The Role of the Family in Muslim Society
The Role of the Family in Muslim Society

Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro:

The Role of the Family in Muslim Society

Istanbul, Turkey
June 1991

The family is the primary unit of the community, the initial cell at the institutional level, and the essential bridge upon which the former generations of the native land cross to give birth to future generations.
In truth, the family is the fundamental social unit through which the new born child is first introduced to the world outside its mother's womb. As a consequence of this protected environment the child learns the fundamentals of his language, values, norms of behavior, habits, psychological and social leniencies as well as many factors of his character.

In short, the basic family unit is an environment of cooperation between a man and a woman and the domain of the child's earliest upbringing.

The family, according to the Islamic concepts, is not a mere means of satisfying animal instincts, nor is a family's home merely an abode for sleep. In fact, it represents an educational environment both for spiritual sublimation and intellectual development. It is a place where there is mutual noble sentiments particularly between husband and wife and among the members of the family in general.

The family in Islam is built upon a holy bond and a mutual contract of tranquillity, love and kindness between two hearts. The Quran says:

By another sign He gave you wives from among yourselves, that you might find rest in them, and planted love and kindness in your hearts. Surely there are signs in this for thinking men. T. Q., Sura 30, The Roman Empire, verse 21.

Muhammad has said: He who marries preserves one half of his religious commandments, so he must fear Allah regarding the other half. So, He who marries... means he who establishes a family and administers its affairs appropriately fulfills one half of Islam's commandment's, for he is then in charge of an institution which is the cornerstone of a blissful and social structure.

The linguistic significance of the word family:

If we look up the word family in various lexicons, we find it defined as being the invulnerable coat of armor or the secure shield. It also means one's clan and closest kin, because one finds protection and fortification with them. Conventionally, a family is a combination of people tied and bound together by means of kinship or an intimate relationship, such as a father, mother, and child.

In order to facilitate discussing the role of the family in Islam, we can divide it into three main divisions:

1- The primary or initial family. It is the basic unit and is made up of husband, wife, children, and relations of both or either one of the two spouses.
2- The intermediate family. This is more comprehensive than the first, for it covers the whole territory and homeland. It may be called the national family.
3- The human family. This is by far the most extensive family and represents, or rather includes, all of mankind on the earth.

Thus, by virtue of these definitions, the role of the family in Islam can be seen as having an important connection with all of the sectors mentioned above.

The Primary Family
Its rise, and the roles, functions and relationships among its members, their rights and duties, are critical to building a stable society.

The family comes into existence as a consequence of a legal marriage, which is one of Allah's sanctioned traditions in creation and formation. It is a common and regular practice to all human creatures. Allah says:

O mankind, revere your Guardian Lord, who created you from a single Person, created of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. T. Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 1.

It has been Allah's will and decree that the family is based upon the relationship between a man and a woman. It is founded on their mutual consent [offering and acceptance denote this consent] to belong to each other, thereby restricting the instinct to seek other unsound and illicit relationships, so that the progeny may be protected and women safeguarded against being regarded as public property, or a burden upon society.

Role and Functions:

1. Protection and sustaining of the human race: It is through family life that human offspring are perpetuated by multiplication till the end of this earthly life. The Quran says:

Allah has given you wives from among yourselves, and through them He has granted you sons and grandsons. T.Q., Sura 16, The Bee, verse 72.

2. Safeguarding lineage and descent: A well-grounded family consists of members that take pride in descent from their forefathers and ancestors. One cannot ignore the psychological and personal significance which this sort of family linkage implies: it endows man with dignity and pride.

3. Freedom and intactness of society from immorality: The social structure is intact only when the proper way for building the family is followed, otherwise nations are afflicted with social decay and moral degeneration. For this precaution Islam has ordained that families must be the result of legal marriage in order to keep people secure, and to insure good morals and virtuous manners. Muhammad says: O young people, those of you who can marry let them do so for this causes abstinence and continence but those who cannot should go on fasting, which makes them refrain and it safeguards them.

4. Keeping the community secure against disease: A Muslim family is a source of bounty, chastity and cleanliness. For this reason the percentage of sexual infections in Muslim communities are low compared to other communities, where family life is unstable as a result of indiscriminate and illicit intercourse between males and females. The AIDS disease emphasizes the importance and necessity of the family being founded on moral decency and a monogamous relationship, with its restricted intercourse and the lack of intermingling between the two sexes.

5. Spiritual and Psychological ease and tranquility: The family is the origin out of which all love, kindness and intimate familiarity springs between the spouses, their children and other family members. Any civilization that is expected to survive must be built upon love, balance and bounty. Moreover, psychological and spiritual peace of mind and calm impels parents to do their best looking after and taking good care of their children.

6. The family is a cooperative institution: The two spouses collaborate and share responsibilities, each of them in his or her own special capacity and sphere. Consequently, children are imbued with cooperative trends and altruistic intentions.

Islam splendidly urges the building of families and marriage. Muhammad says: Marry and take wives for this increases your means of living. Al-Tussi.

The relationships that rule family members:

1. The husband's rights incumbent upon his wife.
2. The wife's rights incumbent upon her husband.
3. The rights of children upon their parents.
4. The rights of parents upon their children.
5. The rights of kin and relatives.

First: The rights of husbands:

Allah says:
Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the others, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them, therefore good women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (husband's absence) what God would have them guard. T. Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 34.

As to the prophetic traditions we cite the following:

a. Ummu-Salamah (God bless her) relates that Muhammad has said: Any woman with whom her husband is pleased shall go to paradise when she dies.

b. Al-Tabarani relates that the Prophet has said: The duties that a woman must do for the sake of her husband are: not to forsake his bed, to help him keep his oath, to obey his bidding, not to go out except after getting his permission, and not to admit a person whom he dislikes into his home.
c. He also says: The angels will execrate or damn the woman who forsakes her husband's bed all night long till she wakes up.

Secondly: The wife's rights:

Allah says: Women shall with justice have rights similar to those exercised against them. T. Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 228.

a. Muhammad says: Women are men's sisters (equal to them).
b. He also says: Only gracious people treat women with deference but vile people humiliate them.
c. When Muawiyah Ibn Siyadah asked Muhammad what rights one's woman must enjoy, he replied: To give her to eat when you eat, to buy her clothing when you get new clothes, not to hit her face, nor to call her bad names, nor to forsake her save when at home.

Thirdly: The rights of children:

Allah has thus enjoined you concerning your children... T. Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 11.

You shall not kill your children for fear of want. We will provide for them and for you. To kill them is a great sin. T. Q., Sura 17, The Children of Israel, verse 31.

Our prophet says:
1. Be affectionate to children and have pity on them. Fulfill your promises to them for they see that only you provide for their maintenance.
2. He, whoever has a boy, should behave like a child when treating, or dealing with him.
3. Look after your children and let their manners be good.
4. Fear Allah and treat your children with justice.
5. Give to children equally; if I should prefer someone of them I would rather the females.
6. Whoever is not kind to our children or does not give honor to our elders does not belong to our community.
7. Whosoever supplies three girls (daughters) or three sisters with sustenance it becomes incumbent upon Allah to enter him in His paradise.

8. A certain man asked Muhammad: What rights does this son of mine have? He answered: Choose him a good name, teach him good manners and establish for him a proper position in life.

Fourth: Rights of parents:

Allah says: Your Lord has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age in your presence, show them no sign of impatience, nor rebuke them; but speak to them kind words. Treat them with humility and tenderness and say: My Lord, be merciful to them. They nursed me when I was an infant. T. Q., Sura 17, The Children of Israel, verse 23. Allah says: Your Lord has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age in your presence, show them no sign of impatience, nor rebuke them; but speak to them kind words. Treat them with humility and tenderness and say: My Lord, be merciful to them. They nursed me when I was an infant. T. Q., Sura 17, The Children of Israel, verse 23.

a. When Muhammad was asked for his appreciation of parents he answered: They are one's paradise or hell.
b. He also taught: The Lord's pleasure results from theirs, and His wrath is the outcome of theirs.
c. When Muhammad was consulted how one could be dutiful to his parents after their death he replied: To exhort Allah in blessing them and for giving them His pardon; fulfillment of their promises thereafter; conferring favors or affection upon their relatives, and being beneficent and kindly to their friends.

Fifth: Rights of kin and relatives:

Kin are those who are related to us or our relatives, like brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, and cousins (paternal and maternal). Kinship among people is like the string, or thread, that links the separate beads to make one necklace having one name, one lineage and one heritage. This necklace is the family which gives rise to the formation of the nation which is the second most extensive family. When family members are closely connected, kindred spirits with mutual sympathies, and have the similar feelings regarding their needs, it results in the unification of the nation, its consolidation, and coherence. The interests of the individual are those of the whole community and vice versa. If charitable deeds are desirable among people in general, by virtue of the common right of being human and among faithful believers in particular, by virtue of their religious fraternity, then charity practiced among kin and relatives is more desirable and necessary, for this relationship has been greatly emphasized in Holy commandments and in the traditions of the Prophet.

Allah says:

... according to the book of Allah those who are bound by ties of blood are nearest to one another. T. Q., Sura 8, The Spoils of War, verse 75.

Muhammad said the following:

a. By Allah who has sent me forward He does not accept the alms of someone that spends on others while he has relatives in need of his alms. By Allah, He will be displeased with him on the Day of Judgment.
b. One's kin or clan (are attached) to Allah's Throne saying: Allah, bless him who observes rights of kinship and sever him who severs the bonds of kinship. b. One's kin or clan (are attached) to Allah's Throne saying: Allah, bless him who observes rights of kinship and sever him who severs the bonds of kinship.
c. He, whoever likes to be better off and to have a longer life should look after his kin.
d. Dutifulness and observing the rules of consanguinity have the quickest recompense of goodness, but injustice and breaking with one's relatives receive the quickest penalty of evil.
e. A severer of the bonds of kinship never enters into paradise.

Rules of how to behave with justice in a situation of family disruption:

As we have seen, the family is an institution that may be prone to suffer from quarrels from time to time between husband and wife. It may be that one party or both are to blame. Such discord between the two spouses may lead to separation or divorce. When it is anticipated that the conflict may lead to such an end, a judge may be called to intervene. This magistrate may appoint two arbitrators to try to reconcile the spouses. However, in such an instance, the following steps should be taken before the a magistrate is brought in:

1. Admonition: The husband warns his wife that she must stop her errant behavior, for the sake of the family's best interests. If this proves fruitless, he may proceed to the next step.
2. Dissociation: This means abstinence from sexual contact, although both parties sleep in one bed. In this situation the husband sleeps with his back turned to his wife. However, he should continue to maintain all other normal relations outside the marriage bed. If this second measure does not work, he may resort to the third step, which is beating.
3. Beating: This is similar to what is termed today as a sharply-worded protest. So, what sort of beating is this? Prophet Muhammad says: Damned is he who strikes the face. He also says: Do not beat her on the face; do not use foul-language and do not forsake her except in bed. What is the instrument used in beating? Ibn Abbass says: (If a man decides to reprimand his wife) he may hit her with a small stick used for cleaning the teeth. This is similar to a tooth-brush. The beating should not be painful or violent. This practice is strictly for the purpose of more strongly cautioning the wife to change her behavior and get well again, so that stability and harmony may return to family life.

As to those women you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience seek not against them means (of annoyance). For Allah is Most High, Supreme. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 34.

When these three steps are of no avail, the judge sends two arbitrators to examine the case and work out a solution in the best interests of the family. Allah says:

If you fear a breach between a man and his wife, appoint an arbiter from his people and another from hers. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 35.

The two arbiters must be mature and experienced in such matters, well-known for their fairness and strong in their faith. It is not necessary that they must be chosen from among the families of the two spouses; that instruction is a recommendation only. The arbiters should for what is in the best interests of the marriage. They may, however, advise an end to the marriage.
4. Divorce: This means the severing of marriage ties, thus bringing the marital status to an end. It is contrary to what some people may take it to be: divorce is the most detested of all that is permissible and legitimate in Allah's sight, because a stable marital life of a family is a highly cherished and precious institution in Islam. The bond of marriage is made to be enduring till death, so that spouses may be able to make their home a happy place in which to provide a good upbringing for their children. It is for this reason that the relationship between husband and wife is sacred and must be secure. Allah calls this relationship a firm contract.

... for how can you take it back when you have lain with each other and entered into a firm contract? T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 21.
In this connection Muhammad says the following:

a. In Allah's sight the most detested legitimate practice is divorce.
b. Women may be divorced because of suspicious distrust. Allah does not like sexual epicures.
c. Any woman that asks her husband to divorce her when there is no harm shall never go into Paradise.

d. Get married and do not divorce for divorce shakes the Compassionate One's Throne.

If the husband then insists on divorce, he should observe the following Islamic rules:

1. He should not divorce his wife during her monthly period.
2. It should be when the period is over.
3. He should not have sexual intercourse with her after the period, otherwise he should wait for another period to come and be over.
4. He should not be angry or exasperated at the time he declares his divorce to her.
5. It should be made before two reliable witnesses.
6. The wife has to stay in her husband's house for three months after the declaration of divorce. However, if she is pregnant, this period of stay must be extended until she has given birth.
7. He should divorce her by uttering the word of divorce once.

The tragic circumstance of divorce must follow three stages of procedure, which is illustrated by Allah in the Quran:

Divorce may be pronounced twice, and then the woman must be retained in honor or allowed to go with kindness. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 229.

This going with kindness is considered the third declaration, which terminates marriage totally and perpetually. Then, there are certain obligations which must be fulfilled after the three acts of divorce have taken place. Allah says:

Reasonable Provision should also be made for divorced women. This is incumbent on righteous men. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 241.

This provision is estimated as half the dowry given her at the marriage contract. Added to that is what Abu Hanifa says: A divorced woman has the right to be provided with lodging and the husband must also bear the cost of her maintenance for she must spend the waiting period at their home. This cost of maintenance is regarded to be a debt to be paid by the husband to the wife as from the day of divorce. This debt needs no mutual consent or a judge's verdict, nor does it [end], or is forfeited, except by payment or remission (release).

On the other hand, if a woman believes her husband is derelict in his marital duties, by neglecting, oppressing, or maltreating her, she has the right to sue him before a judge, who will admonish him to desist. If the husband, however, does not give way or respond, the judge will give a verdict compelling the husband to pay his wife the cost of maintenance and permit her to disobey him, even to the point of allowing a separation. If these measures come to no avail, the judge will chastise the husband in any manner that might bring about reconciliation of both parties. If this also proves fruitless, then divorce is inevitable. Allah says:

If they separate, Allah will compensate them both out of His abundance. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 130.

These rights of the wife over her husband, as determined by Imam Malik (93-179 A.H. / 8-9th C.E.), the great Islamic scholar and founder of the Maliki School of Jurisprudence, match or correspond to those belonging to the husband over his wife, and are specifically mentioned in the Quran. However, there is some difference in the beating administered to the husband. While the beating given the wife by the husband is not violent or painful, and given out of affection; the judge may beat the husband violently and with a strong stick.

The Second Family: The Intermediate One

This is a much more extensive family, one whose boundaries encompass the territory, or homeland, of the nation. It is, therefore, the national family. Its fabric is the clans and the townships from where it originates, and its weave is the thread of a common language and origins. Thus, the link is an intrinsic one based on a mutual history, enriched and colored by a single or diverse religions.

Its Role: The national family plays an important role in that it must support the first family (its primary cell) and strengthen and consolidate the global international family. The national family cannot achieve its goals unless it functions as one individual. Muhammad said: United endeavors afford kindness but separation produces torture.

Muhammad also says: Allah gives assistance to a united people, whereas the wolf is left to eat the sheep which stands aloof. He then goes on to say: Do not differ or disagree among yourselves: as did the earlier people among you who disagreed amongst themselves and thus perished.

Another tradition of Muhammad is: Two is better than one; three is stronger than two; therefore unite, for Allah gives good guidance only to a combined nation.

This family has a role in:

1. Defending the homeland and safeguarding its sanctuaries.
2. Its cooperation with the men of commerce, science, industry and defense, etc., which leads to progress and prosperity.
3. Preservation of the natural resources, thus safeguarding the nation's interests.
4. Maintaining the culture and heritage of the nation and its people, by honoring and respecting all religious, spiritual, cultural and aesthetic aspects and values.

The national family has a remarkable characteristic in that it does not discriminate between its citizens or its members. Equality is guaranteed for all citizens regardless of their faith, color or race. The family thus prevents its people from doing injustice or wronging one another. Its moral code is based on justice which is the essence of the welfare that it provides. A Muslim in this family loves his fellow countrymen, and helps and gives support to others. He prefers to suffer patiently and he forgives, not out of weakness or cowardice, but out of strength and fortitude. Allah says:

. . .They ward off evil with good. T.Q., Sura 13, Thunder, verse 22.

Besides, Allah's Apostle says: The best moral excellence is to get in touch with those who disconnect with you and bestow gifts upon them, to give those who refuse to give you and to pardon those who do you injustice. This is because Islam forbids Muslims to be aggressive or hostile, unless human rights are violated and unless private or public interests are violated and attacked. In these circumstances, Islam urges intervention with moderation and discretion. Muhammad says: Do favor to those who deserve it and to those who are not worthy of it, if it happens to fall upon who deserves it, it's all right, however if it misses them then you yourself are worthy of it.

In general, however, the Quran exhorts Muslims to:

Help one another in what is good and pious, not in what is sinful and wicked. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 3.

This is the holy injunction that regulates and governs conduct and life in the national family. Muslims' souls and spirits are reinforced by moral virtues and practical precepts that make the homeland a paradise of bliss. These can be summarized by some of the traditions of Muhammad as follows:

1. None is considered to be a true believer unless he loves and wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.

2. You shall not enter paradise until you believe, and you shall not be true believers until you love one another.

3. In Islam offense and injury are banned.

The Third Family: The Largest One

This is the Family of mankind that stretches across borders and countries, and encompasses all mankind. It recognizes no color or creed, and stretches across the boundaries of time. It is the brotherhood of mankind that began with Adam and will continue till the end of time.

Islam gives due regard to all human beings anywhere, treating them with honor and respect. Allah says:

We have bestowed blessings on Adam's children. T.Q., Sura 17, The Children of Israel, verse 70.

He also says:

O people, We have created you from a male and female and divided you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in Allah's sight is he who fears Him most. T.Q., Sura 49, The Inner Apartments, verse 13.

The fear of Allah in this respect in its religious concept means that Do not enter into that in which Allah has forbidden you, but be as Allah has commanded you to be. It also means all types of goodness, beneficence and liberality. Muhammad says: All creation is Allah's dependents, and He loves most the one that is most beneficial to them.

Islam commands Muslims to love one another and to cooperate with one another. Muhammad warns against causing harm to non-Muslims. He says: He who offends non-Muslims offends me, because if they show true affection they will receive the same from Muslims. Allah says:
If a man greets you, let your greeting be better than his, or at least return his greeting equally. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 86.

Muhammad portrays the character of a Muslim in the world family by saying: A true believer is congenial and harmonious, there is no good in a person that is not amicable or sociable.

Then Muhammad proceeds to depict the Muslim's role, which is further invigorated, in the world family, by saying: The best person is the most beneficial to men. He also says: The peak of wisdom and reason after true belief in Allah is winning people's love.

Islam is a faith that links reason, true belief and the love for all people. Islam requires, or rather demands, the establishment of one human society; a society in which there is no difference between rich and poor, black and white, Arab or non-Arab, except by virtue of good deeds or works which constitute obedience to Allah. Thus, all of the following are regarded as good deeds: worshipping Allah; combating ignorance, diseases and poverty; caring for children; and checking the actions of an unjust oppressor and helping others to regain their rights.

Islam is the religion of justice and equality for all people. Muhammad says: People are as equal as the teeth of a comb. Islam lays much emphasis on man's freedom and dignity. On rebuking the conqueror of Egypt, Amr Ibn Al-`As, when his son abused a Coptic Egyptian, Omar Ibn-al Khattab said: How will you enslave people when they were born free?

Islam bans conversion by coercion or compulsion. Allah says:

There shall be no compulsion in religion. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 256.

Islam necessitates all this so that all people may live on God's earth happy and free, away from anger or envy, vanity or wrong doing. Man's concern shall be assisting his fellow men and giving them enough food and wealth. Muhammad says: He never believed in me even for an hour of a day he who eats his fill and knows that his neighbor is hungry.

The Muslim Arabs in Madinah were used to giving alms to Muslim and non-Muslim poor people. When the number of poor Muslims increased, Muslims confined their alms to poor Muslims only.

In the longest Sura in the Quran, Allah says:

It is not for you to guide them. Allah gives guidance to whom He will. Whatever alms you give shall rebound to your own advantage, provided that you give it for the love of Allah. And whatever alms you give shall be paid back to you in full: you shall not be wronged. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 272.

Islam has ordained that the human family shall resemble the mother who loves her children equally: she gives to all of them without discrimination between them. Here on earth we yearn for a kind of life for all in which right, justice and equality prevail, big guns are silent for ever, and the hands of men work for the advantage of their fellow men. However, we must realize that in this international family there are many nations which are oppressed and down-trodden, whose sanctuaries have been desecrated and whose resources and possessions have been plundered. These nations are badly in need of an international family that aids, supports and restores their lands and helps them to regain their rights, so that injustice and untruth cannot prevail. However, the creation of such a caring international family requires that it first educate itself with the teachings of the Divine guidance. Thus, not only will peace be achieved but also love brotherhood, cooperation and happiness for all.

Finally, let's hope mankind will accept responsibility towards the realization of such a family. The gauntlet has been thrown. Will man then accept this most important challenge?

Peace be upon you all.

Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro with the former Turkish prime minister Necmotin Arbakan

Turkish prime minister Necmotin Arbakan receiving sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro