Islam has a definite view of family life. The Qur’an describes the relationship between a husband and a wife as “two garments that protect each other.” Both have equal status as adults, and neither is encouraged to lord it over the other. With that said, Islam also assigns the husband the role of the head of the family. It doesn’t mean that the husband is to be the dictator of the family, though, but rather the caretaker of everyone’s safety and well-being.
As the Qur’an itself explains: “Men are the appointed protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given them more responsibility than them.” (Qur’an, Surah An-Nisa’, 4:34)
Never are men called smarter, more deserving, or more capable than women. They are simply given the responsibility to work so that women have a greater freedom to make choices that will ensure they don’t need to sacrifice their family life for the sake of supporting themselves. Looked at from a certain angle, God has eternally doomed men to work for women!
Muslims take Muhammad’s experiences with his extended household as examples of how interfamilial relationships can be conducted. Muhammad’s marriage, to Khadijah, lasted for over 20 years, and he had no other wife during this time. Khadijah is held up as the ideal wife—caring, supportive, and compassionate. With her prowess in economic affairs, she helped to fund the Prophet’s activities. A year after her death, Muhammad’s companions encouraged him to marry again, so he married an older widow who had no support. He would later take more wives, widows mostly, for the same charitable and kindly reasons. Ample opportunity existed for people to see how a prophet coexisted with his family.
The Ties That Bind
Islam envisions a society in which people are connected on many levels. Families are united, and divorce is rare. Communities are made up of settled people, and everyone attends the mosque regularly. As such, the ties of neighbors are continually strengthened. If one household is in need, others step forward to assist. Crime is rare, and the citizens are literate and thoughtful. Has such a utopian vision ever existed? Actually, for a large chunk of Islamic history, many communities functioning around the world have come close to this ideal.
When Muslims look at modern society with all of its problems, they sometimes get the urge to become insular. Issues such as abortion, teen pregnancy, rampant promiscuity, dating, drug addiction, and alcoholism were virtually unknown in the traditional Muslim world until recently. One of the reasons for the growth of Islamic parochial schools in North America is the alarming trends that seem to be tearing apart American society. Do Muslims claim that Islam has the answers to these problems?
Yes, but in the meantime, few Muslims are willing to allow their families to assimilate into the more negative aspects of modern culture.
The Ideal Muslim Home
In an Islamic home the father is a responsible man who works hard for his family. He is neither arrogant nor cruel and shows tender kindness to his family. Toward his wife, he is loving and he caters to her sexual needs through caressing and tenderness.
These symbols of intimate affection were described by the Prophet as the ambassadors, which must come before intimate relations. He is never alone with another woman, even at work, and he consults his family on all major decisions. He does not physically or emotionally abuse his wife because he knows the Prophet Muhammad never hit a woman in his whole life. The children are obedient and respect their father completely. Their greatest shame is to cause their father to become angry.
The wife is cooperative with her husband in all things that require a team effort. She is not a slave, a servant, or a second-class citizen. The Qur’an describes the relationship between a man and wife as that of helpers to each other. The Prophet Muhammad said that mothers deserve three times the respect as that given to fathers, and this is on account of the sacrifices women make for their families. With that said, the wife understands the grave responsibility upon her husband’s shoulders, for on Judgment Day the father will bear the blame for any failures to protect his family.
She doesn’t refuse his sexual advances so as not to alienate him, and she doesn’t have any friends that he dislikes. She upholds his reputation and doesn’t spill his secrets in public. Though she may work if she wishes, her money is her own. She would never sacrifice her children’s moral, physical and emotional needs, however, solely for the sake of personal goals. She doesn’t wear much makeup in public or dress specifically to attract other men’s eyes, and she looks forward to Paradise, which is promised to those women who are sincere helpmates to their husbands.
According to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), “Indeed, Allah has made it forbidden for you to disobey mothers.”
“Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.”
Spare the Rod
How should a child be raised according to Islam? The answer is best expressed in the words of the Prophet Muhammad who said that when children are under age 7, we should be easy with them. From the ages of 7 to 14, we should be strict with them, and after 14 we should be their friend. This three-stage developmental process takes into account every level of intellectual and emotional capacity. Small children don’t always understand what they’re doing, so punishment must be withheld as much as possible. Teenagers are prone to trouble, so a firm hand is in order; after puberty, Islam considers a person an adult.
It is the responsibility of the parents to rear their children properly and to teach them manners, religious obligations, and worldly knowledge. Abu Bakr, a famous companion of the Prophet, once noted that the child who is taught to be good at an early age has an easier time being virtuous later on in life.
Another famous Muslim ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib once counseled, “Raise your children differently from how you were raised because they are meant for a different time than you.”
The Prophet Muhammad, whose Sunnah is considered the ideal model for all Muslims, used to hug and kiss his children and grandchildren and always made time to play with them. He also did not complain about what they did. Anas bin Malik, who as a boy came to serve the aged Prophet, later remarked, “I served the Prophet for 10 years and never once did he say, ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’”
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