First of all, before a family is made or before a family is born, is it possible to engage in the kind of family relationship, in the very same kind of relationship that the family blesses and legitimizes, before marriage? In plain English, what about pre- marital sex? Certainly our daughters do not practice pre-marital sex. They keep their chastity and their purity and for us sex is legitimate only within the bounds of marriage, only in the family, and this very restriction upon our sexual lives saves us from the evils of sexual promiscuity, the sexual libertine that is taking place today in all Western societies. The consequences of this sexual promiscuity are clear for everyone to see. The spread of venereal diseases, the disappointment of the newly-weds in the first week after marriage because everything has been déjà vu as, we say in French. Having been accustomed to having more than one sexual partner, this becomes a habit which is continued even after marriage and, therefore, there is no fidelity in the Western home. The children are illegitimate in the eyes of the father because he is not their father and all this brings about emotional ruin.
The leaders of the women’s liberation movement in the West, practically all of them are now retracting what they had been advocating by way of sexual liberty in the 50's, the 60's and the early 70's because they say to themselves now and to their own people: That is not what we have been dreaming of by way of liberty for women. It looks as if we have given birth to a monster that is eating up our stand in society and ruining it. You have also all heard about the teenage pregnancies and the unmarried mothers. You have heard about infanticide, about how people throw their babies into garbage bins and leave them at the doors of others. There is an extremely active business of buying and selling babies which is without parallel in the history of the West and also that despite all this, the so-called ideal of women's liberation, namely that women may have a career, a career which may give them dignity and self-respect, has failed. Despite all the work that has been done in this field, women are still looked upon as sex toys or sex objects. They are still under-paid and their legal personalities are incomplete. In other words, there are still many legal rights which women do not enjoy on par with men and so, this whole movement which liberated women in order to improve her situation has brought ruin upon itself, upon women, as well as upon the family. However, the Islamic family, by upholding the Islamic ideal of sexual purity, of sexual legitimacy only in and within marriage and married life, has saved itself from all these evils. In New York, where at the entrance to the public library stand two big lions made out of stone, the common saying is that these two lions roar whenever a virgin passes by them. Well, now the saying is that the two lions roar whenever a sane woman, whenever a woman who has preserved her mental health, passes by them. All these evils, Alhamdulillah, we are saved from by virtue of our upholding the Islamic ideals of sexual chastity and purity.
The Patriarchal Family
Secondly, the family in Islam is a patriarchal family and the patriarch, that is to say, the head of the family, carries a tremendous burden of responsibility. Along with this responsibility he carries the burden of leadership. He acts as a fulcrum around which the life of the family revolves and all the talk about the superiority of men over women is nonsense unless it refers to this leadership role and the responsibility role. It is absolutely essential. Even in the case of the universe, of the cosmos, Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala, has said to us in His Holy Book: "But if there were more than two Lords in the universe, one of these Lords would have contested the power of the other and fought to ride over him." In other words, it is impossible to have a management, to have an organisation, to have a going concern such as the family without somebody assuming the role of leadership and responsibility. And this is really all that Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala, has meant us to achieve and to understand when he established for us the leadership, the family as a patriarchal institution because our Shari'ah, without apology does regard the family as a patriarchal institution. The ship without a captain cannot run for long, nor does the ship without a rudder. Allah has blessed us by imposing this leadership, by vesting the patriarch of the family with it and demanding its fulfilment, in fact, making the question of fulfilment a question of law. A father who is not fulfilling his role as a responsible leader is a father that can be sued under the law, under the Shari'ah, and he can be sued by any member of the Islamic Ummah because the Ummah and the Shari'ah regard this role as constitutive, it is a public role.
The Social Features
A third advantage which the Islamic family has over the Western family is the fact that the family is made out of a cement which is social and therefore begins long before the marriage, but the special relationship that we refer to as the love relationship is supposed to begin and to grow only after marriage and not before. Before marriage, there is social affinity between the two families of the couple. After marriage, one enters upon this relationship with a determination to make it grow and, therefore the chances of a love relationship between husband and wife growing and becoming more secure and stronger are better under the Islamic system than they are under the Western system. Under the Western system, as you know, it is supposed to grow as a result of courtship, but because of illicit fornication which may take place between the couple before they become husband and wife, marriage is looked upon as a confirmation of that which has already been developing for a year or two or three or ten or whatever. In our society, marriage is regarded as the beginning not the consummation; it is not something that is practically finished on the wedding day. It is something that begins on the wedding day, and has all the future in which to flower and become greater. The determination with which this is entered into by the Muslim spouses allows ample room for adjustment because the commitment has already been made and therefore a Muslim who enters into marriage is determined to make that marriage work, determined to make the love relationship between the two spouses grow, and is therefore more ready for the adjustment that family life demands. It is the other way round in Western society. If this relationship has grown to its apex before marriage and marriage is looked upon as a consummation of that movement, then the consequence is that the desire to adjust, the preparation to make the necessary sacrifices and adjustments, would be all the more because the interest in it would be on the wane rather than on the increase.
A fourth advantage is the advantage that we talk about in arranged marriages. Arranged marriages are really the coming together of two families. Of course, the individuals are involved, and as we said earlier it is possible for such a marriage to succeed because from the standpoint of the marriage the love relationship begins after and not before the wedding. But then, the relationship between the two families is something that has been cultivated for some time, and so we speak of the Muslim marriage not as a marriage of two individuals but as a marriage of two families. And the two families with all their resources, their human resources, their economic resources, their wisdom resources are at the service of the newly-married couple and there is no doubt that nobody in the world needs more advice, more economic assistance and more support than the newly-married couple and this is provided for them from both sides of the marriage if it is truly a Muslim marriage, that is to say a marriage of the two families. Compare and contrast this with the situation of the Western young men and women who meet under all kinds of circumstances on their own and having met and fallen in love, decide to enter into marriage. They are literally alone and this is why the greatest overwhelming majority of these marriages are contracted outside even the knowledge of their parents and their relatives.
Marriage: A Civil Contract
A fifth point is that our marriage is by contract; it is a civil contract between two equal parties, between two equal families, not just between two individuals. It is a civil contract that requires the consent of the two parties. The two parties may include outside of the Shari'ah requirements, anything that may lead to their happiness and mutually agreeable to both of them. Once the marriage has taken place and the contract has been signed and agreed upon, witnessed not only by the individual spouses, but also by their guardians and their elders, then it becomes a legal and binding document. Now, this creates a constitution for the marriage. Now consider its fate, and the home as a state. It has internal affairs and it has external affairs, it has public security affairs and it has police affairs and jail affairs, sometimes. It has educational affairs and it has propaganda affairs, and public information. All the ministries of government, all the functions of the ministries of government are there to be per- formed in the family, in the home unit. Can you imagine all these activities being carried out with- out a constitution in the state? But such is the Western marriage. The Western marriage has no constitution. It is a state without a constitution.
They say it is a sacrament and a sacrament is an equal act; it is a mysterious cement which has created, a cadre or framework that has been vested upon that couple outside of their family and it is not spelled out, that is to say, nobody knows its terms and this is why when there is dispute, when there is trouble, when the marriage is on the rocks, they have to refer to custom, to common law, to what- ever the arbitrary wisdom of the judge may happen to hit upon by way of solution. Therefore, we can say that the Western marriage is a chaotic marriage, it is the founding of an institution without a constitution, whereas our Islamic marriage, being built upon the constitution, its terms being spelled out in the constitution which is the contract of marriage, is an orderly, a societal institution, that is to say it is an institution very much in society. And Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala, has commanded us in the Holy Book that if we agree on anything, to write it down, and writing down the contract of marriage is a blessed act which saves the marriage as well as a great deal of unhappiness and suffering.
Marriage - Settles Life and Relations
Likewise, this contract of marriage, and this is my sixth point, settles life and relations should the marriage for any reason come to an end, whether this is by death or separation by divorce. The consequences are all or should all be spelled out in the contract of marriage and in this way the life of the spouses after marriage are also regulated. I remember a case which I read about in the American press not too long ago, a case in California. California is the state which is most liberal in man- woman relations and now they recognise that a man and a woman coming together and living together without marriage, without the sacrament, still entitles the woman to some kind of settlement, some kind of compensation. I remember one very famous American woman sued the man who was her paramour, with whom she had been living for many years without marriage, without bond, neither civil nor religious nor anything. She pleaded her case to the judge that "after all, I have given this man the flower of my youth, I have given this man all the service and all the company and so on and so forth, now he is telling me to get out of here, and no settlement, nothing, and he is a man of means. Am I not entitled to something, despite the fact that I have no marriage and we have been living in sin?" So the judge pronounced his verdict that because there had been no contract, no marriage agreement, and at least the sacrament is a kind of agreement that is recognised by society, you the woman are not entitled to anything. So this famous woman went out and met the press and she began cursing the judicial system of America for this atrocious piece of injustice and she was saying: "all fellow women of America, do not ever enter into marriage, do not allow your men even to kiss you unless you agree with them on the consequences of termination of that relationship, and put it down in writing for only then will the judicial system operate."
And when I read that, I said that here, finally, these American women, after running away from the Islamic value of pinning down and spelling out the relationship and the consequences of the relationship in a contract which has been available to everyone for fourteen centuries, finally they are coming to realize its value. How much education and how much safeguarding of the future for our Western neighbors, our non-Muslim neighbors it would provide if we were to invite them to our homes and show them our contracts of marriage and tell them that life within marriage, or should the marriage be terminated outside the marriage, are all here, written down and spelled out, agreed upon not only by the two individuals concerned, but also by the two families. What a tremendous source of relief this could give them if they were capable of practising it and, of course, this would be an introduction to them to enter the fold of Islam because only Islam gives them that assurance and that guarantee.
The seventh point that I want to make concerns woman's personality. I have already mentioned women's liberation and you are aware, I am sure, how much has been done since the days of universal suffrage; the right to vote, to elect officers of the government, or a right to all property or what you have, but the West still has a great deal to learn from Islam on this question of legal status, regardless of the relationship that marriage has brought about. In the West, only very recently and only a few women are beginning to carry their maiden name and then only those that have achieved a reputation and a career before marriage. It has become something of a business value, like the name of the business world, therefore they want to keep the name, but very few among them believe that they are total and complete personalities and of course, the law does not allow them to be. There is no faith in the union, in America that would allow a married woman, or a married man for that matter, to sell a property without consideration for the other spouse. And so it looks that, as far as buying and selling property is concerned, women are half persons, not fully legal persons, and in the continent in Europe, there are still many states which do not recognize at all such rights of married women or of unmarried women for that matter.
The Extended Family
Then our family, and this is my eighth point, our Muslim family is an extended family, it is not a nuclear family though the nuclear family is quite fashionable . We said that the nuclear family, forgive me for using this term and playing on the term nuclear and fission, the nuclear family consisting only of husband, wife and children does not have the resources, the human resources, the wisdom resources, the friendly resources that the extended family brings to the scene. This tendency, unfortunately is gripping the whole Muslim world and I would not be surprised to see it gripping the Muslim population of England, Europe and America as well, that every person who gets married wants to go and live in a flat of his own, avoiding his relatives, immediate or distant. This is a terrible development, this is the Westernisation and the corruption that we are subjected to, that we are undergoing in our lives in the West, and we should resist it. We should resist it for several reasons. The Shari'ah has prescribed for us who our dependent is and who is not our dependant, who is our heir and who is not our heir and therefore, to the extent that the Shari'ah has done this, then those people who inherit from us and who are our dependants must live together. We must eat together from the same kitchen and live as far as possible in the same home. We, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our grandparents, our cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces and so forth, because these constitute the extended family of Islam. Now the extended family of Islam is the noblest, the greatest, and the most valuable social institution that the world has ever seen. By going nuclear, that is to say by going individualistic, Western society has lost all these values and they are suffering terribly.
Let me point out to you a few of those consequences. Because we live with our parents and our elders, we love them, they have brought us up, they have played with us when we were young, they have told us stories, they were patient with us and they have educated us, guided us, and advised us, so we love them because we are in constant communion with them. However, in the Western case, there is alienation and a strangeness because as soon as the youth period is past, the children strike out on their own and the result is that when the parents become old, there is no respect for them; they end their days pining for their children in old folks' homes or the nursing homes for old people. There could not be a more cruel death for anyone than that of being taken to the old folks' home to die slowly, away from his own progeny, from his own dependants and there could not be a worse fate for any man or woman than to be deprived of the relationship and affection of their own children. But you see, respect for elders has to be cultivated and it will not be cultivated by separation, hence this is the great benefit of the Muslim extended family. Secondly, the extended family permits no generation gap among Muslims. In the same family there are babies, teenagers, adults and elders, maybe elders of the first level and elders even of the second level and, since they live together, they are in constant communion with one another; this is precisely the socialization, the acculturation that the sociologists are talking about and are pleading for, and yet the nuclear family makes it impossible. This is why acculturation and socialization have to be obtained in the drug store, through the television screen or through one's peers in the schools, but then this is not acculturation, this is not socialization. This is demagogisation, if the term can be used. Acculturation and socialization means the passing on from one generation to another of norms, of social norms, of social values. It does not mean a group of people coming together Ad hoc in order to have fun. That is not socialization, that is not acculturation, and where in the Western society can this process take place anyway?
This is why Western society today is so radically different from Western society of yesterday, and this is why the old values of Western society do not obtain today and why there is no continuity. On the Islamic side, because of the extended family, there is no such generation gap. Thirdly, a great consequence of the extended family is the fact that considering that human beings are social animals, as the philosophers used to say, they need company, they need solace. I need somebody with whom to love sometime and I need somebody with whom to play sometime. I need somebody with whom to complain sometime and I need somebody with whom to cry sometime. Now where else but in the extended family can I find that somebody? Now if I do not have the extended family, if I do not give vent to these pent-up emotions, these emotions will build up in me and make me insane, make me crazy, they will make me take to drugs, to alcohol, to running after other women outside the home.
A nuclear family endangers that sanity and opens the door to all kinds of maladjustments. Another consequence of the extended family is that we learn to be loyal to a group, we learn to be altruistic, we learn to give our emotions, our love, loyalty and fidelity to a group that is, of course, the microcosm of the Ummah, in other words, to defeat our individualism. All of us are individualists, this is something inside us, it is an instinct. We are all advocates, everybody wants to promote himself and fill his own tummy and so on and so forth. This is natural, Allah has put that inside us, but Allah has also planted us in an extended family in order to curb those instincts, to discipline them. In fact, to make something good come out of them instead of the egotistic pursuit which brings ruin. Without the extended family there can be no Ummah because there can be no Ummatic feeling bred in the members and the result would be dissolution, and this is exactly what we are seeing in the Western family and in Western society. Western society today is built upon individuals and upon egotism, everybody wants his own thing, his own pleasure, to pursue his own interests, and nobody is willing to adjust and sacrifice and co-operate with another and this is why the society is falling apart. And to bring a Western person into an extended family and to let him experience what we experience in the extended family situation is undoubtedly, if he or she has any measure of sensitivity, to convert them to Islam, to make them one to that kind of relaxation, that kind of thirst that is enjoyed by the Muslim who is living in an extended family.
The Benefits of an Extended Family
Another point, the ninth point, can be regarded as a consequence of the extended family. We have heard about women going out to work and having a career, but for a woman to go out to work and have a career in the West, in the nuclear family, must always be and can only be done at the cost of the home and the children. Either there are no children, deliberately, in order to pursue the career or, if there are children, they are abandoned to the television set or to the baby-sitter or to the street corner if they cannot afford the baby-sitter. Sometimes they even bum themselves or burn the house down by playing with fire without a supervisor. Or the woman comes home from work, exhausted to the point of being uninterested in the spouse or another person, and then tempers fly, because everybody is exhausted and so family life is ruined. I want to tell you that only in the Muslim family can the woman have a career outside the home. Why? Because she can absent herself, if she has a talent; if she has the talent to invent things or produce things that would benefit the whole Ummah, a woman can do that without losing either home or children. Why? Because there are so many other women in the home, because there are so many other people in the home carrying on the business of the family and so preventing damage to the career or the home. Of course, the first career of a Muslim woman is her family. There can be no doubt about that, and that comes before driving shuttles to the moon or whatever or inventing robots. It is her duty, it is her function, it is her prime function, and the function for which Allah has created her is, indeed, to be the pillar, the main pillar of the family and the mother. But this may not exhaust all her years or all her energies. And therefore, if it is possible for her to serve the Ummah additionally, besides being a mother, this could be done only in the case of the extended family and the Muslim family. And it is also the condition for the preservation of her femininity because the tensions under which women work outside of the home are dissipated when she comes home and the same femininity, the same feminine touch never leaves the home. This is always available.
And, in conclusion, I should remind you of all the other values that our Muslim family enjoys by virtue of adhering to the prescriptions of the Shari'ah. The fact that we do not drink alcohol or take drugs is a tremendous source of strength for the family. The fact that gambling is Haram and that the resources of the family ought to have one kitty in which to put their incomes and from that kitty should come all the expenses of everyone according to a system of priorities established by the responsible leader or father. All these are tremendous props which the Western people do not enjoy at all.
Note: An essay I wrote during my ‘malas-malas’ time while enjoying my holiday. For further reading, please consult The Principles of Islamic Family by Ismail Raji’ al-Faruqi and Islamic Sociology by Maulana Wafa Taufeeq.