In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful
When one is blessed with children, it is natural for a father – like me – to think about what he needs to do to be the best father possible. It is natural to ask oneself: how should I act with my children? How can I impart the best example? Should be the “law and order” Dad? Or, do I be the “fun” Dad? Is there a balance?
There are a number of sources for tips on fatherhood: numerous books, websites, blogs, and the like. Yet, we can also find wonderful examples of how to be a father from Scripture: specifically, in the interactions between Prophets and their sons.
For example, there is the Prophet Noah and his son. When the flood waters covered the earth, and Noah’s son was not among the believers on the Ark, the Prophet Noah called out to him:
So [Noah] said [unto his followers]: “Embark in this [ship]! In the name of God be its run and its riding at anchor! Behold, my. Sustainer is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!” And it moved on with them into waves that were like mountains. At that [moment] Noah cried out to a son of his, who had kept himself aloof [from the others]: “O my dear son! Embark with us, and remain not with those who deny the truth!”
[But the son] answered: “I shall betake myself to a mountain that will protect me from the waters.” Said [Noah]: “Today there is no protection [for anyone] from God’s judgment, save [for] those who have earned [His] mercy!” And a wave rose up between them, and [the son] was among those who were drowned. (11:41-43)
This greatly pained Prophet Noah. I totally understand his feeling. His pain was so much so that he approached the Lord about this because God has promised the Prophet Noah that He would save his family:
And Noah called out to his Sustainer, and said: “O my Sustainer! Verily, my son was of my family; and, verily, Thy promise always comes true, and Thou art the most just of all judges!”
[God] answered: “O Noah, behold, he was not of thy family, for, verily, he was unrighteous in his conduct. And thou shalt not ask of Me anything whereof thou canst not have any knowledge: thus, behold, do I admonish thee lest thou become one of those who are unaware [of what is right].”
Said [Noah]: “O my Sustainer! Verily, I seek refuge with Thee from [ever again] asking of Thee anything whereof I cannot have any knowledge! For unless Thou grant me forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy upon me, I shall be among the lost!”
This story teaches me about compassion for our children, even those who may treat us badly. Of course, if any of my children are rebellious, it would break my heart, and I pray that my children are never rebellious. But, just as Noah reached out to his son despite his not being on the Ark, we should always try to reach out to our children with compassion.
Then there is Abraham and his son Ishmael. After decades of having no children, the Lord blessed him with a child:
[And Abraham prayed:] “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me the gift of [a son who shall be] one of the righteous!” Whereupon We gave him the glad tiding of a boy-child gentle [like himself]. (37:100)
Then, many years later, the Lord had a very difficult (to say the least) request:
And [one day,] when [the child] had become old enough to share in his [father’s] endeavours, the latter said: “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee: consider, then, what would be thy view!” [Ishmael] answered: “O my father! Do as thou art bidden: thou wilt find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity!” (37:101-102)
Now, this story doesn’t teach me that it is OK to want to sacrifice my son for the sake of God. Far from it. It does, however, teach me that there is nothing wrong with asking our children for their advice or opinions. They may, in fact, have quite valuable input. I mean, the Prophet Abraham knew that his dream was God’s command, and he could have simply forced his son to submit, seeing that he is a Prophet. But he didn’t: He asked his son for his opinion and advice. It is a great lesson in humility.
Another lesson in humility is the story of King David and his son King Solomon, both Prophets in Islamic belief:
AND [remember] David and Solomon – [how it was] when both of them gave judgment concerning the field into which some people’s sheep had strayed by night and pastured therein, and [how] We bore witness to their judgment: or, [though] We made Solomon understand the case [more profoundly] yet We vouchsafed unto both of them sound judgment and knowledge [of right and wrong]. And We caused the mountains to join David in extolling Our limitless glory, and likewise the birds: for We are able to do [all things]. (21:78-79)
According to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, as mentioned by Muhammad Asad, this is the background of these verses:
According to this story, a flock of sheep strayed at night into a neighbouring field and destroyed its crop. The case was brought before King David for judicial decision. On finding that the incident was due to the negligence of the owner of the sheep, David awarded the whole flock – the value of which corresponded roughly to the extent of the damage – as an indemnity to the owner of the field. David’s young son, Solomon, regarded this judgment as too severe, inasmuch as the sheep represented the defendant’s capital, whereas the damage was of a transitory nature, involving no more than the loss of one years crop, i.e., of income.
He therefore suggested to his father that the judgment should be altered: the owner of the field should have the temporary possession and usufruct of the sheep (milk, wool, newborn lambs, etc.), while their owner should tend the damaged field until it was restored to its former productivity, whereupon both the field and the flock of sheep should revert to their erstwhile owners; in this way the plaintiff would be fully compensated for his loss without depriving the defendant of his substance. David realized that his son’s solution of the case was better than his own, and passed judgment accordingly.
Even though King David was both King and Prophet, again, he was humble enough to see that his son’s judgment was more sound and more just, and he ruled accordingly. Again, we may be parents; we may have had more experience, but sometimes our children may have opinions or suggestions that are better or more appropriate. We should take wisdom from wherever we find it, even if it is from our own children.
Thus, as I mark Father’s Day this year, I recount the stories of these other fathers – these Prophets of God – and their stories teach me about compassion and humility, kindness and wisdom. I know that I will make mistakes as a father – I am only human being, but I pray that I can learn from my mistakes and try the best I can to be a father like unto these noble men of God.