A lot of people today value achievements over morality, a phenomenon that is widely witnessed by over-eager parents wanting to raise the next Albert Einstein. While there is nothing wrong in having big dreams for your little ones, my husband and I decided to take a different approach even way back when we were yet to get pregnant. We both agreed that the most important value we want to instill in our child is kindness. Even though no parent wants to raise a monster, the emphasis is put on the words ‘most important’.

One of my favorite anecdotes on an Islamic figure is about Imam Malik and his mother. When Imam Malik told her of his desire to learn from a religious scholar, she put him in his best clothes and turban, and told him to learn from his teacher manners (adb) before learning from him knowledge (ilm).

The simple reason this little insight on one of the greatest Islamic scholars left a huge impression on my consciousness is because of my personal experiences meeting people who are categorically smart but are despicably horrible human beings. I have been around quite a number of people who are clever by virtue of their level of education or them receiving academic awards. However, only a handful of these smart people deserved to be called decent human beings, while the rest are blinded by their good fortune that they fail to recognize the need to be respectful and humble towards everyone. It is not too difficult to understand why this is so; as anything else in life, intelligence is a test from God. One’s increase in knowledge can either lead to a greater sense of empathy or arrogance, with the latter usually being the case. For all these reasons, I am more interested in my child becoming well-mannered, mindful of other people, animals, and the environment, and not worry about avoiding sweets and sodas in fear of raising a ‘dumb’ kid.

I have wanted to write about this topic since we first found out I was pregnant, but decided against it. After all, I too am constantly on a journey to improve my behavior and relationships. However, I felt it is a good time to briefly mention this issue following the road rage incident by a female driver during the month of Ramadhan. It is incomprehensible how someone could be so rude, especially after the other person has obviously waved the white flag by apologizing. To repeatedly scold someone—even if the person is guilty—is not only annoying, but also shows there is an empathy deficiency in our society.

In the said road rage incident, there were comments on the abuser’s religious attire. Although we should not judge a person by his or her fashion choices, I do see a problem in the fact that, again, we are focusing on imparting the wrong values to the next generation, and in this case and many other, the physical need to wear a hijab over being nice. Rather than stressing the need to uphold one’s religious image, it is essential to teach responsibility, gratitude, and courtesy. Along that line, being proud of going to religious seminars do not mean much if our demeanor does not reflect our knowledge, thus creating an opportunity for others to question the validity of our knowledge, or worse, our religious belief.

Rarely have I heard someone being castigated for their lack of knowledge (except by some holier-than-thou acquaintances of mine who think it is somehow a fault to be unlucky in education), but as the road rage incident shows, Malaysians from all walks of life came together against an impolite person whose only defense might be that she does not think she was being recorded, regardless of the fact that Muslims know they are being watched all the time by the Creator. Therefore, no other logic is needed to justify my obsession to raise a child that is aware of other people’s rights and feelings over her own selfish needs to rise above in this dog-eat-dog world that is just a blink in the eye compared to a lifetime of happiness or wrath on The Day.

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