As Muslims, we often hear about the elevated status of mothers in Islam. When the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was asked thrice about who is more worthy of our company, he said, “Your mother, your mother, your mother.” It was not until he was questioned for the fourth time that he finally said, “Your father” (Bukhari, Muslim). This hadith places mothers at the top of the chart when it comes to honoring our parents. Nevertheless, fathers are not that far behind. The Prophet was a father himself when he answered that fateful question. As the noble prophet and selfless father that he was, however, he did not put himself or other fathers first.
There is so much we can learn from the fatherhood of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, about what it takes to be a great father figure.
Before Muhammad ibn Abdullah, peace and blessings be upon him, became a prophet and messenger of Allah, he was a father. He married at the age of 25 and with his wife, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, may Allah be pleased with her, he fathered six children. He was commissioned as a Prophet at the age of 40 and had one more child over a decade later. As such, Prophet Muhammad, had seven children in total – three sons and four daughters. His sons were Al-Qasim, Abdullah, and Ibrahim and his daughters were Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah. Every child of the Prophet was born to his wife, Khadijah, save for Ibrahim, who was born to Mariyah Al-Qibtiyyah. His sons died in childhood and all his daughters died during his lifetime except for Fatimah, who passed away roughly six months after his death. Apart from his biological children, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the adoptive father of Zayd ibn Haritha.
Regarding the paternity of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, Allah says in the Quran:
“Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing.”
(Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:40)
This verse foretold that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would not leave behind an heir. Ibn Kathir said in his Tafsir that, “After this, it was not permitted to say Zayd bin Muhammad, i.e., he was not his father even though he had adopted him. No (biological) male child of the Prophet lived until puberty.” The enemies of Islam amongst the Quraish used to ridicule the Prophet because he would not be leaving any male offspring to carry on his legacy. It was about these people, whom Allah revealed:
“Only the one who hates you is truly cut off ˹from any goodness˺.”
(Surah Al-Kawthar, 108:3)
His Legacy as a Role Model
Indeed, the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, continues to this day. Regardless of what happened to his children, we can extract endless wisdom from his example of excellent parenting. Because three of his sons died prior to his prophethood, and baby Ibrahim passed away as an infant, we know very little about how the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, interacted with his sons. To learn more about how he was as a father, we will focus on his relationship with his youngest daughter, Fatimah, may Allah be pleased with her, who was about 5-years-old when her father began receiving revelation.
Here are three examples of how the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was a great father:
1. He was loving and affectionate.
A few ahadith summarize Prophet Muhammad’s approach to parenting, peace and blessings be upon him.
Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever has three daughters, and he cares for them, he is merciful to them, and he clothes them, then Paradise is certainly required for him.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, what if he has only two?” The Prophet said, “Even two.” Some people thought that if they had said to him one, the Prophet would have said even one.
He was also reported to have said:
“He is not one of us who is not merciful to our young.”
Not only did he preach about good treatment toward daughters to his followers, but he also stressed the importance of being merciful to all children. Moreover, he truly embodied his teachings. It is well documented that he was a loving and compassionate father to his daughter, Fatimah, may Allah be pleased with her.
His wife, Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said:
“I have not seen anyone more closely resemble the disposition, mannerism, and characteristics of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, than his daughter Fatimah, may Allah honor her countenance. If she entered his home, the Prophet would stand for her, take her by the hand, kiss her, and seat her in his place. If the Prophet entered her home, she would stand for him, take him by the hand, kiss him, and seat him in her place.”
2. He raised her as a pious Muslim.
Because Fatimah was so young when the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, began calling the people to Islam, she was raised as a believer for most of her life. She was in Makkah when the call to faith began and in Madinah when it was perfected. She witnessed many hardships alongside her father, and it only served to strengthen her faith and their unique bond.
On one occasion, Abdullah bin Mas'ud reported that:
"While the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was praying beside the Kaaba, there were some Quraish people sitting in a gathering. One of them said, 'Don't you see this (who does deeds just to show off)? Who amongst you can go and bring the dung, blood, and the abdominal contents (intestines, etc.) of the slaughtered camels of the family of so and so and then wait till he prostrates and put that in between his shoulders?' The most unfortunate amongst them (Uqba bin Abi Muait) went (and brought them) and when the Messenger of Allah prostrated, he put them between his shoulders. The Prophet remained in prostration, and they laughed so much so that they fell on each other. A passerby went to Fatima, who was a young girl in those days. She came running and the Prophet was still in prostration. She removed them and cursed upon the Quraish on their faces….”
This incident was incredibly disturbing for both Fatimah and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. She was only a girl at the time, but she quickly ran to her father’s side, helped clear away the filth from his back, and cursed the powerful leaders of Quraish. Her bravery and unwavering support for Islam are proof of the strong bond between father and daughter. The constant harassment and attacks by those who opposed the Muslims were nothing compared to the perseverance of the Prophet. Imagine the impact his example had on young Fatimah. It is no wonder that she and her mother, Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with them, will be leaders among the women of Paradise. (Ahmad)
Fatimah was not only a courageous defender of Islam, but also a committed believer. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, taught her many lessons about the worship of Allah. For example, on one occasion, he advised her to say a special prayer. His follower and servant, Anas ibn Malik, said:
“The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said to Fatimah, ‘I instruct you to say in the morning and evening: O Living, O Sustainer, by Your mercy I seek deliverance. Take care of all my affairs and do not leave me to the care of myself even for the blink of an eye.’”
3. He protected her honor.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, knew that fatherhood does not end once a child becomes an adult. He supported his daughters into adulthood. When Fatimah began to receive marriage proposals, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was there front and center to protect her no matter who the suitor was. One of his companions, Hujr ibn Qays reported:
“Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, offered a marriage proposal to Fatimah, daughter of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. The Prophet said, ‘She is yours, if you treat her with the best company.’”
Even Ali ibn Abi Talib, beloved cousin of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the first youngster to embrace Islam, may Allah be pleased with him, was not exempt from his future father-in-law’s warnings! He was only allowed to marry Fatimah under the condition that he treat her well. After their marriage, the Prophet continued to be close to them and advise them. Like any other young couple, Ali and Fatimah, had their disagreements. At one point during their marriage, Ali had the idea to marry a second wife, but Fatimah did not agree to that. This situation escalated to the point that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, addressed it on the minbar in front of his followers. The companion, Al-Miswar ibn Makhramah reported the incident as follows:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say upon the pulpit, ‘Verily, the sons of Hisham ibn al-Mughirah have sought my permission to marry their daughters to Ali ibn Abi Talib. I do not give permission, again I do not give permission, and again I do not give permission unless Ali ibn Abi Talib intends to divorce my daughter and marry their daughters. Verily, she is only a part of me. I am upset by what upsets her, and I am harmed by what harms her.’”
Imam Al-Nawawi said, explaining this event, “The Prophet prohibited that because of his perfect compassion for Ali and for Fatimah, and secondly because he feared she would be tested with jealousy.” (Sharh al-Nawawi ala Sahih Muslim) Ali ibn Abi Talib obeyed his father-in-law’s wishes and did not marry any other woman until after Fatimah’s death, may Allah be pleased with both. The hadith highlights the close relationship the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had with his daughter, Fatimah – especially the beautiful statement he made, “I am upset by what upsets her, and I am harmed by what harms her.”
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, neither felt ashamed to declare his love for his daughter, nor believe it was a sign of weakness. He would defend her and be affectionate towards her under all circumstances. He also taught his followers to be just as loving toward their own children and the youth in general.
When a Bedouin once said to him that he never kissed his children, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, responded: “I cannot put mercy into your heart if Allah has removed it from you.”
A father is usually a provider and a loving supporter – he offers shelter, clothes, food, and advice. As his children age, he continues being an important part of their lives. Al-Ghazali wrote in Ihya Ulum al-Din, “It is recommended to be gentle with children.” Without a doubt, this is a lesson imparted to us from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. He was a remarkable father to Fatimah and all his children and, just as Allah promised in the Quran, his enduring legacy lives on. He may not have left sons behind, but we are blessed to inherit his teachings.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.