Family in Modern Society
One of the most striking features of Muslim society is the importance that is given to family life. With changing cultural norms and the development of new personal priorities, I question whether there is still room left for family in modern society. Is the concept of a traditional family unit as relevant today as compared to before?
Let us first explore what most people imagine a ‘traditional’ family is like. Of course, this will differ depending on the specific cultural conventions of the time and place of upbringing. In most Western societies, a nuclear family, usually with one female parent, one male parent, and typically 1-3 children, seems to be the most common, while in other societies, such as those in South Asian countries like Pakistan and India, extended families are the norm. (Although, this seems to be moving more towards independent family life with the increase of Western influences seen there) 1.
However, with society becoming more accepting of the ‘non-traditional’ ways of life, the definition of ‘family,’ has become much more blurred and the image that pops into my mind, as well as that of many others, when thinking of the ideal family is not the traditional ‘married man and women and their children.’ From 1972 to 2017, the number of opposite-sex marriages has plummeted by 45% and religious marriages are the lowest on record 2. Society has progressed to become more accepting of single-parenting, unmarried couples, polygamous marriages, children living independently, and the list goes on. Sociologists have constantly stressed the importance of family life on mental well-being and health 3, but if the idea of family is more difficult to characterize, could these newer family forms distract us from safeguarding our understanding of family values?
I think it is important to look at how and why we as Muslims living in such a modern society should ensure that we continue to uphold and maintain the importance of the family values laid out in the Holy Quran and beautifully demonstrated by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Why is this necessary? Because it is crucial to achieving Islam’s ultimate goal – peace.
Chapter 25, verse 5 of the Holy Quran states:
“Our Lord, grant us of our spouses and children the delight of our eyes and make each of us a leader of the righteous” 4.
Islam gives great importance to family relationships, from parent and child to the relationship of brothers and sisters 5. It encourages large family units because of the love and friendships that naturally grow within them. If peace exists within families, arguably the leading central division of society, then that society can enjoy peace. Furthermore, with its influence on the development in probably all aspects of our lives (spiritual, moral, social…), a good family life, that follows the faultless family values set out for us by Islam, can ensure that the society that results is not only moral, educated, and peaceful but also devoted to religion 6. Therefore, we have a responsibility to adhere to them; they are essential to avoid the breakdown of family life.
So, in what ways do Islamic family values ensure this?
Islamic family values are very comprehensive. They cover the dynamics, rules and approaches that should be employed at every stage of family life – from marriage to the birth and upbringing of children to the elderly life of the parents and grandparents. All of these have been defined in detail by the Quran or taught by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
When I take the time to understand these dynamics, rules, and approaches, it becomes clear how they promote equality, fairness, love, respect; and aim to ensure all the rights and responsibilities of a person are met.
For example, gender equality in family life is promised in Islam. The roles of the male and female in keeping a family running, although are different, are split evenly so neither feels over-worked or exploited in the relationship. The Holy Prophet even chose to re-reiterate Islam’s system of equality in his final address with the words,
“Even as the fingers of the two hands are equal, so are human beings equal to one another. No one has any rights, any superiority to claim over another” 7.
Children are urged to take care of the parents in their elderly age, so parents will not feel their effort in taking care of the children when they were younger has been disregarded5. The values teach patience, fortitude, and gratefulness, so family members feel supported even through arguments or hardships.
Indeed, the struggles we all faced during the lockdown because of the worldwide pandemic, really highlighted the importance of family. We learnt the value of emotional support and being there for our loved ones. May Allah enable us to uphold these values of love and respect so societal peace can prevail.
To listen to an interesting discussion on family respect, check out the link below to the VOI podcast.
- Alison Kroulek (2016). Families Around the World | K International https://www.k-international.com/blog/families-around-the-world/
- Office for National Statistics (2020). Marriages in England and Wales: 2017 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2017#numbers-and-rates
- McAuley, C., McKeown, C. & Merriman, B. Spending Time with Family and Friends: Children’s Views on Relationships and Shared Activities. Child Ind Res, 449–467 (2012).
- The Holy Quran https://www.alislam.org/quran/app/25
- Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (1992). Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p.85 https://www.alislam.org/library/books/IslamsResponseToContemporaryIssues.pdf
- Family Life https://www.alislam.org/family-life/
- Khaula Shah: Muhammad(saw) – The Restorer of Family Values https://www.alislam.org/articles/muhammad-restorer-of-family-values/