What is the concept of family in Islam?
What is the concept of family in Islam?
The lexical meaning of the Arabic word ‘usra’ [family] is derived from the words denoting unity, closeness and protection. The word refers to a group of people connected together through close ties that keep them together and maintain their unity. Families vary with the variation of the ties that hold them together. For instance, what connects a hospital family is caring for the sick, what connects an educational family is the pursuit of knowledge, what connects a clan is kinship and tribalism, and what connects the international family is the constant effort to achieve international interests and fend off any conflicts. The Islamic concept of the family is a group that emerges from the unison of man and woman through a marriage contract and the children that are born from it. This is why we say that a person who gets married is a free man whose freedom is hindered by a wife, children and by the consequent duties and responsibilities. He is no longer a free bachelor.
Members of the Muslim family are interconnected in many ways. The marriage contract that binds husband and wife is called by God the Almighty, “…a solemn covenant…” [4:21]. This marriage contract might or might not be enriched with ties of love and compassion between the couple to bring them even closer together. Then comes the tie that connects parents to their offspring.
The status of the family in Islam
The importance of the family stems from its significant role, namely the making of an individual who benefits himself and others. This calls for a much longer, deeper and harder period of training. Preparing yourself only to care for yourself is not like preparing yourself to care for both yourself and others. Raising minds is definitely different from raising livestock—you need more training and experience. Islam attaches great importance to the family for many reasons, most important of which are:
1- The family gives rise to and provides a fertile ground for sound individuals. Within the family, children are nurtured by their parents who give them the love and tenderness they need. This phase can last more than fifteen years. As infants, parents give their children the most tender love and care; as children and adolescents, they instill in them principles, feelings, and beliefs; and as youths they guide them until they reach maturity. This mission equips children with the necessary knowledge to protect them from sins, hence setting them apart from beasts and animals who do not know their purpose in life.
2- The family is the basic building block of a larger society which itself is formed from the total sum of all the families put together. Accordingly, society needs to provide its members with care. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) instructed us to be careful when choosing a spouse since children take after their parents. Siblings in the same family need to receive the same care and education properly to play an effective role in reforming society and eliminate injustices.
3- The family shapes individuals, both men and women, and builds values nourished by guidance, support, encouragement, and so forth.
4- Because of the gravity of the responsibility entrusted to man, the greater his mission, the more thorough his training should be. For this reason Islam extends the guardianship over a person until he reaches adulthood and maybe even beyond in certain matters. University students could extend their training period to twenty years or more so they can emerge as positive members in their society, having the capacity to lead and influence. It is for these reasons that Islam places ultimate importance on the family. This is manifest in:
• A whole chapter “Al-Talaq” [Divorce] was revealed in the Quran addressing family affairs.
• Many verses in the Quran comprise family-related provisions.
• The Quranic chapter “Al-Mujadalah” [The Dispute] comprises instantaneous solutions to family problems.
• Prophetic guidelines encouraging the formation of families. Addressing the youth, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry, should do so, and whoever is not able to marry, is to fast because fasting diminishes sexual desire” [Al-Bukhari].
• The sound manner for forming a family starting with the marriage proposal, seeing a prospective wife, the marriage contract and so forth.
• Explaining the rights and duties of every family member. This is expressed in the Quranic verse: “Divorced women should wait for three menstrual cycles; it is unlawful for them, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day, to hide what Allah has created in their wombs. Their husbands have the right to take them back within that time, if they desire to be reconciled. The wives have rights corresponding to those which the husbands have, according to what is recognized to be fair, but men have a rank above them. Allah is almighty and all wise” [2: 228].
• Maintaining family coherence. God the Almighty says: the Quranic verses: “Believers, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will, nor should you detain them wrongfully, so that you may take away a part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of something clearly outrageous. Live with them in accordance with what is fair and kind; if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something which Allah might make a source of abundant good” [4: 19]. Even divorce should be conducted ethically. God the Almighty says: “Divorce may be pronounced twice, and then a woman must be retained honorably or released with kindness…” [2: 229].
• Managing family conflicts by following the divine teachings that require the couple to exercise patience. Furthermore, a husband is instructed to follow certain steps to reform a disobedient wife. First, he is to admonish her. If this does not work, he keeps from sleeping with her. This measure, if unsuccessful, is followed by beating her lightly without causing her any physical pain. A couple should also seek the arbitration of trusted family members to resolve a conflict. If all else fails, a non-final divorce, made once and twice, may follow. Sometimes, the only solution may be a final irrevocable divorce. God says: “Men are protectors of women, because Allah has made some of them excel others and because they spend their wealth on them. So virtuous women are obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As for those from whom you apprehend infidelity, admonish them, then refuse to share their beds, and finally hit them [lightly]. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. For Allah is High, Great. If you fear any breach between a man and his wife, appoint one arbiter from his family and one arbiter from her family. If they both want to set things right, God will bring about a reconciliation between them: He is all knowing and all aware” [4:34-35].
• Clarifying the objectives of the family which I will explain in the following section.
The legal objectives of the Muslim family
1- It satisfies man’s innate need for sex. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry, should do so, and whoever is not able to marry, is to fast because fasting diminishes sexual desire” [Al-Bukhari].
2- It completes one’s religion, because this is how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) defined marriage. He said: “He who marries has completed half his religion, so let him fear God with regard to the remaining half.”
3- Provides the community with sound offspring. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Marry the loving, child-bearing women for I shall have the largest numbers [of followers] among the prophets on the day of Resurrection” [recorded by Imam Ahmad]. So seeking to have sound children is one of the fundamental objectives of marriage. This is why many people get worried when pregnancy is delayed and seek professional help from doctors. Prophet Zachariah prayed to God the Almighty for a child, saying: “Do not leave me heirless Lord, You are the best of heirs” [21: 89], and “Lord, grant me by Your own grace virtuous offspring. You are the hearer of all prayers” [3: 38]. So the purpose of having a family is to have “righteous” offspring not just any offspring. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) confirms this in his words: “Choose well for your children and seek to marry the competent.”
4- Raise competent individuals to help build society through knowledge, work, promoting virtue and forbidding vice.
5- Establish model families to which others can look up to and emulate—families that follow the Prophetic guidance and prove that Islamic teachings are not hard to achieve but rather a tangible reality with real living examples. This is by far the ultimate goal of any family as expressed in the invocation: “And those who say, ‘Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous” [25: 74].
6- Producing healthy children who will help their parents in their old age and pray for them after their death. This is why Zachariah called upon God the Almighty saying: “Now I fear my kinsmen when I am gone. [I have no hope of their continuing my mission] for my wife is barren, so grant me a successor from Yourself, to be my heir and to be the heir [of the blessings] of the House of Jacob; and make him, O my Lord, acceptable to you” [19 :5-6]. The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon you] also said: “When a human being dies, his work comes to an end, except for three things: ongoing charity, knowledge (by which people) benefit from, or a pious son who prays for him” [recorded by Muslim].