Being a father is a tough job and mothers realise that. We appreciate the hard work you do in looking after your families and trying to give them the best that you can provide, but this in no way is an excuse to become negligent in the most important area of life: your sons!
Here are some simple solutions and ways to reconnect and have the relationship with your son/s, from a mother who has been in this situation, and a respected shaikh sharing his experience with his son.
Connect with them
Take time to connect with your sons especially as they get into older childhood and the teen years. These are tough years as we already know - your sons want to be close to you but also want their own space. This is the stage when you really need to listen to what they are saying, no matter how stupid or childish it may seem. During this time, they will closely note what you say and what you actually do. If they see you ‘preach’ but not practice, they will see you as a hypocrite so, no matter what you do or say, it will make no difference to them. They will dismiss anything that comes out of your mouth and any feelings of ‘love’ will be given elsewhere or withheld.
Age 9 – 12yrs:
This age is really hard on everyone. It’s a time of many changes physically, emotionally and mentally. There are so many temptations that they are being exposed to and bombarded with. Even those in Islamic schools are not totally protected from it all. At this age, fathers need to pay close attention to who their sons’ friends are, learn their slang and keep clued in to what games, books or activities they’re into. Speak to them about the changes they’re going to begin going through. Recent studies have shown that while boys generally mature later than girls, many young boys have had their first look at pornography or had a sexual experience by the age of 12! Disturbing, I know.
We can try and protect them, but the reality is that we’re not with them 24 hours a day. The best way to instill morals and values in them is by talking to our sons and listening to them. Fathers must not just be there physically but mentally as well; too many times, sons complain that their dads are hearing but not really listening and paying attention to them.
Age 13 yrs – 17 yrs:
This is when they need to do things together with you. But not things YOU feel they should be doing and learning. No, do what interests them. Learn about what their passions are, and be physically active with them as well: go biking, do martial arts, learn Arabic, play game stations or go fishing together. There are a myriad of things you can do together even if it’s not your thing. Do it for them and they will in turn want to return the favour. Don’t just judge them when they speak, but allow them to speak openly with you about any and everything. No matter how shocked or frustrated you may get at what they say, kindly (and when needed, sternly) advise and correct them.
Advice from Sh.Hussain Yee
• It starts with the scholars, du’aat and imams.
These community leaders need to step up and lead by showing their brothers in Islam how to be an involved father; not just by talking the talk but by walking the walk! Be an example by showing how it’s done
• More lessons directed to men
We need to refocus parenting lessons towards men instead of the burden being solely carried on mothers’ shoulders. It needs to be redirected to the fathers and fathers-to-be. Equal time should be given to Tarbiyyat ar-Rabbaani (divinely guided education) and the Ahkaam (literal rulings).
• Increase youth involved activities
Our communities need to increase the activities and programmes (not just sports related or Islamic studies related) for our youth boys. Encourage the boys (or even gently push them) into taking on responsibility for some events, under the supervision of elder, experienced brothers. Get them collecting for the poor and delivering to the needy. Encourage them to go and visit the sick - not just children, but the elderly as well. Take them to spend time with orphans and the handicapped. All this will allow them to learn to have a greater appreciation for what they have been given by Allah ('azza wa jall).
• Combined family activities
Instead of having youth only camps, lets make them family camps - the best way for the community leaders to teach both the youth and parents at the same time. Divide the activities into some combined sessions and others only for the youth.
• When the fathers can’t or won’t be there...
Brothers, just as you make time for those activities you’re passionate about, make time to be a mentor! Whether sports, knowledge, deen or dunya related, we are begging of you to PLEASE give more than just an hour every second weekend to our boys. We have a great shortage of strong, good, male role models and mentors that our Muslim boys can relate to. Make some time to take on even one boy who is fatherless or has no Muslim man to be his guide as he grows up. Show him what being a Muslim man is by being a living example of the knowledge you have from our Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the Sahaba (radhiAllahu 'anhum ajma'een).
• Make Islam relevant as a practical way of life
Use our Islamic history to not just read and say ‘Oh, how great Islam is’, but to apply use it as a practical guide in showing the young boys HOW it can be done. Explain the challenges they will face and don’t brush their ideas or thoughts off. Listen and help them find the correct solutions to their issues, problems and challenges. Be the middle man between them and their parents. We have many examples in the seerah to show you and them how it was done.
• Teach them to love Allah and His deen
Let’s remember: quality over quantity! Don’t become jaded when you have only a couple or even a handful of boys show up for a programme/event. Remember that some Prophets had only a handful of followers who believed in their message, yet they never gave up. At least they cared enough to come (or their parents cared enough to bring them). Give them what you have for the sake of Allah ('azza wa jall) and then leave it in Allah’s Hands to guide them. Once you have, with the help of Allah ('azza wa jall), planted that seed of love for the deen in their hearts and minds, nothing and no one can change it except Him (subhanahu wa Ta'aala).
Patience, patience and patience
Don’t give up on our young Muslims. Even the boy that seems the most unlikely to listen to the message may surprise you by being the one who accepts and makes the greatest changes in themselves. Imagine if those you looked up to had given up on you... What if Allah gave up on you? Do you think you would be where you are today?
Remember even our beloved Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not give up on his uncle Abu Talib while he was in the throes of death. Even Prophet Nuh ('alayhissalaam) tried in every way, including making du’a to Allah I, to help save his son.
So why do fathers today just give up on their sons? In the end, remember that it is only Allah ('azza wa jall) that guides but that does not remove our responsibility of giving and trying till our last breath and making du’a for them - and Allah is the source of strength and guidance.
Umm Zainab Vanker has been active in da'wah and community activism in Canada for the last ten years, and is deeply concerned with issues related to family and parenting. She is the mother of one crazy daughter, three teenage sons, and grandmother to a three year old girl. She continues to struggle in raising her children and finding resources for them even in a Muslim country.