Face to Face with Shibli Arsalan and Abdullah Javed
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Category : FACE TO FACE:
Author : Aura Staff
“The Joys of Fatherhood: A Conversation”

Our society places great emphasis on the value of motherhood and the love and care a mother gives her children. But there is far less emphasis on the role of the father, beyond that of a material ‘provider’. Aura spoke to two people from different walks of life on their experience of fatherhood and why they feel it is important to contribute meaningfully to the lives of their children, and the extra-special bond that is the father-daughter relationship. The interview was conducted by Ms. Ayesha Sultana, the Editor of Aura.

AS: What comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘father’?

AJ: First of all I am grateful to be invited to this discussion. When people hear the word ‘father’ they think of someone who is very aggressive inside the home while being not so aggressive outside it. And his contribution is seen as only material, not as someone invested in the upbringing of his children. Talking in a general perspective, the father is regarded as a person who works outside the home and the mother focuses on the daily needs of her children.

AS: So the general societal assumption of what a father is supposed to be is this. Now I ask Shibli saheb, is the father a provider only of economic needs or a protector or does he have a role beyond that? SA: I am grateful that Aura has provided this opportunity. What is a father? This is a beautiful question. When we recall the definition of a father, there is a strange image that appears in front of us. The mother figure is the epitome of love and affection. She displays it openly to her children. But the father shrouds his affection, he hides it. While the mother’s affection and love is out in the open, the father’s is almost like a secret. I believe that there are many shades of a father’s love. So it is difficult to define the love of a father. While books have been written about the mother figure and her love from the time that man has learnt to read and write, man’s role in shaping the personality of his children is lesser explored. I do not agree with the assumption that the father is only the provider or an economic source. The father comprehensively shapes the future of the child. The mother protects and worries about the present of the child, and the father keeps worrying about the future – his anger, discipline, his love – all of it is part of that worry. These are two kinds of concern and they work together.
AS: So, Shibli saheb has argued that the two roles are different. What is your opinion, Javed saheb? What is the role of the father in the development of a child, and how difficult is it to be a good father? AJ: The question is very important. We need a very efficient training system at home. We need to be clear about the conceptual details of the family system and the role of both the parents. As far as the system is concerned, as soon as you enter into the marital relationship, you need to understand your responsibility and position. As it clearly has been said, Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.” The woman is responsible for the house and the children.

So the moment you enter into the marital relationship and the family system, you enter with an awareness that you are responsible and you will be held accountable. Second thing is that, in order to be very good parents, we need to have a very good understanding of marriage itself, because you are entering into the relationship with the intention of having and bringing up decent children. The third thing is that you should have a dream of training your children. Without this dream, it would be very difficult.

So – clarity, the conceptual details of marriage and a dream. If a person has these three things, he can be a good father. Father is not just a bread-earner, but a symbol of God’s pleasure. The pleasure of Allah rests with the pleasure of your father, this is what the Prophet (saw) has said. Second thing, a father should maintain a very good environment in his home. He should treat both girls and boys equally and also have a lofty vision and possess good moral values.

AS: You have ascribed the parenting characteristics very well. Over to Shibli saheb – I request you to speak on the difficulties of being a good father. Is the comparison between a mother and a father possible or needed? What is the best way to educate your daughter especially? SA: I don’t believe in comparisons or competition between who has a greater role, mother or father etc. Both have major contributions. We need both their contributions in our lives. As I have said before, the child needs a person who can emotionally love him or her beyond a measure. ‘Mother’ is the embodiment of this emotion. But life also has some other demands and requirements. Life is filled with softness and difficulty; harsh times and good times. So you also need a role model who can offer enrichment and education. Someone has said about mother that if the child feels thirsty, she will offer him water immediately and quench the thirst. But the father is often such that he will let you feel thirsty and not fulfil your demand for gratification immediately, till you reach a point where you accept the situation and forget being thirsty. So he prepares you to face the dreary moments and difficulties of your life. The father is a role model, who sacrifices everything to bring up his child. He doesn’t go around saying that ‘this is my sacrifice’ but a sensitive child can identify the role of the father and his sacrifice. The father is ready to blink away his tears and hide them if they spring to his eyes in moments of difficulty. This capability of hiding one’s pain is also an important part of life. This is also something that the child might have to learn at some point of life. So the father fulfils a very important need in our life. As I speak, I can’t help but recall my own father. We grew up watching his hard work and struggle. He would get angry with us and later explain that it was for our good. The training of facing life’s worst moments – I feel this is the role of the father.
AS: Very well-explained. The fathers are a steady but less-sentimentalized institution. Javed saheb – what are the associations between parental self-efficacy and involvement in the child’s life and his/her well-being? To what extent should a father intervene in the life of the child? AJ: There should be clear-cut delegation of roles between father and mother. The father should focus on the child’s mind, and the mother should focus on the heart. It depends on the age of the child. Till 9 years of age – he should fully involve himself in every need and take care of everything. After that, he should be kind of flexible. After they grow up (>20 years), he should keep an eye over them. The very important thing after 9-10 years, the son or daughter should know the likes/dislikes of the father. We have an example from the life of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (rahamatullah alayhi), whose mother had specified to him what traits she liked or disliked and he would follow that. We regard the Qu’ran as a book of guidance because the Creator has spelled out what he likes and dislikes in it, and we follow that.

AS: Yes, taking off from that, I would like to ask Shibli saheb what are the qualities of a good father and the responsibility towards daughters in particular.

SA: My key point is that the father is not supposed to be the ‘moral police’ of the home. He is not the thanedaar of their lives to just sit and control everything.

The Prophet (saw) was an exemplary father. The way he treated children – all his sons passed away and only his daughters survived. Particularly from the life of Fatima (RA) we get many examples of the loving father that he was. He was not a moral police for them. When Fatima (RA) returns to her maternal home, he holds her hand and greets her back home. Whenever he would go on an expedition, he would always greet her last and whenever he returned, he would first visit her house after offering his prayers at the mosque. So, the affection of a father towards his daughter – this is the best example of that.

It is also a commonly observed natural scene that the father is always very attached to his daughters. This is also an odd thing. Daughters, we know, due to their gender, might be inclined to affection and fondness; but there is an assumption that he is unemotional, even rough. But the daughter understands this. She can read him beyond his exterior. This is perhaps why fathers are so fond of their daughters. One aspect of the love of the daughter is also how his affection extends to her children – as the Prophet (saw) exemplified in his love for his grandchildren,Husayn and Hasan (RA). There are so many beautiful narrations, a golden chain of them, about how he would play with them, let them ride his back in play…Similarly how Umama bint Zainab (RA) climbed on him during prayer and how he would put her down and pick her up again.

This is my key point: he cannot reduce his role to moral police.

AS: How does a good father balance his professional and personal especially in this modern society?

AJ: It is very important to bring up children to make them good Muslims, good citizens and our success in both worlds depends on how we nourish our children, how we give them tarbiyah (education and nourishment).

One has to keep this importance in our minds. We are going outside the home to earn success. But the home is equally a space of developing this success. It can be observed that a man doesn’t struggle to balance his hobbies and work. He takes time out for his hobbies. Because they interest him, he is inclined towards them. Similarly, one must be inclined towards tarbiyah.

AS: What is the best way to educate your children on moral values and ethics?

SA: It is true that for a father, the tarbiyah of his children is foremost on his mind, particularly for someone who is pious. A pious father would pray and hope for pious children. Yaqoob (AS) is a shining example. He was concerned about his children. When death approached him – “Why, were you witnesses when death came to Jacob? He asked his children: “Whom will you serve after me?” They said: “We shall serve your God, the God of your forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, the One God, and unto Him do we submit.” (2:133) This is the best example of a pious father and his concern for the piety and character of his children. We should practice such tarbiyah and our children ought to respond as they responded in this ayat to Prophet Yaqoob (AS).

A pious father, thus, does not only worry about the financial and material needs and conditions of his children. He thinks beyond this limited vision. In this situation, the father himself has to be a model. A real life model based on actions. In our Muslim society generally, we have focused on a “taqreeri model” (based on speech or direction rather than actions). If a father has a religious bent of mind, he might come home and lecture his children on what to do. As opposed to this, the character of the Prophet (saw) was based on actions and character as example along with speech. This is how I think we need to educate our children based on the Prophetic model.

AS: What is the religious perspective of fatherhood, in conclusion?

AJ: Before coming to that, to add onto to what has been said – as far as the Prophetic model is concerned there are two important things that have been highlighted in the Qu’ran: one is that, we should strengthen our children’s relationship with Allah (swt) – like what Yaqoob (AS) has said. Similar is the case of Ibrahim (AS) – “Our Lord! I have made some of my offspring settle in a barren valley near Your Sacred House! Our Lord! I did so that they may establish Prayer.” (14:37). If you go through the Prophetic lives, they have taught children to develop a strong relationship with Allah swt.
Second is that they have specified their mission in front of their children. Making them an engineer or doctor is not the objective; we have to make them good Muslims, make them successful in both the worlds. This requires a vision. Prophet Ibrahim (AS) discussed with his son, about sacrifice – “And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” This conversation – the dream and his son’s response is emblematic of an awareness of his father’s dream.
We could infer that such awareness, such quality of submission may also have come from Hajar (AS), who taught her child at home. As Allama Iqbal wrote, “Ye Faizan-e-Nazar Tha Ya Ke Maktab Ki Karamat Thi, Sikhaye Kis Ne ‘Ismaeel (A.S)’ Ko Adaab-e-Farzandi? (Was it the lesson, or father’s glance, that taught the son of Abraham what he should bear?) The first school of the home, of the parents, is crucial to our children’s future.

 

 

 

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