Fatherhood: A Sacrifice and a Trial
Balancing Family and Islamic Work
By Maria Hussain
On Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his first-born son at the command of Allah, and how Allah spared his son and made him a Prophet. When Ibrahim told his son that he had had a vision that Allah wanted him as a sacrifice, Ismail agreed to it without hesitation:
Then, when the son reached the age of serious work with him, He said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" The son said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: Thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!" So when they had both submitted their wills to Allah, and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him, "O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial - And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. (37:102-107)
What is most remarkable about this story is how Ismail had complete trust in the wisdom of his father's vision. How many of our children would react this way if we said to them, "God told me to sacrifice you"? Probably they would say, "Are you crazy?" They might accept the idea of martyrdom for the sake of Allah but they would not have the complete trust in his father's relationship with Allah as Ismail had, which enabled him to believe in his father's vision, and in his father's interpretation of that vision.
There is a big difference between this and mere blind faith. In blind faith, one believes without knowing why one believes. However, the level of faith displayed by these two prophets shows complete certainty in Allah's plan and absolute clarity of communication between God and servant. The sharing of this faith together resulted in an unbreakable bond of unquestioning loyalty between father and son based on the son's firm knowledge and security in the goodness and purity of his father's motives. This deep trust could only be a result of close companionship. Ibrahim had taught Ismail all that he knew of Islam, and trained him in the religion. Together, they had built the great altar to Allah. And yet, all their love was for the sake of Allah. The father had no attachments to his future plans for his son. Nor did the son have any goal other than to obey his father, the Prophet Ibrahim, and to willingly give up everything for the sake of Allah.
Being Worthy of Our Family's Trust
As parents, we have to keep striving to be worthy of our family's trust by keeping our households focused on serving Allah alone. How many parents are actually raising their children as sacrifices to Allah? Like Maryam, have we pledged our unborn babies to the service of the Lord? On the contrary, how many Muslim families push their children harder financially and materially? Many parents try to destroy a child's will, forcing him to live out their dreams. We usually want our sons and daughters to attend a good college and to marry the very best in status. But how many of us would celebrate when our sons and daughters told us they are getting ready to travel throughout the world as Allah has commanded? How many of us are going to buy our sons and daughters a one-way ticket when they tell us Allah has called them to make Jihad? How many of us would stand in their way? Could we sacrifice our children for Allah? Do we have anything close to the level of trust between the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail? Have we fully applied ourselves to passing on to our children the undying love for Allah? Or have our children already been sacrificed to our busy schedules? We are very attached to our expectations of our children, but we forget that they have claims on us too. According to the prophetic tradition, all the time a man spends with his family is worship. Do we sacrifice our time in order to contribute to our families' Islamic growth? Do we consider our families an important aspect of our Islamic work? Do we do Islamic work as a family? Or do we actually abandon them in our religious zeal?
Families Need a Father's Love
Sadly, many deeply sincere Muslim families are being sacrificed to their fathers' misguided notion that it is manly to abandon family life for the sake of being active in the Muslim community. Rather than viewing their fatherhood and marriage as a service for Allah and a means for purification of self, these men hold back from loving their families too much for fear that this will keep them from loving Allah. They emotionally distance themselves from their wives and children as if they were obstacles on the Path. This type of father habitually gulps down his dinner and is out the door for the rest of the night. He spends long hours away from his family serving on masjid committees, counselling strangers with their problems, organising fund-raising events, and attending endless meetings. When he is home, he talks on the phone for hours, sits in front of the email, and then collapses, exhausted into bed. His wife may feel that it is her duty to willingly do without marital companionship in order to free her husband to do the "more important" work of Allah. But if the woman cares at all about her husband, she will eventually feel betrayed and rejected. If years go by and she becomes used to living without him, such that she no longer needs or wants him, then he has lost her, and probably his children also. In today's world, it is not enough for the father to bring home the money and then feel he has done his job.
Sons and daughters need their fathers to spend time with them. Sons who are deprived of their father's companionship and affection are more likely to become delinquent or deviant in their teens.
Daughters who fail to receive their fatherís attention and praise are more vulnerable to sexual predators as they unconsciously search for a loving father replacement. A desperate need for love and validation has led many teens to forbidden and self-destructive behaviours, while kids who do sports and have fun with their dads tend to have fewer social problems such as smoking or drinking, and they are more likely to have a stable and fulfilling marriage relationship in later years.
Wives who fail to receive regular doses of loving attention from their husbands will lack the self-esteem to effectively train an Islamic family. The wife's depression and nervous anxiety from her husband's prolonged absences can affect her unborn fetus. If she is struggling with her own feelings of abandonment and rejection, how can she be everything for her children? But when a woman feels cherished by her husband and respected, she receives a tremendous boost of energy and there is nothing she would not do for him. A strong marriage is essential to good health, longevity and a joyous and meaningful existence. The Prophet said, "When a man approaches his wife, he is guarded by two angels and [at that moment in Allah's view] he is like a warrior fighting for the cause of Allah." Imam Jafar is noted as saying, "Whenever a person's love for women increases, his faith increases in quality."
Raising a Family is Islamic Work
With this in mind, we must acknowledge that it is not appropriate to view our Muslim families as impediments to our lofty spiritual ambitions, but rather, they are a trial of our actual, personal application of Islam. Allah has commanded Muslims to pray regularly in jummah, and yet, also to maintain loving relationships with our families. A masjid turned into an all-night-menís-club has a destructive influence on the family and community. Is there some sort of competition between a Muslim brother's dedication to the Islamic organisation and his dedication to his family? Raising a family is Islamic work. Maintaining the spirit of love and peace at home is very rigorous, nafs-reducing, intensive Islamic training. Is this petty volunteerism going to earn you any benefits from Allah if you are forsaking the people who need you the most? You need to include your wives and children in your Islamic work and do things with them at home or in your neighbourhood. Children learn by imitation, so they need to see their fathers in action. When men use the masjid to try to avoid marital conflicts and the strains of child discipline, they avoid having to develop the patience, compassion and selfless attitude that children and wives demand. This is a grievous setback to their spiritual maturity.
Regular meetings are mandatory for Muslims to stay connected with their community. But all Islamic organisations should adopt a "Family First" policy if they are serious about being vehicles of Islam. Lectures and conferences can only give people theoretical knowledge. You may fully understand the status of women in Islam, or the duties of wives, for example, but your trial is to see if you can behave in this manner at home. Each trial that your family presents to you is a means for inner purification, and serves as the practical training and test of your faith.
Denying companionship to your wife and children is not the meaning of Ibrahim's sacrifice. At no time did Ibrahim give up or sacrifice his relationship with his sons or his wives in order to follow Allah. Nor did he leave his sons' religious education and moral upbringing to their mothers while he went off to make dawah. His sons were a priority in their father's life, and they had a close relationship. When Ibrahim was ready and willing to sacrifice his first-born son to Allah, it was not because Ismail was a victim of paternal coldness or neglect. Rather, he was the recipient of prophetic understanding. It was as a result of the strength of this father-son bond, that father and son were united in full submission to the command of Allah.