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.
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: 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.