There is no question that the discourse on parenting in Muslim texts and tradition has centered on the status and role of the mother. The very real sacrifices which include emotional and physical care at all levels is highlighted by both the Quran and traditions of the Prophet (s), including a very vivid hadith stating the status preference of the mother three times prior to that of the father. The required insistence on the centrality of motherhood has been needed because of the patriarchal hierarchy that has plagued many societies including Muslim majority ones, where women are only seen through constructed social function (i.e. Mother, sister, wife, daughter etc.) and not as autonomous figures.
The above insistence should in no way diminish the discourse around the centrality of fatherhood and its importance in building a cohesive family unit and in turn a healthy pool of young people who can contribute to the larger society. Our fathers are key in engendering qualities, in both daughters and sons, that allow for a comprehensive and refined personality to take shape as we mature and become older. Studies have shown that fathers who are present in the lives of their children help build qualities such as affection, responsibility, moral compass, hard work commitment and so on.
In the past few days as I reflected on the Quranic and Prophetic outlook on fatherhood, I could not help but think of my personal experience with my father and father figures in my life. I lost my father at a tender age, before I reached my teen years; the sudden loss of my father at that age still has a most hovering effect on me. There had always been the thoughts of “what if” and how would my life have been different? But what inspires me today is the father figures I had in my life after the death of my father. My blood-brothers with their constant care, my brother-mentors in faith who I was able to take a moral journey with; and the countless number of other individuals who played a role in my development. I consider myself blessed because of the people I had around me, yet there are millions of children who do not have that network after their fathers are no longer present.
My recent reflections of fatherhood based on the Quranic and Prophetic model has illustrated three qualities that strikingly stand out. Qualities which if fathers are able to struggle with and help bring to the lives of their children would have a major developmental impact. The three qualities highlighted by the Quran and vivid life experiences of the Prophet are Loving-Affection, Presence and Guiding Hand.
The Quran so beautifully brings to life the many conversations that serve as a model between a number of fathers and their children. The current forum will not suffice all of the examples but one conversation that takes place in the 31st Surah will serve as a model. The conversation between Luqman and his son is advertently and inadvertently laced with references to the above three qualities. A father whose loving-affectionate language by the use of the term “boonaiy” referencing love, respect, humility and friendship to his son. A father who had worked and built the trust of his son, so when he needed to be a guiding hand in his life, the relationship was built on solid ground where his son would listen and take the guidance and moral compass to heart. A father who exemplifies his presence in the life of his son by understanding when and what type of friendship and advice is needed and provided it at that time. A deeper study of these “Ayaat”* will demonstrate a relationship that every father needs to reflect upon.
One challenge that I speak to young people about is how they personalize their relationship to the life of the man whom God used to send his revelation through. There are various factors as to why many people cannot connect to the Prophet (s) at a personal level, one being that many of the biographies written about him follow a very basic chronological order based on events that can at times diminish the very real person he was on a day to day basis.
When I sat recently to reflect “the father” aspects of his life I could not help but understand a little better the Ayat* where God refers to him as a “beautiful model”. I focused mainly on his relationship to his daughter Fatima, whose stature and love in the sight of her father was well known. The above three qualities are highlighted in this relationship. One common practice that the Prophet engaged in until he passed, was his insistence on standing and affectionately greeting Fatima anytime she entered the room. Accounts are told of so many times where he would be sitting and she entered the room, he would stand, greet her, kiss her and bring her next time to be seated.
This relationship that was build through the years, where Fatima saw her father go through the trying times of Makkah and the sweet times of Madina, helped solidify a solid bond. This bond was so unyielding that even after she was married and now had established her own family, she went to him and he came to her for things such as marital advice, securing a maid, dealing with foes, raising children etc.
There does not exist an ideal parent or father. Yet it is the struggle of constantly attempting to improve ones relationship that is seen and appreciated by children. Perfection is not a human trait, yet modeling and struggle is what makes us the best humans.
*In reference to a verse from the Quran I purposely use the Arabic terminology, as I do not believe the translation verse does justice to what an Ayat of the Quran means. An Ayat is not only a verse, rather a sign, a revealing of sorts, a discovery. The term verse does not do it justice. For a detailed discussion refer to Tariq Ramadan’s “In The Footsteps of the Prophet”
by Haris Tarin