In keeping within the SISTERS ethos to strive towards being the best Muslimahs we can be, this series - Raising Muslim Men - will take a holistic look at how we as mothers, sisters, educators, mentors and more can nurture our young brothers into being the best they can be.
UmmZainab Vanker voices her concerns about the disinterest shown by many fathers in raising their sons.
Mothers today, especially those of us who have sons, have this dream that our husbands will be a different kind of father to how their fathers or our fathers were to us. They will have a more active role in raising our son/s, being mentors and guides to them especially in the critical mid to late childhood and early adulthood years. Once mothers have weaned and toilet trained them, they would take over the teaching of the greater parenting areas, such as emotional and psychological growth and physical training young boys need, and not just the basics of salah, discipline, respect and how to behave at the masjid!
Many of us dream that our husbands will minimally spend an hour or so daily teaching them Qur’an, Islamic studies lessons and, for those who know Arabic, this beautiful language. But the reality is quite a different story!
Most fathers are so busy outside the home that when they do return, they just spend a little time with the family before the kids go to bed. Realistically, how many of our men today have a 9-5 job? Not many! Yet we as mothers still hope that on the days off, they will call the sons to be active with them at the masjid or Islamic centre, take them and teach them the skills they have and do things with them to establish a stronger bond on an emotional level so that they will be like friends one day.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the responsibility of raising our sons has been dropped onto the mothers’ laps. Realising that sons are very different to daughters, some mothers do have the skills and ideas to bring them up, but some have no idea at all what to do with boys! Mothers have, for the most part, had to take on and be somewhat of a father as well as a mother. There are still men out there who do take on the full responsibility of fatherhood, but they are sadly the minority.
Role models needed!
When listening to many Muslim mothers today, the main issue we hear is, “How do I get my husband to play a bigger role in the lives of our sons? To be the one who talks to him, guides and advises him like the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) did with Anas Ibn Malik, Abdullah Ibn Umar, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu 'anhum ajma'een) and so many other young boys who were not even his own flesh and blood!"
I know from my own personal experience of raising three sons that there are times I wish we had a community around us where my sons could have good Muslim men as mentors. When their father is not able to be there for them, I wish there was someone we both trust equally to take on the role of a big brother/uncle/friend.
Unfortunately, this is just a dream today as we live in times where even many of the active brothers from the masajid (mosques) are only available for sports or supervising minor talks. I know the frustration most mothers feel in the search for good brothers to be mentors for our sons - to fill the gaps we see in our sons’ lives. It's easier to get similar initiatives for our daughters because we're the ones dealing with it directly. With sons we need for the most part to run it by the husband first, then if we're lucky and he agrees, it again falls into our laps to find those brothers who can be good role models as well as mentors and friends.
Somehow fathers passed on their responsibility for their sons’ lives to the mothers and we accepted it as we do with many other things we take on, without questioning. Then, when the sons are young men and have no real relationship with their fathers and can't even talk to their dads about what they’re really feeling or dealing with or get guidance, the blame is put on us. It became your fault for not fostering or forcing that relationship in which your son would feel comfortable opening up any discussion with their father.
When it comes to talking about the signs, rules and responsibility of puberty, how to pray salah in jama'ah, how to control their desires and deal with the trials of living in today's world, mothers have had to become naggers in asking their husbands to take the time to talk to the sons. Often, mothers end up taking on the task of explaining the birds and the bees, there being no help from any males they trust or can rely on to do so correctly. The other option is asking the imam at the masjid or youth group leaders to consider having a programme on this subject done just for the boys, so that neither mother nor sons feel embarrassed in explaining these details that Islam has made compulsory for them to know.
Look to the seerah
Islam did not say that the full responsibility of raising sons lies only on the mother! When we look at the examples from the seerah, we see that even those who were single mothers, whether widowed or divorced, sent their sons to the best of men in their community to learn skills they could not teach their sons. Safiyyah bint Abdul Mutallib (radhiAllahu 'anha) sent her son Zubair Ibn Awwam (radhiAllahu 'anhu) to learn horse-riding, sword fighting and many other skills from the best of men in her tribe. They could have just as easily said that they are too busy to teach another's sons, but yet they took him under their wings and taught him. Similar is the story of Imam as-Shafi'ee; it was his mother that took him to be taught by the great scholars of his time. It was due to these men giving their time and themselves that we get to see what great men these young boys became. When today's fathers complain about their sons having no appreciation for what they have done for them, for their sons not having the 'thinking' skills they had at their ages, then they have no one to blame but themselves.
What mothers can do
At the same time, we as mothers should not mollycoddle our sons or favour them over our daughters. If we want to raise a new generation of men who are closer in their actions to the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his companions then it is our responsibility to make sure we teach them the skills of life. By this I mean cleaning up after themselves, cooking, sewing/mending their clothes, serving guests, cleaning bathrooms (yes, I mean toilets!) and looking after a household. We, mothers, hold the greatest of tools in our hands to mould the future men, husbands and fathers. We have it in us to try and make sure that we raise our sons to become like the husbands we want our daughters to have, while also pushing them to be the best of examples in Islam. Our sons today have the potential to follow in the footsteps of great leaders like Salahuddin Al-Ayoobi, Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Fudayl ibn Iyad and so many others.
Know that in the end YOU as the mother have the greatest influence on your sons throughout their lives. Just think, would Imam as-Shafi'ee be known as the great scholar without his mother’s guidance and sacrifice? Would Haroon Ar-Rashid have been the great khalifah without his mother and wife beside him? There are so many other examples from the history of Islam that we can point to in regards to the role we as mothers play. You can have the same relationship with them as you do with your daughters. We just need to make our other halves understand this great responsibility as well. For no boy can become great by himself, but needs the guidance of those men he looks up to and respects, while at the same time knowing his mother is there to be his guiding force and support.
Part 2 will provide some practical advice on how fathers, uncles and brothers in the community can take a hands-on role in being the best guides and models for our sons, so we don’t lose them to the greater pulls of society and its deceptions.
UmmZainab Vanker has been involved in grassroots da'wah in Vancouver and Victoria (Canada) for over ten years. She is extremely concerned with family issues, especially regarding young boys and girls in the Muslim community. She is also a mother to four children (a crazy daughter and three teen sons) and a grandmother of one. She continues searching for and struggling to find resources and mentors for them even after moving to a Muslim country.