Monday, January 31, 2011

Islam, Family and Modernity

Post 24:--

In the last post I promised you an article written by Asghar Ali Engineer of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, India. Engineer is a prolific writer about Islam, history and society. I am grateful for his permission to reproduce his article as an example of the more liberal Muslim approach to women's issues. Tomorrow, inshallah, I will reproduce writing(s) from a more conservative wing on the same subject. Between the two of them, these articles exemplify what I have written in Post 23.

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 their husbands.

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.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

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