In the Muslim community especially, this is an issue which has been overlooked, ignored, and generally treated with a sense of discomfort. Particularly amongst immigrant families, the relationship between a father and his daughter(s) is often a distant one; girls are encouraged to spend the majority of their time with their mothers and other womenfolk.
A girl might be “Daddy's Little Princess” as a baby, a toddler, a child, but as she grows closer to puberty she will often find herself left at home instead of taken to the masjid, attention deflected from her and turned towards her brothers instead (if she has any).
Unfortunately, this is a practice which has extremely negative repercussions… for the fathers, the daughters, and indeed the Ummah at large.
Psychologists refer to father-daughter relationships as having an importance too often overlooked, despite the incredible impact that it has on both parties. Indeed, much of the time the effect of this relationship isn't even noticed until much later in life, when patterns have already been set and are unlikely to change.
The role of a father in his daughter's life is pivotal: he is the first man in her life; the one who teaches her what he, a male, thinks of her, a female; and thus shapes her sense of self-worth in the eyes of other men; the one whose behaviour and mannerisms will influence her mental image of “the perfect man” and her choice of life partner (i.e. husband).
In Islam as well as in psychology, the father is meant to be the daughter's guardian, protecting her from harm, teaching her life skills and strong values. Yet despite all this, far too many fathers play a distant, secondary role in their daughter's lives. There is a misconception that a father is merely the breadwinner, the supporter of the household, that his role is primarily that of financial provider rather than nurturer. After all, isn't it the mother's job to raise the children? Isn't it the mother's job to teach her daughters what it is to be a girl, a woman?
Yes, it is – but the mother is not a child's only parent. She is equally the man's progeny. His genes are present in her DNA, his flesh and blood are hers. When she looks at him, he is seeing a part of himself; in her behaviour is a reflection of his own attitude and mannerisms.
How then can any father willingly minimize his role in his daughter's life?
Mistakes Fathers Make
- Not being actively involved from the beginning (birth). Hold your daughter. Carry her. Change her diapers. You can't expect to develop a bond between yourself and your child if you don't make the effort to create it.
- Not getting involved because you think you're unprepared. Considering that you've already had experience with females thanks to your mother/ sister/ wife, you're not as unprepared as you think you are, so relax.
- Distancing yourself from her as she grows older. Girls become women. They change physically. It's a fact of life, get used to it. Yes, puberty is uncomfortable for everyone involved, but denying it or ignoring it – or worse, ignoring her – just makes things worse. Nobody's suggesting that you chat with your daughter about the details of her menstrual cycle, but it'd be a lot more helpful if you grabbed the Tylenol and handed her a hot water bottle instead of walking straight past her when you clearly know that she's in pain. This is just one example of fathers' denial about their daughters growing up; in truth, there are many ways that fathers demonstrate distance from their daughters.
- Having little to no physical contact. The idea that hugging, kissing, or having any other positive physical contact with your daughter is “wrong” or “not manly” is absolutely ridiculous. Not only that, but it's extremely harmful to your daughter's development as she grows older. Whether your daughter is five or fifteen, both of you should be comfortable enough to turn to each other for a hug (that lasts longer than five seconds) at any time.
- Little to no emotional communication. “Pass the salt” does not qualify as real communication. Make an effort to be involved in your daughter's everyday life, whether it has to do with school and friends or just how she's feeling on any given day. Building this bond will create a feeling of security and trust, and your daughter should be able to turn to you for help at times of emotional hurt and conflict.
- Not expressing pride in their daughters. Girls crave their father's praise and approval just as much as boys do. Nothing can thrill a daughter more than knowing that her father sees his own good qualities in her, that he is really and truly proud of her and her accomplishments.
The greatest, most perfect example of father-daughter relationships can be found in the history of Islam. Has there ever been a father more devoted, a daughter more adoring, than our beloved Messenger (sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and Sayyidah Faatimah az-Zahraa' (radhiAllahu anha)?
We all know the stories:
Young Faatimah, scarcely ten years old, wiping filth off of her father's back and furiously berating the leaders of Quraysh for their behaviour.
Faatimah, who used to weep at the sight of dust that was thrown upon her father's head, and would be comforted with the words “Do not cry, my daughter, for Allāh shall protect your father!”
Faatimah, the apple of her father's eye, of whom he said: “Whoever pleased Fatimah has indeed pleased God and whoever has caused her to be angry has indeed angered God. Fatimah is a part of me. Whatever pleases her pleases me and whatever angers her angers me.” (Narrated by al-Bukhāri, 3437; Muslim, 4483)
Noble Faatimah, one of the four greatest women in the world: “The best women in all the world are four: the Virgin Mary, Aasiyaa the wife of Pharoah, Khadijah Mother of the Believers, and Fatimah, daughter of Muḥammad.”
Faatimah, of whom A'isha (radhiAllahu anha) commented, “I have not seen any one of God's creation resemble the Messenger of God more in speech, conversation and manner of sitting than Fatimah, may God be pleased with her. When the Prophet saw her approaching, he would welcome her, stand up and kiss her, take her by the hand and sit her down in the place where he was sitting.”
The entire Muslim Ummah has benefited directly from this unique father-daughter relationship. How many lessons have been derived from the sīrah, from incidents pertaining to this father and to this daughter?! How much knowledge, how much wisdom, was transmitted from father to daughter, and from that daughter to her own sons, al-Hassan and al-Hussein (radhiAllahu anhum)?! Yaa subḥānAllāh! How can we ever belittle, neglect, forget the importance of such a bond?
O Muslim fathers, will you follow in the footsteps of the Messenger of Allāh (sallallaahu 'alayi wa sallam)? Will you do what you can to help your daughter become the Faatimah az-Zahraa' of today?
Or will you keep ignoring her, neglecting her, passing her off to 'womanly influences'? And in the process, compromise, minimize, and even destroy the potential of someone who could become the next Maryam, Aasiyah, Khadijah, or Faatimah?
O Muslim men… be men! Be fathers. Be fathers of the greatest Muslim women this Ummah has ever known!