In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Jumu’ah Khutbah – Fatherhood in Islam
Claremont Main Road Masjid - 26th Jamad al-Akhir 1433
As a sequel and follow up to last week’s khutbah on Motherhood, I would like to briefly reflect on the topic of Fatherhood in Islam.
We often hear speakers address the topic of the role of Motherhood in Islam but seldom do we reflect on the topic of Fatherhood in Islam. Now this understandable given the fact that the reality for most children is that their mothers play a far greater role in their nurturing and upbringing than their fathers. And it is precisely because of the unparalleled sacrifice of the mother for the child, that Islam has given the mother such an incomparable status. For example in a prophetic tradition (hadith) recorded in two of the most authentic collections of hadith of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, it is reported that a man came to the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) and inquired, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among all human beings is the most worthy of my closest
relationship and good companionship? The Prophet replied: Your mother. The man asked, ‘Then who?' The Prophet replied: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your father.
Now while Islam recognizes the great sacrificial role that the mother plays in the life of her children it nevertheless recognizes the important role of the father. The Islamic value system affirms that responsible fatherhood is important to a healthy family and civil society. A well-known prophetic tradition (hadith) reported by `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) describes the vital role of father in the following manner:
علي اهل بئته
ومسئول عن رعيته
“The husband is the leader of his family
and is responsible for those under his care”
The key word employed in the above hadith is “ra`in” which literally means that the father is the shepherd of the family, who is charged with the responsibility of taking care of his entire flock in all aspects of their multidimensional needs. The word in Arabic used in the above prophetic tradition (hadith) for "responsible" is mas'ul. This word also means "that about which one will be accountable on the day of judgment." Thus, the tradition can also be translated as follows, "The father is a shepherd in his home, and he will be asked by God about his flock."
Numerous research studies confirm the important role of the father and reveal that children whose fathers are present and involved in the lives of their children are more likely to nurture children who develop into successful and compassionate adults. Sadly, however, this Islamic ethic of fatherhood is being challenged like never before in contemporary times.I would like to bring to your attention a disturbing trend that has been identified in recent research findings on the current state of family life: namely that of absentee fathers. In 1996 the American sociologist, David Popenoe, published a controversial book titled: “Life Without Father.” Popenoe’s chief argument that he sought to convey in his book, was that “Fatherhood – i.e. the state of being a father - is declining to a remarkable degree because close to forty percent of all children do not live with their biological fathers, a percentage that is steadily climbing” (current estimates places this at fifty percent). And, to make matters worse, many men who do live with their children are often removed from the day to day upbringing of those children.
The importance of the book’s findings was so significant that three years later in 1999, Harvard University Press decided to republish a second edition of the book under the title “A second edition of the book with the title; “Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood & Marriage is indispensable for the Good of Children & Society”.
I strongly recommend that you read this book and reflect seriously upon its wisdom.
How do we as conscientious Muslims respond to this challenge of fatherhood in our time? What guidance can we derive from the teachings of Islam which would help us to remedy this family disease which family researchers and practitioners have described as “life without a father”? I would like to remind us of at least five such Islamic guidelines which would enable fathers to live up to our roles as responsible fathers.
First, Islam entrusts the father with the awesome responsibility of leadership of the family The most famous of Qur’anic texts that confer and bestow the responsibility of leadership of the family to the father can be found in Surah Al-Nisa, Chapter 4, verse, 34:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ
“Men are the maintainers and protectors of women;
for Allah have granted some of them more strength than others,
and they spend of their wealth to sustain them…”
The key Arabic word employed in the above verse is “qawwamun,” which most commentators of the Qur’an construe as referring to the leadership responsibility of the family which men are encumbered with by Islam. The amanah, the responsibility of leadership of the family has to be to undertaken and fulfilled by the father with utmost dedication (or in the words of some scholars with reasoned assertiveness). As has already be alluded to the root of the key Qur’anic word which affirming the father’s responsibility as leader of the family, qawwamun (pl. of qawwam), is qama which means "to stand or to make something stand or to establish something". It is often used in the Qur'an in the sense of establishing religion or prayer. A related word is qa'im which means "one who stands or makes something stand". Qawwam is an intensive form of qa'im and has a sense of continuity in the action involved. So it means one who is continuously standing over something (as, for example, a guard or caretaker) or one who is continuously making something stand, i.e. is maintaining it.
Second, the responsibility of leadership of the family has to be to undertaken and fulfilled by the father with justice and fairness (qist).The characteristic of qawwamun in the Qur’an is characterized by justice and fairness, known in Arabic as qist. Thus in Surah al-Nisa, chapter 4, verse 134, the Glorious Qur’an proclaims:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ
“O Believers! Be qawwamin stand up firmly for justice as witnesses for God…”
And again in Surah 5:8 the Qur’an proclaims:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ
“O Believers! Be qawwamin stand up for God as witnesses to justice and fairness…”
In this regard, the Prophet (pbuh) taught that fathers must be just and deal equitably with all of their children. Favoritism and discrimination amongst one’s children are forbidden in Islam. A contemporary of the Prophet (pbuh) visited with his son and told the Prophet to bear witness that he has given his garden to his son. In response, the Prophet (pbuh) asked, have you given all your children the same? The man replied no and the Prophet (pbuh) refused to be a witness. He said, this is oppression as you are not giving equally.
Third, the responsibility of leadership of the family has to be to undertaken and fulfilled by the father with consultation (shura). In this respect the Glorious Quran has clear guidance and promotes a family that operates on the basis of mutual consultation (shura) as opposed to autocratic rule by the male head of the family. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Chapter 2, verse 233, Allah, the Sublime, orders that decisions made with respect to the nurturing of the children, should be done on the grounds of mutual consent (shura) between both spouses.
فَإِنْ أَرَادَا فِصَالًا عَنْ تَرَاضٍ مِنْهُمَا وَتَشَاوُرٍ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا
‘If the couple desires to wean the child by mutual consent
and consultation there is no harm on them.”
Fourth, the responsibility of leadership of the family has to be to undertaken and fulfilled by the father with love (mawaddah) and compassion (rahmah). In this regard I concur with the contemporary Muslim ethicist, Tariq Ramadan, who argues that one of the problems with Muslim thinking is that we tend to assess everything in term of “rights” and “duties”. A rigid mentality of absolute rights and duties can sometimes be harmful since it reduces issues to black and white, right and wrong absolutes. It can taint family relationships with a sense of selfishness and misperception, which constitute a good recipe for destroying the benevolent spirit of family life in Islam. The Qur’an teaches that there should be flexibility and magnanimity which comes from, love and tenderness in handling family issues. Allah, the Sublime, proclaims in Surah Rum, Chapter 30, verse 21:
And one of His (Allah’s) signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves,
so that you may find rest in them and He put between you love and compassion;
most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.
To further illustrate this point of the benevolent and magnanimous nature of fatherhood I would like to share with you an instructive verse from the Glorious Qur’an from Surah Al-Taghabun, Chapter 64, ayat (verses) 14-15. Here Allah, the Sublime, describes the challenges of family life and fatherhood in stark reality and dramatic terms, and advises us with regard to the appropriate Islamic response to such trying and difficult tests:
Believers! Some of your spouses and some of your children may become enemies to yourselves: so beware of them!
But if you pardon them, and forebear and overlook their indiscretions, and cover up and forgive them (their faults),
then know that Allah is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
I would like to derive two key lessons from the above verses. The first is that the Qur’an uses a strong term `aduwullakum meaning your enemy, to describe the challenge presented by the spouse or child. The word `aduw meaning enemy is used in several verses to describe the relationship of enmity between Satan and the human being (see 2:168; 2:08; 6:143; 7:22; 12:5; 36:60; 43:62). By employing this strong term the Qur’an is thus warning the believer of one of the most difficult of life challenges: Will the believer succumb to allowing his or her deep love and affection for a spouse or child to violate the conscience and Divine teachings and values? This is indeed a great temptation.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Qur’an lays down the appropriate Islamic response to perhaps the most difficult of family challenges; if you pardon them, and forebear and overlook their indiscretions, and cover up and forgive them (their faults), then know that Allah is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Despite the enmity of a spouse or child, the father or mother is called upon not to lose it but to rise to the highest of values of humanity to be vigilant, forbearing and forgiving in their responsive behaviour.
Last but not least, if you happen to be in the challenging position of being an absentee father you need to find creative ways of compensating? Or even if you are father that is physically living with your children you need to make sure that you are not a so-called ghost father but indeed physically present to the emotional and psychological needs of your children. Your unending source of inspiration to rise to this challenge should be the inspirational Islamic teaching that falah i.e. success in this world and salvation in the hereafter is procured through the rearing of good children. The significance and meaning of the Islamic concept of success in this life and the hereafter known as falah is beautifully explained in the following hadith, reported by Abu Hurayra who informs us that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught the following:
”When a person dies, no good deeds live on after him or her, except for three things: continuing charity (i.e. sadaqa jariyah), knowledge which can benefit others, and virtuous offspring who will pray for him or her.” (Muslim)
We learn from this hadith that when we die and leave behind good children we continue to reap others will reap the perpetual benefits and rewards from God.
I conclude with an illustrative story:
A son whose father was career oriented and very ambitious once waited up for his father to come home from work. Shortly after arriving home the son encountered his father sitting at his computer responding to emails. The son asked his father: Dad, how much do you earn per hour?
The father was annoyed by his son’s impertinence and scolded him to go to bed since it was late.
The question however bothered the father and a while later he went to his son’s room and found him still awake reading a book. The father provided an answer to the son’s question but asked him why he needed to know this confidential information. In response the son took out similar amount money from underneath his pillow and asked him: Dad if I pay you for a half an hour of your daily salary would you spend that time with me tomorrow?
Please join me in making a special du`a for all fathers:
O Allah! Bless all fathers in the world.
Grant them the necessary strength and means to live up to their weighty responsibilities
Guide them to be good role models and loving to all their children.
Give them grace and patience to handle situations in a loving way.
I conclude with my favorite Qur’anic supplication found in surah al-Furqan, chapter 25, verse 74, which I advise fathers to read after every salah:
Our Lord and Sustainer, grant us spouses and children who will be a joy and comfort to our eyes, and cause us to be paragons of piety among those who are conscious of you