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The Forgotten Sunnah Of Raising Stepchildren: Reflections On The Death Of My Stepson



My stepson, Ty Cascia, passed away October 24, 2022 at the young age of 18, and with his death my eight-year-journey as a stepfather to him came to end. He grew up as a Catholic, but converted to Islam after I married his mother. I did my best to be a good stepfather to him and teach him about Islam, but Ty ended up teaching me just as much about life, understanding special needs, and how to be a stepparent.

A Neglected Prophetic Practice

Step-parenting is a neglected Prophetic practice, and unfortunately most men prefer to marry a woman who doesn’t have children. Likewise, there is scarce information or resources online on the importance of being a stepparent in Islam. In this brief article I wish to share some reflections on what I have learned as a stepparent, as I talk about the legacy of my stepson Ty.

Stepping Up To The Plate

Approximately five years ago, in January 2018, I shared the following quote on social media regarding my step-parenting journey:

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“It takes a strong man to accept somebody else’s children and step up to the plate another man left on the table.” -Ray Johnson

I then wrote, “We need to step up to the plate and become stepfathers to children (boys and girls alike) that do not have positive father figures in their lives, and make a difference in their lives just as the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did with his stepchildren such as Umar Ibn Abi Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). I am trying to do the same with my stepchildren.”

The Best Example

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was the best of examples in all aspects of life, and was a model on how to be a good stepfather. One of the wisdoms behind the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) marriage to Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was to teach all of us how to treat and raise stepchildren. Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) had four children from a previous marriage before she married the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) asked for her hand in marriage, she reminded him that she had children from a previous marriage and implied that this could potentially be an obstacle for her in getting married. In a beautiful manner, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) reassured her that her children would be taken care of and all their needs would be met.1عن أم سلمة رضي الله عنها: أنّها لمّا انقضت عدّتها بعث إليها أبو بكر رضي الله عنه يخطبها عليه فلم يتزوّجه فبعث رسول الله صلّى الله عليه وسلم إليها عمر بن الخطّاب يخطبها عليه فقالت أخبر رسول الله صلّى الله عليه وسلّم أني امرأة غيرى وأني مصبية وليس أحد من أوليائي شاهد فأتى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلّم فذكر ذلك له فقال: ارجع فقل لها أما قولك إني امرأة غيرى فسأدعو الله لك فيذهب غيرتك وأما قولك إني امرأة مصبية فستكفين صبيانك وأما قولك ليس أحد من أوليائي شاهد فليس أحد من أوليائك شاهد ولا غائب يكره ذلك فقالت لابنها: يا عمر قم فزوّج رسول الله صلّى الله عليه و سلّم فروّجها (المجتبى للنسائي# 3279) Thereafter, he proceeded to practically teach and serve as a role model to those children.

The Parenting, Love, And Discipline Of A Father 

We are living in an era where there is a severe shortage of fathers who are actively involved in the lives of their children and there are millions of fatherless children throughout the world. There are many articles, books, research studies, and lectures on this subject.

Unfortunately, this is also becoming very common in Muslim communities in the West in which there are thousands of single mothers raising children on their own.

Children who grow up without a father in their lives experience great adversity, are much more likely to engage in risky behavior, make bad decisions, and feel the loss and void of not having a father for their entire lives. We can hear the pain in Tupac’s voice when talking about the absence of a father in his life. Sadly, he speaks for millions worldwide:

“Now, ain’t nobody tell us it was fair.

No love from my daddy, ’cause the coward wasn’t there.

They say I’m wrong and I’m heartless, but all along

I was looking for a father, he was gone.”

Unfortunately, Ty’s biological father chose not to play an active role in his life, and had an estranged relationship with him for his entire life. Ty rarely visited his father and had little communication with him. Ty felt this loss and expressed it on multiple occasions. I did my best to fill this void and to be a positive father figure in his life.

* * *

The Importance Of Teaching Stepchildren Good Manners And Islamic Values

Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the son of Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) mentioned above, said, “I was a young boy in the custody of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and my hand used to roam around the plate of food. The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to me, ‘O young boy. Say the name of Allah before you begin eating, eat with your right hand, and eat from the food that is closest to you.’ This remained my eating habit for the rest of my life.”2

Stepchildren are like sponges and eager to learn goodness from their stepparents and emulate them. Ty was a young convert to Islam and did his best to grow as a Muslim and learn about his faith. Actions speak louder than words, and I did my best to be a living example of Islam in the family house. He observed me offering my prayers regularly at his house, and after some time requested to pray his salat along with me. He worked very hard to learn how to make wudhu (ablution). He memorized Surah Al-Fatihah and the words of the salat in Arabic. He even was eager to perform the salat at-tarawih with me in 20 rakats, but I told him that it would be too much for him. He wished to emulate me, and did his best to do what I did.

One day, Ty requested that I take him to the masjid for prayers when I went. I vividly remember taking him to the masjid for the very first time and the happiness and fulfillment that I felt at that moment. Ty had expressed the desire to follow the Prophetic practice and adopt an Islamic name. He specifically wanted an Arabic name that referred to a protector. He considered a name such as Hafeedh (preserver, protector), as he considered himself the protector of his mother, his special needs brother, and even his teachers. Unfortunately, he passed away before officially taking on his new name.

The Fruits Of Labor 

In any stepparent-stepchild relationship, it takes two hands to clap, so to speak. In other words, parent and child must work together to foster a positive relationship. During our 8-year relationship and until his death, I can say that Ty was a kind, compassionate, and loving stepson. He was the most loyal and considerate son to his mother that I have seen or heard about in my life. He spent his whole life serving his mother and protecting her as best as he could. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother.”3 I truly believe that Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) will enter my stepson into Paradise on the basis of this alone.

I can also say with confidence that I was closer to Ty than his biological father, and that he considered me to be his real father. Ty would often confide to his mother that he trusted me over his biological father. Shaquille O’Neal expressed a similar sentiment when he spoke about stepfathers who were there when biological fathers were not, making reference to his own stepfather Sarge:

“Cause he was the one who took me from a boy to a man. So as far as I’m concerned, he’s my father ‘cause my biological (father) didn’t bother.”

Sharing Firsts And Memories

I watched Ty grow from the age of 10 to a mature young man. I was blessed to provide and share many firsts in Ty’s life and create many unique memories, including his first flight on a plane, his first trip outside the country, his first deep sea fishing trip, his first snorkeling trip, and more. We rode ATVs together at Pismo Beach, did water activities in the Florida Keys, went deep sea fishing in the Pacific Ocean -during which he caught his first lingcod-, went all-night laser tagging multiple times, bonded with my biological son, dined out at halal restaurants in Bangkok, and even teamed up to cook wagyu steaks for 50 imams. His mother observed that participating in these activities with other Muslim youth and watching my example helped Ty grow into a man and a Muslim.

It is challenging to develop a relationship with and love another person’s children like our own. We naturally and automatically love our biological children because they are a part of our own flesh. On the other hand, the love between a stepparent and stepchild is not automatic, and instead develops over time. Likewise, not all children are able to openly express their love or even show it, especially autistic children or children with special needs. Ty showed love to me in his own way and I felt truly loved by him. His love language was service to others, through which he showed love through his actions more so than his words. He was a great cook, and barbequed for us, for my friends, scholar colleagues, and his Muslim friends on multiple occasions.

In light of the Quran, the source of true happiness for a person is watching their wife and children worshiping and obeying Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Seeing my stepson performing salat, learning the Quran in Arabic, and doing his best to practice Islam, has been one of the most rewarding, happy, and fulfilling aspects of my life. Observing his growth as a Muslim, and his death as a Muslim, has made the entire journey of being a stepparent worth it.

* * *

What Ty Taught Me

Ty was an excellent teacher and taught me how to sympathize with and accommodate individuals with special needs. He was autistic and was the first person with autism who I had the opportunity to interact with extensively. During our wonderful time spent together, I learned a great deal about individuals with special needs, their challenges, and about autism in particular. As an imam, this has given me an important experience in understanding and accommodating individuals with special needs.

As a whole, Ty made me a better person. He taught me that the relationship with a stepchild can be just as rewarding and fulfilling as one with a biological child. Going through the challenges and struggles of being a stepparent has made me a better person, better husband, as well as better imam and community leader. I would do it all over again if I had the chance, and I thank Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and Ty for giving me this opportunity for self-growth, spiritual fulfillment, and memories that will last a lifetime. I pray that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will reunite Ty and I in Paradise. Ameen.

Marrying A Woman With Children

Unfortunately, many Muslim men will completely write off women with children and will not even consider marrying them. When searching on apps and matrimonial websites, they will purposely exclude women with children from the search criteria. Worse yet, some will even stipulate to a woman that she has to get rid of her children if she wants to get married to them!

Likewise, many men have a strong preference for marrying virgin wives who have not previously been married, even if the men themselves have been married multiple times and are middle-aged. As a result, they overlook good, pious matches and excellent potential spouses just because they are divorcees with children. If everyone marries virgins, who marries the divorcees and who brings up the children? The Holy Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us by example in the choice of women who he married.

There are great rewards for da’wah or Islamic outreach, propagation, and missionary work. Many Muslims travel to teach Islam, visit prisons or foreign countries for this purpose. In doing so, we often forget the great opportunity for da’wah in our own community and country in being a stepfather and reviving this forgotten Prophetic practice. Being a stepparent is a lifetime da’wah as opposed to a one-time visit or a trip of a few days.

There is a desperate need in the community for stepparents and I recommend that mature Muslim men and women choose to become stepmothers or stepfathers. However, they should do this solely for the sake of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and having hope in the reward in the hereafter. Likewise, they should do their best to follow the Prophetic model. I also advise current stepmothers and stepfathers to persevere through the adversity and difficult times, place their full trust in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and have faith that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will ultimately make things work out for them just as he did for me inshallah. There will definitely be a positive outcome for those who fear Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

The Legacy Of Ty Cascia 

In closing, I would like to share some lessons from the legacy of Ty that I pray will live on.

  1. Please remember Ty in your prayers and ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to show mercy on him and forgive him. Every single one of us is in need of prayers, especially when we pass away.
  2. If Ty was alive and could give a message to all of us, he would tell us to care for, love, serve, and cherish our parents. In particular, he would advise us to give special care to our mothers. Ty’s life mission was caring for his mother and he did so as long as he was alive.
  3. Lastly, I would request on behalf of Ty that more of us consider becoming step mothers and step fathers, and teach our stepchildren by example. If this article and Ty’s story is able to inspire or touch even one person to be a better son or daughter to their parents, then it has been successful. Likewise, if this inspires just one person to become a stepparent or motivates one stepparent to persevere, then it will all be worth it and Ty’s soul will be at peace.


Related reading:

The Role of a Step-Parent

The Role of a Step-Parent

Parenting Older Kids: Focusing On Success In The Deen

Parenting Older Kids: Focusing On Success In The Deen

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Mufti Abdullah Nana Abdullah Ebrahim Nana was born in Novato, California in 1978, and attended elementary, middle and high school in his hometown. After graduation from high school, Abdullah enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the country. He continued to excel academically while participating in extra-curricular activities, including serving as Treasurer for the Muslim Student Association at UC Berkeley during his sophomore year. Through hard work and the grace of Allah , he was able to finish the four-year degree in two and a half years. He graduated with honors in 1998 with a degree in Business Administration. In order to quench his thirst for Islamic knowledge, Shaikh Abdullah traveled to an Islamic University in South Africa, where he studied for seven years. He completed the rigorous and intensive syllabus which covers many of the Islamic Sciences, including but not limited to Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Arabic Grammar, Arabic Morphology, Hadith (Sayings of the Holy Prophet), Tafsir (Commentary of the Quran), Aqidah (Islamic Beliefs and philosophy), Tajwid (Canonical Intonation of the Quran), Arabic Literature, and Islamic History. The Shaikh also completed his post-graduate studies while specializing in Islamic Jurisprudence and obtaining an authorization from his teachers to issue legal opinions, or fatwa, thus earning the title of a ‘Mufti.’ Mufti Abdullah does his best to serve the American Public - Muslim and non-Muslim - in a variety of ways. He currently serves as an Imam at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley. He delivers the Friday sermon in multiple locations in the Bay Area, including some of the local universities and colleges. He teaches Arabic and Islamic sciences full-time at school in San Francisco. The Shaikh was a guest speaker on Comparative Religion at the Dominican University, on Comparative Law at the San Francisco State School of Law, for an English class at the University of California at Berkeley, and on Islamic Insurance at the Harvard Islamic Finance seminar. Along with this, he has delivered talks in many cities throughout the U.S on various contemporary issues. In his capacity as a specialist in Islamic Law, the Shaikh assists Muslims all over America with their personal, legal, and economic problems. He has answered hundreds of written questions on a variety of contemporary issues, such as Islamic Finance, Medicine, Inheritance, Food Science, Drug Problems, etc. Mufti Abdullah also counsels Muslims with their personal problems and does his best to provide practical solutions. In the past, he has advised Muslim Medical Clinics, Halal Food companies, Investors, IT Professionals, Muslim Websites, Stores, and other organizations. Mufti Abdullah has authored four books on a variety of topics, including The Virtues of Islamic Knowledge, Stoning to Death in Islam, Legal Rulings on Slaughtered Animals, and The Maidens of Paradise. He currently lives in Mill Valley and is happily married with six children.



  1. Emran

    November 11, 2022 at 7:18 AM

    May Allah make everything easy for you Mufti Sahib. May Allah grant him highest stages of Jannah and make him a means of forgiveness and happiness for your family in the Ākhira.

  2. Abdullah Nana

    November 11, 2022 at 8:42 AM

    Ameen. Jazakallah khairan for your kind words

  3. Fatima

    November 12, 2022 at 2:42 AM

    Assalam alaykum. I just want to say this post brought me to tears throughout. Thank you for posting it, and may Allah reward your honesty and kindness towards Ty. May Allah have mercy on him and all of us, and may HE reward all the fathers and stepfathers out there for “stepping up”. Thank you for sharing Ty’s story. Jazakallahu chair.

  4. Shoaib

    November 12, 2022 at 2:26 PM

    This truly is a forgotten sunnah. Jazakallah khair Mufti Nana for reminding us about it. This article was inspiring and touching.

  5. S

    November 18, 2022 at 8:48 AM

    Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    After I read this, I attended a workshop on the Qira’aat and came to know that there are two Rawis who were stepsons of the Imam they recite from. Hafs the stepson of Imam Asim, from whom we get the riwayah of Hafs ‘an Asim . Qaloon the stepson of Imam Nafi’ from whom we get the Riwayah of Qaloon ‘an Nafi’. This was the priceless gift of the Qur’an which these most honorable Imams gave to their stepsons and even today their names are taken together.

    And I realised that you followed not only the sunnah but our most righteous predecessors in raising your stepson on Islam. May Allah grant you and your wife ease and may you all be reunited on Jannatul firdaus. Ameen. Salam

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