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Parenting Styles of Muslims

by Kay Tang, studioD

Although Muslim communities in urban centers are undergoing assimilation changes, the majority of the Islamic world continues to adhere to traditional parenting styles and child-rearing practices. Arab Muslims tend to live as extended families spanning three generations in shared housing. It’s not uncommon to see five to 10 children under the same roof, according to Marwan Adeeb Dwairy’s book, “Counseling and Psychotherapy with Arabs And Muslims.” While little privacy exists, the extended family enjoys the support of many members. Traditionally, women manage the household while men oversee the family’s property and finances.

Authoritarian Style

The parenting style in collective patriarchal societies tends to be authoritarian. In traditional Muslim families, parents use verbal commands, guidance and advice to control their children. If the children are disobedient, parents will resort to warnings and threats of punishment. Other tactics include moralizing and belittlement. If these measures fail, parents will use both deprivation and corporate punishment, according to Dwairy. While fathers are stricter and enforce discipline, mothers are typically more intimate with the children and will cushion punishment. Islamic children generally not only accept their parents’ control, but also feel reinforced by the authoritarian parenting style. In contrast to children from Western cultures, their self-esteem and identity are not as fractured by humiliation and corporal punishment.

Moralization and Gender Bias

Islamic parents help their children to develop a conscience through moralization. Compared to the West and its emphasis on individual liberties, the feeling of shame guides an Islamic child to curb bad behavior. In particular, girls must observe certain prohibitions that only become stricter as they mature into adolescents. They’re forced to focus on household duties, such as cooking and cleaning, to prepare for lives as wives and mothers. Their relationships are also limited to the other women in the family and vetted females from the outside. Girls have limited choices and must bow to the wishes of their parents. Moving into adulthood, the genders become further polarized -- males growing more aggressive and females more submissive -- which makes girls easy targets for various forms of sexual abuse, ranging from harassment to rape.

Child Rearing and Islamic Extremism

In “Arab Human Development,” a July 2002 report by the United National Development Program and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the participation of Arab women in the economy and political sphere is the lowest across the globe. In addition to the authoritarian parenting style, the typical school curriculum emphasizes submission and compliance as opposed to critical thinking, according to “Parenting for a Peaceful World” by Robin Grille. The oppression of children rises in direct proportion to the degree of misogyny and patriarchy in a society. An outstanding characteristic of fundamentalist Islamic communities is the punishing attitude toward children. The Department of Public Health in Alexandria found that 25 percent of Egyptian children suffered from various injuries, such as concussions, fractures and even permanent disability, according to Grille.


In the face of globalization, urbanization and legal changes, the parenting styles of educated families in cities are changing. The number of households led by women with absent husbands is increasing. Women are taking charge of family budgets and economic survival. Many Muslim women are choosing to remain single and pursue careers. While the asymmetric power structure in the family hasn’t vanished, the relationships between husband and wife and father and children are growing more equal. Education of females is a decisive factor. Muslim girls grow more valuable in the eyes of other family members and mothers become more permissive and democratic in their child-rearing practices.

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.