So what exactly is causing the world to overlook the importance of maintaining positive family values, which are essentially the backbone of society? Perhaps we are giving more importance to things like money, careers, leisure, travelling, sports, hobbies, and entertainment?
Marital failure, poor parenting, out-of-control children, and neglected elderly – whether or not we acknowledge them, these problems are increasing at an alarming rate in our communities. Today’s era is one in which technology is at its peak and science is more advanced than ever. But somewhere along the way of modernization, have we failed to master one of the bare essentials of life, something as simple as family values?
Broken, dysfunctional, and far-from-ideal families is not a crisis being faced by the West alone; rather, it is like a plague spreading to all corners of the world. Divorce rates are higher than ever, illegitimate births are increasing at an alarming rate, and we have more children running away from home than they are from education. If we do come across the few families who have somehow managed to hold it together, we find that husbands are not respecting their wives, mothers are not paying enough attention to the kids, and the children are loathing their so-called “loved ones”.
So what exactly is causing the world to overlook the importance of maintaining positive family values, which are essentially the backbone of society? Perhaps we are giving more importance to things like money, careers, leisure, travelling, sports, hobbies, and entertainment? Some may question where fault can be found in such a flawless, “busy, fun and relaxing” lifestyle. The answer may lie in the fact that these lifestyles do not come in-built with religion, but rather it seems that religious practice needs to cater for these lifestyles.
During my high school years, I encountered many students who disliked their parents and would openly complain about how they were not allowed to stay out too late, or that they got in trouble for getting into an inexperienced driver’s car, or because they got in trouble for going to a party with underage drinking. It just happened that most youngsters who acted this way were either not practicing their faith or plainly agnostic. So I had simply labeled them as rebellious and disobedient towards their parents, as they had no “standard” to follow. Of course, I had always assumed that such lack of family values was uncommon amongst Muslim families, because we have Islam as a “standard”, right?
And yet, Muslim families are drowning in the same lack of family morals. This shocking realization hit me when a teenage girl from the local Muslim community casually remarked about her father, “I hate him! We don’t get along too well.” Suddenly those rebellious non-Muslim classmates of mine didn’t seem so alien.
This was the moment that I opened my eyes and analyzed our own Muslim families and saw disrespectful spouses, dishonest and disobedient children, parents who abandon their infant children in daycares while they pursue their careers, fathers who work so much that they hardly spend time with their children, and mothers who are more concerned about fashion then they are about fashioning their children’s minds into those of good Muslims with admirable morals and ethics.
When attempting to analyze the reasons behind deteriorating families, we unfortunately get caught in a vicious game of “hot potato”, with all the contestants throwing the blame onto another person or thing. Some blame the immoral society we live in, others blame the education system, and some even blame the government and judiciary for their lack of efficient control over community members. With nobody taking responsibility, the issue is usually brushed under the rug.
The reality of the matter is that the problem starts at home. Whether we admit it or not, the root cause of this issue is the fact that spouses today are not treating each other as prescribed by Islam, leading to unstable and broken families. This is primarily because we are living in a culture whereby men and women are seen as identical to each other, with the only difference being a biological one of giving birth. Men see female roles as degrading, while women are trying to emulate men. There is no clear definition of gender roles in our society, and as a result, they are being neglected. Islam on the other hand reinforces the idea that the genders have been distinguished so that they may complement each other, and therefore a balance and equity must be maintained between them.
Gender roles in Islam – as best exemplified by Imam Ali and Lady Fatima (peace be upon them) – specify that men are the bread-winners of the family, while women are the home-makers. This does not in any way restrict a woman from getting an education or working, but what this does is give us a unique responsibility with generous rewards, which is by the order and will of Allah.
Yet more than often, I see Muslim women become defensive about their rights to engage in work and other out-of-the-house activities, and this is usually a direct result of being part of an ethnic culture which unjustly limits women. In the irrelevant debate of who is better – the stay-at-home mom or the full-time career mom – we are being blinded to the crucial responsibility of a wife and mother, which is to maintain that love and respect between family members and to carry out the proper Islamic upbringing of her children. Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) said: “Your children’s right and wrong are attributed to you, you are responsible of their fine teaching and training, guiding them to their Lord, Almighty and Glorious, and, assisting him to obey Him. Take action in teaching traditions (of the Ahlul Bayt) to your children before the corrupted persons precede in corrupting them.” A mother who recognizes the importance of this obligation and successfully fulfills this responsibility towards her children is a mother with status above all, regardless of whether she does it being a part-time or full-time mom.
If today’s parents complain that their children are not as they desire, then surely the fault does not entirely lie with the society we live in, and it’s about time Muslim parents wake up to this duty they owe to their future generations. We must understand and appreciate gender roles and family values as best embodied in the examples of Imam Ali and Lady Fatima. In addition to Muslim mothers realizing their household and child-rearing responsibilities, it is just as necessary for Muslim men to respect and appreciate their wives to the fullest extent, as our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has emphasized that a man’s respect for women and his faith are both interlinked; when one increases or decreases, so does the other. If these fundamental family values and prescribed gender roles and responsibilities are understood, appreciated, and established between husband and wife in accordance with Islam, only then spouses will respect each other, fathers will care for their families, mothers will be concerned with raising their children properly, and children will respect and show obedience to their elders. This is what the Holy Family of Islam has taught us. This is what we call Islamic family values.