Family Life in Islam
The late Imam Apha-Him Jobe served on the ICNA National Shura. He was widely known across Muslim communities in North America for his taqwa, humility, knowledge, and wisdom. Born in Gambia, he was educated at Ummul Qura University in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He passed away in a car accident in 1997 on his way to an ICNA Educational Retreat in Atlanta, GA.
Actively aiding Muslim communities and Islamic organizations across the continent, his works will continue to inspire generations of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, InshaAllah. May Allah grant him Paradise. Ameen.
The topic of this article is Nizam-ul-Qusra-fil-Islam, which means “family life in Islam”. Let us picture a triangle with the husband at the highest point of the triangle, the wife and children on the other two points. This triangle is a very important triangle in life that consists of three members in one home. The origin of the family goes back to the beginning of the creation of Adam (pbuh). Adam, the father of the human family, and his wife Howa were the first family. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Nisa, “O mankind, be mindful of your duty to your Lord, who created you from a single soul and from that soul, he created its companion and from the tooth he created countless men and women” (Al-Quran, 4:1). Allah is explaining to us the process of creation with Himself being the only one who supervises that process.
We as Muslims have to be careful of how to maintain family life because, without the family, we cannot establish our social life. Family is the fundamental unit of our social life, which is founded on principals drawn by Shariah.
Family has many functions to perform in the life of individuals and in society. Family is not only for the purpose of procreation, but has objectives for preservation and continuation of the human race as well. Procreation must have an established structure to come into operation, but if we do not establish the structure, we are going to have chaos in the operation. To operate the family, men and women and children are all in need of a permanent and lasting institution in order to fulfill their duties. To fulfill these duties, we need an institution called a home, or manzil, where one can dwell in relaxation, calmness, and security, and with this home, we need a leader to help establish family life.
The leader of the household is the man in the family. A man has to be a husband before he introduces himself as the leader of the house. At the top of the triangle, he must have a companion, so in search for a companion, he must descend the hill. His coming down is a noted gesture or signal of harmlessness, because he has reached out to look for his mate. He cannot live life up there in isolation and arrogance.
A man also must be a husband before he can become a father. He is the father who is appointed by Allah (SWT) to be the protector and maintainer of the family. Allah (SWT) says in Al-Quran in Surah 2, ayah 24 that men are the protectors and maintainers of women. However, a man must have high character to be the protector, security guard, and maintainer of the family. He has to acquire the characteristics of a “Qauwaam”, which signifies a person who takes the responsibility of safeguarding the interest of all people. “Qauwaam” is not just being the husband, but it is taking responsibility for safeguarding the entire family.
Man, who is at the top of the triangle, has a duty to build the house that will be the center of family life. Men have to build the institution, which includes not just the physical structure, but the relationships and psycho-emotional stability of the family. Other important parts of the building are kindness and love. If there is no love, there is no family, because love is the root of sincerity. It is not enough to just love oneself, but a person has to share love by loving Allah and loving everyone for Allah. The Prophet (pbuh) said if you love, love for Allah; if you hate, hate for Allah. Then hate, love, kindness, and psycho-emotional stability must be established for Allah in the family as a firm, stable family building. An issue with stability is that we are living in a period of cultural crisis where one can see community life today founded on race, birth, tribe, and geography. But, if we check Al-Islam, community life is based on the unity of purpose, not based on color or race. These are three fundamental bases: Unity of Purpose, Love, and Faith. So, it is important to love faith, because race, language, and place of birth are rational in nature, but not a fundamental base for the building of a family.
The role of the woman in the family is extremely important, because a good wife is considered to be the best blessing one can ever achieve in this life. Allah (SWT) is the only one who can stand by Himself; all of us, however, are in need of a companion. If the man and woman stay in their corners of the triangle, then they remain incomplete. But to complete the self, they have to come together in marriage where one half has a connection with the other half.
The Prophet (pbuh) made women integral to his plan for Islamic education. He declared that seeking knowledge is an important duty of every Muslim male and female. Ayesha (R) used to praise the women of the Ansaar for not shying away from learning and comprehending the deen. Women need to take on that position to learn the deen because they are the mothers of the Ummah.
Women at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) had become so keen to acquire more knowledge that they came to him and said, “O Messenger of Allah, you are always surrounded by men, and we cannot reach you.” They asked the Prophet (pbuh) to appoint a day for them to learn from him. Not only did he do that, but he sent some representatives to go to the women to teach them like Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and Ubaid-ul-Muqam (R).
Women must realize that they are the root of the family. If they have educational and social skills, then they are the strongest root and have prepared themselves well to impart this knowledge to their children. They will be able to see the fruits of their striving reflecting in their children and in the entire family. Calmness, love, tenderness is in their hands, yet it is their responsibility to be the managers of the home. When the management is in their hands, they have to learn more about how to build the family. If you have a manager who cannot manage, the whole operation can fail. This is why it is important for women to continue to learn how to manage and build the family with their partners.
Why is Marriage Important?
A good and sound community can only grow if a man and woman are bonded in a soul relationship through the sacred contract called marriage. Marriage is a social institution as old as the human race itself. Allah (SWT) is the founder of the family, and Adam and Howa were members of the first family structured by Allah (SWT). He created Howa from Adam, which indicates that there is no superiority or inferiority in the family. As soon as a man comes into marriage, his entire life depends on that decision to step down to take responsibility. Some men do not assume responsibility after marriage and continue to live their lives in isolation at the top. This non-family-oriented behavior results in abuse in families. Therefore, taking on the role of a husband with a companion is vital to the success of the human race.
The Prophet (pbuh) warned us and said that a man can marry a woman for her wealth, novelty, family, or religious quality. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Blessed and fortunate is he who chooses his wife for religious qualities.” Religion—piety and God-consciousness—is the jewel to look for in a potential spouse. The reason that this is so is because religion is the focus of the marriage. Husband and wife must observe the cardinal purpose of their union, which is “Ibadathulla-hi-Subhanathullah”—marriage is an “Ibadah”, and the love and enjoyment in marriage is an “Ibadah”.
Besides Ibadah, what is marriage? Marriage is righteousness, kindness, consideration, good manners, and generosity. Generosity means spending on family members. It is important to give, but not to count how much one gives. Marriage is also about dignity, honor, and respect, which includes self-respect as well as respecting others. There is no superiority or inferiority in marriage, but, instead, there is equality, justice, love, integrity, patience, courage, and modesty.
Marriage is not about individuals, but it is about the entire home. It even goes beyond the home, by being an important social institution. Marriage perfects the human personality for the individual as well as society, and it secures happiness with prosperity for the individual as well as the society as a whole.
Foundations of a Marriage
Marriage is a very serious commitment based on the first quality we will discuss, honorable intention. One cannot marry periodically or temporarily, but must have the intention of marrying forever. Marrying someone for a short time, which is called “Mutah”, is not acceptable in Islam. When the parties enter into a marital contract, the intention must be clear to make the union permanent.
Now, the second quality that a marriage is based on is fair knowledge of each other. It is important to have a basic understanding of one another and not to marry based on a picture or through the telephone. We cannot trust the voice or expressions, but must sit with this sister or brother to get to know him/her (obviously through Islamic means with appropriate chaperones present). This will allow the person to demonstrate his/her internal self, and of course all of this must be done within the Islamic context.
The third quality a marriage is based on is compatibility. A husband and wife have to make sure that they have some kind of closeness in attitudes, and being flexible for each other is important. Compatibility on major things is necessary. This will become easier when they have love for each other, and then they will be able to adjust themselves to live together in tranquility. If you put the husband and wife together, but they do not have compatibility, then it will cause damage in the family; therefore, it is vital to find a companion with that compatibility.
The fourth basis for a marriage is a reasonable dowry. There is no marriage without a dowry. There are many situations about dowry during the time of the Prophet (pbuh). One situation that is brought up often is when a woman came to the Prophet (pbuh) and wanted to get married. She asked Rasulallah to marry her, and he was quiet. Then a man said, “Yaa Rasulallah, if you don’t to want to marry her, I want to marry her.” The Prophet asked the woman if she would marry him, and she said yes. Then, the Prophet asked the man what he had to give to her. He had nothing. Prophet (pbuh) asked him to recite a portion from Quran, and then married them based on ilm, and the recitation was her dowry. This Hadith is Sahih, but the Hadith is not a standard. We should examine the dowries of Aisha, Fatimah and others around the Prophet (pbuh) and use those as standards. If the sisters believe in Allah (SWT) and follow Him, then they deserve to have the highest dowry in the world. But, it must be a reasonable dowry.
The last basis for a marriage is good will. Every man and woman must marry with good will, ability, capability, and strength. So, these are the five fundamental basics to a marriage commitment that must be established for the marriage to be successful.
Rights and Obligations Parents
Now, let us move on to the rights and obligations of each member of a family. Allah addresses the rights of parents in the Quran. Allah says, “Your Lord has decreed that you worship no one but him and that you be kind to parents” (Al-Quran, 17:23). Here, Allah (SWT) says to be considerate, kind, and loving to one’s parents.
Then, He says “whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt.” Allah says to be kind to them, and, in addition to this, to not use harshness by using words of contempt, which includes body language. Sometimes people do not talk, but their body language is communicating a particular message. For example, when a mother requests something from her son or daughter, it is important for the child not to roll his/her eyes or to refuse to get up, but to be prompt in fulfilling this request.
“And address them in terms of honor…” This means that we have to address our parents in terms of respect. We cannot address our father and mother by raising our voices even if we are upset or if they are wrong about something. We must address them in terms of kindness and to use very pleasant language as well.
“Lower to them the wings of humility” means to be humble towards them. Lowering the wings of humility can be humbleness and help as well, just like the birds lowering their wings to cover their babies. We have to do the same thing and demonstrate like the birds that are lowering their wings to cover the babies when the weather is cold. When the situation is difficult, it is important for us to cover our parents, support them with kindness, and not to feel proud of supporting them. Lowering the wings means to listen to them when they are talking and to lower our voices.
Making dua for our parents is, no doubt, a duty that we have, and the best dua is to say “My Lord, give my parents mercy as they cherished me in childhood.” This is the dua Allah (SWT) has chosen for children to say for their parents. When the parent was strong and the child was helpless, parents were giving up a lot of time, energy, and money. All of their life is about their children and how to raise them. Therefore, as children, we must constantly make dua for them.
The Prophet (pbuh) said that you and your wealth belong to your parents. It is not about if we want to help them, but we have to. Even if they have the money, we still must be there for them. The Prophet (pbuh) said to one companion who asked him, “Who deserves my companionship more than anyone else?” The Prophet replied, “Your mother deserves your companionship more than anyone else.” In addition, we must remember the famous hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) when he said, “Your mother” and was asked, “Who else?” He said, “Your mother” and was asked, “Then who?” He said, “Your mother”. When he was asked the same question again, he said, “Then your father.” Even with the father, he said “then”, and did not say “and” your father. The conjunction is different. The conjunction of “and” is parallel, but “then” is after the effect: then your father. This places the mother before the father three times.
The Prophet (pbuh) was asked, “What are the greatest sins in life?” He said, “To associate anything or anyone with Allah is one of the greatest sins in the world. The second one is to boycott your mother.” It is important to respect one’s mother whether she is kafir or Muslim. A part of respect is sitting with her and listening to her stories, because a person’s mother is the one who can tell him/her of the first moments of his/her life.
Now, let us discuss the rights of children. The first right of a child is to have a good mother. So, for men, it is important to remember that marriage is not just to obtain a companion, but to earn a mother for their children. Choosing a good person as a wife will benefit the child. The second right is for the child to live life, which makes abortion haram. In the stage of procreation, no matter if it is within 40 days, it is abortion because it is cutting the process of life. Allah says in the Quran that when Allah seals the egg in the womb with the sperm to fertilize it, that is the beginning of the process of life.
Another right that children have is the right to be given a meaningful, beautiful name. Also, circumcision is the right of the male child, because it is part of cleanliness. Companionship is among the rights of children as well—it is important not to isolate children, but to play with them instead and to answer any questions that they may ask. The next right that a child has is to an education, which is the most important aspect of human society.
The last right of the child to be discussed is their right to be disciplined. The children may not want to be disciplined, but it is their right. It is essential not to confuse punishing and disciplining. Punishment is the attitude of mothers long ago when humans could not talk, so they would beat their children. That is why, when a mother abuses her children, she has failed because she has not expressed herself properly. This kind of punishment is not part of the Islamic raising of children. Discipline, the correct form of rearing children, is part of education; to discipline is to educate and to tell the child what is right and what is wrong.
Recall in mind that marriage is a decent human companionship authorized by Allah (SWT), so we must turn to Him for guidance. Allah (SWT) says, “O you humankind, fear your Lord, and be mindful for your duty towards your Lord” (Al-Quran, 4:1). Allah (SWT) says “Itaqullah”, meaning “Fear Allah”. This is the main fundamental principle in marriage and family life—to fear Allah alone and live life based on this beautiful quality of taqwa.
About the author
Sh. Alpha-Him Jobe was Imam of ICNA Headquarters. May Allah (SWT) grant him in Jannah (ameen)