Irreligious Father: How to Raise My Muslim Child?

06 March, 2018
Q How can I raise my son in an Islamic way given that his father (my husband) is not a practicing Muslim? (He drinks alcohol and doesn't pray.) Islamic teaching to our son doesn't seem to be a priority to him. We both work and I'm financially independent. My son spends most of his days in a non-Muslim nursery. I know my son is still young (2 years old), but I don't want to leave this issue until it all becomes too late. Your help is much appreciated.


In this counseling answer:

“As long as you are still married and your husband is in the home, you cannot simply make such major decisions without your husband’s input either. It’s his child and his home as well. So to start, depending on the feasibility of it and your relationship with your husband, the two of you need to make some decisions about how your child is going to be raised, and what kind of example you and your husband are setting for your son.”

Answer by Counselor Layla A. Asamarai

Dear sister in Islam,

You inquiry, although short, hits on a lot of issues that many Muslims and non-Muslims struggle with.

Firstly, you are struggling with your husband’s poor priorities and practices that render him a poor role model for your 2-year-old son.

Secondly, you are aware of the limited time spent with your son due to your work.

Islam, as well as many Middle Eastern customs, encourage choosing the parent of your children before choosing a spouse for yourself; such that you are foreseeing the possibility of having children and are preemptively choosing a spouse that would be a good parent. Sadly, whether you followed those practices or not, you are in a difficult situation with your husband who drinks, doesn’t pray, and is disinterested in his child. That cannot be an easy situation to deal with. I applaud you on having a concern so early on before your son becomes symptomatic of the discourse and possible emotional neglect around him. Our children absorb and respond to these struggles in the household. Years later, we notice their hurt only as it interferes with how we want them to act or who we want them to be.

I believe strongly that it is better to be a single mother than to be a married woman who spends her children’s lifetime whining about her husband without doing anything besides complaining.

To be helpless teaches our children about how powerless, helpless, unfair, and miserable one’s existence can be, and this is often acted out in a child having a lot of anger, lack of motivation, being emotionally fragile, and living the same misery that was shown to her.

I do not know you and in no way am I saying that this is or will be you. As his mother, I think that you owe it to yourself and your son to try to express to your husband your dissatisfaction with your situation and to invite him to mental health counseling. You have the power to actively and intentionally share your vision for your family in a way that invites dialogue and collaboration within your family.

It is powerful and profound to introduce a breath of cooperative and at the same time assertive dialogue, and what he does with it is in his control and is his choice. Even Allah says that He does not change the condition of a person until he/she can change what is within them. As humble humans, we cannot faithfully believe that we will change another; instead, it is far more humble, honest, and sane to invite others and believe that they are capable of making choices.

Many times mothers who have children in daycare feel that our parenting is marginalized by the lack of hours that we spend. While we could go on for hours debating what is best for women and their children, I am of the opinion that it depends on the situation. Without going into a discussion about working mothers, I invite you to look at the quality of the time that you spend with your son versus the quantifiable time. The children of working mothers still know who their mothers are, so they are not oblivious to the lesser hours that they spend with their mothers, yet they realize that the quality of the interaction makes this woman my mother!

With that in mind, what do we do to build on this powerful realization on the part of our children? We put dinner aside; turn the TV off, turn the ringer on the cell phone off, and we be with our children.

Children love to be asked questions related to their perceptions of the world. Like adults, they enjoy sharing their way of seeing the world. We color with them, read to them, dance, hop, and do everything we can to connect and share a precious presence with the most special people in our world! You are more influential than you know!! Sometimes, the most important lessons are taught through sharing life, rather than words.

I can show a 3-year-old child how to handle frustration by inviting him to make cookies with me and laughing at how silly it is that we burnt them. I can further encourage his critical thinking skills when trying to figure out what to do with burnt cookies!

I am a working mother myself, and I always have a question within me about whether I am putting my children at risk by working. I have come to the conclusion that it is not a question that I should try to get rid of. Having that question in mind keeps me aware of how I attend to them, play with them, and share life with them.

I have decided that I never want to be 100% sure of a choice like working because few things are 100%. Instead, I like to think that things are variable and that our daily choices slide the percentages on either ends of the spectrum. Among the things that positively impact my choice to work is that I have been successful in finding a Muslimah who has a licensed daycare out of her home.

This may be a better option for your son, though I would encourage you to assess the environment and the warmth, kindness, communication, and other important qualifications of a Muslim provider. Too many times we place too much importance on whether a person is a Muslim or not, without looking at their references and other information that will tell us how they would be with our children.

I have provided you with a long answer to a short question. The basic take home message is to have a voice and speak up against the situation that you are in that is upsetting to you. It is not too early to be worried about your son’s welfare. May Allah guide you and your family through this time of need, and may He allow your son to be a strong, successful, at peace Muslim man.

Answer by Counselor ’Abdul-Lateef Abdullah


As-Salamu ‘Alaykum,

The first thing, from my perspective, that’s important here is to define and understand what you mean by the fact that you want to raise your son in an Islamic way. Does that mean prayer? Does that mean dressing a certain way? What exactly do you mean?

Your son is being raised in an environment where Islam is not being practiced, at least not consistently and is therefore not the underlying worldview of the home. Islam is not just a body of do’s and don’ts – it is a state of being that results from our beliefs, followed by a way of life that is consistent with those beliefs. As such, it is the belief and trust in Allah that must penetrate the heart first before one can talk about practices and even worship, for if not, then worship will be for some other god other than Allah.

So, when you say you want to raise your child a certain way, what does that really mean? Your son is going to learn whatever Islam you have in mind from you and your husband first and foremost. If it does not lie in your hearts, and therefore is not being practiced as a reflection of your convictions and beliefs, then it will only be a superficial set of rules and behaviors that will probably not have much positive impact on his life.

This means that many of the things that you might teach him about Islam might be directly opposed or contradicted by his own father. Especially if the child is a boy, his number one role model, the man that will most likely have the most impact on his life growing up, will not be living the very things that you will be teaching. This will make it extremely difficult for not only your son but the family as well because everyone will be on different pages.

Families work best as a unit, as a jama’ah, where people share the same values that are practiced as one common way of life. Not to say that people within a family shouldn’t have differences. But when children are growing up, they need some semblance of consistency and they need to hear and see consistent messages, particularly about values and the rights and wrongs of life. Along these lines, Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW) gave us many lessons about the importance of environment and those who we keep company with, for surely, they will influence us as well as our children when they grow up.

We often get questions such as this where parents, only after children are born, say that they want to ‘give’ their children Islam, despite the fact that they themselves or their spouses have never had much interest in religion. Family planning, ideally, should occur prior to marriage, and we should choose our spouse not only as a spouse, but as a future father or mother. Is this the kind of person we want raising our children with? In your case, sister, I am not sure how or why your husband has turned away from Islam. Perhaps, he never really practiced it to begin with, but you need to discuss this with him and try and come to some agreement on how you want to raise your child.

The issue, as I see it, is not so much what to do with your child, as much as it might be to look at yourself and your marriage with your husband and discuss with him what kind of environment you want to provide for this child. To me, this conversation should have happened a long time ago before the child was brought into this world. The fact that the child is already a year old makes it all the more serious. You need to make some decisions, as a family preferably, on what kind of environment you want your child grow up in and then commit to providing it. This means that you and your husband must decide how YOU want to live your life and what is important to you.

Do not think that you can just give your child something as serious as Islam and not have it yourselves. Your son will see right through you if you are not being sincere with him. Islam, remember, is not something you give someone. It is a state of being where one’s heart is in surrender to God’s greatness and mercy. From this state, our behaviors – everything we do – follow suit. Therefore, the only way to ‘give’ someone Islam is to live and be in this state ourselves first, and invite others to it, including our own children, by showing them its beauty. It must be from heart to heart and cannot be objectified into something material. It must be lived with sincerity and truthfulness.

As long as you are still married and your husband is in the home, you cannot simply make such major decisions without your husband’s input either. It’s his child and his home as well. So to start, depending on the feasibility of it and your relationship with your husband, the two of you need to make some decisions about how your child is going to be raised, and what kind of example you and your husband are setting for your son.


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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.