Every person leaves a mark, good or bad, in the society he lives. We do not remember people by their names but by the imprints they leave on our memories. A politician is known for his political works, a reformer is known for the changes he brought for the betterment of the society, a sportsperson is known for his talent, medals and trophies, etc.
Hitler was known for the wars and the destruction he caused. We remember Mahatma Gandhi as a man of non-violence. Here we have mentioned people who are popular for their interaction with a particular type of system. For example, a sportsman is popular because he gives fame to his country, and we cannot take him as an example to train a noble human. Gandhi can be considered a man who worked for the independence of India, but his family life is full of question marks. Then what makes a human complete and ideal for building up a great society?
Surely the answer lies in the character of man. The prophets of Allah were not popular for their miracles or kingdoms and territories that they ruled. They were simple people who built up a society with qualities like obedience, tolerance, forbearance, patience, dedication, forgiveness etc. These are the virtues which decide the character of man and help in the building of a peaceful society. The education system that deals with inculcating these qualities and building a good character in man is termed as moral education.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) said: "The best of you are the most well-mannered and generous, who go on intimate terms with people and people go on intimate terms with them, and whose places of residence are frequently trodden on by guests."
Moral education has to be started as early as possible. The best time to develop moral values is from early childhood. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says: "The first things that children should learn about are the things that they will need to know when they become men." He also said: "Surely the heart of a child is like fallow ground - whatever is planted in it is accepted by it."
Moral education is essential as it helps children overpower traits such as jealousy, backbiting, greed, extravagance, speaking lies, disobedience, stubborn nature and stealing, which they may develop inadvertently due to their inability to handle certain situations. Moral education instills in children the importance of honesty, kindness, justice, contentment, sincerity, obedience, patience, forgiveness, sympathy etc.
Psychologists like Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg have developed various theories of introducing moral education in children, which are possible when children study and play in groups, such as through sharing with one another.
Children love stories. If a story is narrated in a proper way, even a toddler sticks to it for a few minutes. Bed time story telling is a good method of educating a child. The child is in a state of rest away from anything that could distract its attention. If a rule is taught as a statement to a child, it may have a short term effect, however if it is taught with a story and clear examples of good and bad effects of a deed, it leaves a long time imprint on both the child's mind and heart. Constant reminders of the characters in the story help them to correct themselves from time to time.
Every person has an ideal in his life and he strives hard to be like his ideal, who he thinks highly of more than anyone else. Hence we need to be very selective when we chose the stories to tell our children. There are many imaginary stories like the story of the boy who cried wolf, the story of a greedy dog, etc. In Indian culture there is an ancient book called Panchatantra, which tells about various aspects of life through stories of animals that are formulated to inculcate a helpful nature, highlight the importance of friendship, etc.
Islamic history is full of incidents from which various morals can be derived. Right from the creation of Adam (peace be upon him), we have the story of Shaytan being disobedient and not even caring to seek forgiveness, eventually being kicked out of heaven. Every incident in the life of Prophet Muhammad and the Ahlul Bayt has a moral and a lesson behind it. It is up to the parents as to how they are going to convey them to their children.
The story of a woman who threw garbage on Prophet Muhammad explains the Prophet's patience and tolerance. The story of Imam Ali buying a barren land, digging a well and then donating the land to the trust, when all the people were wondering about the riches Ali could derive from it, explains about the importance of charity. The story of Ali's family fasting for three consecutive days and donating the only food they had to break their fast on all the three days explains about the importance of selflessly helping the needy. The way Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain (peace be upon them) explained to the elderly person the correct method of performing Wudhu explains about manners and respect for elders.
Parents should read such stories at bed time or whenever the child is in a position to listen to them. The same amount of time taken to tell the story should be spent in explaining the moral of the story to the kids.
Before our children search out their own ideal, it is our duty to present a good ideal to them who can guide them all throughout their lives. Imam Ali said: "Teach your children from our knowledge, what Allah will help them with, so that those who have gone astray will not affect them with their opinions."
It is the responsibility of parents to introduce their children to the personalities of Prophet Muhammad Imam Ali, Lady Fatima, Zainab, Sakina, Abbas and other Islamic role models before they get caught in the nonsense of Spiderman, X-Men, Cinderella, or Tom and Jerry.
Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) said: "Take action in teaching traditions (of the Ahlul Bayt) to your children before the corrupted persons precede in corrupting them."
No efforts can succeed without the help of the Almighty. Here is a supplication that can be recited after every daily prayer for a virtuous progeny. It is derived from the supplication of Prophet Zakariyyah (peace be upon him) found in Surah Ale-Imran, verse 38 of the Holy Qur'an:
"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful
O Allah, bless Muhammad and his family
My Lord! Grant me, from Yourself, a good (virtuous) offspring.
Surely, You are the Hearer of prayer.
O Allah, bless Muhammad and his family."