The Family in Islam I: The Appeal of Islamic Family Life
In Islam, considering the well-being of the “other” instead of just the “self” is a virtue so rooted
in the religion that it is evident even to those outside it. The British humanitarian and civil rights
lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, a non-Muslim, stated: “What I like about Islam is its focus on the
group, which is opposite to the West’s focus on individuality.”i
Individuals comprising any society are tied together by related group bonds. The strongest of all
societal bonds is that of the family. And while it can be justifiably argued that the basic family
unit is the foundation of any given human society, this holds particularly true for Muslims. As
a matter of fact, the great status that Islam affords to the family system is the very thing that so
often attracts many new converts to Islam, particularly women.
“With laws for almost every aspect of life, Islam represents a faith-based order that women may
see as crucial to creating healthy families and communities, and correcting the damage done by
the popular secular humanism of the past thirty or so years, several experts said. In addition,
women from broken homes may be especially attracted to the religion because of the value it
places on family, said Marcia Hermansen, a professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University in
Chicago and an American who also converted to Islam.”ii
So, what are the particular values or traits of Islamic family life that so many are finding so
In newspaper report, it was also observed how: “Family values play an integral role in the
formation of a Muslim community. Because of those family values, there are a lot of other norms
that are consistent within the Hispanic community and Islam; for instance, respect for elders,
married life and rearing children, these are some of the traditions Hispanics have in common
Some ordinary American converts also have had a say about real life experience, and some
of these are collected in a book by the mother of such a convert; Daughters of Another Path by
Carol L. Anway. One woman, quoted in the bookiv
marriage and family life after converting to Islam. “I became cleaner and quieter the further I
went into the religion. I became highly disciplined. I had not intended to marry before I was a
Muslim, yet I quickly became a wife and then a mother. Islam has provided a framework that
, spoke about her change in attitude towards
has allowed me to express belief, such as modesty, kindness and love, which I already had. It has
also led me to happiness through marriage and the birth of two children. Before Islam I had had
no desire to have my own family since I hated (the thought of having) kids.”
Another woman speaks of her acceptance into the extended family in the same book. “We were
met at the airport by a lot of his family, and it was a very touching moment, one I will never
forget. Mama (her mother-in-law) is like an angel… I have spent a lot of time in with tears,
because of what I see here. The family system is quite unique with closeness that is beyond
In Appendix C of the book, a 35 year old American convert, at that time 14 years a Muslim,
wrote about the family of her husband and their values relative to her own American values.
“I have met all the members of my husband’s immediate family and some members of his
immense extended family… I have learned a great deal from my in-laws. They have a wonderful
way of relating to their children, a way that engenders respect for others and great amounts
of self esteem. It is interesting to see how a child-orientated and religious orientated culture
operates. My in-laws, by virtue of being a contrast to American culture, have given me a great
appreciation for certain elements of my American cultural identity… I have seen that Islam is
truly correct in saying that moderation is the right path.”vi
From these quotations, one from a non-Muslim intellectual, others from converts and reporters,
and some from quite American women who embraced Islam, we can see that family values in
Islam are one of its major attractions. These values stem from Allah and His guidance, through
the Qur’an and the example and teaching of His Messenger, Muhammad, may the mercy and
blessings of Allah be upon him, who indicates the family unit as being one of the mainstays of
religion and Islamic the way of life. The importance of forming a family is underscored by a
saying of the holy Prophet himself, who said:
“When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah regarding the
remaining half.” vii
The two articles that follow will discuss the family in Islam in the light of the Qur’an and
Prophetic teachings. Through briefly exploring Islam’s take on the themes of married life,
respect for parents and elders, and the rearing of children, we can begin to appreciate the benefits
of the family in Islam.
Emel Magazine, Issue 6 – June/July 2004.
“Islam’s Female Converts”; Priya Malhotra, February 16, 2002.
“Islam Gains Hispanic Converts”; Lisa Bolivar, Special Correspondent, September 30, 2005
Daughters of Another Path, 4th printing, Al-Attique Publishers, p.81.
Daughters of Another Path, p.126.
Daughters of Another Path, p.191.
A narration from the Prophet, by Anas b. Malik, his personal servant; collected in and commented on by Imam
al-Baihaqi in Shu’ab al-Iman (Branches of Faith).