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The Family
 
Throughout the course of human civilization the family, as the smallest social unit, has enjoyed a prominent place. The multiplicity of factors which contribute to the rise and survival of family complicate any cultural approach to the issue. First and foremost, the family is the framework for an intimate shared life between a couple and the vehicle for the fostering and education of the new generation. At the same time, factors such as sexual needs and financial considerations should be a part of any discussion of the family. This duality is reflected in Islam’s approach to the family which comprises a spiritual and ethical component as well as a material and legal component, each of which has its own particular characteristics.
Islamic teachings take into account the psychological differences between males and females as well as every human’s need for spiritual relationship with the opposite sex. The Quran considers women as sources of tranquility for men (A`raf 7: 189; Rum 30: 21). At the same time, it deems men as being responsible for women and as managers of their affairs (Nisa’ 4: 34). It also views men and women as mutually dependent and refers to them as vestments for one another (Baqarah 2: 187).
As a religion which does not view material enjoyments and eternal salvation as mutually exclusive, Islam looks down on celibacy, as it is practiced in some religions, as contrary to divine will and as a human innovation (Hadid 57: 27). In spite of this, there came a time in Islamic history where certain Sufi tendencies encouraged celibacy as a virtue, while the rest of the Muslim community continued to view marriage as an inexorable prophetic tradition. It is reported in a well known tradition of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that “marriage is my tradition, and whoever fails to adhere to my tradition is not of me”.
The Quran limits legitimate sexual relation to that between a husband and wife (Mu’minun 23: 6; Ma`arij 70: 30). Throughout the Quran, Muslim men and women, married and single, are called to chastity and adultery is considered as a grievous sin alongside murder and theft (Asra’ 17: 32; Furqan 25: 68; Mumtahinah 60: 12), and assigned its specific forms of punishment (Nur 24: 2). In elaboration of punishments for adultery traditional sources assign more severe sentences to adultery by married individuals. It is also an indication of the sanctity of sexual chastity that the false accusation of a Muslim of adultery (qadhf) carries a heavy punishment as well as a curse in this world and the next (Nur 4: 4 – 6, 23).
Polygamy was commonplace in pre-Islamic Arabia. Islam limited the number of wives to four. In the Surah of Nisa’, which discusses the issue of polygamy, both the emotional and the legal aspects of the issue have been taken into account. From the legal viewpoint, men are allowed to merry up to four wives only if they are capable of establishing an equitable balance between them, and are encouraged not to merry more than one woman if they are unsure of their ability to establish justice among their wives (Nisa’ 4: 3). In another part of the surah, which views the issue from an emotional point of view, it is claimed that even those men who are intent on observing justice among their wives will eventually fail to do so (Nisa’ 4: 129). In several verses of the Quran, which do not address the legal aspects of the issue, the natural family is referred to in terms that imply a single husband and wife (Ma`arij 70: 12; `Abas 80: 36). In fact, all throughout the history of various Muslim communities single husband-wife units have been the predominant form of family life.
As regards the rights of family members, both in terms of legal and moral issues, there are injunctions in religious sources which outline the mutual responsibilities of husbands and wives as well as parents and children. The Quran’s insistence on respect for one’s parents goes so far as commanding those whose parents attempt to divert them from Islam to show kindness to them while remaining steadfast in their belief in Islam (Luqman 31: 14 – 15).
The Islamic shari`ah accords special significance to marriage and family and thus sets forth simple conditions for the establishment of a family. However, from a legal point of view, rules pertaining to marriage are more elaborate and are extensively discussed in fiqhi sources. In cases of marital problems the Quran’s recommends the appointment of two arbiters for each side as a means of reconciliation and salvaging the family (Nisa’ 4: 35). However, divorce is possible in cases where there are irreconcilable differences, even though in Hadith divorce is characterized as the most hated thing in God’s sight.
The Quran, in addition to encouraging people to exercise decency in their sexual relations, sets forth rules that proscribe lustful ogling and commands women to cover their bodies and beauties except in front of their husbands and maharim (Nur 24: 30 – 31). This has led to an extensive discussion of the rules of looking and hijab (Islamic cover) in fiqhi sources as well as to a limitation of male-female relations among Muslims. Muslim women are characterized by a particular manner of dressing which is an indication of their adherence to religious injunctions; a type of attire that follows the national customs of every locality and nation.
 
* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.415 _ 416
 
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