PSYCHOLOGISTS DEFINE THE word ‘family’ as the first group of people that a child lives and interacts with in the first years of his life. During this period the child copies his parents in their attitudes, personality, reactions to different situations, cultural practices, etc…
The first and foremost job of the family is to protect the fiṭra of the child. Fiṭra is Arabic for disposition or instinct. The fiṭra is the innate instinct found within each and every child to worship the one Allah alone; his parents and society may turn him away from that fiṭra.
The Prophet ﷺ said in a hadîth:
No one is born except upon natural instinct, then his parents turn him into a Jew or Christian or Magian. (Bukhâri)
The family dynamics also serves as the first madrasa, or school of the child. The word madrasa in Arabic encompasses more than just the meaning of mere school, but encompasses the child’s education–his tarbiya–and ultimately his upbringing as a whole. Tarbiya specifically refers to the education and upbringing of every human being. When proper tarbiya is practiced in a household, healthy families are the result; sturdy families are essential for opulent societies, as the family is the core center that makes up the society.
When Does the Child’s Tarbiya Begin?
Experts have divided into three major schools of thought concerning this issue:
- The first school states that tarbiya begins from birth and into the first few weeks and months; they state that a child is capable of absorbing information and understanding certain signs (mostly from touch and sounds) even from such a delicate age.
- The second school states that tarbiya should begin once the child is able to recognize the environment around him and is aware of his surroundings.
- The third and final school says that actual tarbiya does not start until the child reaches two years of age.
In Islam, actual tarbiya begins way before the child is even born. It begins with the mother and father getting their money from a ḥalâl source and therefore, eating and drinking from ḥalâl…for this ḥalâl food source will provide nourishment to the growing fetus. A famous poet once said:
Whoever grows up upon something,
He grows old upon that same thing.
We should teach our children from a young age the correct ʿaqîda, prayer, being pious, modest and respectful, when our children falter, we correct them and not leave them saying, ‘they are just children, ‘we will correct them when they are older.’ We know this from the guidance of the Prophet ﷺ who used to train the children from a young age about the importance of good manners and character. This is illustrated in the hadîth of the Prophet’s nephew, Al-Ḥasan, in which he narrates how he once took a date from the dates of ṣadaqa (charity), and the Prophet ﷺ shouted at him and told him to take the date out of his mouth. The Prophet ﷺ explained to him that the dates were for ṣadaqa, and that ṣadaqa was not allowed for the Prophet ﷺ or his family.
The Role of the Mother
The influence the mother has on her baby begins as early as when the baby is still in the womb. Her emotions, feelings, hardships, happiness, stress, anger, all directly affect her child and can, in turn, directly affect the child’s later development. During this crucial time, the mother is often advised to avoid situations of stress, anger, and increased nervousness to protect the child from future problems.
Research has found that 80% of the personality traits and values form and develop in the first five years of the child’s life-and he takes his mother’s example first and foremost in virtually everything. Furthermore, 85% of the child’s behavior and attributes are rooted from the relationship the child has with his mother.
It is the child’s right to be looked after by his mother and to have her as a role model. She should sacrifice her time in raising her child and not leave him to daycare facilities or servants. This means making her child one of her top priorities, while fulfilling her other duties as a wife, mother, and daughter at the same time. Motherhood means sacrifice and this sacrifice could range from a sacrifice of the mother’s time, education, career…. But in the end, raising righteous children who worship Allah has a far greater reward than any career opportunity could ever offer. The Prophet ﷺ says in a famous hadith:
When the son of Adam passes away, all of his deeds are stopped except for three: Some kinds of charity that is continuous, or knowledge which the people are benefiting from, or a righteous child who is praying for him. (Muslim)
For this is the responsibility that she will be held accountable for in front of the Almighty on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet ﷺ said:
All of you are shepherds and are responsible [each] for his flock. (Bukhâri)
This includes the mother who is responsible for her ‘flock’ in her house.
Furthermore, not only are children fruits of the mother’s labor, but also come with an immense reward for raising them. The following hadîth illustrates the vast ajr (reward) Allah bestows upon the mother for her hardship and sacrifice in the first two years of her child’s life. The Prophet ﷺ said:
A woman from her pregnancy till the time of weaning her child is like one protecting the boundaries of the Islamic state. If she passes away during this period she attains the reward of martyrdom. (Tabarâni)
The Role of the Father
Often times when we speak about tarbiya and the upbringing of children we focus all of our attention upon the role of the mother, the definition of motherhood, and the sacrifices that come with being a mother. Little do we speak about the importance of not only a righteous husband but also a righteous father—one that understands his role in the family structure according to Islam. The Prophet ﷺ says in regards to choosing a husband:
Whoever comes to you with good dîn (religion) and khuluq (manners) then marry him… (Tirmidhi)
The father is often seen as ‘the bank,’ or the source of wealth and sustenance for the family. He may be seen sometimes as a beacon of strength, discipline, and power. Islam does obligate the husband to provide sustenance for the family, and his reward for doing so is great, but his responsibilities do not stop there. The Prophet ﷺ said:
There is nothing that you spend upon your families, even the food that you put into the mouth of your wife, except that you will get a reward for it.
The Prophet ﷺ also said in another hadîth:
A dinâr (golden coin) which you spend in the way of Allah, or a dinâr which you spend in freeing a slave, or a dinâr which you give to the miskîn (a poor person), or a dinâr which you spend on your family—which of these [dinârs] yields the greatest reward? Indeed the greatest of these in terms of reward is that dinâr which you spend upon your family. (Muslim)
So What is the Actual Role of the Father? The Answer is Simple: To Be There
Those three short words look far too simple and concise to serve as an answer to what seems like a big question. Though this brief statement may seem straightforward, its meanings are deep and dig far beyond its short word sequence.
A father who ‘is there’ provides his family with strength, safety, and security. He provides his children with self-confidence and feelings of love and tranquility. He also provides his wife an emotional and psychological support by standing by her side and helping with her needs. This brings harmony and understanding between the husband and wife which reflects upon the children and paves the way for them to grow up mentally and emotionally stable and happy.
Prophet Muhammed ﷺ was the perfect example of this as he was always attending to the needs of his family. He said the famous words:
The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family. (Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah)
Moreover, research has shown that a child (even from his birth), is in need of two separate environments.
- The first represents his safe environment where he is connected with the ties of ḥanân, comfort, and entrancement.
- The second is his safe environment where he is connected by the ties of strength, safety, power, and discipline. These two environments are the healthiest way to raise up a mentally and socially upright child.
The Reasons Fathers Have a Hard Time Fulfilling their Role as Fathers
- First, they may be unsure as to what their place is as a father.
- Secondly, they may not be used to this type of responsibility.
- Thirdly, there may be no ‘father-figure’ in their own lives to serve as a role model for them. So therefore they have no one to look up to in regards to fulfilling their own position as a father.
- Lastly, their job, work, or travels may leave them little time at home or render them unable to participate in satisfying the family needs at the end of their day.
The ‘Father-Child’ Relationship and How it Affects the Child
The father can affect his child’s growth in two ways:
- A direct approach which happens by the father’s direct interaction with the child and the experiences he shares with him.
- An indirect approach which happens by the positive relationship between both father and mother; the man can offer his love and support to his wife and that can consequently reflect upon the child.
Fatherhood in Islam
Research has shown that there is no fatherhood ‘instinct’ like that in mothers. Therefore, fatherhood is like a bundle of feelings that allow a man to feel happy, proud, and strong. He feels as if becoming a father has allowed him to establish or complete his manhood and has allowed him to walk with his head held high and say ‘This is my son.’ or ‘This is my daughter.’
The healthiest manifestation of these feelings of pride and strength in one’s child is for the fathers to have an active role in the child’s tarbiya (upbringing). A role that not only brings the child closer to him in love and harmony, but also helps the mother to feel as if she has a helping hand and that she is not alone in raising their children. This also increases the love and respect she has for her husband when she feels he is trying to lift a burden off her shoulders and to sacrifice his time in helping her with her daily responsibilities.
Fatherhood in Islam is immensely important. Islam orders that the children be called by the name of their fathers; Islam instructs children to respect and honor their fathers, and to make supplications for them long after their death.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
You will be called on the Day of Resurrection by your names and the names of your fathers, so choose good names for yourselves. (Abû Dâwûd)
Furthermore, Allah says:
Call them by their father’s names; that is more just with Allah. [Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:5]
When a Father Offers Help
When help is offered to a mother the relationship between husband and wife becomes stronger as the mother feels she is being understood and the father feels as if he is helping the family in their home life. By offering his helping hand he shows his love and sacrifice for his family. Furthermore, his helping becomes a routine. It is not just a once-a-week act, but it becomes the norm for him to help and interact directly with his children.
Allah commands us to make supplication to Him and to ask for His help. For it is only with His blessings and tawfîq that we are successful in raising righteous children; and with His permission, they will be our tickets into Paradise. Allah says:
Our Lord! Bestow on us from among our wives and our offspring those who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us leaders of the pious/righteous. [Sûrat Al-Furqân, 25:74]