Family Links scheme addresses concerns among parents of how to reconcile western values with their religious upbringing. Ifat Nisa feared her teenage son was hanging out with “the wrong crowd”, drinking, smoking or experimenting with drugs – but when she questioned him, they always argued.
Brought up not to challenge her own parents, Nisa was confused about how to parent an apparently disrespectful teenager. She heard about a parenting course at her mosque in Slough, Berkshire, and despite initially dismissing it – “My reaction was ‘it’s not Islamic'” – when she discovered it was tailored for Muslim parents, decided to try it out. Family Links realised that the course concepts were in tune with Islamic religious ideas but that Muslim women were reluctant to attend. To engage them, the course’s core principles (self-awareness or empathy, for example) were matched with religious verses.
One concern among parents is how to reconcile western values and life with their religious or cultural upbringing. The course, as Naeem says, supports parents towards adopting positive practices consistent with Islamic religious values, helping them be “good Muslim British citizens”.
Now Family Links is rolling out this version of its course, Islamic Values and the Parenting Puzzle, and partnering with the charity UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) to reach families who might not join mainstream programmes. The organisations ran the first training in Birmingham last year, teaching 21 volunteers to deliver the course, and a second course took place in London last month. The courses train parent leaders to deliver the programme to others. Evaluations have yet to be published, but Family Links says it could reach 200 people a year.
The courses involve roleplay and discussions about concepts such as praise and positive discipline. Participants use various approaches in different scenarios, from dealing with uncommunicative teenagers to discussing sexual issues.
Naeem’s aim is to untangle culture from religion, encouraging participants to realise that some of their parenting has little to do with Islam, but are learned cultural practices. She recalls dealing with misconceptions about discipline; when several participants on one course discussed smacking, suggesting that bearing punishment was a virtue, she told a religious story about oppression to reinforce messages about fair treatment.
The plan is soon to to train a group of Muslim fathers so they can deliver the programme to their peers, countering any assumptions that domestic life is solely the remit of the mother. As one father recently told Naeem: “No one ever asks us how we feel as a parent … [there are] so many cultural things – you can’t cry, you can’t feel sad, you have to be strong.”