The family is the most fundamental unit of society – it is the cornerstone and the foundational unit of the social, cultural and religious structure of our world. It is a divinely inspired and ordained institution that came into existence with the creation of man. The family unit is an important component of Islam, and all elements of a family are given due significance – from parents to children to spouses to kith and kin. A sound family can grow and flourish only if man, woman and children are bound in a solid relationship of love, care, compassion and kindness, which has far-reaching results, bringing progress, prosperity and tranquility in the society.
To raise righteous, happy and protected families there are three Qur’anic principles: tazkiyah (spiritual development), tarbiyah (moral and educational development), and tanmiyah (physical and economic development). These are essential requirements for ensuring a truly successful family.
Marriage is a sacred social contract between a man and a woman. Like all great religions, Islam also emphasizes the institution of marriage. God says in the Holy Quran: “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (30:21) Marriage in Islam is considered to be “half of faith,” as related in a famous tradition of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
There are Qur’anic commandments as well that require Muslims to be mindful about their marital responsibilities and obligations. The Islamic prescription for success in married life is based on taqwa (fear and consciousness of Allah) which is the basis of all aspects of Islamic life. This is why Surah an-Nisa, which gives many commands regarding rights and responsibilities of spouses, begins with repeated reminders of taqwa.
Critics may say that many domestic problems in Muslim families today are similar to the problems in Europe and the U.S. Acknowledging it to be true should not lead us to ignore the fundamental difference between the two. The problems in secular societies are a result of the value system adopted by them; those in Muslim homes result from deviating from God-given values and injunctions. One is suffering by taking the wrong medicine, the other failing to take the right one.
In order to prevent the increasing breakdown of Muslim marriages, counseling must be adopted as the very first priority within every community. We should teach our young men and women in the community what it means to be a good husband or wife. Our masajid, Islamic community centers and national Islamic organizations must arrange premarital and marriage counseling on a regular basis. Healthy marriages should be part of a curriculum within our youth programs, conferences, and seminars as well as part of our adult programs in our masajid and in our Jumuah khutbahs.
Secondly, our community needs to take a strong stand against abusive spouses. Sadly, violence against women is a reality in our society and it must be addressed collectively by our community members. We must respond to all complaints or reports of abuse as genuine and we must take appropriate and immediate action to ensure the victim’s safety, as well as the security of any children that may be involved. Women who seek divorce from their spouses because of physical abuse should get full support from the community and should not be viewed as someone who has brought shame to herself or her family. In addition, we should not make it easy for people who have a previous history of abuse to remarry if they have already victimized someone. Further, we should support people who work against domestic violence in our community, whether they are educators, social service providers, community leaders, or other professionals. Through these measures, we will send a strong message that domestic violence, under no circumstances, will not be tolerated.
Thirdly, parents and children must mutually work toward having open communication in order to diminish the generation gap which naturally arises. In order to successfully implement this, the spouses must first be in harmony and agreement; for this, it is necessary for the two of them to work in partnership and reinforce one another, instead of giving mixed signals to their children. Parents must express their love for their children, respect their feelings and opinions and recognize their need for self-esteem, especially among their friends. They must treat all their children, whether boys or girls, equally. All respect is reciprocal. Children love and respect those parents who love and respect them. Also, if we respect our parents, then our children will respect us.
Fourthly, the mosque must take up the responsibility to keep our youth busy with positive and stimulating activities. Attractive alternatives must be provided to the youth so that they prefer worthwhile activities such as community service, sports, and Islamic study circles over “hanging out” at the mall/pizzeria, free mixing with members of the opposite gender, and being at risk for indulging in drinking, drugs and sexual immorality. Counseling for the youth, when necessary, must be an available option too.
Lastly, all efforts should be made from the community as well as the media that a sustained focus on family is emphasized – one which tries to provide stability, serenity, and support to families in general. In this vein, support groups within communities will go a long way as well. Indeed, a healthy family helps build a healthy society. This is not just a slogan – it is part of our collective wisdom. Yet, in the face of growing social evils and challenges to the institution of family, we must proactively and consistently work together to convert this inherent belief into a reality.