To Kill Parenthood, Chapter 22, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

This interminable Conference is founded on the right to testify—a right that is inherent to the relationship between the Creator and created. Once created by its Maker, a right cannot be undone, for like a gift from the Maker, a right can be rejected but it cannot be denied. A right, truth, relationship, or gift created by God may be searched, but whether missed or found, it will always exist. The indefatigable production of books, which fuels this Conference, is an aspiration towards infinity, and infinity is the inseparable quality of God. As such, this Conference is founded on a right to aspire and testify.


The testimonies of these books resonate throughout history with numerous moments of human arrogance. The arrogance of one era judges and mocks the arrogance of another. What human beings once, upon a historical moment, saw as sensible or natural is later judged to be barbaric and absurd. A human relationship, which once might have been deemed inevitable, might be seen in a different age as repugnant or reprehensible. Acknowledgment of the Divine does not eliminate this process, but it limits its vagaries.


Imagine that in our era, a single, underpaid, under-educated, and over-worked bureaucrat may storm into your house and, armed with a court order, may proceed to grab your children from their school or home. The children would be temporarily kept in a state facility and your access and ability to see or talk to your children would become severely restricted. If the bureaucrats decide to do so, they may ask the state to declare that any ties to your children be forever eradicated. After a jury trial and thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, a jury may decide that you no longer belong to your children and your children no longer belong to you. What you thought was the only relationship not artificially constructed by society, you discover, is susceptible to being completely deconstructed by the state.     


There will come an age in which people will scoff at our incoherencies and barbarisms, and they will look with disbelief at our logic and structure. One of the absolute absurdities of our age is that we attempt to deny a fundamental right given by God; we attempt to completely erase the relation of a parent to a child and a child to a parent. In our age, we extinguish the right of a child to his or her mother or father and call it the “termination of parental rights.” We empower the state to claim that a parent may be severed from his or her child, and upon “clear and convincing evidence,” we re-arrange the relationship that was created by God. As incredible as it seems, the state has the power to decide that it is in the best interest of a child to lose his or her parents forever, and be re-assigned to a new set of claimants who forever will pose as the child’s parents. To forever deny the right of a child to know, honor, or even denounce his or her parents, I propose, is a moral outrage.


When God states, “Call them [adopted children] by the names of their fathers, that is more just with God” (33:5), a moral principle, not a law, is proclaimed. The moral principle creates an imperative that is more conducive to achieving justice. In a just order, children may be protected and nurtured by those who are not natural parents, but the parent-child tie is sacrosanct. Every time this relationship is tampered with or denied, we move further away from God’s justice. In a state in which Muslims live, the state should not be allowed to retain the power to terminate the rights or liabilities of a parent or child.


When God declared Muslims to be the best nation sent to humankind because they enjoin the good and forbid the evil (3:110), God had obligated Muslims to be the pioneers on the moral frontier. They, before anyone else, must identify the barbaric and condemn the unjust. As such, Muslims must be at the forefront of the human rights discourse because, in our day and age, it is largely through that discourse that the barbaric and uncivilized is identified. In the contemporary age there are many human rights which are asserted and claimed. For example, we claim that there is an absolute right not to be tortured or degraded. No limitation, derogation, or reservation is permitted from that right. Yet, what greater torture could there be than the absolute agony and pain of a parent losing his or her child, or a child losing his parent? It is ironic that there is an absolute prohibition against torture but there is no similar prohibition against the absolute torment of losing your child.


There are only a few God-given absolute rights. The right not be tortured is one of them. But definitely the rights of parenthood are as integral and as absolute. If children are neglected, mistreated, or abused by their parents, Muslims must be the first to demand that the children be protected and the parents be rehabilitated, if possible. But the termination of a parental right or the permanent denial of the right of a child to his or her parent should not be an option. A right or relationship created by God should not be open to the vagaries of human discretion and judgment. As any person who had the displeasure of being involved in this horrendous process will testify, a parent would rather be tortured or lose his or her property, liberty, or even life, but not his or her child.