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A Rebellious Son & an Absent Father

02 May, 2023
Q As-salamu Alaikum, my son, who is the eldest, has not seen his father since late last year. I don't know if this is the reason, but my son has become very rebellious, rude with me, always fighting with kids at school. He does not listen to me, and I feel that I can't handle the situation anymore. We have no idea where his dad is, and I support these two kids on my own, and we are just getting by, what do I do?


In this counseling answer:

•The first goal that you must strive to accomplish is to fix your relationship with his father, and since I don’t have any information about the nature of the problem.

•Seek training in raising children and how to act as a father and a mother through books or parent support groups.

•Don’t underestimate the value of prayer and seek help from Allah by becoming closer to Him and asking for His guidance.

As-salamu`alaykum, sister.

Your interpretation of your son’s rebellious behavior as a result of missing his father is true according to social research and Muslim scholars’ opinions. Mufti Ibrahim Desai says: As an introduction, we should understand that our children are a trust of Allah upon us. He has ordered us to fulfill the rights of this trust. Primarily, children have two rights:

  • To receive love
  • To receive proper upbringing

Both of these rights are equally important. Love to the child enhances compassion, and proper upbringing enhances righteousness. While both the parents have to make an effort to enhance both of these qualities in the child, generally the mother fulfills the greater part of showing love thus enhancing compassion and the father fulfils the greater part of proper upbringing thus enhancing righteousness.

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The absence of either one of these two qualities (compassion or righteousness) is detrimental to the child. A person without compassion is not loved and a person who is not upright is not respected by society.

Only with a joint effort by both parents fulfilling their respective roles can the children be balanced and fulfill a meaningful role in society. Generally, a single parent is unable to adequately fulfill both the rights of the child.

The death of one of the parents is beyond our control, and cannot be avoided. However, divorce is within our control and should be avoided as far as possible, especially if there are children involved. Although Shari`ah has addressed the rights of custody and visitation when there is a dispute and no understanding between the parties, children still suffer the lifelong consequences of their parents’ disputes and subsequent divorce. Therefore, a healthy child is he who has been jointly reared by both parents.

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Muhammad ibn Adam, Darul Iftaa UK says: 

Children have many rights, of which two are of utmost importance: These rights of a child cannot be fulfilled except with the joint endeavor of the parents. The love, care and attention of the mother are just as important as the upbringing and training of the father.

 In light of the above, divorce should definitely be avoided as much as possible, especially in the case where there are children involved.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Divorce is the most hated of all lawful (halal)things in the sight of Allah.” (Dawud #2178) 

David Popenoe, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and co-chair of the Council on Families in America, in his article “The Top Ten Myths of Divorce,” discussing the most common misinformation about divorce, says: 

Divorce increases the risk of interpersonal problems in children. There is evidence, both from small qualitative studies and from large-scale, long-term empirical studies that many of these problems are long lasting. In fact, they may even become worse in adulthood. 

Paul R. Amato and Alan Boothe in A Generation at Risk say: 

Parents’ marital unhappiness and discord have a broad negative impact on virtually every dimension of their children’s well-being, so does the fact of going through a divorce. In examining the negative impacts on children more closely, the study discovered that it was only the children in very high conflict homes who benefited from the conflict removal that divorce may bring. 

In lower-conflict marriages that end in divorce — their study found that perhaps as many as two-thirds of the divorces were of this type — the situation of the children was made much worse following a divorce. Based on the findings of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-conflict marriages, it is better for the children if their parents stay together and work out their problems than if they divorce.

David Popenoe in his book Life Without Father argues that fatherhood as an institution has been marginalized. He cites much evidence and an emerging consensus that a whole raft of social problems flow from or are at least are aggravated by this process of marginalizing fathers. The list includes:

  1. Child poverty
  2. Juvenile criminal behavior and violence
  3. Child abuse

Cynthia Harper and Sara S. McLanahan, in their book Father Absence and Youth Incarceration, tracked over 6,400 boys over a period of 20 years (well into their adult years) and found that children without biological fathers in the home are roughly three times more likely to commit a crime that leads to incarceration than children from intact families.

Diana E. H. Russell, in her book The Prevalence and Seriousness of Incestuous Abuse: Stepfathers vs. Biological Fathers, found that the rate of sexual abuse of girls by their stepfathers is at least six or seven times higher, and may be as much as 40 times greater, than sexual abuse of daughters by their biological fathers who remain in intact families.

David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, the leader of a grassroots movement to strengthen marriage and a pioneer in the fatherhood movement, suggests that even having a troubled or bad father at home is better than no father at all.

He doesn’t suggest that this is ideal but he means that the presence of a father is of extreme importance in the psychology of a growing child and there is no substitute for it.

When a troubled father exists, there are all ways for review, renewal, and improvement in fathering, but if a father is not present in a family’s life, there cannot be any chance of correction.

There is no doubt that the rebellious behavior of your son is mostly attributed to the absence of his father in his life during the past year, and according to overwhelming research evidence, the worst is still ahead when he approaches his teenage years.

The real challenge is what you can do or try to do to alleviate or to put this problem under control.

Try to reconcile

The first goal that you must strive to accomplish is to fix your relationship with his father, and since I don’t have any information about the nature of the problem, I cannot recommend specific ways.

There are numerous resources that you can use including seeking help from friends, relatives, counselors, and maybe giving up some or all of your financial rights to persuade him to come back.

The point is to do all that can be done to mend and reconcile with your husband.

Try to leave close

If reconciliation does not happen or you cannot find him even after dropping his financial responsibilities that cause many men to escape, try to live closer to a relative like an uncle or a grandfather who can represent a father figure for your son and make him involved in guiding and raising your son — that might help.

If both the above suggestions are not feasible, seek training in raising children and how to act as a father and a mother through books or parent support groups.

Last but not least don’t underestimate the value of prayer and seek help from Allah by becoming closer to Him and asking for His guidance.

From Counselor Zahra Awaleh 

Dear sister, wa`alaykum as-salam. 

I was wondering if you had thought about why your son has started to have behavioral problems at this time. Is it because of recently having lost contact with his father indefinitely?

Also, you say that he fights at school and madrasah. Do you know why? It would be very worthwhile to spend more time with your son each day, doing some activity together, whether it be schoolwork or household chores, to make a stronger bond with him so that he opens up to you.

Try asking him questions about his aggressive behavior towards you and others in a tentative and subtle way. He has to feel that he can talk without being criticized and that you will love him unconditionally no matter what he says.

Please write back again if you have further concerns or if you have found what I said helpful.

About Hwaa Irfan
Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.