Journalist Sarfraz Manzoor journeyed around Britain in search of the roots of the division between Muslim and non-Muslim culture and values. In this extract from his new book, They, he reflects on the differences of opinion within his own family when it comes to raising children and caring for the elderly.

By Sarfraz Manzoor

I grew up in a time, and in a family, where children obeyed parents. When my father told us to do something – told not asked – it was not an invitation for an extended discussion on the rights and wrongs of what he was asking us to do, it was an instruction. When my parents were talking it was understood that children did not interrupt. My father never hit us and I hardly recall any incidents where he even threatened to. We obeyed him because that was how we were raised and it was how generations of children from my background were raised too. The contrast between how my [Scottish] wife and I are raising our children is almost comical. My daughter recently turned nine and, put simply, she barely listens to a word we tell her. Trying to get her to tidy her room is less about issuing an instruction and more about us descending to pitiful begging which is routinely ignored. The notion that she should listen to us simply because we are her parents is not one that she accepts. In this she is entirely representative of her age and generation, but I find it much harder to accept this behaviour than my wife. Bridget argues that it is a function of growing up, that children inevitably rise up against parental authority, and she will regale me with colourful incidents from her own youth when she behaved appallingly.

The Herald: Author Sarfraz Manzoor (copyright Sarfraz Manzoor)Author Sarfraz Manzoor (copyright Sarfraz Manzoor)

The implication is that this is just how it is and all we can do is accept it with good grace. I disagree, and I point out examples not only from my own youth but the experiences of my brother raising his children. Why is it, I ask, that his children continue to respect their father when they are in their late teens and early 20s while our children are under 10 and are already refusing to listen to us? The discussion often becomes polarised and could be described as a clash between my wife’s middle-class White values and my working-class Pakistani-Muslim ones. Is my desire for children to be more deferential to parental authority a product of my cultural heritage? It is true that when I talk to other parents from south Asian backgrounds they instantly recognise my complaints and frustrations, but it is also true that the style of parenting my father and his like practised is sometimes referred to as Victorian, which makes the claim that it is culturally specific less persuasive. That said, I still associate the liberal child-focused parenting that my wife prefers as being imbued with “British values”, whereas the style of parenting I would practise were it entirely my choice would not be as authoritarian as the manner in which I was raised, but could be reasonably described as following Asian, Pakistani or Muslim values.

It isn’t only in the way we are raising our children that I have become aware of the distance between British and Muslim values. One thing I hear often from my White friends is the idea that they never want to be a burden on their children in later life. Bridget’s parents are already clearing out the attic in their home because they don’t want to put their children through the emotional ordeal of having to go through their belongings after their deaths. The starkest example of not being a burden concerns what White parents expect from their children when they become too old to live independently: they expect nothing. This was not how I was raised. I was brought up to believe there was an unwritten contract between parents and children: the parents take care of the children and then, in time, the children look after the parents. The concept of “burden” is never entertained.

My mother is, at the time of writing, 87 years old. She is extremely frail and forgetful, and looking after and living with her is a huge challenge. Since my father’s death my mother has lived with my older brother and his family. It is not easy but for my brother there is literally no question of putting my mother in an old people’s home. He remembers the sacrifices she made for us when we were little – the way she would forgo meals to ensure her children had enough to eat. He recalls, like I do, the trauma she endured of losing her husband just as they were preparing for retirement, and he is aware, as I am, of how the foundations of our success were laid by our mother. That is why, despite the challenges, he would never countenance putting her in sheltered accommodation. I see what my brother and his wife do as representing the very best of Muslim and Pakistani values, but I also know that it is easy to applaud such values when I am not called to live them.

Extract from They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other by Sarfraz Manzoor (Wildfire, £20). Sarfraz Manzoor will be talking about the book in person and online at the Wigtown Book Festival on Saturday, October 2. Full details and tickets are available here: