My parents, sister, wife and I had gone to Dubai recently to attend some weddings and one night we went to a well-known South Asian restaurant called Ravi for dinner. As we were waiting for our food, I looked out the window and noticed two very large Pakistani men strolling down the sidewalk, holding hands. They then began speaking to a third man who also joined them in their hand-holding and then walked away. When my father noticed me looking out the window, he told us of how when he first came to the United States from Pakistan in the 70s after finishing medical school, he and his friends would often walk on the street holding hands as well and, quite often, were also met with stares. But, he said, "In our (Pakistani) culture, no one had a problem with it."
It's easy to find similar practices normalized in many Muslim-majority countries. Men of all ages from a variety of Arab, South Asian and Turkish backgrounds walk together holding hands, sit together and hold hands and kiss each other on each cheek as a form of greeting. Its always been interesting to me that this type of affection is seen as acceptable amongst grown men, but the same cultures fail to emphasize any really outward expressions of affection from fathers toward their children.
Somehow the idea has been introduced that authority cannot be established or maintained if gentleness in any form enters into the picture. Mothers can display compassion and forgiveness, but the father affirms his position by being tough. Speak to most young Muslims and you'll probably find that they don't get hugged by their fathers other than on the days of Eid, and that their fathers don't really tell them that they love them, are proud of them, or that it's ok they have made a mistake.
In the Islamic tradition we find a narration quoted by a companion of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Al-Bara' who said, "I saw the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, when al-Hasan was on his shoulder. He was saying, 'O Allah, I love him, so love him.'
Hasan is one of the grandsons of the prophet Muhammad. We can assume from this narration that he is a young child, small enough to be carried on his grandfather's shoulder. We can also assume that if Al-Bara' is able to hear the prophet say that he loves his Hasan, then Hasan himself is probably able to hear that he loves him as well. In addition to a great role model in his grandfather, Hasan's father is a man name Ali ibn Abi Talib. Amongst advice on giving children their rights, Ali advises that a parent plays with their children for seven years, educates them for seven years, befriends them for seven years and then lets the reigns go.
The contrast to today's scenario is that our young people only hear from their male elders about what they do that is wrong. How many times has your father told you that he loves you as opposed to the number of times he's told you that you messed up? Self-esteem and self-confidence are the first things to then go. Children grow into individuals so worried about making mistakes, they ultimately never reach their full potential. They never really were inspired to aspire towards anything outside of the box. All they do is what they believe would make their fathers happy with them under the guise of respect, but, in reality, in hopes of getting some sense of validation or approval from a man who, even though he doesn't see it, all the while has been looked up to.
Its unfortunate that our children can't tell us that they don't want to be doctors or engineers. It's sad that they get scared to tell us that they have found someone that they want to get married to because they anticipate us getting angry before getting excited or happy. And it's terrible that they will turn to the rest of the world for guidance and advice before turning to us.
'A'isha said, "Some bedouins came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. One of their men said to him, 'Messenger of Allah, do you kiss children? By Allah, we do not kiss them.' The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Can I put mercy in your hearts after Allah has removed it from them?'"
If you have children if your life, spend time with them. Tell them that you love them and that you are proud of them. Give them the confidence to go out and take on the challenges of the world -- it really does make a difference.