s Apostle said. “It is one of the greatest sins that a man should curse his parents.” It was asked (by the people), “O Allah’s Apostle! How does a man curse his parents?” The Prophet said, “‘The man abuses the father of another man and the latter abuses the father of the former and abuses his mother.” (Sahih Buhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 4).  

 The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:

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