Teaching Empathy

Family Matters Series

It is reported that ‘Amr b. Qays – Al-Malā`ī said, “They used to dislike a man giving his child something with which the child would then go out and be seen by a poor person, causing him to cry over his family; or be seen by an orphan who would then cry over his family.” [Imām Ahmad, Al-Zuhd Vol. 3 p268.]

Empathy is a skill that we must cultivate within ourselves and our family, namely our children. Empathy is part of our deen, as the Prophet (saws) said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.””

We are also constantly encouraged to examine how other people may be negatively affected by our actions, from the Prophet (saws) reminding us not to have bad breath when going to the masjid, to being admonished if you eat in your home while your neighbour has an empty stomach.

This society is centered around individuals – every issue and stance is heavily polarized, with neither side willing to capitulate and understand the other. It is a trend to be hyper focused on yourself and your own wants and needs, to ultimately put these above others in all situations and call that ‘self-care.’ Society in Islam is based not on the individual, but the jamah. Cultivate this type of empathetic thinking by inviting your children to reflect on the situations of other people in the world both locally and globally.

Not only will this have positive psychological effects, but it will also fulfill a characteristic of a Muslim striving to please Allah (swt) above themselves.

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