The Concept of Family in Islam

The Backbone of Society
By Jamal Badawi
Chairman, Islamic Information Foundation - Canada

Family is the cornerstone of the social system
In Islam, family is the cornerstone of the social system. Family is not a casual or spontaneous organization of people, but it is a divinely ordained institution. Family and marriage are regarded as noble and sacred; a social contract that confers mutual rights and obligations on the couple.

The progress and welfare of society or its breakdown can be traced to the strength and unity or to the weakness of the family. The weakness is a crucial indicator of the weakness of society, reflected by problems like juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, alcoholism, teenage pregnancies, and divorce.

The concept of an "extended family" is common in non-Western cultures, unlike the concept of a "nuclear family", which means a family consisting of just the parents and their children, that is common in the West. "Extended family" means children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes in-laws share one household.

Islam does not specify that a Muslim family should be either nuclear or extended. With regards to relations within the same family, the first and most important is that of husband and wife, their children, and the grandparents.

Other relatives come in a second or third degree; although this is not to say that the individual has no obligation or responsibility at all towards these other relatives, whereas the first degree of relations has unequivocal and precise rights.

Islamic Family Laws

Although the nature of duties and obligations among members of a family are instinctive in human nature, it is important to realize that Islamic law exists only to supplement and enforce these innate feelings and not to replace them. Islam acts as a guarantee that the rights and responsibilities that each member of the family has with regard to others will be fulfilled with justice and equality.

Islamic family law establishes minimum basic rights to guarantee the interests of each family member. Thus, in Islam, family relations are governed by a balance between the innate sense of duty felt by family members and what is laid down as a minimum by the law.

In the absence of law, there could be problems arising from the fact that the innate nature of the father to treat all his children equally could be overridden by an attachment to one particular child, and so this child is especially favored, for example in inheritance, leaving the other children with their rights denied.

Lineage or lineal duty has an essential role in the Muslim family because from it stems the duties, obligations, and responsibilities of family members.

The most important Islamic teaching on this subject is that people must not claim a child as theirs if they adopted that child, and that children must not falsely claim to be the real son or daughter of a particular person if they are not, and that adopted children cannot be given the family name of their foster parents, because doing that would mask the adopted children's true identity. And of course, natural children have more claim to any inheritance than adopted children.

God says in the Qur'an what means,

[Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him; nor has He made your wives whose backs you liken to the backs of your mothers as your mothers, nor has He made those whom you assert to be your sons your real sons; these are the words of your mouths; and Allah speaks the truth and He guides to the way. Proclaim their real parentage. That will be more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if ye know not their fathers, then they are your brethren in the faith, and your clients. And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that ye make unintentionally, but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you). Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.] (Al-Ahzab 33:4-5)

On the other hand, if an orphan or abandoned child is looked after by a family as an act of compassion; being given shelter, food, clothing, and other needs, then this is legal and indeed a great act of humanity for which Allah promises great rewards. Though the adopted children do not inherit on the same footing as the natural children, it is commendable for the adopter to bequeath something to them.

The importance of the family in Islam comes from its allocated function in preserving   
the human race by procreation. Also, it is responsible for protecting the morals of the society and individuals by providing the only legitimate avenue for the satisfaction of the sexual urge.

Moreover, the family has an important role in providing the socialization and value orientation of children, and in providing social and economic security.
Finally, making up a family motivates individuals to work hard, sacrifice their own welfare, and become beneficent for the sake of their family.


Adapted from a lecture in Dr. Jamal Badawi’s Islamic Teachings series. To listen to the lecture, clickhere
Dr. Jamal Badawi is a former professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, where he taught in the areas of management and religious studies. He is the author of several works on various aspects of Islam.

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