Bomb - Destruction of the Traditional Family
By Professor Nazeer Ahmed
has gone off on a tangent and has created not one
but multiple threats to its own survival. Of these,
the nuclearization of the family has by far the
greatest potential for destruction. Global warming,
ecological destruction, and excessive consumerism
are other well-known threats.
The family is the first building block composed
of individuals. The structure and stability of the
family determines the strength and stability of
the social edifice that it erects and ultimately
the stability and survival of the civilization that
it seeks to build. When the family is strong, a
civilization endures. When the family comes apart,
a civilization unravels.
Families emerge from a multitude of reasons. Some
are no more than a matter of convenience. They are
like froth on the ocean and disappear just as the
wave that generates them withdraws into the womb
of the ocean. Their stability is uncertain as is
the outcome of a cast of dice in gambling casino
in Las Vegas.
Then there are marriages that are built on contract.
On the global scene, by far the largest number of
marriages that take place, and the families they
generate, are based on contract. A large number
of Muslims have also come to accept marriage as
a contract between a man and a woman.
However, marriage in Islam is more than a mere contract.
The Quran describes men and women as garments of
each other, meaning the two are intertwined like
two bundles of light sustaining and reinforcing
each other in their march towards divine presence.
A contract cannot be a substitute for spiritual
bonds. How can a contract capture the love between
a parent and child, or the bonds between a brother
and sister? Contracts may be nullified but love
The family in Islam is based on marriage between
a man and a woman. It is a covenant before God in
accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet. It has
the elements both of a contract and a spiritual
union. It is sanctified by Law, ratified by contract
and sustained by the goodwill of the extended family
and the community.
Even the rituals that are observed by a family and
the community serve to reinforce familial bonds.
They serve as occasions when the individual reinforces
existing social bonds and develops new ones so that
when the family comes under pressure, these bonds
sustain the marriage and the family.
Rituals and customs give life to a culture. The
diffusion of Islamic spirituality into local traditional
cultures have knit them together into a global Islamic
labyrinth so that there is a recognizable taste,
feel and aroma to Muslim culture whether it is observed
in Malaysia or Nigeria. A Pakistani can marry a
Moroccan and maintain a family within the rhythm
of an Islamic life. This is so because regional
cultures have absorbed and internalized the transcendental
values that have knit the Islamic civilization together.
It is unfortunate that under the double hammer of
Western culture and internal extremist pressures
may of the traditional social customs and ancient
rituals are disappearing among Muslims. Stripped
of the multiplicity of support systems that customs
and rituals help nurture and sustain, the individual
is thrown back to his own wits to weather the storms
of life. He is like a tree that stands on a single
root. A single waft of turbulence from a strong
wind knocks it down. Marriages come apart and the
The weakening and disappearance of traditional support
systems for the family is one of the greatest threats
to human civilization. Muslim societies are no exception
to this. Broken marriages, disintegrated families
and single parent families are no longer rare among
The shock waves produced by the intrusion of technology
in modern life have destroyed the traditional family
and have given birth to the nuclear family. Economic
pressures stifle social interactions. Mass media
have invaded the space that was once the exclusive
preserve of the family. Working men and women cannot
take care of their aged parents and send them off
to old age homes. Children return from schools to
empty homes. The television takes the space that
was once occupied by the grand parents. Mobility
destroys the social bonds that once sustained community
life in towns and villages. Where there once were
a thousand hands sustaining a family, there are
now just those of the nuclear family, of the husband
the wife or those of a single parent.
Islam offers a balanced spiritual, social and cultural
framework wherein the family may yet escape the
destruction that is wrought by modern centrifugal
A civilization is held together by a transcendental
idea which acts as its cement. Ibn Khaldun postulated
that this cement was none other than Asabiyah, the
racial and ethnic cohesion born of blood relationships.
The nomads of the desert possess this characteristic
in abundance which fosters in them the virtues that
moves a civilization forward. As the nomads settle
down in cities, they lose these virtues and are
ultimately overcome by a fresh wave of nomads.
While Ibn Khaldun’s theory may explain the
formation and disintegration of tribal societies,
it fails to explain the rise and fall of global
civilizations. Islam, for one, condemns Asabiyah.
“I evolved you into tribes”, extols
the Quran, “so that you may know one another”.
What has welded Islamic civilization is its innate
spirituality which is based on the continual consciousness
of Divine presence. This innate spirituality has
provided the reservoir for internal renewal when
the community has faced global challenges.
Spirituality molds the Islamic personality. On the
one hand Islamic spirituality accepts and extols
the individual worth and the individual responsibility
to himself and to divine creation. On the other,
it captures the individual ego within an infinitely
elastic shell of divine presence. Man was created
to know, serve and worship the divine. For the execution
of this grand design man has been provided guidance
and has been anointed the khalifa over all creation.
The resultant personality represents a just balance
between the spiritual and the physical, between
the internal and the external, between the self
and the selfless.
The Islamic community is a composition of such individuals
who derive their sustenance from a consciousness
of divine presence and observe divine commandments
based on justice and balance to create divine patterns
on earth. Each individual is like a brick that becomes
a part of a grand edifice fulfilling the divine
In the global village, where civilizations interact
and learn from each other, Muslims have a unique
opportunity to make a contribution towards the preservation
and sustenance of human civilization. Whereas the
basis of marriage and family in the West is contractual,
and exclusively spiritual in the East, in Islam
it is both contractual and spiritual. The stability
and permanence of the family will be the ultimate
barometer of the survival of our civilization. In
this struggle, custom and ritual have an important
role to play. Let us not discard what is traditional
under the pressures of modernity. If we do, both
tradition and modernity will be the losers