Becoming Baligh is the age which signifies the mental, physical, and spiritual growth whereby a child becomes a Muslim adult. According to Islam, it is compulsory for parents to educate their children, especially about religious knowledge, when they become Baligh. This stage of life is challenging for both parents and children in their own unique ways.
Alongside the mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement of one's child embarking on the journey towards adulthood, some of us can't help but feel a little unprepared and anxious for what lies ahead in the months and years to follow. Many Muslim parents are confused and unaware of how and when to go about tackling the issues of Baligh life with children. In fact, some of us even struggle to get our heads around what the actual issues faced by the almost-Baligh children are, as it's quite unpredictable…right?
Surprisingly, what your child is experiencing or is about to go through is fairly predictable. Every adult is this world has gone through it, and all parents have gone through it. Islam has detailed the religious guidance and direction youngsters require in order to mentally and spiritually mature in the best possible manner.
What's unpredictable is your child's exact reaction to this stage of life and this, to a great extent, is dependent upon the parents' tactful preparation and planning as to how to go about educating the maturing children about their growing responsibilities towards society and Islam. An issue faced by Muslim families today is that Baligh children are not being educated properly about their duties towards their faith, and as a result, they are usually unaware of or apathetic towards the obligatory practices of Islam.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) said: "When your children are grown up to seven years, teach them the prayers, and when they are ten years old, seriously admonish them for it (in order that they establish prayers); and separate their sleeping beds from each other." Many children are being deprived of the rightful transition from an Islamic childhood into an Islamic adulthood, because during the so-called "Islamic childhood" our Prophet speaks of, Muslim children have been living lifestyles so out-of-line with the fundamentals of Islam (such as respecting parents and elders, wearing the Hijab, being cautious around the opposite gender, praying regularly and fasting, etc.) that when they are taught to mature into good Muslims, they feel unfairly compelled and overly disciplined.
Perfect Islamic practice only comes with the complementary perfect Islamic education, and this is where the parents and Muslim communities come in. The main reason why families are struggling to produce upstanding Muslim adults is because parents have not developed a plan as to how to assist their Baligh and almost-Baligh children in the best possible way. And to be honest, for many of us there was no plan to start with, and the idea of health classes offered at the elementary school seemed like an appropriate alternative to the necessary education for these children as prescribed by Islam.
It is necessary for parents to realize what exactly they need to teach their children, and this can be easily done by referring to religious leaders, Islamic books, and online resources. When it comes to daughters who are about to become Baligha or have become Baligha recently, here is a rough guideline of what essentially needs to be covered by all parents. Please note that according to Islamic teachings, a girl becomes Baligha upon having her first period or upon the completion of nine lunar years (approximately equal to eight years and eight months of the solar calendar), whichever happens first.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the vast scope of the subject, the rest of this article is mainly focused on how to address Buloogh issues when it comes to girls. Insha'Allah we will have another article in the near future addressing how parents should deal with Buloogh issues when it comes to boys as well.
Obligatory Actions (Wajibaat)
First and foremost, it is necessary to inform girls about what is now compulsory upon them in terms of religious practice. This includes things like obedience towards one's parents, praying regularly, fasting, paying Khums (if she has any savings), practicing Hijab, etc.
Islamic Laws (Fiqh)
After being explained the compulsory practices of Islam, they need to be taught how to do them. A Baligh person should follow a Marja Taqleed (Religious Authority) of their own, not their parents', and then refer to his teachings and fatwas regarding the rules and regulations of all the obligatory actions, such as how to pray, issues of cleanliness, etc. It would be a great idea for parents to purchase for their daughter a copy of her Marja's code of practice, which she can easily refer to for jurisprudential questions. In addition to whatever is being taught at the Islamic school, it is essential for parents to set up a time every week where they can discuss and explain Fiqhi matters to their children.
It is absolutely essential to discuss the physical growth associated with becoming Baligh with children. A female experiencing her monthly cycles and being unclean has an effect on her religious duties. For example, compulsory actions such as praying and fasting do not apply to females at the time when they are in this state of impurity due to the monthly cycle (Haiz). Missed fasts need to be made up, while missed prayers don't. In addition, it is also necessary to address and explain in detail the compulsory purifying procedures and baths (Ghusl), such as those necessary to physically cleanse one's self after having the monthly cycle or after experiencing sexual climax. As a female develops her body’s curves, it is necessary to point out these new points of attraction so that she may learn to adjust her Hijab likewise.
Many Muslims girls living in the West find it challenging to maintain their modesty in a society full of immodesty. Ideally, girls need to be informed about how the Hijab is a tool to help preserve a woman's beauty. She needs to know who her non-Mahrams are (including first cousins), as Hijab needs to be observed in the presence of all of them. After learning how to wear the headscarf aspect of Hijab properly, the next step is the clothing. In general, everything except for the hands and face must be covered. (This includes arms and feet.) If wearing an Abaya is not possible for a girl, then it's necessary to make do with Western clothing. This needs to be done by pointing out the difference between things like three-quarter and full-sleeved tops, waist-length and mid-thigh-length cardigans and jackets, tight and not-so-tight jeans and skirts, and the idea of wearing clothes that are generally not see-through or clothing items which may be covering the skin yet at the same time not revealing the body's curves either. It also helps to discuss the usage of make-up and when it is and isn't appropriate to use.
The importance of social Hijab should be highlighted to girls by talking to them about their interaction with the opposite gender. This includes the extent to which friendships are acceptable, the tone and physical gestures which are appropriate and inappropriate while speaking with males, and explaining what exactly flirting is and how to avoid it, along with any other form of attracting unnecessary (and at times dangerous) attention to one's self. In order to avoid confusion, it needs to be well-drilled into the minds of Baligh girls and boys that direct physical contact with the opposite gender is prohibited, despite the fact that hand-shaking and hugging non-Mahrams is a part of the non-Islamic culture we live in.
With so many new and delicate topics to cover in such detail with the Baligh or almost-Baligh girls and boys, both parents and children may feel uncomfortable, awkward, and overwhelmed during such discussions. Recently, many communities all over the world have seen "Baligh(a) Workshops" popping up and increasing in popularity too. These workshops may be held for both parents of children and the parents of younger children in order to provide material, advice, and tips to help educate their children. Programs can also be run for children as they may feel more comfortable discussing these personal topics with adults other than their parents or trained youths who can easily interact with the younger generation. Weekend Islamic schools which accommodate for these workshops and crash courses have been proven to be very successful, as they are convenient to attend, contain content which is usually reviewed by religious leaders, and will ensure children attending the Islamic school will be constantly exposed to Buloogh-related issues and solutions, as they may freely ask their teachers questions.
With these community Buloogh workshops as well as parents directly educating their children about the aforementioned religious duties and details of Baligh life, it is necessary to start young. Ideally, all Muslim parents should want to ease the transition into Baligh life for their children, and this is best done if we educate, train, and prepare our future generations for a Muslim adulthood over a number of years. For example, learning the obligatory actions and the related Islamic laws for things like praying and Hijab can easily be covered in the earlier years at age 4-7.
For those parents who have children who are already Baligh and have overlooked the importance of pre-Baligh-life training, it is not too late. If there was never any training, or there was semi-training which was just left hanging as there wasn't a set plan for educating the children, the best thing is to start over from scratch in order to ensure nothing is being skipped or incorrectly performed. It is absolutely crucial to make sure Baligh children are aware of all Islamic laws relating to their lives, as I have recently come to know about youngsters in their late teens and twenties who managed to miss out on knowing something as simple as how to perform the different types of purifying baths (Ghusls) which cleanse one's self from impurities (such as those from sexual climax or a girl's monthly cycle). The consequence of such lack of knowledge is that other obligatory acts they offered, such as praying and fasting, have been rendered void by neglecting laws related to purification (Taharat) procedures. Islamic youth groups can be contacted to arrange for Buloogh classes if necessary in order to guarantee young adults who are fulfilling their religious duties.
We often find ourselves delaying, if not all together neglecting, the importance of child-rearing in close accordance to our Islamic guidelines and standards, and it more than often frustrates parents when Baligh children who are liable for their duties towards Allah do not miraculously fall in line with Islamic practice. We don't tell our children the scientifically-proven benefits of brushing their teeth and how doing so fights away countless forms of diseases; rather, we make them brush their teeth as soon as they are old enough to hold a toothbrush. In the same way, Muslim parents shouldn't be reluctant to expose their children to Islamic practices (such as prayer, modesty, etc.) from an early age, even though it is not compulsory for them.
Of course, it goes without saying that first and foremost, children look up to their parents as role models. If children see their parents acting inappropriately around the opposite gender, if they see their mothers observing poor Hijab and their fathers failing to perform prayers on time, then they will naturally perceive such behavior as acceptable. Therefore, it is imperative for parents to make sure they are maintaining an Islamic environment at home and upholding all their religious obligations to the fullest. Indeed, only when the parents themselves behave like Imam Ali and Lady Fatima (peace be upon them) that they can expect that their children will grow up to be like Imam Hussain and Lady Zainab (peace be upon them)!