My dear sister, May Allah SWT bless you and descend His sakina, calm in your home. I understand that your situation is quite difficult. Let me begin by saying that there are some issues that I don’t completely understand. You said:
- “I had come to Islam after I had my daughter and the father was not around. He has now re-appeared in her life and wants to be a part of it”
- “He has had some problems in the past that he is recovering from, and is doing well, so I have to let her go with him and his family, I cant control that” and
- “she is shy to say anything to him as he is not very receptive.”
I understand how difficult it is to seek help in public forums, however without detailed information, it makes it difficult for me to give you specific advice. I am not sure why he was not there after your daughter was born (?) what is he recovering from that makes it difficult for you to speak to him to try and deal with the situation (?) is his daughter shy or is she scared – what would HER words be to describe her situation (?) is it that he has been physically absent but economically present (?) has he been abusive (?) are you married still or now divorced (?).
If he has been absent, he cannot suddenly come into her life and then try to change all that she has known he must respect that you have been her main caregiver. Furthermore, to intrude and impose his values and beliefs on her is something that should be discussed with him. I am unsure as to why you see yourself as being powerless in this relationship to discuss the issues with him OR why you feel that this is an important element of his “recovery”. If there is an issue that he is recovering from, his “recovery” be used to hold you and your daughter hostage. If he is doing this, it is a form of emotional blackmail.
It is important for you to listen and not to impose your sentiments on your daughter, as well as ask her to help you try and figure out solutions. A part of that solution, can be her telling her father regardless of what she may think about if he will listen to her or not. If she is worried about his reaction, then perhaps a mediator may be useful. You can also express this to him especially if you have been her primary caregiver.
I believe that you need to have a discussion with your daughter and try to get her feelings on what is going on. My primary concern is that children often feel trapped in situations such as these and are often unable to express how they feel out of the fear of hurting someone, damaging relationships or causing/inflicting pain. She must understand that her love for her father can be unconditional however she does not have to endure him putting her in situations such as these that make her uncomfortable.
If it is that you are divorced (I am assuming this as you mentioned the “court” option), I think, if you can afford it, a visit to a lawyer may be quite helpful. A lawyer can help you understand yours and your daughter’s rights. Additionally, a lawyer can make it quite clear (via a letter or another similar option) that you wish for your daughter to have a healthy relationship with her father however, he cannot force her to go to church or eat food that is not a part of her normal way of life.
I am concerned that you have put yourself into a situation where you have become the victim. As you see it, her father has all the power either because he chooses to negate/ignore her/your way of life; because he is in recovery and because you don’t want to go to court. While I am not advocating court as a (or the only) solution, you have basically closed doors that can help to alleviate the stress that you and your daughter are going through.
With professional advice to know what your rights are in this situation, a frank (possibly mediated) discussion with her father and changing your approach of closing doors to opening them, I believe you will find that you have the opportunity to make some positive changes. In the mean time, continue to spend positive time with your daughter. Try to remember how confusing this must be for her and how trapped she may feel. At the same time, maintain your standards and values with her.
Finally, at age 8 it is commendable that you want her to wear hijab. Again, I think that you can include her in this discussion. Let her feel like she is a part of this, it is an important step for a girl. Whether or not she is the only one wearing it at school is irrelevant, as long as you keep the doors of communication open with her so that she discusses what is happening in school with you. It can have the potential of developing her character and strength as a young Muslim woman. However, given her context, if she is already dealing with a lot of emotional issues resulting from the problems with dad, then perhaps you may want to go slow. She still has time before she must start wearing it. What you could do is start her off wearing hijab in stages. Talk to her about wearing it when she goes out with you, help her to choose scarves that she likes. As she gets used to it , things will get easier in sha’ Allah.
Later on when you decide she should start wearing it, perhaps start her off at the beginning of her school year or after a break, so she will be prepared for it and will start off with her peers knowing her as someone who wears hijab.
At the end of the day, regardless of the time, when she wears it etc, nothing can replace your firm, gentle guidance, dua`aa’ and discussion as a family. She wont always know what’s right and that’s when you will need to help guide her but by Allah’s mercy, she will appreciate it in the future.
And Allah knows best.