By Mohammed Farooq, New Age Islam
02 May 2017
When you lead a life that is pleasing to God, you are fulfilling the purpose of human life. How can you please God? By serving and bringing joy to God’s creatures—fellow human beings as well as all other co-creatures—who are suffering in different ways. Through pleasing God by bringing joy to those in need, you experience great joy yourself. A person who leads a life of such service is leading a truly meaningful life. One cannot reform the whole world, but one can help at least one other living being. We need to be concerned not just about ourselves and our immediate families but about others, too.
Parents play a central role in shaping their children’s orientation, and if they want their children to go on to lead a meaningful life, they must train them from a young age itself to be concerned for those who are needy and to be of service to them. This they can do only if they themselves engage in such service, even in a small way, so that their children can learn from their example.
It was from my parents especially that I learnt, from a young age, the importance of service. My father was a religious scholar, who also went on to become a successful businessman. Along with this, he was deeply engaged in social service. He helped set up schools. He ran a newspaper, which highlighted social issues. He would give money to the needy without telling our mother or us children. From people whom he had helped—with school fees or for marriage expenses and so on—we would hear about what he had done for them, and this greatly increased my respect for him. He would regularly set aside a portion of his earnings for charity. He would tell us that if we earned something, we should, without any unnecessary delay, keep apart a part of it for charity and spend it as soon as possible. So, in my father I was fortunate to have a wonderful role model in practical social service.
From my mother, too, I learnt the importance of service. Relatives would drop in at our place very often, and my mother, who was very kind-hearted, would insist that they couldn’t leave without eating something. I would help her in the kitchen, and that’s how I developed a love for cooking, later going on to establish a restaurant.
From my parents I learnt many other values, too, for which I am deeply grateful. For instance, the value of simple living and a disciplined life. Although he was economically well-off, my father would not pamper us with luxuries. He would tell us that we should be able to adjust in whatever situation we found ourselves and make do with whatever was available. He taught us, through his own example, the virtue of a simple life. If you find yourself in a forest, he would say, you should be able to sleep on the ground, with a brick for a pillow. It shouldn’t be that you insist on sleeping on a mattress!
These days, things are very different in many families. Parents are so busy working that they just don’t give time to their children. Their materialistic demands have gone so out of control that they are busy trying to earn as much as they can to be able to afford all the many things they desire—a new car, a bigger house, the latest gadget, or whatever. This materialistic mania leads them to take loans that they can’t repay, and that adds to their anguish and frustration. They give their children money to spend, mobile phones, laptops etc., but not their time. In this way, they completely fail in their fundamental duty of inculcating values in their children and in nourishing them spiritually. No wonder children develop bad habits and fall into bad company and go astray. This crisis of values is really extreme today.
In this regard, I am very grateful for the way my parents brought me up. Although his work kept him busy, my father made it a point to spend an hour or so with our family when he got back home from work at night. My mother would open her paan-box and make paan for him and herself and he would tell us stories and talk about religion and other issues and ask us about how our day had been. He took an active interest in our lives. That is how parents should be if they want to establish a close bond with their children and pass on values to them and help them lead a moral and truly meaningful life.
In olden days, parents maybe spent more time with their children than they do today. Today, children spend a good portion of their time at school, so schools have a major role to play in inculcating the spirit of service in children. They could take their students every now and then on visits to, say, a home for the elderly or for leprosy patients or a centre for injured animals, in this way enabling them to gain awareness of an aspect of social reality that they may not have known of, of another side of life. On such visits, students can do some useful work so that they gain practical experience of service.
Such visits can have a great impact on children. One of my daughters once went on a school trip to a home for mentally-challenged people. She was really moved by what she saw. Some schools have brought their students to Ashiana, the orphanage and home for the elderly that we run, and my three daughters of course visit the place regularly. Most of the people in the home are from economically very poor families and have gone through harrowing experiences of suffering before coming there. For school children, being at Ashiana is a very good learning experience. They spend time with the residents of the home and listen to their pain-filled stories. It increases their sense of gratitude for what they have. Maybe for some of them the short exposure will move them to go on to lead lives of great service to the needy.
Another thing that schools could do is to make it compulsory for children to go along to such social centres along with their parents, spend some time doing some service there and then write up a project report based on their visit, for which they would be marked. Besides enabling children and their parents to learn about aspects of life that they may have little or no awareness of and to develop an interest in serving others, this would give them the opportunity to spend time with each other, and in a meaningful way.
Many parents—and, following their example, their children—are concerned only about their own limited families. How many of them are concerned about the wider society? We know of parents who take their children out to amusement parks, malls or to the movies, where they splurge huge amounts of money, but how many would take them to, say, a home for the visually-challenged or to an orphanage? Many families celebrate festivals or birthdays at expensive restaurants, but how many would rather spend that money to feed the poor or buy medicines for them? Some parents encourage their children to visit and pray at places of worship—that of course is a very good thing, but how many of them would also tell their children to visit homes for the aged or the physically-challenged and do some service and get the blessings of the people there?
We are in this world to please God, and we can please God through serving God’s creatures—humans as well as others—who are in need and are suffering. Helping others, as I understand it, is not an end in itself, but a means to please and serve God. This is something that people of different religions would, I think, readily agree with.
I am grateful that God blessed me with the parents that I got. From them I learned the value of a life of service to others. I hope and wish all parents would encourage, through their own personal example, their children to appreciate the importance of serving others and in this way help them fulfil the purpose for which God has sent them into this world.
Mohammed Farooq is the Founder Chairman of the Bangalore-based Al-Aman Educational and Welfare Trust, which runs a food bank and Ashiana, a charitable orphanage and a home for the elderly.