By Dr Yamin Cheng
Home is where we learn our first lessons of life. We learn that we have a father who is the family caretaker. He oversees the well-being of each and every one of us in the family - that we have enough to eat, enough to clad, a place to live, and safe from everything. But most of all, a father is a leader who not only sees to it that we have enough of everything so that we can go on living but also we are moulded into the best type of human being – a good, virtuous, wise, loving, and beautiful creature of God, one who is the pride of his family and society. Fathers are thus the figure through which we learn about obedience, respect, dutifulness, and discipline of life.
For some of us, fathers are strict and firm in their attitude towards their children and we often find it hard to get things our way and, what do we do? We turn to mothers to get the things we want! And why would we do that? Because we know that after much insistence, they will relent and give in to our demands! A mother’s love sometimes makes her cave in to the persistence of their children because if she doesn’t, she would feel the pain of her children. And because of her compassion and sympathy for them, she would sometimes defend their antics and argue with their father over their demands!
Firm and yielding, compassionate yet strict, giving but limiting, instructing as well as guiding, these are complementary forces of parents acting together to provide a unity, balance, and harmony of a child’s growth and well-being so that the child can be a wholesome and holistic human being. These forces, if looked at closely, are actually one single force that is differentiated only by the degree of its intensity. Thus, firm, said in a different way, is less yielding and yielding is not that firm. In the same way, compassionate is to show love and kindness towards others but it has to have boundaries or otherwise it could lead to the other party taking advantage of our kind-hearted soul and supposedly soft-natured and lenient attitude towards things. Compassionate is therefore easing of strictness and strictness is compassion regulated. All these forces however derive from a single force and it is justice.
Justice presupposes that everything, from the things we have to the things we do, have their rightful place, whether in relation to themselves or in relation to others. A father is supposed to be the breadwinner of his family and although his wife or the mother is working and can help support the family, the father is responsible for the well-being of his entire family. If he shirks this responsibility, he is committing an injustice and this would have undesirable bearings on the morale and dignity of his own children who would be shamed by their father’s conduct and in consequence, lost a reference point of a person who would be their guide and model of conduct. And, if the father commits a shameful offence such as indulging in moral vices, then this would even have more compelling consequences upon the family members where the wife has to share the shame and guilt of the husband’s conduct while the children would lose all appetite to become proud children of their family. In the same way, the mother is supposed to play a supporting role of the family's well-being. If the father plays the role of laying the pillars and foundations of the home, the mother plays the role of furnishing the home with the contents of its well-being. The mother makes sure that the house is kept clean and orderly, that food is always on the table, that clothes are always washed and ironed and ready to be worn, but most of all, everyone in the family is happy that their belly is filled with mother’s cooking and the beds are warm and cozy ready to welcome a goodnight’s sleep all due to the mother’s concern that everyone will be able to rest good and gladly.
As such, there is a hierarchy of relationship in a family where the younger ones among the children listen and follow the advices and instructions of the older ones, and in turn, the older ones listen and follow the advices and instructions from their parents who, between them, the father plays the role of the leader providing the vision of the family’s direction while the mother undertakes the role of the manager by putting the vision in terms of how the home is conducted, maintained, and regulated.
The family is our beginnings of life, our first locus and sanctuary of knowing things, and our point of departure of contacts with other human beings as well as with other creatures and things and is therefore a very important and significant place to begin our inquiry into all the questions about who we are. But, above all, it is a pivotal signpost, called Ayah (plural = Ayat) that alludes and points to something more and beyond, that something we are so curious and fascinated to know, about how the family is something through which we can understand who Allah is.
When a person sees that his family is a praiseworthy family and he becomes a praiseworthy person because of that, he will be able to understand why a relationship based on a hierarchy of high and low is imminent for the development of his praiseworthy self and conduct because it is in knowing that what is smaller depends on what is larger that is necessary for the praiseworthy self to be actualized is what makes all the difference to a person’s growth, well-being, and becoming the ideal human being. For us humans, reliance and dependence on what is greater are instrumental in achieving the greatness of our existence and the meaningfulness of our being human.
The Tao-Te Ching, a 4th century BCE manual on the Chinese perception of world and life, has this to say:
Humans model upon earth
Earth models upon heaven
Heaven models upon the Way
The Way models upon eternity
In the same way, children model upon their parents, parents model upon the law of the land, the law of the land models upon heaven, heaven models upon eternity which is none other than Allah Himself, the eternal, the everlasting, the all-abiding. Therefore, through the family, we are brought into contact with Allah but only if we carry out the designated relationships properly and accordingly as these relationships will bring out those praiseworthy values from within the latent and hidden part of our psyche into the fore and outward part of our personality, values that link us with the divine attributes through which we allude to and connect with Allah.