The Prophet ( ﷺ ) never saw his father, and still developed into the paragon of human excellence. How many Ṣaḥāba were orphans due to their fathers being martyred? Weren’t greats like al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, Abu Yūsuf al-Qāḍi, Imam ash-Shāfi’i, Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Imam al-Bukhāri, all orphans? None of these were hindered by the absence of their fathers.
So do fathers even matter?
Obviously they do (we will revisit exceptional orphans later), but pinpointing why can be quite difficult, considering the politically charged nature of this subject and the emotion it provokes. After all, the significance of fathers extends from the “significance of men” discussion, and that is not the most popular, progressive, woke subject in today’s world. However, the bottom line is that there is no utility or relevance for men unless there is something unique about them. There must be a difference between men and women, and by extension between fathers and mothers. Otherwise, a father is essentially disposable; you might as well have a single mother, or two mothers. It would not matter.
Unfortunately, this is the fatherlessness experiment many are conducting right now, wherein many fathers are reduced to biological contributors or at best uninvolved financiers. According to the Pew Research Center, the 2-parent household is facing rapid decline in the U.S., the double-mom parenting model is demanding acceptance, and children outside of wedlock have reach 1/3rd of all births since the year 2000.
How detrimental is this? Many studies suggest that the consequences of fatherlessness have reached epidemic proportions , and that so many developmental crises in children and adolescents are directly linked with fatherlessness.
To name a few:
80% of adolescents in psychiatric institutes stem from fatherless homes
90% of all runaway and homeless children were from fatherless homes
People are 2x as likely to commit suicide (especially boys) after a fatherless childhood
Children are 9x more likely to be sexually abused (especially girls) in a home without the biological father present
For a Muslim, these alarming numbers are telling you what you already know, because the Creator spared you of being dependent on extensive surveys, statistics, and their margin of error. A Muslim is informed that though all are equal before God in terms of salvation and human dignity, there remain differences between men and women when it comes to certain sectors of the social realm; “And the male is not like the female.” [3:36] Ignore these nuanced differences, and you will create new problems while trying to solve the current ones.
The Quran also calls our attention to God’s cosmic patterns, and the dynamic interplay between opposites in His universe;
“By the night as it covers, and by the day as it brightens, and by the spectacle creation of the male and the female; your strivings are immensely diverse.” [92:1-4]
In other words, the complementary existence of night and day, male and female, good and evil, are all necessary components of balance in the universe. Applying this to parenting: just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mother can never fully offer their children what fathers can.
Nowadays, however, such elemental truths are challenged under the influence of modern secular thought, where the “open mind” and “objective human intellect” are accepted by many as the ultimate authority for governing people’s ideas and lifestyles. Embracing human intellect is not wrong, so long as its limitations and biases are recognized. Consider the gender debate, for instance; it will be “thought-out” by either a man or a woman, making non-bias impossible since the disputing parties are the judges. Is it coincidence that most men are biased pro-men and most women are biased pro-women? In Muslim circles, how many women scream injustice when hearing the “your mother 3x” hadith? How many men scream injustice when hearing the “husband’s leadership” hadiths? When a contention to these texts arises, it is always from the “opponent’s corner,” whose bias generates a misperception of injustice in that flawless sacred text. Even those who nobly try to escape their biases, they usually stumble into the opposite bias.
Their greater focus on their inherent bias generates a pendulum effect heading for the opposite extreme. Consider, for instance, how some valiant women while trying to escape the pro-woman bias are usually found hastily dismissive of the very legitimate grievances feminists sometimes have. Case in point: only Allah can assess fairly, with full wisdom and neutrality, and not the human intellect, for only Allah transcends all biases.
“Transcendent is He who created all the pairs; of what the earth sprouts, and of your own selves, and of things you do not know.”[36:42]
Add to the bias of your predisposed sex that of cultural conditioning. Our strongest notions of acceptance and rejection were not developed in a vacuum. Take our perception of fatherhood, for instance; it was not constructed in isolation of the foolish sitcom dads people grew up watching. Fathers are projected as certified buffoons, lowlifes, deadbeats etc.
This narrative has even crafted men’s perception of themselves, for art and literature have always been prescriptive of a culture and not just descriptive of it. Some men have internalized this narrative, becoming the runaway and video-game dads. Many others have rebelled against it, deciding that if society does not appreciate them, and has already written them all off as loser husbands and deadbeats dads, then to hell with husbandry and fatherhood. “I can fulfill my hormonal needs without the commitment of marriage and family, and dinner and a motel are far less costly anyway,” he tells himself. And though women suffer far more from the delayed marriage phenomenon than men (female infertility far precedes male infertility), the vicious downward spiral ultimately spares nobody.
Therefore, only by agreeing on an external reference point – conceding to God’s wisdom and submitting to God’s authority (Islam) – can we escape this chaos. “Does He not know what He created, and He is al-Lateef (the Most Subtle) al-Khabeer (the Best Acquainted)?” [67:14] With Allah’s guidance, the role confusion and identity crisis which becomes a family crisis is prevented. Man and woman are different, and so it is not about who can outdo the other in the same task, but who can fulfill their God-ordained duties in a superior way. Also, since this world is a finite realm, it naturally lends itself to greed and the dog-eat-dog mentality. But when reorienting our pursuits for God’s mercy which is infinite, there becomes plenty for every seeker. Only then is there no petty bickering and power struggles between the rich and poor, strong and weak, man and woman.
So again, just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mothers can never fully offer their children what fathers can . As for those who grew up orphans or with negligent parents, Allah may intervene in ways that compensate, like He did with our Prophet ( ﷺ ), for only Allah is truly irreplaceable. But destiny is what we believe in, while the Shariah is what we determine our conduct by. Those who ignore the Sacred Shariah should not expect destiny to rescue them. Obey the laws of His universe, surrender to its King, or invite so much suffering into your life and that of your children.