Shaykh Haytham Tamimi on Fatherhood

22 March 2006

Edited presentation from transcript
Muslim Fatherhood workshop – Fathers Direct National Conference
5 April 2005

Imagine civilisation as a huge building and society as its foundation, and the foundation of society being families and parents. To have good civilisation, we need to have effective parenting.

The Quran said ‘Your lord has commanded that you should worship none other than him and that you should be kind to your parents.’ In this verse, Allah combines parenting and tawhîd (the oneness of God) which demonstrates what an important role parents play.

The Prophet said ‘Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh. If it is whole and healthy then the body is healthy and if it is diseased then the body is diseased. He was referring to the heart. The heart of society is the family. And if the core is healthy then society remains healthy and if it is diseased then society will be diseased.

The choice of marriage partner is critical. The Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad give extensive advice on how to search for a complimentary spouse, how to look after your family, your children and your parents. The Prophet said that if someone approaches you in marriage, whose religion and character you are satisfied with, accept his request. If you do not do so, there will be disturbance and extensive corruption on earth. When you choose the right person, don’t just consider wealth. Consider his or her character, religion and education as well.

There is a saying of the Prophet whereby ‘All of you are guardians of someone. Each of you will be questioned about those under your care.’ The father is a guardian and so is the mother and they are both responsible for the family. The responsibility is mutual, and not a case of just the mother looking after the family, which has unfortunately been promoted by many cultures.

God has said in the Quran: God enjoins you in the matter of your children. It is considered a worship in regards of teaching and raising the children. It is not easy.
The Prophet said there are some sins that one cannot abolish except by looking after one’s family. These traditions show that looking after family is very important.

The crisis we face is not in Islam but in the practice of Islam. Islam provides broad principles and it is up to the individuals to put them into practice, depending on time and place. What works in the UK may not work in Lebanon. We may have the same principals but we must be flexible in our methodology.

The Prophet said the best among you is the best towards his family and I am the best amongst you towards my family. There is no point being the best person in your community but not at home. When I was teaching in Beirut, I found that the most misbehaved students were often those of Muslim activists. If you didn’t know the family, you would have thought the children were off the streets. The fathers were giving quality time to the mosque, the community, Islamic workshops but not quality time to their children.

I once counselled a man who was one of the most respected activists in the area. He had four or five children. He had a big fight with his wife one day and so came to me for help. I saw husband and wife individually and together. The main conclusion was that the father was not giving quality time to his children. Our first priority is our home, and then our community. Unfortunately, our priorities seem to be the other way around.

A Muslim’s understanding of fatherhood should be based on the example of the Prophet Muhammad. To understand the Prophet, however, you cannot interpret text without the context. Read about his life and you will see that he was kind and genial person with his family and the community as well. He gave quality time to each aspect of his life.

It is reported that one day, when he was praying in the mosque, he stayed in prostration for a long time. People around him became worried, afraid that something was wrong with him. However, on closer inspection they saw that one of the children was on his back and he didn’t want to disturb the child’s play.

The Prophet said, he who has a child should give him a good name, education and marry him. Your name is like your shadow. If you have a good name, then it’s a reflection of your character. Consider Ali. When his first son was born, the Prophet went to congratulate the family and asked what they had named him. Ali said ‘Harb’ (War) and the Prophet immediately changed the baby’s name to Hassan. And with the next baby the same thing happened and the Prophet changed it again, this time to Hussain. This also happened when the third child was born.

Good upbringing is about instilling spirit and good education – not just about financial resources. The Prophet said that it’s the right of the child to receive good education and he did not mean just Islamic education.

The Prophet said that when a person dies, his good deeds come to an end except in three ways:

The continual fruits of any charity he gave, e.g. a mosque or school
Knowledge from which others continue to attain benefit.
A pious child who prays for his parents.

The third point is an incentive for parents to raise their children well, and give them a good education. It is said that it is better for a man to discipline his child than to give charity.

The Prophet taught that we must be just with children. Favouritism and discrimination are forbidden. A contemporary of the Prophet visited with his son and told the Prophet to bear witness that he has given his garden to his son. In response, the Prophet asked, have you given all your children the same?

The man said no and the Prophet refused to be a witness. He said, this is oppression as you are not giving equally.

How should we establish understanding? It comes through discussion and dialogue. The Quran demonstrates the etiquette of dialogue, giving special space to dialogue with Satan in order that we learn how to make dialogue with the worst being in the world.

A man once told me, “My father made me what I am today. He would discuss everything with me. I would joke around and play devils advocate on various issues. My father would laugh and be so open to discussion.”

My first three years in England were very difficult but I made time to observe and learn the local culture. When you truly understand what is going on around you, you are in a better position to offer effective and organic solutions. What works for others may not work for you and so, I am against importing solutions from other social systems, cultures and countries. In the Quran, it is said that messengers and prophets are sent from within communities so they can effectively communicate with the local people.

The way forward is

1. Education and preparation for marriage and parenting.

2. In certain areas of Malaysia, they do not give a marriage certificate unless you pass a marriage course. We have to educate people about issues relating to marriage. Instead of hiding our problems, we have to face them and solve them.

3. We need to separate culture from Islam. Fathers may have authority over their families but there is a very fine line between leadership and dictatorship.

4. Quality time with the family

5. An action plan

6. We talk more than we work. If we are genuine and sincere then we can produce a viable action plan and implement it.