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aaiil.org > Articles & Magazines > A Collection of Various Articles > Family Life in Islam by Mohammad Haroun

Family Life in Islam:

by Mohammad Haroun

Speech delivered at Ahmadiyya House, Wembley (UK) on 16th January 1999


As an individual, one may be at one and the same time a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt or a niece. Similarly, if one is a male, one may be at one and the same time a father, a grandfather, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle or a nephew. This fact is all too obvious to everyone here. But there are many social systems in our time which care very little whether one is a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, etc.

For example, in the free and liberal societies, where the individual is regarded as the basic unit of society, one has the freedom to do what one wants, when one wants, because one is considered free to live one’s own life.

A woman, for example, may choose to live with one or more men or even women; and a man may be a father, and not know it, and his child or children may not know who their father is. On the other hand, there are social systems where the individual counts for little, and the commune or the state takes full control. In these circumstances, the nurturing of the children becomes a social industry; health care, education and all other needs are public business; and so being a parent under this system carries few, if any, responsibilities.

Maybe, there is much to gain from material comfort, but the love and warmth are missing from the equation. The human being is devalued and natural bonds and needs are stifled or destroyed. The basic unit of society cannot be the individual or the commune. Both these systems are unworkable and produce much personal stress and distress for everyone, especially the women and children. They also tend to produce society’s disorders in the form of crime and delinquency.

In Islam, on the other hand, one is not allowed to be just an individual, who is free to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants. Any system which attempts to make the individual the basic unit of society and gives him total freedom, does not take into account natural bonds and natural needs.

The Holy Quran says:

And We have enjoined on man the doing of good to his parents. His mother bears him with trouble and brings him forth in pain. And the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months. Till when he attains his maturity and reaches forty years, he says; My Lord, grant me that I may give thanks for Thy favour, which Thou hast bestowed on me, and on my parents, and that I may do good which pleases Thee; and be good to me in respect of my offspring. Truly I turn to Thee, and truly I am of those who submit (46:15).

The most natural unit of society is the family. Many are the laws of Islam which are geared towards preserving the institution of the family and the web of relationships within the family. Because, if one wants to preserve the family, and the identity and proper upbringing of the children are to be safeguarded, then adultery and fornication must be severely punished.

And go not near to fornication, surely it is an obscenity and evil is the way (17:32).

In Islam, there are three factors which keep the family together:

1. Kinship or blood ties

2. Marital commitments

3. Faith (Din)

Kinship or blood relationships are the strongest natural ties. There is no substitute for a mother’s love for her child, and in return, a child’s devotion and gratitude to loving and caring parents. It is precisely because of the importance and strength of these relationships that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) said:

"He is not of me who severs or breaks the ties of kinship."

He also went on to say:

"No sin is more swiftly punished than oppression, and the breaking of family ties."

Marital commitments also keep the family together, for Islam recognises no more wholesome framework for sexual relations and the fostering and nurturing of children than in a lawful marriage. Private consent to sexual intimacy, common-law associations or living together, and trial marriages or temporary unions, do not constitute a family in the Islamic sense.

Faith is the third factor in maintaining strong family ties; that is, full commitment to Islam. If all members of a family are Muslims, there is more likely to be greater harmony, and common interest and good, than if family members go their separate ways, and have different faiths.

In some cases, faith supersedes marital commitment and kinship. A person is required to love and treat his parents with the utmost respect and consideration, even if they are not Muslims. But he is not required to obey those parents if they ask him to disobey the laws of God or not to believe in the One True God (Allah).

In fact, one can find oneself combating one’s own parents or children if they strongly seek to oppose or even undermine Islam and the interest of Muslims. There are many well-known examples of this in Islamic history. The Prophet Noah was unable to save his disobedient son at the time of the flood; there is the case of the Prophet Abraham and his idolatrous father; the Prophet Lot and his immoral wife; and in the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), the story of many of his Companions (rta) who were pitted against a father, a mother, or even a son.

And We have enjoined on man goodness to his parents. But if they contend with thee to associate others with Me, of which you have no knowledge, obey them not. To Me is your return, so I will inform you of what you did (29:8).

The Islamic family is extended to include grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, and their progeny. These relationships are cemented by laws such as the law of dependence and the law of inheritance. By preserving the extended family, the natural and continuous link between generations is preserved, and the new generations learn about their culture and habits and the religion of Islam and its values with much more comfort and ease.

There is the likelihood of greater warmth and richness in a caring and sharing atmosphere, when members of the household act as companions and playmates to one another; thus it should be much easier to deal with many of the problems that life has to offer. Loneliness, egotism and individualism are thus banished.

The extended family also functions in different ways. Mothers can attend to duties outside the home, others can get on better with their vocational goals, whilst the children can be looked after by their grandparents. This mutual help can achieve beauty and harmony in the household. But, of course, this is not always possible because of individual weaknesses and pettiness and some unnatural behaviour.

Parents have the obligation to cherish and sustain their children, as well as to educate and train them. Even before a child is conceived, parental responsibilities begin. When a couple intend to marry and have children, their choice of each other may depend on wealth, or beauty, or lineage or even taqwa. The last choice of quality is the most important, says the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh). Parents’ responsibilities therefore begin with the wholesome beliefs, attitudes and good conduct of each partner in a marriage. A couple in their most intimate moments are advised by the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) to pray for offspring who are noble and righteous. Before and after conception, the mother in particular should ensure that her lifestyle is an Islamic one. Her physical state could affect the unborn foetus. She should ensure that no harmful drugs are taken and of course as a Muslim, she should abstain from drinking alcohol, smoking and taking hard drugs such as cocaine. In brief, she should provide a suitable, stable and welcoming environment for her child’s first home.

When the child is born, the mother’s role is of great importance, for she faces one of the most challenging responsibilities in life, particularly when the child is under the age of two years. For this is the time, according to the Quran, when the child is weaned, and when the mother has to give comfort and education. Pay no attention to those who insist that society must look after all children, who seek to abolish the family structure, and take all women into the field of public activity in the name of the liberation of women.

Here is a quotation from a book entitled Islam between East and West, by Alija Ali Izethgovic, a Yogoslav writer:

"Modern civilisation has disgraced motherhood in particular. It has preferred the calling of a salesgirl, model, teacher of other people’s children, secretary, cleaning woman and so on, to that of a mother. It has proclaimed motherhood to be slavery and promised to free woman from it. They remind us of artificial births and artificial deaths. Both are opposed to the family and are the result of the changed role of woman in human life. Their common feature is the elimination of parental relationships; in a nursery, children are without parents; in homes for the aged, parents are without children."

Of course, a father too has a great share in the process of tarbiyyat [upbringing] of the child. Tarbiyyat implies a certain sensitivity towards the child under his care, the emotional and physical needs and capacities of the child. It implies the ability to inspire confidence. It implies the courage to allow and promote creativity and innovation. It also means to trust and not to stifle, to be firm when needed and even to impose sanctions when necessary. The primary responsibility for this process of tarbiyyat rests with both parents. The crucial role of both parents in the formative years of the child’s education and development is emphasised by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) when he says:

"Every child is born in the natural state of goodness. It is his parents who make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian."

In the complex web of relationships fostered by Islam, not only parents, but grandparents, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers, teachers and neighbours, all have an important role in the nurturing of the new generations. As a grandparent, through experiences gained in life, one can derive from and provide great enjoyment to children, while giving much needed relief to parents under stress. On this point, one has a good example of the Holy Prophet in his care of his daughter, Fatimah, and his love and affection for Hassan and Hussain, his two grandchildren:

"A man named Al-Aqra ibn Habis paid a visit to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) and was surprised to see him playing with and kissing his two grandsons, Hassan and Hussain. Al-Aqra asked the Prophet: ‘Do you kiss your children?’ He then related that he had ten children and had never kissed even one of them. The Holy Prophet replied: ‘That shows you have no mercy and tenderness at all. Those who do not show mercy to others will not have God’s mercy shown on them’" Bukhari (Ch. 8).

It is very sad that many children are denied the benefits of not having a grandparent to cherish and dote on them. The trend towards nuclear families is a trend for the impoverishment of children. Allah says in the Holy Quran:

And thy Lord has decreed that you serve none but Him, and do good to parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not Fie to them, nor chide them and speak to them a generous word (17:23).

While parents are naturally loving and kind to children, children often disobey and disregard their parents. If is for this reason, and because of the enormous debt that children owe to their parents, that the Quran has made it compulsory on the child to treat his parents with total goodness and mercy. However, on the other hand, it has not placed a similar obligation on parents. It is thus a compulsory duty on every adult Muslim to show goodness and mercy and act righteously to his parents throughout their lives. This even applies to those parents who are not Muslims. Excluded are parents who promote shirk or ask children to associate anything with Allah; or ask them to commit any act which involves the disobedience of Allah and His laws. Only in such cases must children disobey their parents.

The duty of a child, however old, to parents is to show love and gratitude to them; to speak to them with kindness, to strive to please them and make them happy, and to look after their needs when they become old and cannot look after themselves. One of the benefits of being good and kind to parents is that goodness and kindness are passed on from one generation to the next. For the Holy Prophet said:

"Be kind and good to your parents and your children will be kind and good to you."

A person should be kind to his mother in particular, and show gratitude to her for all the agonies she experienced, and for nurturing him till he can cope on his own. This is why the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: "Paradise lies at the feet of mothers." A hadith by Abu Dawood says:

"Someone asked the Holy Prophet to whom he should show kindness. The prophet replied, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked who came next, and the Prophet replied again, ‘Your mother.’ Again, the question was asked and the same reply was given. He again asked who came next and then the reply was, ‘Your father, then your relatives in order of relationship.’"

We have seen how the family in Islam is welded together by ties of kinship. It is also held together and extended by marital ties and permitted relationships, but over and above this, is the enrichment of family life by positive attitudes through Islamic values and practices.

The Islamic values of faith, love, compassion, cleanliness and beauty all need to be nurtured in the home. Briefly, the ideal Muslim home would need to be:

1. Simple and not ostentatious, for the Holy Prophet said: "Eat, drink, give sadaqah (charity) and wear good clothes as long as these things do not involve excess and arrogance."

2. Clean, for the Noble Prophet said: "Cleanliness is part of faith."

3. Free from statues or revolting pieces of art, for the Holy Prophet said, "God is beautiful and loves beauty."

4. A place where there are the basic necessities of food and clothing; where meals are eaten together, and where there is hospitality and generosity.

5. A place where the greeting of Salaam (Peace) is heard at dawn and at night, and at times of going and coming.

6. A place where tenderness, love and mercy are the norm, for the Quran says: And we have made between you love and tenderness.

7. A place where the recitation of the Quran and the performance of salaat [prayers] is a daily occurrence, and where knowledge is imparted and pursued.

In conclusion, the Muslim family is not just a nuclear one consisting of husband, wife and children, but it is extended to include other relatives as well. As a Muslim, one is required to maintain a close and caring relationship with one’s relatives. According to the Holy Prophet, one is required to visit relatives, inquire about their circumstances, spend on them, and give them sadaqah (charity) if they so deserve.

Abu Talha (rta) was the richest man in Madina. He had groves of date palms and his favourite possession was an orchard called Bayr Hae, which was in the direction of the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), who often went there to drink its cool, fresh water. Anas (rta), a Companion of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), said that when the verse of the Holy Quran was revealed: You will not attain to righteousness until you spend in charity out of what you love, Abu Talha went to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and said: "Messenger of Allah, God has revealed to you this verse (which he recited). My best possession is my orchard. It is now sadaqah for the sake of Allah. I desire the righteousness that would come from giving it. Do with it whatever Allah shows you." The Holy Prophet replied: "What a lovely property! How fruitful and profitable! I heard what you said. I think you should give it to your relatives." Abu Talha obeyed the Prophet (pbuh) and thus divided up his property among his relatives and cousins.

From the above, one can see that the institution of the family is maintained by feelings of love and tenderness, by the Islamic laws of morality and decency and by practical measures of mutual assistance and support. Strong, stable and healthy family units provide the foundation for strong and stable communities and societies.

Thus, in Islam, obligations to family are not only social and moral responsibilities, but one stands accountable before Allah for not fulfilling them, as the following saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad puts it:

"Every one of you is a ruler and every one of you shall be questioned about those under his rule; the king is a ruler and he shall be questioned about his subjects; the man is a ruler in his family and he shall be questioned about those under his care; the woman is a ruler in the house of her husband and shall be questioned about those under her care; and the servant is a ruler so far as the property of his master is concerned, and he shall be questioned about that which is entrusted to him" (Bukhari 11:11).
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