Family in Islam
Family in Islam
 From Islam Religion
The Appeal of Islamic Family Life.
Marriage. 
Parenting. 
The cohesive nature of the family: Introduction. 
The role of the husband and wife. 
Mutual Rights of the Spouses. 
Children and Relatives. 
 
 The Appeal of Islamic Family Life
In Islam, considering the well-being of the “other” instead of just the “self” is a virtue so rooted in the religion that it is evident even to those outside it.  The British humanitarian and civil rights lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, a non-Muslim, stated: “What I like about Islam is its focus on the group, which is opposite to the West’s focus on individuality.”[1]
Individuals comprising any society are tied together by related group bonds.  The strongest of all societal bonds is that of the family.  And while it can be justifiably argued that the basic family unit is the foundation of any given human society, this holds particularly true for Muslims.  As a matter of fact, the great status that Islam affords to the family system is the very thing that so often attracts many new converts to Islam, particularly women.
“With laws for almost every aspect of life, Islam represents a faith-based order that women may see as crucial to creating healthy families and communities, and correcting the damage done by the popular secular humanism of the past thirty or so years, several experts said.  In addition, women from broken homes may be especially attracted to the religion because of the value it places on family, said Marcia Hermansen, a professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University in Chicago and an American who also converted to Islam.”[2]
Nowhere is this trend of a people who value traditional family values as they embrace Islam more prevalent than in North America’s Latino or Hispanic community.  As one of Florida’s Muslims observed:  “I have seen an increasing rate in Hispanics converting to Islam.  I think the Hispanic culture itself is very rich in terms of family values, and that is something that is very prominent in the religion of Islam.”
So, what are the particular values or traits of Islamic family life that so many are finding so appealing?
At a Columbia University Islamic event, Hernan Guadalupe, an Ecuadorian-American: “spoke of the cultural similarities and family values inherent to Hispanics and Muslims.  Typically, Hispanic households are tight knit and devout, and children are reared in a strict environment - traits that mirror Muslim households.”[3]
And in another recent newspaper report, it was also observed how: “Family values play an integral role in the formation of a Muslim community.  Because of those family values, there are a lot of other norms that are consistent within the Hispanic community and Islam; for instance, respect for elders, married life and rearing children, these are some of the traditions Hispanics have in common with Islam.”[4]
Some ordinary American converts also have had a say about real life experience, and some of these are collected in a book by the mother of such a convert; Daughters of Another Path by Carol L. Anway.  One woman, quoted in the book[5],  spoke about her change in attitude towards marriage and family life after converting to Islam.  “I became cleaner and quieter the further I went into the religion.  I became highly disciplined.  I had not intended to marry before I was a Muslim, yet I quickly became a wife and then a mother.  Islam has provided a framework that has allowed me to express belief, such as modesty, kindness and love, that I already had.  It has also led me to happiness through marriage and the birth of two children.  Before Islam I had had no desire to have my own family since I hated (the thought of having) kids.”
Another woman speaks of her acceptance into the extended family in the same book.  “We were met at the airport by a lot of his family, and it was a very touching moment, one I will never forget.  Mama (her mother-in-law) is like an angel… I have spent a lot of time in with tears, because of what I see here.  The family system is quite unique with closeness that is beyond words.”[6]
In Appendix C of the book, a 35 year old American convert, at that time 14 years a Muslim, wrote about the family of her husband and their values relative to her own American values.  “I have met all the members of my husband’s immediate family and some members of his immense extended family… I have learned a great deal from my in-laws.  They have a wonderful way of relating to their children, a way that engenders respect for others and great amounts of self esteem.  It is interesting to see how a child-orientated and religious orientated culture operates.  My in-laws, by virtue of being a contrast to American culture, have given me a great appreciation for certain elements of my American cultural identity… I have seen that Islam is truly correct in saying that moderation is the right path.”[7]
From these quotations, one from a non-Muslim intellectual, others from converts and reporters, and some from quite ordinary American women who embraced Islam, we can see that family values in Islam are one of its major attractions.  These values stem from God and His guidance, through the Quran and the example and teaching of His Messenger, Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, who indicates the family unit as being one of the mainstays of religion and Islamic the way of life.  The importance of forming a family is underscored by a saying of the holy Prophet himself, who said:
“When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear God regarding the remaining half.”[8] (al-Baihaqi)
The two articles that follow will discuss the family in Islam in the light of the Quran and Prophetic teachings.  Through briefly exploring Islam’s take on the themes of married life, respect for parents and elders, and the rearing of children, we can begin to appreciate the benefits of the family in Islam.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Emel Magazine, Issue 6 - June/July 2004.
[2] “Islam’s Female Converts”; Priya Malhotra, February 16, 2002. (see http://thetruereligion.org/modules/xfsection/article.php?articleid=167).
[3] “Some Latinos convert to Islam”; Marcela Rojas, The Journal News (http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051030/NEWS02/510300319/1028/NEWS12)
[4] “Islam Gains Hispanic Converts”; Lisa Bolivar, Special Correspondent, September 30, 2005 (http://thetruereligion.org/modules/xfsection/article.php?articleid=405)
[5] Daughters of Another Path, 4th printing, Al-Attique Publishers, p.81.
[6] Daughters of Another Pathp.126.
[7] Daughters of Another Path, p.191.
[8] A narration from the Prophet, by Anas b. Malik, his personal servant; collected in and commented on by Imam al-Baihaqi in Shu’ab al-Iman (Branches of Faith).
Marriage
And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell with them in serenity and tranquility.  And He has put love and compassion between your hearts.  Truly in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
Marriage is the most ancient of human social institutions.  Marriage came into existence with the creation of the first man and woman: Adam and Eve.  All the Prophets since then were sent as examples for their communities, and every Prophet, from the first to the last, upheld the institution of marriage as the divinely-sanctioned expression of heterosexual companionship.[1]  Even today, it is still considered more right and proper that couples introduce each other as: “my wife” or “my husband” rather than: “my lover” or “my partner”.  For it is through marriage that men and woman legally fulfill their carnal desires, their instincts for love, neediness, companionship, intimacy, and so on.
“…They (your wives, O men) are a garment for you and you (men) are a garment for them...” (Quran 2:187)
Over the course of time, some groups have come to hold extreme beliefs about the opposite sex and sexuality.  Women, in particular, were considered evil by many religious men, and so contact with them had to be kept to a minimum.  Thus, monasticism, with its lifetime of abstention and celibacy, was invented by those who wanted what they reckoned to be a pious alternative to marriage and a life more godly.
“Then, We sent after them, Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel.  And We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy.  But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves; We did not prescribe for them, but (they sought it) only to please God therewith, but that they did not observe it with the right observance.  So We gave those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are rebellious sinners.” (Quran 57:27)
The only family that monks would know (Christian, Buddhist, or otherwise) would be their fellow monks at the monastery or temple.  In the case of Christianity, not only men, but also women, could attain the pious ranks by becoming nuns, or “brides of Christ”.  This unnatural situation has often led to a great number of social vices, such as child abuse, homosexuality and illegitimate sexual relations actually occurring among the cloistered – all of which are considered actual criminal sins.  Those Muslim heretics who have followed the non-Islamic practice of abstention and hermitage, or who have at least claimed to have taken an even more pious path to God than the Prophets themselves, have similarly succumbed to these same vices and to an equally scandalous degree.
The Prophet Muhammad in his own lifetime made clear his feelings at the suggestion that marriage could be an obstacle to drawing closer to God.  Once, a man vowed to the Prophet that he would have nothing to do with women, that is, to never marry.  The Prophet responded by sternly declaring:
“By God!  I am the most God-fearing amongst you!  Yet… I marry!  Whoever turns away from my sunnah (inspired way) is not from me (i.e. not a true believer).”
“Say (to the people O Muhammad): ‘If you love God then follow me, God will (then) love you and forgive you of your sins.  And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’” (Quran 3:31)
In reality, far from viewing marriage as bad for one’s faith, Muslims hold marriage to be an integral part of their religious devotion.  As mentioned before, the Prophet Muhammad explicitly stated that marriage is half of the Religion (of Islam) In other words, perhaps half of all Islamic virtues, such as fidelity, chastity, charity, generosity, tolerance, gentleness, striving, patience, love, empathy, compassion, caring, learning, teaching, reliability, courage, mercy, forbearance, forgiveness, etc., find their natural expression through married life.  Hence, in Islam, God-consciousness and good character are supposed to be the principle criteria that a spouse looks for in his or her prospective marriage partner.  The Prophet Muhammad said:
“A woman is married for (one of) four reasons: her wealth, her status, her beauty and her religious devotion.  So marry the religious woman, else you be a loser.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Undoubtedly, the social malaise and decay that is prevalent in many parts of the non-Islamic world also finds expression in some parts of the Muslim world as well.  Nevertheless, promiscuity, fornication and adultery are still roundly condemned throughout Islamic societies and have yet to be decriminalized to the level of merely “fooling around”, “playing the field” or other such trivial pursuits.  Indeed, Muslims still recognize and acknowledge the great destructiveness that pre-marital and extra-marital relationships have on communities.  In fact the Quran makes clear that the mere accusation of impropriety carries very severe consequences in this life and the next.
“And those who accuse chaste women, and do not produce four witnesses (to unequivocally prove their accusation), flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever; for they are truly wicked sinners.” (Quran 24:4)
“Verily, those who slander chaste women, innocent, unsuspecting, believing women: they are cursed in this world and the next.  And for them will be a great torment.” (Quran 24:23)
Ironically, while it is unmarried women who perhaps suffer most from the consequences of promiscuous relationships, some of the more radical voices of the feminist movement have called for the abolition of the institution of marriage.  Sheila Cronin of the movement, NOW, speaking from the blinkered perspective of a fringe feminist whose society is reeling from the failure of the traditional western marriage to grant women security, protection from sexually transmitted diseases, and many other problems and abuses, opined: “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking this institution.  Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.”
Marriage in Islam, however, or rather, marriage according to Islam, is in and of itself a vehicle for securing freedom for women.  No greater example of the perfect Islamic marriage exists than that of the Prophet Muhammad, who told his followers: “The best of you are those who best treat their women.  And I am the best of people to my women.”[2]  The Prophet’s beloved wife, A’isha, attested to the freedom her husband’s treatment afforded her when she said:
“He always joined in the housework and would at times mend his clothes, repair his shoes and sweep the floor.  He would milk, tether and feed his animals and do household chores.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
“Indeed in the Messenger of God you have an excellent example to follow for whoever hopes in God and the Last Day and remembers God much.” (Quran 33:21)
Footnotes:
[1] Whether or not those Prophets were themselves married: Jesus, for example, ascended to heaven as an unmarried man.  However, Muslims believe that he will return to earth before the End of Time in a second coming wherein he will reign supreme, a husband and father like any other family man.  Thus, the recent controversy regarding the De Vinci Code fictional claims that Jesus married and had children is not blasphemous in the fact that it suggests that a Messiah could be a family man, merely premature.
[2] Narrated in Al-Tirmidhi.
Parenting
Parenting
One of the reasons that the Islamic family works is because of its clearly defined structure, where each member of the household knows his or her role.  The Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said:
“Each of you is a shepherd, and all of you are responsible for your flocks.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
The father is the shepherd over his family, protecting them, providing for them, and striving to be their role model and guide in his capacity as head of the household.  The mother is the shepherd over the house, guarding it and engendering in it the wholesome, loving environment that is necessary for a happy and healthy family life.  She is also the one who is primarily responsible for the children’s guidance and education.  Were it not for the fact that one of the parents assumed the leadership role, then inevitably there would be perpetual disputation and fighting, leading to family breakdown – just as there would be in any organization which lacked any single hierarchical authority.
“God puts forth a similitude: a (servant) man belonging to many partners, disputing with one another, and a man belonging entirely to one master.  Are those two equal in comparison?  All the praises and thanks be to God!  But most of them know not.” (Quran 39:29)
It is only logical that the one who is naturally the physically and emotionally stronger of the two parents is made head of the household: the male.
“…And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to the rights of their husbands) over them - according to what is equitable.  But men have a degree (of responsibility, etc.) over them…” (Quran 2:228)
As for the children, the fruits of their parents love, Islam lays down comprehensive morals enjoining parental responsibility and the child’s reciprocal dutifulness to its parents.
“And treat your parents with kindness.  If one or both of them attain old age in your care, never say to them a word (suggesting) disgust, nor reproach them, but address them with reverent speech.  And humble yourself out of mercy before them, and pray:  ‘My Lord!  Be merciful to them for having cared for me in my childhood.’” (Quran 17:23-4)
Obviously, if the parents fail to inculcate the fear of God within their children from an early age because they are themselves heedless, then they cannot expect to see righteous gratitude returned to them.  Hence, God’s severe warning in His Book:
“O you who believe!  Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones.” (Quran 66:6)
If the parents do indeed strive to raise their children upon righteousness, then, as the Prophet said:
When the son of Adam dies, all his actions have ceased except [three, a continuing charity, beneficial knowledge and]  a righteous child who prays for their parent.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
Regardless of how the parents raise their children, and irrespective of their own religion (or lack, thereof), the obedience and reverence that a Muslim son or daughter is required to show them is second only to the obedience due to the Creator Himself.  Thus His reminder:
“And (remember) when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel, (saying): ‘Worship none but God and be dutiful and good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans and to the poor, and speak good to people, and perform the prayer, and give the alms.’” (Quran 2:83)
In fact, it is quite common to hear of elderly non-Muslims converting to Islam as a result of the increased care and dutifulness their children gave them following their (i.e. the children’s) becoming Muslims.
“Say (O Muhammad): ‘Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited you from: Join not anything in worship with Him; be good and dutiful to your parents; kill not your children because of poverty - We provide sustenance for you and for them…’” (Quran 6:151)
While the child is obliged to show obedience to both parents, Islam singles out the mother as being the one deserving the lion’s share of loving gratitude and kindness.  When the Prophet Muhammad was asked, “O Messenger of God!  Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me?”  he replied: “Your mother.”  The man asked: “Then who?”  The Prophet said:“Your mother.”  The man asked: “Then who?”  The Prophet repeated: “Your mother.”  Again, the man asked: ‘Then who?’  The Prophet finally said:“(Then) your father.”[1]
“And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents.  His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty (30) months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forty years, he says: ‘My Lord!  Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my off-spring good.  Truly, I have turned to You in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims (submitting to Your Will).’” (Quran 46:15)
Conclusion
There exists in Islam a general principle that states that what is good for one is good for another.  Or, in the words of the Prophet:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his (believing) brother what he loves for himself.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
As could be expected, this principle finds its greatest expression in a Muslim family, the nucleus of the Islamic society.  Nevertheless, the dutifulness of the child to its parents is, in truth, extended to all the elders of the community.  The mercy and concern that the parents have for their children is likewise extended to all the young ones.  Actually, it is not as if the Muslim has a choice in such matters.  After all, the Prophet did say:
“He who does not show compassion to our young, nor honor our elders, is not from us.” (Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi)
Is it any wonder, then, that so many people, raised as non-Muslims, find what they are looking for, what they have always believed to have been good and true, in the religion of Islam?  A religion where they are immediately and warmly welcomed as members of one loving family.
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west.  But righteous is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets; who gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the wayfarer, to those who ask, and to set slaves free.  And (righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict.  Such are the people of truth.  And they are the God-Fearing.” (Quran 2:177)

 

Footnotes:
[1] Narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhari and Saheeh Muslim.
The cohesive nature of the family: Introduction
God says in the Quran—in a passage that the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, used to repeat often when he would begin his speeches:
“O mankind!  Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women and fear God through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship).  Surely, God is Ever an All-Watcher over you” (Quran 4:1)
The family is the nucleus of society as a whole.  If the family is on a sound foundation, it is more likely that society as a whole will be in a good state.  Thus, in general, the messengers of God, the prime examples for humans, adhered to this institution of marriage and family.  God states,
“Verily, We have sent messenger before you and appointed for them spouses and children…” (Quran 13:38)
The Prophet Muhammad also established marriage as his way of life, saying:
“By God, I am the most fearful of God of you and I have the most piety; however, I fast and break my fast, pray [at night] and sleep and I marry women.  Whoever turns away from my sunnah[1] is not of me.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
Undoubtedly, Islam puts a great emphasis on family relations and cohesion.  Scholars of Islamic Law have noted that when one studies the laws found in Islam and what seems to be the wisdom behind them, one finds that they have been laid down to establish, protect, reinforce and perpetuate specific necessities of life.  The necessities of life as envisioned by Islamic Law are:
(1)  religion,
(2)  life,
(3)  familial ties and relationships,
(4)  mental capacity and
(5)  wealth and property.
Thus, for example, one need only ponder over the stringent laws related to the preservation of the sanctity of the family to understand the great emphasis that Islam places on the family.  In the “modern West,” nowadays, for example, adultery and other acts that strike at the very foundation of a family are not considered crimes.[2]  In Islam, the situation is very different.  Islam exhorts all the members of a family to treat each other well while avoiding promiscuous acts that are evil in themselves and harmful to any marriage.  God says, for example:
“And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse.  Verily, it is a greatly lewd act, and an evil way.” (Quran 17:32)
However, these exhortations are not simply hollow words.  Instead, they are also backed up with the force of law for some of the most egregious acts that cannot be overlooked.  Thus, God commands:
“The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes.  Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by God, if you believe in God and the Last Day.  And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.” (Quran 24:2)
Pity is not allowed to overrule what must be done, because in the end, that pity—and pity is something which drives someone to do good to others—will lead to evil results.  Furthermore, in a saying of the Prophet recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim, it is confirmed that the he ordered stoning to death for the adulterer.  In fact, Islam goes well beyond that to protect the sanctity of the family: those who falsely accuse chaste women of such evil deeds are also to receive severe punishments.  God says:
“And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever, they indeed are the disobedient to God.” (Quran 24:4)
In particular, God offers guidance to humankind concerning behavior with all of the members of the family.  For the sake of brevity, this short article shall prevent an overview of the proper behavior of a Muslim toward the other members of his family, including parents, children, spouses and other relatives.
The Parents
God has demanded that Muslims treat their parents in the best possible fashion.  Muslims must be grateful people.  They must be grateful to God and to all who do them well.  After God, there is perhaps no one who deserves a person’s gratitude more than his parents.  Thus, numerous verses of the Quran touch upon the question of the treatment of parents.  Indeed, in more than one place, God has closely tied good behavior towards parents with the command to worship Him alone.  Note, for example, the following verse of the Quran:
“Worship God and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Verily, Allah does not like such as are proud and boastful” (Quran 4:36)
God also says:
“Say (O Muhammad): Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited you from: Join not anything in worship with Him; be good and dutiful to your parents…” (Quran 6:151)
“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him.  And that you be dutiful to your parents.  If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honor.  And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord!  Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did foster me when I was small.’  Your Lord knows best what is in your inner-selves.  If you are righteous, then, verily, He is Ever Most Forgiving to those who turn unto Him again and again in obedience, and in repentance.” (Quran 17:23-25)
“And (remember) when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel, (saying): Worship none but God (Alone) and be dutiful and good to parents…” (Quran 2:83)
The Prophet also emphasized good treatment of one's parents, putting it after prayer in its proper time as a deed that is most beloved to God: The Prophet was asked:
“What deed is the most beloved to God?”  He replied, “Prayer in its proper time.”  He was asked, “Then what deed?”  He replied, “Being dutiful to one’s parents…” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
God reminds the believers that their parents, in particular the mother, went through a great deal of hardship and effort to raise their child and therefore they are deserving of love, respect and gratitude in return.  God says:
“And (remember) when Luqman said to his son when he was advising him, ‘O my son!  Join not in worship others with God.  Verily!  Joining others in worship with God is a great wrong indeed.’  And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents.  His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.” (Quran 31:13-14)
“And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents.  His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forty years, he says: ‘My Lord!  Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my off-spring good.  Truly, I have turned to You in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims (submitting to Your Will).’” (Quran 46:15)
Thus, in particular, the mother is deserving of the greatest friendship and closeness from her children.  The Prophet was once asked:
“Who among the people has the most right for my good companionship?”  The Prophet replied, “Your mother.”  The man asked, “And then whom?”  The Prophet replied again, “Your mother.”  The man again asked, “And them whom?”  the Prophet once again said, “Your mother.”  The man asked once more, “And then whom?”  This time the Prophet said, “Your father.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Footnotes:
[1] Sunnah: Teachings and Way. (IslamReligion)
[2] In 1969, an English judge told a plaintiff who complained about his wife’s behavior with a friend of his that his thinking was old-fashioned and that he has to realize that he is now living in 1969.  [That story was quoted in Yoosuf al-Aalim, Al-Maqaasid al-Aaammah li-l-Shareeah al-Islaamiyyah (Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House, 1994), p. 397.] Today, there are countless disputes between husbands and wives wherein the husband denies that the children they have in their household are his, causing hatred, friction and destruction in the marriage.  One can rightfully ask: Is this how a “modern, civilized” marriage or family is supposed to be?
The role of the husband and wife
The Spouse[1]
Marriage is a very important institution in Islam.  The Quran shows that there is a clear bond between men and women.  In numerous places in the Quran, God reminds humans that they are from the same original human being.  It is through this bond that they are interconnected and through these bonds that some of their rights upon one another are established.  God states at the opening of Chapter 4, entitled “The Women”:
“O mankind!  Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women and fear God through whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship)!  Surely, God is Ever an All-Watcher over you.” (Quran 4:1)
However, beyond the beginning that the two sexes have in common, God points out that the love and affection that He has created in the hearts of the spouses towards another is one of His great signs that act as portents for those people of understanding.  In other words, such people can look at this aspect of creation and be reminded of the greatness of God’s work and power, the perfection of His creation and the magnificent mercy God has placed in this world.  God says:
“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose and comfort in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy.  Verily, in that are indeed Signs for a people who reflect.” (Quran 39:21)
God also says:
“He it is who created you from a single person (Adam), and then He has created from him his wife, in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her…” (Quran 7:189)
Thus, according to the Quran, the relationship between a man and his wife should be one of love, mercy and mutual understanding.  God also commands men to treat their wives kindly in the verse:
“…And consort with your wives in a goodly manner, for if you dislike them, it may well be that your dislike something which God might yet make a source of abundant good.” (Quran 4:19)
A few words about the purpose of marriage in Islam should be given.  This is needed because many times people enter into marriage or desire to get married without realizing the roles and purpose of marriage itself.  In turn, they do not realize the kinds of responsibilities that will be on their shoulders when they do get married.  However, if the purposes of marriage are known and the responsibilities that marriage will entail are understood at the outset, once again, the probability that the marriage will be a successful marriage will be enhanced.  The person will know what is expected of him, both with respect to his responsibilities and duties and his rights.
Obviously, the purpose of marriage is not simply “fun” or the release of “animal urges”.  There is much more to marriage than that.  Some of the goals behind marriage include[2]: procreating, experiencing permissible physical pleasure, attainment of one’s complete maturity, mutually assisting one another in making one’s life in this world, attaining numerous psychological and physiological benefits, forming the cornerstone of a moral society, bringing up the next generation in a setting that is most conducive for moral and spiritual growth and binding peoples and families together.
The Rights of a Husband and a Wife
In order for a marriage to work best, each partner should understand fully well his or her rights, responsibilities, roles and obligations.  For this reason, Islamic Law has laid down very clear rights and responsibilities for a Muslim husband and wife.  At the same time, though, every married person must realize that one’s spouse is first and foremost another Muslim.  He/she is one’s brother/sister in Islam.  Therefore, all the rights that fall upon a Muslim due to the general brotherhood of Islam are also due to one’s spouse.  There are books on the behavior of a Muslim, brotherhood and love and loyalty among Muslims, and all of those principles apply to a married person as his spouse is part of that Islamic brotherhood and community.  Furthermore, the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, also stressed this point when he stated:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
However, one’s spouse has even more rights upon a person due to the great and important contract that has been contracted between them.[3]
Therefore, when discussing the rights of the husbands and wives, this matter should not be looked at in a cold or legal fashion.  The relationship between the husband and wife must be much more than a matter of rights stated by the law that each must abide by.  Instead, it should be a relationship of love, support and mutual understanding.  Each spouse should take into consideration the needs and abilities of the other spouse.  They should attempt to make each other happy, even if they have to compromise sometimes, and not simply be out to make sure that they are getting all of their rights in the marriage.  Actually, it is usually the case that neither spouse is completely fulfilling the rights of the other and making the other happy.  Hence, they both have to realize and accept their shortcomings.
The Prophet, in particular, advised the husbands to treat their wives in the best way¾ perhaps due to their greater authority or due to their greater strength, in general.  The Prophet said:
“The best of you is the one who is best to his family (wife) and I am the best of you to my family.” (Al-Tirmidhi and ibn Majah)
 

Footnotes:
[1] For more details on the Islamic laws of marriage, see the author’s “The Fiqh of the Family, Marriage and Divorce” (American Open University, 1997), passim. The discussion here is based on sections of that work.
[2] Cf., Abdul Rahman Abdul Khaaliq, Al-Zawaaj fi Dhill al-Islaam (Kuwait: al-Daar al-Salafiyyah, 1988), pp. 21ff.
[3] God says in the Quran, “And how could you take it [back] while you have gone in unto each other and they have taken from you a firm and strong covenant” (Quran 4:21).
Mutual Rights of the Spouses
Actually, both spouses, in general, fail to some extent in their fulfilling of the other’s obligations.  Hence, before criticizing the other or being harsh with the other due to some shortcoming, the person should look to himself and realize what wrong he himself is doing.
At the same time, though, Islamic Law has clearly laid down some rights and responsibilities so that both parties in the marriage know exactly what is expected of them and know what they need to fulfill to be a proper spouse.  Thus, for example, God says:
“…And they [women] have rights [over their husbands] similar to those over them according to what is reasonable…” (Quran 2:228)
In sum, the rights of the wife or the obligations of the husband include, among others, the following:
(1)  Receiving her proper dower: God says:
“And give the women their dower with a good heart; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it without fear of any harm.” (Quran 4:4)
(2)  Being fully and completely financially maintained by her husband: God says:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means…” (Quran 4:34)
Furthermore, in a hadeeth recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, told Hind bint Utbah, when she complained that her husband (Abu Sufyan) was very stingy and was not maintaining her and she asked if she could take from his wealth without his knowledge:
“Take what is sufficient for you and your child, according to what is customary.”
(3)  Being treated in a proper and kind manner: God states:
“…And consort with your wives in a goodly manner, for if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something which God might yet make a source of abundant good” (Quran 4:19)
(4)  Having the right to sexual intercourse: In the Sahih of Ibn Hibban there is the following narration:
The wife of Uthman ibn Madh’oon complained to the Messenger of God that her husband had no need for women.  During the day, he would fast and at night, he would pray.  The Prophet asked him, “Am I not the best example for you to follow?”  He answered, “Certainly, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you.” The Messenger of God then told him, “As for you, you pray during the night and you fast during the day.  Certainly, your wife has a right upon you.  And your body has a right upon you.  So pray and sleep and fast and break your fast.”
(5)  Having the right to “privacy”: Note the following hadeeth of the Prophet:
“Is there any man among you who goes to his wife, closes the door behind then, covers themselves, and conceals themselves by God’s concealing.” They said, “Yes.” He then said, “Then he sits after that [with others] and he says, ‘I did this and that.’”  They were silent.  He then turned to the women and said, “Do you any of you talk about such things?”  They were also silent.  Then a young girl came up on his toes so the Prophet could see her and hear her and she said, “O Messenger of God, they [the men] certainly talk about it and they [the women] also talk about it.” He said, “Do you know what they are like?  They are like a female devil who met a devil in the street and they satisfied their desires with the people looking on.”[1]
(6)  The right to being taught or learning her religion.
On the other hand, the rights of the husband or the responsibilities of the women include:
(1)  Being the head of the household: God has said:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means…” (Quran 4:34)
Although this is usually stated as a right of the husband, it is actually a heavy responsibility on his shoulders, as it means that he has the responsibility to guide his family and keep them along the straight path.
(2)  Having the right to be obeyed: This goes with the first right.  A person cannot be the head of something if he has no authority.
(3)  Having his wife answer his call to meet his sexual needs.
(4)  That the wife will not allow anyone in his house except by his permission: In a hadeeth recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Messenger of God said:
“Do not allow anyone into his house except by permission.”
If the husband and wife enter into the marriage with the right intention of pleasing God and pleasing each other, recognizing their roles and responsibilities in the marriage and treating each other with proper Islamic behavior, God willing, their union will be a blessed union that will stretch from this life into the Hereafter.
Having said what was just said about marriage, Islam, though, is also a practical religion.  It takes into consideration all possible common scenarios.  It is possible for a man and woman to enter into a union with good intentions yet their personalities and likes simply do not coincide with one another.  There are times in which a good marriage simply cannot be achieved and the spouses enter into a state of misery.  Under such circumstances, Islamic law allows for an end to the marriage and their suffering.[2]  The goal is to either stay together in a friendly manner or to separate in a goodly manner.  Thus, for example, God says:
“And when you have divorced women and they have fulfilled the term of their prescribed period, either take them back on reasonable basis or set them free on reasonable basis…” (Quran 2:231)
God also says:
“Then when they are about to fulfill their term appointed [bringing an end to the divorce], either take them back in a good manner or part with them in a good manner…” (Quran 65:2)
Obviously, divorce is not a desired goal or a light matter.  In a perfect world, all married couples would be in bliss.  However, there are times in which this option is the best for all parties concerned.  Thus, the option of divorce is in accord with the overall goal of preserving the family—it is not simply quantity, though, such that all marriages always stay in tact, that is desired but quality.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Abu Dawud.
[2] Unfortunately, in some Muslim cultures today, divorce has become so “shameful” they have neglected this important guidance of Islamic Law, leading to spouses suffering in silence.  This is definitively not the goal of Islamic Law concerning such issues.
 Children and Relatives
The Children
It is clear from many verses in the Quran that having children is considered a blessing from God.  Hence, God says while recounting some of his blessings upon humankind:
“God has made for you wives of your own kind, and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed on you good provision.  Do they then believe in false deities and deny the Favor of God (by not worshipping God Alone).” (Quran 16:72)
Thus, one finds the prophet Zachariah praying to God that He bestow upon him children (Quran 3:38).  In addition, having children is something known to be beloved to parents.  Thus, God says:
“Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world...” (Quran 18:46)
At the same time, though, every parent must realize that having children is a great responsibility and trial from God.  God has said:
“Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas God—with Him is a great reward (Paradise).” (Quran 64:15)
God also says,
“O you who believe, guard yourselves and your families from the Hell‑fire whose fuel is men and stones…” (Quran 66:6)
The meaning of this verse was reiterated by the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, when he said:
“All of you are shepherds and all of you will be asked about your wards...  The man is responsible for his household and will be asked about his responsibilities.  The wife will be asked about the house of her husband and her responsibilities.”[1]
Islam, therefore, fills the human with appreciation for being blessed with a child while at the same time realizing that this child is a heavy responsibility.  The parents must care for the child and bring the child up in the best possible manner, trying to protect the child from the Hellfire.
Muslim scholars consider that the rights of children appear long before they are even conceived, via the selection of a pious and righteous spouse.  This is the first step in providing a good household and environment for the child.  Around the time of the child’s birth, there are other important obligations, such as giving the child a good name and offering an animal sacrifice on the child’s behalf.[2]  Beyond that, the most important rights of the child include:
(1)  being maintained and provided for in a healthy manner;
(2)  being taught the tenets of the religion;
(3)  being treated with compassion and mercy;
(4)  being just among multiple siblings; and
(5)  having a good example set for them by their parents.
Other Relatives
A family also includes siblings and other kinfolk.  Islam has certainly not ignored any of the relatives of an individual.  In numerous places in the Quran, God emphasizes the importance of treating one’s relatives in a good and kindly fashion.  God says, for example:
“Worship God and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk…” (Quran 4:36)
God also speaks about spending on one’s relatives:
“They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend.  Say: Whatever you spend of good must be for parents and kindred…” (Quran 2:215)
God also says:
“It is not piety that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west (in prayers); but Al-piety is (the quality of) the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk…” (Quran 2:177)
The Prophet Muhammad was requested:
“Inform me of a deed that will take me closer to Paradise and distance me from the Hell-fire.”  He replied, “Worship God and do not ascribe any partner to Him, establish the prayer, give the zakat and keep the ties of kinship.”[3]
Keeping the ties of kinship refers to doing good towards them with one’s speech, actions and wealth.  It includes kind words, visits, charity and generosity.  It also includes keeping any harm from coming to them and doing one’s best to bring happiness to them.
The Muslim must understand that keeping the ties of kinship is an obligation and not simply a meritorious act.  In the Quran, God praises those…
“…who join that which God has commanded to be joined (i.e. they are good to their relatives and do not sever the bond of kinship), fear their Lord, and dread the terrible reckoning” (Quran 13:21)
The Prophet said:
“The one who cuts off the ties of kinship will not enter Paradise.”[4]
Islam has emphasized every type of familial tie possible.  It has provided guidance showing the importance of the ties with parents, children, spouses and other relatives.  It exhorts every Muslim to fulfill these ties to receive God’s pleasure in return.  In addition (although not completely stressed in this short paper), it has provided laws and strict regulations that allow the individual to realize how best to keep the proper ties with all of his or her kith and kin.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim.
[2] In this sacrifice, called the aqeeqah, meat is distributed to the poor, one’ family, and friends and neighbors (IslamReligion).
[3] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim.
[4] Saheeh Muslim.