Family Relations in Islam

How are family relations perceived in Islam? The best way to approach this issue, and any other for that matter, is to have a holistic, existential perspective. Who are we? What is a family? And why is it important in the bigger scheme of things?

When we look at our surroundings with an open eye, we realize that what is happening cannot be the result of mere chance. The entire universe is full of art and purpose, and everything points to the Artist. Indeed, the perfection in everything testifies that they are created by the All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Powerful Creator. The Qur’an is replete with statements that urge us to ponder about this very reality. For example, God says in the Qur’an:

“Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it?” (Qur’an, 50:6).

So, what does this mean practically? It means that nothing in creation is superior to anything else, since all are created by the Creator and their qualities are given to them by Him. It also means that all of creation is like a family. Everything is designed and sustained by the same Maker. In this sense, the universe is not a place of loneliness, but is home, where all that surrounds us becomes familiar and friendly. We are all part of the same family; the family of creation. Thus, loving and caring for all creation is an outcome of our realization that we are a family. We love every member of our family. The tree, the ant, the flowers, the air, the sounds…. All of them are our siblings in creation!

As opposed to the malfunctioning eye that sees nothing but separation and isolation in the universe, through awakening to the truth behind existence, believers of God see universal love, harmony, and kinship everywhere they look. A practical outcome of this is caring for and loving everything in the creation.

If we go one level up and concentrate on the family of humanity, we see a similar picture. We have all been created equally by God’s hands. All our properties are given by the All-Wise Maker. He used his brown paint, yellow paint, white paint, so that we become more and more enamored with His artistry. Yet, unfortunately, we have used these differences to separate and to oppress one another. Whereas, to love all human beings, is a necessary outcome of loving God. In other words, we love all human beings unconditionally, but we only dislike those actions that God dislikes.

This is the basis of the Islamic understanding of human relations on earth. God mentions explicitly in the Qur’an that He created us to know one another with our hearts. It stresses the point of peace and understanding and stands against ideologies that separate human beings and commit injustice based on power, gender, race… etc. We live together to enjoy knowing each other as God’s art. If God willed, there would have been one race, one color only. Can you imagine that the world has only one type of flower? Yet, the Artist is infinitely Beautiful and is manifesting His art through countless varieties of flowers. In this respect, Mother Teresa’s words speak to the heart: “I see God in every human being.” Likewise, Yunus Emre, a Muslim poet and mystic has said: “I love all the created because of the Creator.” Also, in a sacred hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said:

“(God) will (question a person) on the Day of Resurrection (saying): ‘O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me.’ The person will say: ‘O my Lord, how could I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ Thereupon (God) will say: ‘Didn’t you know that a servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him, and were you not aware that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him?’

(God will then say) ‘O son of Adam, I asked you for food but you did not feed Me.’ The person will say: ‘My Lord, how could I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ (God) will say: ‘Didn’t you know that a servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him you would have found Me by his side?’

Yes, we are all one family, and the Qur’an is teaching us to take care of each other in the name of God. We would achieve social harmony and peace, only if we can follow God’s word instead of our own whims…You might be wondering why we are not talking about family as we know it: husband, wife and children… It is because family relations need to be seen within this bigger picture. The husband, the wife and the children are created beings, arts of God. So believers love and take care of their family members as trusts from their Creator.

But what is the purpose of designing family life? God selects certain people for us, so that we experience intimacy. Our mother, father, siblings, wife, husband, kids… This is an opportunity for us to observe and to feel the manifestations of God’s Attributes. We begin to get a glimpse of what God’s love means by feeling love towards others. Through the feelings He gives us, we experience the meanings of love, mercy, compassion, patience, perseverance… And through these, we come to know God more! We come to know how He is patient to his servants, by being patient with our kids. We come to know how compassionate he is to us, by feeling compassion towards our parents. Prophet Muhammad and all of God’s messengers before him (peace be upon them all) have emphasized the importance of family ties and the responsibilities of believers to take care of, respect, and love their relatives to receive God’s pleasure.  God says in the Qur’an:

“Worship God and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk…” (Qur’an, 4:36).

Just after being asked to worship God only, we’re advised to do good to our parents and kinship! As everything we experience in our lives, marriage and parenting are also two “schools.” They are schools for disciplining our egos and for becoming more mature and wise servants of God. They are schools that can teach us about God in an experiential setting. We receive the most effective spiritual and character training through marriage and parenting. Family is a 24/7 school with no spring breaks! We are to discipline our egos and submit to God’s will in every aspect of our family lives. Or else, marriage becomes nothing but a pointless war between two egos, which frequently results in divorce. The currently high drop-out rates from the school of family would decrease only if we realize the overall purpose as to why God intended marriage for us. If we only realize that family life is a seminary designed to know and love God.

Let’s say we like the idea of becoming more fit and exercising to be healthier. No matter how many books we read about how to exercise, no matter how much we talk about the benefits of exercising, the only way we will benefit from working-out is actually sweating in the gym! Similarly, no matter how much we talk about the virtues of being a forgiving, loving, and giving person in theory, we cannot become more mature, more understanding, and more giving without going through the actual training. No matter how much we talk about God’s forgiveness, patience, compassion, and love, we will not know and appreciate him experientially unless we practice these virtues in our lives. We realize how God is patient with wrongdoers when we as parents cannot be patient enough towards our children. Or, when we show compassion towards my parents, to feel that God is showing compassion to all old people, animals, and plants in this Creation. As a result we would feel and say: Thank you God for showing us your Compassion through letting us show compassion toward our parents!

Even though every human relation, like friendship for instance, is a school to train us in these virtues, none is as effective as family. Because we only spend a limited amount of time with friends, and can easily walk away at the slightest disagreement. Yet relationships in the family may expose all our faults and shortcomings that we did not even know we had. Only if we can see the family relations from this perspective, we can rescue this sacred school from being abolished. And if we can do that, we will have societies that are peaceful, caring not only towards their kinship but towards all humanity. Injustices committed all around the worlds would cease then, and we will enjoy living in a peaceful, loving, and caring society.

We firmly believe that all humanity will soon realize that living in the name of God is the only way to our happiness, individually and communally. May God help each and every one of us in our journey to become better believers, better submitters to His will, better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters…