The family unit is the foundation to any society. The success of any nation depends on the success of the family. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the growth of its members. The word ‘Usra’ is derived from the words meaning unity, binding, and protection. It refers to a group of people closely connected through close ties that keep them together. The Muslim family begins with a ‘nikah’ marriage contract between husband and wife, it is the foundation, Allah describes this covenant as “…a deep contract…” [4:21]. The other major relationship is that of parent to child. Both having rights with one another.
Family life before Islam
There was no real family set up prior to Islam, however it was, it was based on oppression and injustice. All affairs were controlled only by men and women and near to zero rights. For example, if a man died leaving behind his wife, his son by another wife had to the right to marry her and control her life, or to prevent her from getting married. Men could only inherit, women and children had no share. We find some men would even go to the extent of burying their new born daughters alive, Allah says: “And when the news of (the birth of) a female child is brought to them, his face becomes dark, and he filled with inward grief.” [16:58)
When Islam came, it did away with all that and established justice, giving each person his or her rights, even nursing infants, and even the miscarried foetus who was to be respected and prayed for (i.e. given a proper funeral). Islam liberated people from the enslavement of people by people, to the pure worship of the one Al Mighty Al Just God.
The importance of the family
The family is an institute and it is there to produce great minds that can bring about great benefit to themselves and to others. Raising good beneficial people is much different to looking after livestock, it requires investment and hard work. There are many reasons to why Islam attaches great importance to the family:
- The family is a structure which looks after the people within it. It provides love, care and attention to children that need a good healthy upbringing. Children are nurtured by their parents, who give them love, time and attention all in hope of raising good constructive people. This set up of love and training can last for 15 to 18 years in which the child’s mind and body are developing, the family up bringing or lack of lay the foundation for the future of every child.
- The Ummah is made up of communities, these communities are made up of families, so, if the family is god fearing and upright then the Ummah will also, and if the family is broken and busy in sin then that will influence the ummah. This is why the Prophet Muhammad encouraged people to marry an individual who you would like your children to imitate and resemble, as children observe and copy their mothers.
- Both men and women have been created equally yet with different roles and responsibilities. Their roles are complimentary to one another, they are not in competition with each other rather they are working together to achieve a common goal. Islam gives the man many leadership roles, and the skills and confidence required to fulfil these mighty positions fundamentally come from the training they recieve in their early years.
In the books of fiqh, there is a whole section on the fiqh of the family. The very fact that there are large sections of law relating to the family reflects the importance of the successful family unit.
Discussions include topics such as:
- The correct concept of engagement and it’s conditions.
- The marriage contract and it’s biding conditions.
- Invalid marriage contracts.
- The wording of the marriage contract.
- The dowry.
- The rights of both husband and wife.
The pillars of divorce.
- The categories of divorce
- Invoking curses
The women’s prescribed waiting period
- Definition of idda.
- Different waiting periods
- Interference of waiting periods.
Living expenses (Maintenance)
- Who is obligated to receive maintenance and who must give it?
- The spending that is obligatory.
- When maintenance is not required.
- Definition of breastfeeding
- Conditions of becoming a mother via breastfeeding.
- What are the laws relating to becoming a brother or sister due to breastfeeding.
- How do we establish this type of breastfeeding.
Custody of Children
- Custody is whose obligation?
- Who has more right to take custody of the child for the upbringing?
- When the right of guardianship is lost.
- The period of Guardianship.
- Maintenance of the child and paying the woman who looks after him.
- The child going back and forth between his father and mother.
- Travelling with the child
- The child under guardianship is a trust.
These are just some of the main subjects discussed in Islamic law with regards to the family, for a full detailed discussion one may find a number of courses on Islamic Courses Online, for example ‘Family Matters’ and much more. In part 2 we will look at the status of women in the Muslim family and the legal objectives of the Muslim family.
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