One of the things that has become clear to me over the years, through my psychotherapy work and training as well as from life in general, is that we tend to learn how to be primarily from our parents. I do not want to get into a ‘blame the parents’ fest as those of us who are already parents, I’m sure, recognise that parenting even with the right tools is not the easiest of jobs. The idea of raising ‘good’ children, not just sons, starts well before birth or conception or even marriage. If we contemplate the following well-known athar (anecdote) regarding ‘Umar (RA), a man once came to ‘Umar Ibn Khattab (RA) complaining of his son’s disobedience. ‘Umar called for the boy and asked him about his father’s complaint and his neglect of his duties towards his father. The boy replied, ‘Does the child not have rights over his father? ‘Certainly’ ‘Umar replied. ‘What are they then?’ the boy asked. ‘He should choose a mother with care, preferring the righteous woman. He should give his child a good name and teach him the Qur’an.’ ‘O Caliph! My father did none of these.’ ‘Umar turned to the father and said, ‘You have come to complain about the disobedience of your son. You have failed in your duty to him before he failed in his duty to you. You wronged him before he wronged you.’
And also if we consider the ahadith:
“A woman may be married for four reasons: her wealth, her lineage, her beauty and her religion. Marry the one who is religiously committed …” (Bukhari and Muslim)
“Choose the right place for your nutfa [sperm] and get married to an equivalent partner.” (Ibn Majah)
We see from the above the importance of choosing the mother carefully. However, in the same way, does not the choice of father require the same level of consideration and thought? Should we not be marrying men who will be good fathers? And who are religiously committed? As I concluded in the first article of this series (read here), a good Muslim man will fulfil all his roles well, or at least to the best of his abilities. If he is attentive to his relationship with Allah (SWT) then the rest of his relationships will fall into place naturally, bi’idhnillah, as a consequence of this mindfulness, better described as taqwa (God-consciousness).
In his report, ‘Dad and me’, Martin Glynn looks into the problems caused by absent fathers and highlights the importance of a father figure in the lives of both boys and girls. He uses the term ‘father deficit’ which could also result if the child is living with an uninvolved or abusive parent. Below is a summary of some of the findings from this qualitative research:
Young people who have experienced ‘father deficit’
• are unsupported and often isolated and so are more likely to participate in negative behaviours, such as crime and substance misuse;
• lack a positive image of themselves and often experience feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness;
• describe frustration and a daily battle with their emotions;
• once upon a self-destructive path, are generally non-responsive to help;
• need avenues to express pent-up negative feelings.
One of the key conclusions drawn by Glynn is of particular value to the Muslim ummah (community). He believes that community activities are especially important in enabling absentee fathers to become positive male role models for their children. As Islam is a community-based faith, we have the tools to provide a neutral space, such as regular prayers or activities in the mosque, which will provide opportunities for positive role-modelling from non-custody fathers and/or other Muslim male role models.
If, however, these tools that are so readily available are not utilised, as in some Muslim communities, then we reach a stalemate and possible stagnation in terms of positively raising our future Muslim men. Recognition of what we have and where we are at are some of the crucial steps in instigating change – as the famous Gandhi saying goes, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. But how can we be what we need, what our children need, what anyone needs if we do not even know where we ourselves are at? It is imperative that we take a good hard look at ourselves and face up to our flaws.
It is clearly evident that the role of the father is just as significant as that of the mother. However, how do we identify a man who is up to the task of being a ‘good father’? How do we know that the man proposing marriage to us will even be a good husband? When we know that appearances can be deceiving, what do we look for as signs that we have a good Muslim man in front of us? I have surmised the following five point action plan so that we might be able to allay our fears and establish the truth of the matter:
1. Know Thyself
This means taking time out and perhaps even attending some form of reflective space such as counselling and getting to know oneself. If we are, for instance, aware that we have a desperate need to feel loved then we can safeguard ourselves against falling prey to someone who is charming and flatters us but is not such a great character overall.
2. Interview not Interrogate
Ask the right questions. If we discover that we are someone with a desperate need for love then we will need to pay particular attention to asking questions that will help us discern if the person in front of us is someone who will abuse that need. Interrogation will cause the person being asked the questions to go on the defensive so we may not get a true picture of who they are. No-one likes to feel under attack.
3. Stop, Look, Listen
Stop: we need to give ourselves space and time to reflect on the answers we are given. Look: observation allows us to see if deeds and behaviour match the words we are told. Listen: not just to the words being said, but also the tone in which they are being said. There is no rush insha Allah. Sometimes the observing and listening needs to be of ourselves in response to the answers we hear.
4. To Thy Own Self be True
We have what is called intuition, gut instinct or sixth sense and we need to trust it. If we are feeling uncomfortable about something, we need to listen to ourselves. If I was given a pound coin for each of times I have heard people tell me that they regret not trusting ‘that feeling’ I might well be a millionaire.
5. Salatul Istikhara
This prayer and du’a that we have available to us is invaluable. If we make a decision following it, we can be assured it was most likely the right one. And should we choose to do something without it or without turning to Allah (SWT) in some shape or form, we will only have ourselves to reproach.
We cannot know for certain at the time of choice whether we have made the right decision. Only time will tell, as they say, but doing the above will insha Allah help us feel more confident in our abilities to identify good Muslim men.
Without a doubt, the choice of father is as important for a future child as the choice of mother. So we need to improve ourselves by getting to know ourselves better and by gaining knowledge, whether we are mothers or not, married or single. Then we are more likely to make better choices on all levels, not just in the father of our children bi’idhnillah.
Khalida Haque introduces the series on raising sons by exploring the concept of a good Muslim man.
Umm Jannah discusses how to inspire, motivate and nurture your son to become a responsible provider and maintainer of his family
Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced integrative counselling psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and group facilitator. She has her own independent practice and is counselling service co-ordinator for Nour (www.nour-dv.org.uk). As a group facilitator she is currently working with men who may have had less than ideal role modelling from their fathers and are wanting to break the cycle to become ‘Caring Dads’.