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Family Life

What's the Status of Family in Islam?

Is there anything in Islam teaching Allah's directions for having a proper family life? What is the treatement of parents, husbands, wives and children in the Muslim religion?

The family in Islam is a unit in which a man and woman unite to share life together according to the rules and regulations laid down by the Shari'ah. They become as close to each other as a garment is to the body. The husband's honour becomes an integral part of his wife's honour, and vice versa. They share each other's prosperity and adversity.

Thus in Islam the bridal couple are united as husband and wife in the presence of witnesses seeking Allah's blessings to increase in mutual love and compassion and agreeing to care for each other in sickness and adversity. This fundamental principle of Islamic marriage, understood and observed by the spouses, is the basis of the institution of Muslim marriage.

In the family, the man is charged with the duty of being the leader of the family and the woman is assigned the duty of looking after the household. Even if the man has more responsibility than the woman and thereby has a degree over her, it does not make a husband inherently better than his wife. The Qur'an contains a verse which says:

And in no way envy those things wherein Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than others: to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn... (4:32)

Commenting on this verse Sheikh Muhammad 'Abduh says that it does not imply that every man is better than every woman or vice versa, but it emphasizes that: "each sex, in general, has some preferential advantage over the other, though men have a degree over women . " What is this "degree"? There are different views about it. One view is that it means the qualities of leadership, surveillance and maintenance which are bestowed on men. Another view is that it signifies the tolerance with which men must treat their wives even when in extremely bad moods. Yet another view is that it is man's natural gift from Allah for judging matters pertaining to his family and managing the problems affecting it. However, the consensus of the scholars is that the "degree" comprises the principle of guardianship and nothing more.

Muhammad 'Abduh feels that guardianship has four elements: protection, surveillance, custody, and maintenance. 'Abd al-'Ati considers that over and above these four elements is the element of obedience. According to 'Abd al-'Ati obedience consists of the following aspects:

A wife must neither receive male strangers nor accept gifts from them without her husband's approval.

As a protector and provider for the women, the man of the house does have the legal right in Islamic law (shari'ah) to restrict freedom of movement of the women of the house, as he determines necessary for their safety, security and protection. He may prevent them from leaving their home without his permission unless there is a necessity or legitimate reason for them to do otherwise. However, it is his religious obligation to be compassionate and not to unreasonably restrict their freedom of movement. If there arises a conflict between this right of the husband and the rights of the wife's parents to visit her and be visited by her, the husband's right prevails in the wider interest of the family. Yet the Shari'ah recommends that he be considerate enough to waive his rights to avoid shame within the family.

A refractory wife has no legal right to object to her husband exercising his disciplinary authority. Islamic law, in common with most other systems of law, recognizes the husband's right to discipline his wife [but never to beat her] for disobedience.

The wife may not legally object to the husband's right to take another wife or to exercise his right of divorce. The marital contract establishes her implicit consent to these rights. However, if she wishes to restrict his freedom in this regard or to have similar rights, she is legally allowed to do so.

She may stipulate in the marital agreement that she too will have the right to divorce or that she will keep the marriage bond only so long as she remains the only wife. Should he take a second wife, she will have the right to seek a divorce in accordance with the marriage agreement.