Father's prolonged absence from home and the growing children

Q216 :I have been working in Saudi Arabia since 1980, having left my wife and children at home. All my four sons are grown up and pursuing higher studies. I have been encouraging them to seek more education so that they have the right opportunity to lead a successful life. I have been sending them extracts from the Qur'an and cuttings from Arab News and "Our Dialogue" in the hope that they improve their religious education. I have provided them with books on Islam, giving them strict instructions to read them. However, they have not been giving much attention to their Islamic duties. What is more, they do not treat their mother well. Indeed, they have shouted at her and ill-used her. What I would like to ask is how should I treat them. Should I kick them out of my house? If I keep them, do I share in their disobedience of Allah? Should I go back home or should I continue to press them to follow Islamic teachings?

A216 : It is certainly the responsibility of a father to teach his children their Islamic duties and to give them enough Islamic education to ensure that they understand the basic principles of Islam and know what Allah requires of them by way of duty. Unless he does that, he is accountable for this negligence. The Prophet teaches us that we should tell our children to attend to their prayers when they reach the age of seven. When they are ten, we would combine this with corporal punishment if they do not respond. Islam is keen that a child learns to pray when he is young, so that prayer comes naturally to him when it becomes a personal duty. Similarly a child is encouraged to fast in Ramadan, either by fasting the odd days or part of the days, progressing slowly as he grows older, so that when he attains puberty and fasting becomes required of him, he does not find it so difficult. What is a father's responsibility when his children are grown up? Should he punish them if they are negligent of their Islamic duties? If he does, what would be the family situation like if the son replies in kind and gives his father a beating? Islam recognizes this possibility and, therefore, does not impose on a parent more than what he can do without difficulty. Moreover, the principle of individual responsibility is central to Islamic thinking. When a person is required to fulfill certain duties, they are required of him alone. Nobody else is questionable about the fulfillment of his duties. It is not right that a father should agonize and worry if his son fails to attend to his Islamic duties. What he should do is to remind him of his duty now and then, in the best way which he thinks would bring the son around to see the importance of attending to his worship. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Bid members of your household to pray and persevere in that." So, what a man is required to do is to bid his family to do their duties. If they do not do as they are bid, he is not accountable for their failure. Let me now move to another aspect of your question, namely, the treatment of parents by their children. It is well-known that Islam requires every son and daughter to be dutiful to their parents, extending to them the kindest treatment possible. If a son fails to treat his parents kindly, he is guilty of disobedience to them as well as to Allah. There are several references in the Qur'an to kindness to parents as one of the most important duties of Islam. Indeed, failure to be dutiful to one's parents may deprive a person of his chance to be admitted into heaven. We note that, in several references in the Qur'an, dutifulness to parents is placed next to believing in the Oneness of Allah as a universal duty. A Muslim is not allowed to utter any word of annoyance to his parents or to speak harshly to them. If a son hits his father or mother, he may not be forgiven by Allah unless his abused parent forgives him first. Having said that, I will now turn to your specific question. Let me say first that I am not in a position to advise you on the practical scope which you should or should not take. I do not know enough about your family situation to even start thinking of practical steps. What I can tell you is that if you can kick your sons out of your house in punishment for what they have done to their mother, you are, theoretically speaking, fully entitled to do so. You have done your duty by them, and brought them up to a stage where they can rely on themselves for their living. If you keep them in your house, on the other hand, you are not disobedient to Allah. Therefore, it is only you who can decide what is the best measure to be taken. May I say, however, that your family circumstances are not ideal. You have been living away from home for nine years, leaving your wife to bring up four sons on her own at a stage when they are becoming young men. She might have been totally ill-equipped for the task. It is indeed a task that requires close cooperation between both parents. You speak of giving your sons strict orders to read the books you have left them so as to enrich their Islamic education. You have been sending them cuttings and passages of the Qur'an. But you do not know whether they have complied with your orders or not. Indeed, the very thought of giving such strict orders at a distance and expecting your sons to follow these orders with diligence is rather naive. How can you expect that the temperament of youth could be restrained by a far away father who gives orders which may not seem to the recipients even remotely relevant. When you have sent your children these orders and bought them these books, you might have thought that you have done all you can to bring them up as good Muslims. You should have thought better and realized that bringing up young men requires much more than that. I am not trying to justify your sons' attitude. To my mind, there can be no justification whatsoever for a son to verbally abuse his mother. What I am saying is that the split family atmosphere is not most conducive to proper upbringing of children. You have this problem on your hands and you have to deal with it. You ask whether you should go back home. How can I answer such a question? It is you who should decide on this, after weighing the pros and cons of both alternatives. What is important is that you should deal with the situation without delay. Perhaps you should start with a visit to your family where you can study the situation closely. If you feel that your presence there would remedy the situation, then you should think seriously of terminating your stay in Saudi Arabia and going back home. Such a visit cannot come too soon, at least from your wife's point of view.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )