Active fatherhood for Muslim dads

2 April 2005

Just before Fathers Day, in a ‘Message to Dad’ competition run by British schools, a 10 year old British Muslim boy, sent this message to his father. “I had fun the other day when we went to the fair,” he began: “when we went on the bumper cars I was scared, because everyone was bumping into us. The Waltzer was screaming. When we got off you were OK, but I was really dizzy. After we’d had a drink I had to go on Hook the Duck. It was easy. Thank you for taking me to the fair. I am excited about visiting Bangladesh with you soon. I am excited about going on an aeroplane.”

The message offers an insight into how children value their fathers and time with them. And when fathers are not there, dead or separated from the family, children go on longing for them. In the same competition an 11-year old Muslim girl recorded her feelings at the loss of her dad “If you look at the sky at night you will see that there are no more stars,” starts the message. “And it’s all your fault because every time I miss you a star falls from the sky. And I have missed you so much that there are no more stars in the sky and soon no moon.”

It was messages like these that have prompted Q-News, the Muslim College, the An-Nisa Society and Fathers Direct to join forces, to look at Islam and fatherhood: in April 2004 and April 2005, community workers, religious leaders and workers in Mosques along with family sector workers with a specific interest in the Islamic perspective have come together in London to look at how fatherhood can be best harnessed for raising Muslim children in Britain – and a partnership is being formed between Fathers Direct and the Muslim Community in Britain, to continue to explore this vital topic.

Dr Badawi, Chair of the Council of Imams and Mosques and Principle of the Muslim College was a key supporter in the “Message to Dad” competition and was among a number of religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury who, on Father’s Day (June 15) encouraged dads to spend more time with their children.

“Islam sees active fatherhood as central to a man’s role in life and to the development of his children,” explained Dr Badawi. “Muslim father is – besides being an inspiring role model – a friend, a teacher and the source of much practical advice. There are so many pressures on men today, such as working hours, that sometimes it is very hard to fulfil these complex and difficult roles. But whatever the circumstances we must never neglect our duty to be compassionate and sensitive.”

There is now a great deal of research in the influence that good fathering has on children. A recently published review on the impact on fatherhood by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human development shows that a child with an involved dad typically has better social skills by the time he or she reaches nursery. He can also be expected to do better at examinations at 16 and be less likely to have a criminal record.

The ways in which fathers behave towards their children is also crucial. When fathers are hostile towards their 16 year olds and undermine their teenagers’ autonomy during this predicts the degree of hostility and low self esteem reported by close friends of those young people, when they are aged 25.

There is a tendency to think that fathers matter only to boys. However, latest research also indicates that a good father-daughter relationship makes it easier for women later on to develop and maintain lifelong relationships with men. In the background of female eating disorders is often found a poor relationship between a daughter and her father.

As this reseach is made known in the Muslim community, it provides increasing opportunities for Muslim fathers and mothers – along with professionals in the field – to tackle some of these issues. There are a lot of families who need answers. And we should not forget that children deserve the best father they can get.

by Jack O’Sullivan

This article was first published in the Fatherhood section of Q-News,