Muslim Boys to Muslim Men

2 April 2005

On the day Lady Khadijah was married to the Blessed Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, she presented him with a slave boy called Zayd. And that’s how 15 year old Zayd entered the house of the Messenger of Allah.

Not long thereafter Zayd’s father and uncle caught up with him in Mecca and approaching the Prophet offered to pay to secure his release. The response of the Messenger: “Let Zayd choose”. Zayd’s response was “I would not choose any man in preference to thee…I have seen from this man such things that I could not choose another above him.” From that day on the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, dubbed Zayd his son.

Zayd’s choice of the Prophet over his biological parents, and the Prophet’s public embrace of Zayd, defines the precise relationship between fathers and sons in Islam and becomes the model which repeats itself with every male companion that come into the presence of the Messenger.

Like Zayd, Muslim sons ought to be able see in their fathers everything they want to be when they grow up. Muslim fathers, likewise, should see in their sons righteous and strong men who will honour their wisdom.

Being a father today is an uphill struggle. In the US, African American fathers raised in homes where their own fathers have been absent, turn to the Cosby Show to learn appropriate paternal behaviour. If the Cosby scenario doesn’t work there is a range of other fatherly role-models to choose from – many of them negative. For many a son, raised on a daily diet of The Simpsons. my dad (and by extension all fathers) is as dumb as Homer.

For Muslim fathers living in Canada, the United States and the UK, the problem of fathering boys is particularly challenging.

First generation Muslim dads are immigrants who in almost all cases suffer from the symptoms that accompany social dislocation. To make ends meet many are forced into dead-end jobs working long hours. Stressed out of their minds they suffer silently in a state of mild depression longing for a past that’s impossible to recover. They return home tired, irritable and remote, numb with hatred for their job, ashamed to tell their children what they do each in the little cubicle in the tall class building. In such a state these fathers cannot teach nor can they impart wisdom to their children. Instead, they impart their mood.

Muslim fathers rarely spend quality time at home to put their children to bed, read them books or play games with them. Fathers are often shocked at how little they actually know of what’s going on in the lives of their sons. They fail to realise that being involved in their sons’ lives means paying attention to the small details. That way, when their son gets to be a teenager he will feel comfortable telling his father things he might otherwise hold as deep dark secrets.

I am the father of five children, two girls and three boys now all in their teens. In dealing with my sons I find myself turning to my relationships with my father for lessons in what to do and what not do in raising them.

I used to spend long hours with my father carrying his tools as he mended the fence. My father took me to his place of work often on Saturdays. Finished by midday we strolled over to his barber shop where I too would get a haircut. I am not deluded into thinking that everything in my relationship with my father was positive, but I know that even though he scolded me my father never shamed nor insulted me.

In my relationship with my three sons I try to open windows and doors for the kings inside of them to emerge and gain self-recognition. This process is arduous and it requires showing patience while learning to inhale the good – and exhale – accept the bad – all the while teaching my sons to do the same. I teach my sons, like my father taught me, not to barter their independence to anyone, man or woman. I do this because I believe it is the best way to ensure, like Zayd, that in life’s many unexpected twists and turns, they will endeavour to make the right choices.

by Nazim Baksh

A longer version of this article was first published in the Fatherhood section of Q-News, Edition 355, April 2004, http://www.q-news.com

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