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Maintaining the Image of an Imprisoned Father

30 June, 2017
Q As-salamu `Alaikum. My husband is in jail for 6 months waiting for his judgment, and it could be that he will stay longer there. I have 3 children who still don't know where he is. I am doing my best not to tell them that, because I know they will be hurt, and also I don't want to destroy the picture they have about their father. But if he will stay longer there, I can't go on telling them he is away for some time, because they have already started wondering why he doesn't come back or even call us. How bad would it be for a girl who will turn 12 in one month and another girl who is 8 years old to know the truth? Their father is in jail for dealing with drugs, and this is so much against everything I try to teach them, let alone our religion. I am afraid they will refuse to take any other word from him as trustworthy since he was always telling the children how important is to attach to the religion and fear Allah. If he will stay longer in jail, should I tell them? And if yes, how without breaking their heart and their trust on their father? Please help me! JazakAllahu khayran.


As-salamu ‘Alaykum,

 Thank you for your question, sister. It must be a very difficult time for your family, indeed. It’s a very good question, also, and needs to be handled delicately. Nevertheless, I believe that honesty is always the best policy, especially with young people. My fear from your choice of action is what happens if, whether now or in the future, your kids DO find out the truth.

Then, what will they think of their father and religion? Probably much worse things than they would think now if you told them. And you would be part of that big cover-up as well. Islam is about truth, honesty, and understanding. I think you need to tell your kids the truth, that their father made a bad mistake – something that all human beings do. The point of religion is not to make false claims to perfection and pretend to be something that we’re not. Rather, it’s about being authentic and striving to increase our level of authenticity every day.

I think you need to find a way to explain what has happened to your children in a way that they can understand, just as the Prophet (SAW) taught us. Don’t lie to them, but tell them that their father made some bad choices, and now he’s paying for them here in this world, but in sha’ Allah, through repentance (tawbah), Allah will forgive him for what he has done.

It is the same story for all of us, really. We all sin and therefore, we all need repentance every day. That is why the Prophet (SAW) himself made repentance 70 times a day, and then encouraged us to do the same. Allah loves our repentance. He loves hearing us turning to Him for help and repent our sins.

This is one of the greatest forms of glorification, to turn to our Lord and beg for His forgiveness after committing sins. Then Allah, in all His greatness and forgiveness, can show us how merciful He is by forgiving us, in sha’ Allah. Thus, sins are never something we want, or should wish for in any way, but they too have a divine wisdom to them that we cannot understand completely. One of their functions, however, is to facilitate forgiveness and the manifestation of Allah as the Most Forgiving.

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So, these are the types of things that you can teach your children through the experience of your husband’s misstep. Another very important aspect to true tawbah is the determination never to commit the sin again. That is something that your husband will have to work on, and find in himself the strength not to fall into the sin he committed again. In sha’ Allah with your children privy to what has happened, it can help motivate your husband to avoid these behaviors in the future.

In the end, there are certainly risks in telling your kids the truth, but I would not fear or shy away from letting them in on that truth. Truth is part and parcel to Islam, and although it may sting at first, in the long run, it is the best course of action to be truthful in the family. Family secrets are highly unhealthy and always lead to problems down the road. Accept the truth now, and work on how to deal with it and communicate it with your kids. Focus on what can be learned from the situation and how everyone in the family can help the father to turn his life around for the better.


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About Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah
Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Study’s Community Education and Youth Studies Laboratory, Universiti Putra Malaysia. He received his B.A. from the University of Delaware (U.S.), his M.S. from Columbia University (U.S.) and his PhD from the Institute for Community & Peace Studies (PEKKA), Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2005 in the field of Youth Studies. Abd. Lateef is an American who has been living in Malaysia since 2001. He is married and has 2 children.