“We should strive to maintain excellent kinship bonds and forgive the shortcomings of our relatives for the sake of Allah, in hope that He may forgive our shortcomings. The sacred bonds of blood must never be severed. One of the greatest of the major sins is filial impiety, which is prevalent in modern society. Relationships are a trial from Allah…” (Agenda to Change Our Condition – H.Yusuf and Z. Shakir)
As a child, when I was in big trouble my mother used to say to me, “You are your father’s daughter!” It was no compliment, but I didn’t care. I idolised my father and was proud to be compared to him.
I tried to be the son he never had. We played catch, watched sports, collected baseball cards, and did lots of other things that fathers and sons tend to do. I wore football jerseys and baseball caps with two long braids. He called me “Tiger,” “Ace,” and “Sport.” It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realised that he could not fix all things with one phone call.
He recently visited me and my family. The usual once-a-year, less than 24-hour visit that he feels obligated to do. One of my little girls asked him to play a game. He simply said “No.” No explanation or niceties, and nothing to appease her little soul. I’ll never forget the smile disappearing from her face. No-one, not even strangers, had ever talked to her so coldly. Later that day she grabbed onto his leg, hugging it as tightly as she could. He told her that he had a bad knee and to let go. I thought my heart would break when she reached up to grab his hand as we were walking. He reluctantly allowed her to hold his hand after much insistence on her part.
The annual obligatory visit has always been painful for me – not so much because of the obvious disdain he has for me and my chosen path, but because it makes me remember how close we used to be. But in the last few years, his visits had become far more difficult. It is one thing bearing the brunt of someone’s anger; it is quite another thing watching your children become the targets.
I knew becoming a Muslim was not going to go over well with my atheist father. I was taught religion was for fools and the weak. All that he ever wanted for me was to have a successful law career, marry a doctor, play tennis, and spend my summers poolside at the country club. But life unfolded much differently than both of us could have ever imagined.
I remember the first time I read the verses in a translation of the Qur’an, which instruct us to obey our parents except when they try to make us associate partners with Allah, glorified and exalted is He. It was literally a God-send. I realised that my praise and duty was to Allah (SWT), freeing me from the fear of my father’s disapproval. Reading the verses gave me the strength to say the Shahada.
Over the years since I converted, I have endured his many anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim remarks. I have tried to return his comments with what is better although I have not always succeeded. I ignored the more offensive comments and changed the subject. I asked him politely not to speak so disparagingly about our beloved Prophet (SAW). For years, he told me that he hoped that I was a “spy” and not really a Muslim. When he realised that I truly believed what I professed, he apparently decided to let go.
I have been mourning the loss of my father for a long time now. I have often thought to tell him that he no longer needs to keep up the masquerade – that I release him of all fatherly obligations. But recently I read a book that made me realise that I have obligations to my father regardless of his behaviour towards me.
My father helped to raise, educate, and protect me. Allah (SWT) put us together for a reason. I must not sever filial ties but try to mend them – even if my father would prefer I let him go.
Understanding my duty is bringing me a strange sense of peace. I am trying to maintain a relationship with him for the sake of Allah and not because I expect my father to reciprocate. Admittedly, it is not easy when he is so disinterested in my life and my family. I also pray often that my father returns to Allah as a Muslim surrendering and with a sound heart. Indeed, no one knows who will die a friend of Allah, the All-Knowing, All-Wise.
My girls and I walk my father to his car. “Pop! Pop! Can’t you stay longer?” They yell as they run to hug him goodbye. His body stiffens and he turns his head as they try to kiss him. I want to cry and scream but I remain silent, remembering my duty. His car drives away and he does not look back. We turn to walk inside. The sun peeks through the dark clouds and warm rays shine brightly on our faces. One of my little girls turns to me and says “Thank you, Allah, for the beautiful sun.” She smiles and runs off with her sister. I smile too. Indeed, all praise and gratitude is for Allah.
*The author requested to use a pseudonym when publishing her memoir. She holds degrees in geology, law and public health, and currently resides in the Northeastern United States with her husband and two daughters.