Family Life in Islam

By Prof. Majid Ali Khan


      (In every society culture defines the rules which pattern the relations between various units of a family-husband and wife, parents and children. As far as Islam is concerned, it has its own culture based upon the Qur’aan and the Sunnah. It not only prescribes beliefs, guides man in his worship to his Creator, but also gives the rules of social behaviour. The law of Islam regulates life in such a way that the welfare of the whole society may be achieved. But for the attainment of human welfare and cultural advancement, efforts should be made from the basic unit of the society, which is no less than a family. Family is the first cradle of human society. It is here that the primary character-traits of man are set. Keeping in view this important feature of family, it can be said that it is not only the cradle of man but also cradle of civilization. For this very reason, Islam has given detailed injunctions for leading a healthy family life. Since marriage is the first step towards building a family life, the most important of restrictive regulations of Islam are those relating to marriage.)



      The institution of marriage is basic to human civilization. It is as old as Adam. Marriage is an institution ordained for the perfection and development of society. It is also a shield against sexual weakness, foulness and unchasity. No other institution has maintained its purity since the earliest times.

Nikah which originally means ‘Aqdi, i.e. ‘tying’ or ‘uniting’. Nikah or ‘Aqd also means the union of two persons of opposite sex through wedlock but it also implies that marriage is a sacred social contract between two persons of opposite sex for mutual sexual enjoyment and legalised procreation. It is a social contract of permanent nature unless dissolved by divorce. The Qur’aan clearly asks Muslims to enter into it:

“And marry those among you who are single, and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves. If they are needy, Allaah will make them free from want out of His grace. And Allaah is Ample-giving, Knowing.

“And let those who cannot find a match keep chaste, until Allaah make them free from want out of His grace.”  (XXIV : 32.33)


In Islam, marriage-relationship has been given the same importance as blood-relationship

“And He it is who has created man from water, then He has made for him blood-

relationship and marriage-relationship. And thy Lord is Over-Powerful.”  ( Qur-aan XXV: 54)


The Prophet (peace be upon him) has also laid great emphasis on lawful marriage. He says:

“It is necessary for you to marry, because marriage is a protection against the wickedness of the sight. If one of you cannot marry (because of poorness or some other reason), then let him fast for this will act as castration.

In another Hadith he says:

“The man who marries perfects half of his religion.”

Another tradition says:

Matrimonial alliances increase friendship more than anything else.”

Still another tradition says:

 “The marriage is a sacred duty and whosoever dislikes my way (of life) is not of me.”



      In the Holy Qur’aan the marriage is also called a covenant (Mithaq) between the husband and the wife:

“And how can you take it (i.e. the Mahr) when one of you has already gone into the other and they have taken from you a strong covenant.”    (4::21)

      The marriage contract is entered into by mutual consent expressed by the two parties - the husband and the wife - in the presence of witnesses and with the mention of Mahr2 to be given by the husband to the wife. Islamic jurisprudence technically calls the mutual consent as affirmation or declaration (Ijab) and acceptance or consent (Qubul). It was also a practice of the Prophet to deliver a short sermon (Khutbah) before the declaration of marriage was made.

      It is worth noticing that Mahr is one of the obligatory things in an Islamic marriage. As a matter of fact, the payment of Mahr on the part of the husband is a clear admission of the independence of the wife, for she becomes the owner of property immediately after her marriage. Regarding the payment of Mahr the Holy Qur’aan points out:

“And lawful for you are all women besides those, provided that you seek them with your property, taking them in marriage, not committing fornication. Then as to those whom you profit (by marrying), give them their portions (Mahr) as appointed. Surely Allaah is ever Knowing, Wise.” (4:24)

“And give the women (on marriage) their endowment (Mahr) as a free gift, but if they, of their own pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it, with right cheer…… (4:4)

      No marriage, therefore, is lawful without the payment of Mahr to the woman. If the amount of the Mahr is not fixed beforehand, the wife can demand it according to her status. Although Islam gives complete freedom to men and women to fix the Mahr (or Sidaq), the practice of the Prophet and his Companions is to fix a moderate amount of Mahr. Hazrat ‘Umar says:

“Don't fix the Mahr at a high rate (i.e. at a rate beyond one’s means) for if it had been pleasing to Allaah, the Prophet would have fixed a high amount of Mahr”.



      It is also the Sunnah to arrange a feast know as Walimah after the nuptial night. This feast is another occasion for the publicity of the marriage. The Prophet says:

      “Arrange Walimah though there be only one goat to feed the guests,”

      He also asked to accept the invitation to Walimah.   



      Kufw which means ‘an equal’ or ‘one-alike’, has been required by a number of jurists in four things – religion, freedom, descent, and profession. Imam Malik, in this respect, differs from others saying that Kafa’ah (equality) is brought about by religion; that is to say, all Muslims are alike or equal. Imam Shafa’i does not declare a marriage outside the Akfa’ (P1. of Kufw) to be illegal (Haram).

      As far as a particular race or tribe is concerned, it should not stand in the way of marriage under the umbrella of Kufw because the Qur’aan declares:

“The believers are brethren……”  (XLIX; 13)

It also says:

“The believers (man and woman) are friends (awliya’) to each other. Surely the noblest of you in the sigh of Allaah is the most righteous of you(XXX:21)

At another place it says:

“O mankind, surely we have created you from a male and a female, and made you

tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allaah is the most righteous of you……”

The Prophet says,:

“The Arab has no precedence over the non-Arab, nor the non-Arab over the Arab, nor the white man over the black one, nor the black man over the white one except by excelling in righteousness.”

      He recommended the marriage of a lady of the tribe of Quraysh (known as the noblest family in Arabia), Zaynab, his aunt’s daughter, to Zayd who was a liberated slave. Similarly, Bilal, a negro, was married to the sister of ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf, a wealthy Qurayshite. A number of examples of this kind could be cited from the early history of Islam.

      At the same time Kufw could be considered in such terms as education and social status. The marriage of a well-educated girl with an uneducated boy vice versa would not be very successful. Similarly, if a girl brought up in a decent, educated and cultured atmosphere is married to an uncultured and uneducated boy, the marriage may be an utter failure.



      The Qur’aan lays great stress on the mutual relations of husband and wife and describes them as one of a single soul in two bodies. It says:

“And of His signs is this: He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find comfort in them, and He put between you love and compassion……”18

“He it is Who created you from a single soul, and of the same did He make his mate, that he might find comfort in her. 19


      At another place, in a beautiful way, the Qur’aan describes the mutual relations of husband and wife as follows:

“They (your wives) are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them.” 20 

      Thus, relations between husband and wife, in the light of these Qur’aanic verses, have to be based on mutual co-operation, love and compassion so that family concern must be kept going by husband and wife in mutual cooperation. Formally a husband is mainly required to earn for the maintenance of the family, while the wife has to play the key role in the management of the house and the upbringing of the children. The rights and duties of each of them are, therefore, centred around these two points.



      One of the basic duties of a husband is to maintain and protect his wife. The Qur’aan says:

“Men are the protectors (and maintainers) of women, because Allaah has given one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means……”21 

They are also asked to treat their wives with kindness and equity:

“…… and (O Believers:) live with kindness (and equity)……” 22 

They are further asked to tolerate the faults and short-comings of the wives:

“……If you take a dislike to them (i.e. the wives), it may be that you dislike a thing, and Allaah bring about through it a great deal of good.” 23 

The Prophet has also laid equally great stress upon the treatment of wives: He said:

“The most excellent of you is he who is best in his treatment of his wife.” 24

In another Hadith he said,

“Accept my advice in the matter of doing good to women.” 25

Even his famous address at the Farwell Hajj includes instructions for the husband in the following way:

“O my people: You have certain rights over your wives and so have your wives over you…… They are the trust of Allaah in your hands. So you must treat them with all kindness.” 26 

A husband is also required to provide his wife with a lodging:

“Lodge them (i.e. the wives) where you live, according to your means.” 27 



      Islam does not let the family affairs be one-sided. If it asks a husband to perform his duties, it also asks a wife to be dutiful on her part. It is the duty of a wife to show submissiveness to the husband as the head of the family – not in a servile manner but in a spirit of maintaining dignified harmony. The Qur’aan says:

“……And the righteous women are the devout ones, who guard the intimacy which Allaah has (ordained to be) guarded.” 28 

      There is a natural division of work between man and woman. If man is suited to face that hard struggle of life due to his stronger physique, woman excels man in the qualities of love and affection, which is most suited to her household responsibilities. Therefore, if the duty of the maintenance of the family has been entrusted to the man, the duty of bringing up the children and managing the household goes to the woman. The Prophet describes her position in the home as that of raiyah (i.e. watcher or guardian):

“Everyone of you is a guardian (and responsible for the persons under him) and everyone shall be questioned about his subjects; the Amir (i.e. the Head of State) is a guardian, the man is the guardian of the people of his house and the woman is the guardian of the house of her husband and his children, so everyone of you is a watcher (and guardian) and everyone shall be questioned about his subjects (i.e. people under him.)” 29

      The division of work, described above, is only a general rule. It does not exclude women from other activities. A study of Hadith literature shows that notwithstanding their rightful position in the home, women took part in the activities pertaining to their community.



      This fact cannot be denied that a child’s outlook and behaviour are greatly influenced by the attitude and behaviour of his/her parents. Islam, accordingly, has taken special care in this respect. The Prophet not only used to love children but he also asked Muslims to be loving parents. Hazrat ‘Aisha narrates that a Bedouin came to the Prophet and after seeing him (and his companions kissing children) remarked:

“Do you kiss your children? We don’t do like this.”

      The Prophet said:

“Have I the power to put that mercy in your heart which ahs been taken by Allaah?” 30

 On another occasion he said:

 “Those persons who do not love their youngsters and respect their elders, do not belong to us.” 31

He also said:

“No gift of parents to their children is better than teaching them good manners.” 32

He is also reported to have said:

“It is better for a father to teach a moral etiquette to his child than to give one Sa’ grains in alms.” 33

There are a number of Ahadith on this subject.

      According to the Qur’aan, it is also a basic duty of Muslims to give their children religious education and keep on reminding them about the life hereafter. It has made it binding upon them to be genuinely regardful of their children’s spiritual welfare in the same way as a believer is expected to have concern for his own salvation. The Qur’aan says:

“O ye who believe; Save yourselves and your families from the Fire of Hell whereof the fuel is man and stones, over which are set (for inflicting punishment) angels, strong and severe, who disobey not Allaah in that which He commands but carry out (dutifully) what they are commanded by Him to do.” 34

Salaat (Prayers) play an important role in inculcating a sense of duty towards Allaah. The Qur’aan, therefore, asks (parents) to command their families to be punctual in regard to Salaat:

“And enjoin prayer (Salaat) on thy family, and steadily adhere to it……”35 

      Therefore, Islam asks parents to be careful not only for the material development of their children but also pay attention towards their moral and spiritual development.



      Filial duty occupies a prominent place in Islam. The Qur’aan says:

“And we have enjoined on man goodness to his parents……”36

It again says:

“And We have enjoined on man (duties) concerning his parents – for his mother has carried him (in the womb) in weakness, and for two years has given him suck – saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” 37

      At another place in the Qur’aan obedience to parents is placed next to submission to Allaah because among the fellow-beings none has a greater claim upon a person than his parents:

“And thy Lord has decreed that you serve non but Him, and do good to parents. If either or both of them reach old age with thee, say not “Fie” to them, nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word.” 38 

      In this way the greatest importance is attached to filial duty. There are a number of Ahadith in which the prophet has asked his followers to do good to parents and to respect them. He has counted the disobedience to the parents among the major sins. Anas bin Malik says that the Prophet was asked about the major sins or he (the Prophet) himself narrated some of the major sins and said,

“To make partner with Allaah, to kill somebody (without legal reason), to disobey the parents……”39

      In an Islamic society, therefore, the children are asked to respect their parents, to listen to them, to follow their instructions and not to chide or abuse them.

      Thus, Islam has given detailed instructions for the welfare of the family life. It guides man not only in his relations to God but also in his social relations. The scope of Islam, therefore, is very wide and covers all aspects of life, both spiritual as well as material.




1. S. ‘Abdul Da’ im Jalali, Lughat Al-Qur’aan, Vol VI, Nadwat-ul-Musannifin, Delhi, 1971, p. 88

2. The Qur’aan, XXIV: 32,33

3. The Qur’aan, XXV: 54

4. Bukhari

5. Mishkat

6. Mishkat

7. Bukhari

8. The Qur’aan, IV: 21

9. The word ‘Mahr’ denotes the payment to be made by the husband after the declaration of the marriage. There is no synonymous word in English for Mahr (or Sidaq as called in Arabic speaking countries.)

10. The Qur’aan, IV: 24

11. The Qur’aan, IV: 4

12. Mishkat

13. Bukhari

14. Bukhari

15. The Qur’aan, XLIX:10

16. The Qur’aan, IX:71

17. The Qur’aan, XLIX:13

18. The Qur’aan, XXX: 21

19. The Qur’aan, VII:189

20. The Qur’aan, II: 187

21. The Qur’aan, IV: 34

22. The Qur’aan, IV: 19

23. The Qur’aan, IV: 19

24. Mishkat

25. Bukhari

26. Muslim

27. The Qur’aan, LXV: 6

28. The Qur’aan, IV: 34

29. Bukhari

30. Bukhari and Muslim

31. Tirmidhi

32. Tirmidhi and Baihaqi

33. Mishkat

34. The Qur’aan, LXVII:6

35. The Qur’aan, XX: 132

36. The Qur’aan, XXIX: 7

37. The Qur’aan, XXXI: 14

38. The Qur’aan, XVII: 23

39. Bukhari








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