With over 50% of children in the West nowadays born to single mothers, much of society is growing up without fathers. And for children who are fortunate enough to grow up knowing their fathers, many of them don’t develop much of a relationship with their fathers. This is due to a number of factors.
One significant factor is the decline of marriage itself in the West and, unfortunately, throughout the world. If people are not getting married, then there are fewer men and women committed to each other in a stable relationship that can support having children in the first place. If marriages are unstable due to weak marriage bonds and the constant threat of impending divorce, then the father-child relationship will undoubtedly suffer.
Strenuous requirements for work to make ends meet are another major factor. With poor wages and the cost of living going up every year, men have to work harder than ever to be able to support themselves, much less a wife and children. More work also means more stress, so when men do come home from their jobs, they are too exhausted to spend quality time with their wife and kids. If the mother works as well, then really children have minimal parental influence in their day. Most of their hours every week are spent at school, and upon returning home from school, both parents are too tired to engage. The upshot of this is that Western children are by and large raised by the public education system and pop culture, which, of course, are controlled and carefully calibrated by larger state and corporate forces.
When it comes to poorer socio-economic classes, the requirements of providing day-to-day sustenance necessitate this grueling work schedule. But in the middle and upper classes, another factor plays a big role: career fulfillment. The desire to “make it” and to climb the career ladder or to be a successful entrepreneur or to “become famous” (even under pretenses of “making a difference in the world”) drives many Westerners to a life of incessant toil. This is nothing but love for dunya that consumes the hearts of many. That burning desire is described by Allah in the Quran, Surat al-`Adiyat, as shadid, meaning intense, or violent, even. Not only do people’s relationships with their Maker suffer with this hyper focus on dunya, but so do their relationships with their families and especially their children.
Another major factor hindering father-child relationships is the proliferation of entertainment. The smartphone is the biggest contributor to this. Constant amusement available at one’s fingertips often means that fathers spend more time looking at their phones than looking at their own children’s faces. What is the effect of this? The most fundamental component of any healthy relationship is simply eye contact, a face-to-face connection. Even without communication, without speaking a word, just looking into the face is critical to nurturing love, trust, mercy, compassion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a significant portion of the joy and pleasure of fatherhood simply comes from looking at your child’s smiling face.
But the smartphone becomes an impenetrable veil masking children’s faces. With face-to-face contact gone, so goes the intense love, mercy, compassion and that joy that is the sweetness of fatherhood. This is why so many fathers nowadays you might talk to are dissatisfied with being a father. Some will even confess that, if they could go back, they wouldn’t even have children. These are the words of fathers who see no value added to their lives by their children.
Allah has created children as one of the beauties of life. Allah says:
Beautified for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life; but Allah has the excellent return (Paradise with flowing rivers, etc.) with Him. [Quran 3:14]
But the modern man has to wonder why he does not value children as men of the past did. Why are children no longer seen as one of the bounties of life? This is demonstrated by the historically low birthrates in the West and other modernized countries like Japan. Now Western governments offer incentives for couples to have children because couples themselves have no motivation to raise families. Hungary recently announced as an incentive that women who have four children no longer have to pay income tax plus they get cash incentives for purchasing family necessities like a family van.
This is the reality of the modern West. Fewer men want to become fathers and the ones who do become fathers are spending fewer and fewer hours of quality time with their children. The result is several generations now of children who have grown up without present, loving fathers who can mold them and provide for them the positive role models they need. This loss of fatherhood has been happening for decades in the West and it is only getting worse because the effects get compounded each generation as this generation’s fathers are weaker than their fathers who were weaker than their own fathers and so on.
What Should Muslims Do?
Muslims must avoid following this pattern. This does not require an institutional overhaul or anything major like that. All it requires is personal decision making and planning. Each and every Muslim man has the responsibility to fight against this tide.
If you are not married, the most important thing is vision. What do you envision your family to be? What are you aspiring to? This is where most of the problems start, namely with young Muslims not understanding what they should want. So they end up stumbling through the motions of marriage without an overall goal in mind and the results are less than desirable.
The main component of this vision is envisioning who you want to marry. And one of the many important things to look for in a wife is someone who wants to have many children and understands and is eager to take on the responsibility of that. As an unmarried Muslim man, are you looking for a wife that will prioritize her family with everything that that entails? Or are you prioritizing irrelevant, harmful things like, does she have an advanced degree, does she have ambitious career goals, is she a passionate social justice activist, is she aspiring to be a strong female leader, etc.? If you are prioritizing such things, then know that you are contributing to the problem and following the footsteps of the degenerate West. Don’t be surprised when you end up in a toxic marriage and, ultimately, bitter divorce. That’s on you.
If you are already married, then are you having children? Of course, there may be a variety of reasons a couple doesn’t want to have children or can’t do so. The question is, are those reasons legitimate? Often cases, reasons for delaying or not having children are not legitimate Islamically speaking. Prioritizing dunya, for example. Again, I am not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons for delaying having children. There absolutely are. But avoiding it only because you are trying to reach that next career milestone or your wife is too busy with some activist project or whatever are not good reasons.
If you have children, then the question becomes: Are you doing your best as a Muslim father? In the modern Western discourse, the word father itself is being replaced with the gender-less term “parent.” According to this new convention, we should all aspire to be “good parents.” The subtle move here is to chip away at gender roles with the implication that any gender can play any role and essentially serve the same function. Fatherhood is obsolete because a woman can play the same role. Now they are taking it so far as to claim that biological connection is irrelevant as well. This is to appease lesbian and gay people who want to claim that they are just as capable of being parents as biological mothers and fathers. This is, of course, vile, destructive nonsense. And the logical implication is that children can be raised without any connection to biological parents. A child can be raised by a state-assigned caretaker and grow up without wanting for anything. But why limit ourselves to humans? Perhaps with the advance of artificial intelligence, even an autonomous robot could serve in that caretaker roll. But I digress.
In Islam, we know that each gender has a role. Fathers are fathers and cannot be replaced by mothers. And vice versa. As fathers, we have to buck the tide by de-prioritizing dunya and individualistic pursuits of career fulfillment, fame, and fortune, by putting down the smartphone, by turning off the video games and the online streaming service, and playing with our kids. Spending quality time with them. Being involved in their education and their tarbiya.
For some reason, some Muslim men who have been sold on the importance of gender roles seem to think that fathers shouldn’t have anything to do with their kids. That that’s the mother’s domain. This is silly. We need look no farther than the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to see how necessary and enriching fatherly involvement is to the life of a child.
Abu Huraira reported: A man saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, kissing his grandson Hasan. He said, “I have ten children and I do not kiss any of them.” The Prophet said, “Verily, whoever does not show mercy will not receive mercy.”
You could spend days contemplating the wisdom of the Messenger in his expression of just a few concise words, may Allah’s blessings and peace continuously be upon our beloved Messenger. He played with his children and his grandchildren, taught them, guided them, cherished them despite being extremely busy with the responsibilities of delivering the Message and leading the Umma in those turbulent times of his prophethood. Which one of us can say we have that much responsibility on our shoulders such that we don’t have time for our own kids?
As a father myself, I advise myself first and foremost as well as all the Muslim fathers to truly appreciate the bounty that Allah has given you. Your children have been entrusted to you by Allah, who owns them and gives and takes them as He pleases. You are accountable to Him for how you discharge this duty. Will you take the path of ihsan, striving to raise a generation that will be stronger in faith and conviction than the last, a generation that will lead mankind? Or will you take the path of neglect, ghafla (heedlessness), and eventual degeneracy, following slavishly in the path of the non-Muslim West?