Family and Modernity
Wednesday January 12, 2011 02:30:48 PM,
Asghar Ali Engineer
Sometime go I happened to go to Turkey for an international
conference on Family. I wrote an account of my journey to Turkey
but here I want to talk about my presentation in the conference.
It was an impressive international conference from around 50
countries and 300 scholars, social scientists and activists.
Several papers were read and discussed on various aspects of
family. The common concern was that the institution of family is
getting weakened and family being the very foundation of our
civilization, it must be saved from disintegration.
I was asked to talk about Islam and institution of family. In fact
the Prophet of Islam did not approve of life of celibacy except in
some situation. He also disapproved of renunciation of world (ruhbaniyyah)
and preferred living in the world and facing all the situations.
Various pronouncements of the Qur’an relate to family life,
marriage, divorce and children. Qur’an also says if you have no
means to marry and sustain your family lead pious life until Allah
gives you necessary means. Also, Qur’an prescribes punishment for
illegitimate sex fornication, rape and adultery.
According to Islamic teachings, sex is permissible only within the
institution of marriage as sex only for pleasure, is not
permissible; sex is basically meant for raising family. Today in
western countries, people do not want to take responsibility for
raising family but want to have sex for pleasure and hence ‘live
in’ arrangement has come into vogue and this concept of live-in
has dealt great blow to the institution of family. In this
arrangement both man and woman can walk away any time they like.
Thus the basic idea is not to have any responsibility towards each
other, much less towards children. In fact every attempt is made
to avoid begetting children and, if at all, children are born, the
whole responsibility will come on a single parent, especially on
mother. The result is man tries to have multiple partners to enjoy
sex and woman is burdened with children and faces psychological
stresses and strain.
Sex cannot be an end in itself as it happens in live-in
arrangement. There are, according to Qur’an two important purposes
of marriage – to raise family and provide companionship to each
other. The very philosophy of marriage is based on love and
companionship. Qur’an says, “And of His Signs is this, that He
created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of
mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Surely
there are signs in this for a people who reflect.” (30:21
Thus the institution of family, according to the Qur’an, should be
based on higher and noble values of life .Simply to gratify sexual
desire can never lead to higher civilization and stability in
one’s life. Stability, compassion and love are the very basis of
human civilization and family is an important institution in
building civilization. Family, as far as possible, should not
break and that is why according to the Prophet’s hadith divorce is
most disapproved among permissible things and also according to
another hadith heavens shake when man pronounces divorce to his
wife because divorce delivers blow to very institution of family.
Today in the contemporary world institution of family is
increasingly getting weakened due to certain contradictions
arising in our life due to modernity. In modern period women too
work and become quite independent and hence refuse to bow down to
wishes of her spouse. In the past women were quite economically
dependent on husbands and felt more secure in bowing down to his
wishes. Husband was thought to be master and crown of her head (sartaj).
Today women are from middle class families highly educated and
work with high salaries and so they refuse to bow down before
So many orthodox Muslims feel this is the result of women getting
educated and earning for themselves. It is destabilizing families.
This is wrong conclusion because we are embedded in patriarchal
values. In fact if women have to have dignity and self-respect
they should not be asked to submit to husband’s authority. Any
institution based on authority rather than higher values cannot be
stable and cannot lead to higher civilization. Qur’an while giving
women right to earn and property, also gives her equal dignity and
self respect and makes it clear that family should be based not on
authority of husband but on love and compassion for each other.
If these values are meticulously practiced both husband and wife
have mutual respect and consult each other before taking any
crucial decision, woman’s education and earning would make family
much more stable and prosperous. If our culture remains
patriarchal and husband’s authority supreme, family in which woman
is highly educated and cares for self respect and dignity, would
tend to come under strain and break. Even in highly modern
societies women has no role in decision making on crucial matters
and hence family life comes under severe strain and percentage of
divorce goes up because woman refuses to submit.
Thus solution does not lie in abandoning the institution of family
and go in for live-in relationship. There will be no genuine love
and compassion. Solution lies in according equal dignity to women
and equal role in decision making. This alone will strengthen
institution of family. Thus if philosophy of family as propounded
by the Qur’an is followed institution of family will not fall
apart. It will be strengthened instead.
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