We all know the famous saying of Prophet Muhammad(s) where he exhorts birr (familial devotion) towards a mother thrice before mentioning the father, there’s even a song about it that we teach our children! The relationship between a mother and her children is without comparison. However, this is no excuse for a father to take a step – or sometimes even three – back from being involved in the upbringing of his child. Especially that of a daughter.
Before the arrival of the message of Islam, women were considered mere commodities. As such daughters were a loathed, if necessary, evil. The Qur’an tells us: “When one of them is brought the news of a daughter born, his face becomes darkened and he chokes with suppressed agony.” (16:58)
In the next verse, God decrees the distress of pre-Islamic Arabs and their resulting actions (burying those newborn daughters alive) as sinful. The revolution by Prophet Muhammad(s) with regard to the value of daughters was sparked through the prime example of his own beautiful relationship with his daughter, Fatimah al-Zahra(a).
Fathering Women of Substance
While history shares the little detail of their relationship, the unique behaviour of the Prophet when it came to any matter concerning his daughter is an indication of how deep their attachment to each other was. Whether it was his standing up at the arrival of Fatimah(a) or her weeping at his suffering and loss, it was almost as if they were two bodies with one heart, something that the Prophet(s) highlighted when he said, ‘Fatimah is a part of me; whoever pleases her, pleases me and whoever hurts her, hurts me.’ As a result, Fatimah al-Zahra(a), gained the title of Umm Abeeha (The Mother of her Father).
The years have further strengthened these Islamic concepts through studies about the effect the positive involvement – or lack thereof – of a father has on the life-choices a woman makes. When a father is actively involved in supporting his daughter in her academic/athletic achievements, she is more likely to become confident. Such girls tend to complete higher education and be comfortable handling demanding jobs traditionally held by males.
A healthy respect and good communication between fathers and daughters result in young women who are more satisfied with their self-image physically, emotionally and mentally. As a consequence, these women are more likely to be able to make better decisions in choosing a spouse and have more fulfilling relationships. Secular studies imply that fathers actually have a greater impact on their daughters’ marital relationships than mothers do!
It is interesting to note that two of the greatest women in Islam – Fatimah al-Zahra(a) and Zaynab al-Kubra(a) – lost their mothers at a young age and were largely parented by their fathers. The influence of these relationships cannot be discounted when we consider the epic scale of their achievements. The respect and love that the Prophet Muhammad(s) had for Fatimah(a) is only comparable to that of Ali bin Abi Talib(a) for Zaynab(a).
Although Zaynab led an even more private life than her mother, we know her years spent with her father prepared her for embracing the greatest sacrifices, sorrows and difficulties. She became the ‘Mother of Sorrows’ and yet maintained a dignity in her bearing that shines through the annals of history. Her sermons on the streets of Kufa reminded people of the eloquence of Ali(a) himself, so much so, that people are said to have come out of their houses in surprise seeking the source of such a familiar sound.
She was brought up protected by the men in her family to the extent that even on his deathbed, her father was concerned that the weeping cries of his daughters should not be heard outside. It thus seems amazing that in Karbala, in the space of a few hours, Zaynab(a) seemingly transformed into a woman of strength, courage and resilience to rival any man. Yet, this was not a miraculous metamorphosis; rather it was a side of her that had been nurtured by Ali(a) through his own superior character and was lying dormant, waiting to surface when required.
More than Daddy’s Doll
Society often simplifies the father-daughter relationship into one of adoration. In fact, the urban term ‘daddy’s girl’ is used to describe ‘bratty girls who know how to get what they want, especially from their fathers.’ According to Islam, however, fathers have a responsibility not just to love, but to guide their daughters towards God. Daughters, in turn, need to reciprocate with respect and honour.
In his Treatise On Rights (Risalat al-Huquq), Imam Sajjad(a) says, “The right of your father is that you know that he is your root. Without him, you would not be. Whatever you see in yourself which pleases you, know that your father is the root of its blessing upon you.”
Daughters need to be taught that they are not just ‘dolls’ who need to pampered. Rather, they are a reflection of their fathers and need to approach them with an appropriate sense of reverence. On the other hand, when a father begins to see himself as the foundation of his children’s growth and progress, he will begin to understand how essential his presence is in the life of his daughters, as well as his sons.
Imam Sajjad(a) also states: “The right of your child is that you should know that s/he is of you and will be ascribed to you, through both his/her good and evil, in the affairs of this world. You are responsible for what has been entrusted to you, such as educating him/her in good conduct, pointing him in the direction of his/her Lord, and helping him/her to obey Him….”
The first clause is a reminder of the pivotal role of a father, the second an admonition detailing the responsibilities that come with this role. A daughter’s character and personality is a manifestation of how much of a part her father played in her upbringing.
My Dad, My Role Model
While many fathers continue to believe that daughters should spend the most time with their mothers, women miss out if the bond with their fathers is neglected. The long-term impact a father has on a girl’s life, especially in her formative years cannot be undermined. A father is the first and strongest impression she will ever have of the opposite gender; her understanding of and respect for men will be based on what she learns from his behaviour. In his treatment of her mother and herself, she will form a sense of the worth and value of women.
So, while fathers may find it easier to relate to and connect with their sons, they need to make an effort to build a close relationship with their daughters too, who are not just a comfort for them in this life, but a road to salvation in the next as well.