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Book Review: “The Future of Islam” By John Esposito

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For better or worse, Islam has been at the forefront of domestic and international affairs for at least the past decade. It’s truly a wonder, then, that according to a recent Gallup poll a majority of Americans still have little to no knowledge of the religion’s basic tenets. More disheartening, if not outright frightening, is that even given this avowed lack of knowledge, a sizeable percentage of U.S. citizens nonetheless maintain a negative perception of Muslims.

So, either an informed, nuanced understanding of Islam is being obscured by the voluminous and venomous misinformation that clutters the media, or an accessible and authoritative account of what Muslims truly believe and how they interact with the world around them simply hasn’t been produced.

John Esposito, given his celebrity and scholarship, is among perhaps only a handful of individuals who have met both these prospective challenges head-on with some success. His latest offering in a line of timely scholarly works, The Future of Islam, provides a refreshingly holistic assessment of the challenges Muslims face from increased pluralism on the one hand, and heightened hostility on the other. The book is, however, not without its biases and consequent missed opportunities. Overall though, the far more genuine appraisal of Muslims in this work is a powerful counterweight to the sensational depictions found in (sadly, more in demand) Islamophobic publications.

DECONSTRUCTING A MONOLITH

Both novice and more advanced readers on the subject will find much of Esposito’s narrative as insightful as it is comprehensive. The first chapter of the book includes a standard primer on the five pillars, the divisions between Sunni and Shia, and some brief remarks on the more “controversial”

Youssef is from Brooklyn, New York by way of Alexandria, Egypt. Currently, he is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California studying Political Science and International Relations. A student of Islam, history, and politics, his recent extended stay in Cairo placed him squarely at the nexus of these disciplines. Follow him on Twitter (@TheAlexandrian) as he tries to make sense of all that's happening in Tahrir and beyond.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    February 19, 2010 at 7:26 AM

    Excellently written review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Siraaj

  2. Avatar

    Abu Harun

    February 19, 2010 at 7:58 AM

    Salaam alaikum,

    Masha Allah brother Youssef. May Allah increase you.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      February 19, 2010 at 11:15 AM

      Ameen! very nice, baarak Allahu feek.

  3. Avatar

    Musa Maguire

    February 19, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Very nice review, masha’Allah. The subtle biases and omissions that you identity are tragically endemic to academic literature on Islam.

  4. Avatar

    ummMaryam

    February 19, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    wa ‘alaikum asalaam,

    ditto, jazakAllah khair. having attended Gtown, we were always a bit cautious about Esposito who heads the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. be careful of these people who claim to promote a noble cause of understanding muslims and have the latent interests in changing our religion. thanks for exposing this in a very fair analysis. we students there felt similarly, there was SOME benefit to having people like him around, compared to those who are outright against anything even remotely to do with Islam; on the other hand, it was annoying how the propaganda would be so subtly couched in their arguments that a person might end up thinking it’s all good because supposedly “he’s a friend of Islam” right?? thinking that because he speaks the truth in one area, that he speaks truth of Islam every time he opens his mouth. wrong: discernment is necessary.

    Your critical analysis wins an A+ inshallah. Good you saw through the lines. I haven’t read the book personally but found that a number of his other books have that same issue…a few jabs here and there in an annoyingly eloquent way that the masses of uneducated muslim teenagers entering colleges (having only sunday school teaching them islam their whole lives–nothing wrong with sunday school, but it’s just doesn’t give you ENOUGH knowledge to discern what Esposito and his likes say) would swallow 100%

  5. Amad

    Amad

    February 19, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    Probably one of the best book review on MM… evident in that you attracted a comment from the ever elusive Musa ;)

    • Avatar

      Abdus Sabur

      February 21, 2010 at 6:31 AM

      I may be way off here but…Is this “elusive” Musa from Kuwait? I seem to remember a brother on #islam some years back on undernet.

      • Avatar

        amad

        February 21, 2010 at 6:59 AM

        It’s Musa Maguire, one of our MM team-members

  6. Avatar

    Abdullah

    February 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Sounds like a great book! I’ll be sure to pick it up, Insha’Allah. Jazkallah for the review.

  7. Avatar

    Muslim Apple

    February 19, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Excellent review, we should make you the regular MM book reviewer, in sha Allah.

  8. Avatar

    TheAlexandrian

    February 19, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    JAK everyone wa barak Allah feekum jamee3an!

    @Musa – I know exactly what you mean. The thing that gets me about Esposito is that he actually alludes to this phenomenon in the book – the propping of “professional Muslims” and the association of “moderate” with “secular.” I’m really left scratching my head sometimes after reading his work.

    @UmmMaryam – Very good points. I think that we’ve been conditioned in the West to rely on non-Muslims for an informed viewpoint on the Muslim condition. That’s not to say that scholars such as Esposito don’t provide a valuable service. On the contrary, I think that Americans are more apt to take as fact what they hear from “one of their own.” So even if he has some biases, at least they originate from a genuine desire for coexistence and mutual gain.

    Still, it’s encouraging to see greater numbers of Muslims entering the social sciences and humanities. May Allah make their path easy and aid them in communicating a genuine understanding of Islam. Ameen!

  9. Avatar

    Umm Bilqis

    February 20, 2010 at 12:44 AM

    Good review! I was wondering how many people will actually pick up Esposito’s book or any books for that matter. I was reading a stat that the majority of Americans read a book a year after leaving high school therefore they get most of their info from T.V. Perhaps a different form of communicating needs to occur with the use of documentaries and the Public broadcasting system? Stories such as these?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uguiV5zyUxs&feature=PlayList&p=2A95510D6C47B586&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=40

    • Avatar

      TheAlexandrian

      February 20, 2010 at 9:11 AM

      Yeah I’m glad you brought up that stat about reading in America. I was thinking about it myself as I wrote up this review – wondering whether it’s a futile effort to communicate these ideas through print. I reasoned that even if books like THE FUTURE OF ISLAM are preaching to the choir, i.e. those that are already learned enough not to buy into the Islamophobic hype, it at least better arms the intellectual resistance.

      As for the multimedia approach, there’s actually a new film out on Esposito’s last book co-authored with Sr. Dalia Mogahed. The documentary, “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” is still premiering all over the country. Here’s some more information on it.

      w/Salam

  10. Avatar

    naeem

    February 20, 2010 at 5:15 AM

    I’m puzzled by the overall tone of this review.

    Am I correct to conclude that the author believes this book to be ” a powerful counterweight to the (sadly, more in demand) Islamophobic publications crowding bookstore shelves” because Esposito promotes certain reformative positions that would be embraced by the American public (such as “a liberal interpretation of women’s rights” and “a more pluralistic approach to salvation”)?

    So are we to celebrate such a presentation of the future of Islam, solely because it may provide us with some positive PR?

    And the brother’s biggest beef is with Esposito’s view on Salafis?!

    To be honest, I’m more offended by Esposito’s attempt to present Islam at the crossroads of some major reformation after which it will come out in the mold of some grand American image than his comparatively minor misrepresentation of Salafis.

    And what is meant by ‘Western enlightened perspective’ in the following context: “He clearly cautions against facile labeling of a person or group as “extreme” simply because their understanding of a particular issue doesn’t mesh with a Western enlightened perspective”

    Its not clear whose words those are, but undoubtedly such an orientalist tone is, at the very least, objectionable.

    • Avatar

      TheAlexandrian

      February 20, 2010 at 9:51 AM

      Br. Naeem,

      Overall, I wasn’t really looking to strike a tone. Essentially, I was just going for a fair academic appraisal of the book.

      You’re incorrect to conclude that I was “celebrating” Esposito’s trumpeting of a more “liberal” vision of Islam. You’re correct, however, in calling me out on the lack of clarity in that sentence – I’ve adjusted it accordingly.

      In truth, I’m skeptical of not only Esposito’s allusions to an “Islamic reformation,” but of the entire intellectual foundation of this theory. Incidentally, that’s why I pointed out the problematic consequences of his proposals. It’s a topic worthy of a post all its own, so I sought merely to summarize his main contentions and leave it at that.

      As for Esposito’s handling of Salafis and Salafism, I disagree that it’s a “minor” issue, comparatively or otherwise. Again, looking at from a purely academic perspective, his approach to an Islamic reform at least corresponded to his own take on Catholicism. Moreover, he took care not to dismiss more mainstream, conservative approaches to Islam within this reformative framework, in the same way, he states, that a good Catholic can’t dismiss the Pope for his stern views on female clergy, homosexuality, etc.

      Esposito’s treatment of Salafism, however, highlights the last bastion of unequivocal criticism that remains in Western scholarly works on Islam. It is, both ironically and tragically, where Islamophobes and genuine Islamicists find common ground.

      Finally, with regard to the notion of a “Western enlightened perspective,” though not specifically Esposito’s words, he does allude to this general conception – however vague it is. His use of it, however, was more tongue-in-cheek than grandiose, so I’ve changed the sentence to reflect that.

      w/Salam

  11. Avatar

    noon

    February 20, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Good review.

    It’s ironic that a Catholic, who spent a decade in a Catholic monastery, would be advocating reformation, and that an academic scholar would be undercutting the role of the ulema .

  12. Avatar

    Green Sufi

    February 20, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    What a fantastic review! I look forward to reading this book. So many great books, so little time to read them all!

  13. darthvaider

    darthvaider

    February 20, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    Excellent review mashaAllah. Jazak Allah khayr and I’m looking forward to reading more reviews from you in the future.

  14. Avatar

    PakistaniMD

    February 21, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Your review is quite good at summarizing the points; however, most book reviews elaborate and take quotes of the respective book(s). It would be nice to see what Mr. Esposito had to say in his own words, not in your summarizing fashion.

    • Avatar

      Youssef Chouhoud

      February 22, 2010 at 1:09 PM

      Hmm, I don’t know if I would say “most” reviews include quotations. I think the medium associated with the review plays a large role in that respect. Truth be told, I considered whether or not to include one, but opted instead for a more web-friendly review. Scholarly journals will often include quotes, but I found that the opposite holds for web-only content on blogs, online newspapers, etc.

      Still, no harm in trying a different route. I’ll throw in a quote or two next time around iA.

  15. Avatar

    Muhammad

    April 28, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    Mash’a Allah

    Very good analysis with excellent written language, I hope in another analysis of Esposito’s work
    ” What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam?”

    And may Allah reward you for that effort.

    • Avatar

      saram

      April 2, 2013 at 6:43 AM

      please send me on my e-mail a comprihensive and breif review of ”The Future of Islam” by Jhon L. Esposito.
      so nice of you.
      my e-mail address is:

      muhammadsaramsaif@gmail.com

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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#Current Affairs

Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians

Raashid Riza

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On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.

It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.

Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.

In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.

Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.

Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.

Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead

Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.

Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.

However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.

Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.  Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.

Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.

It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.

I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.

I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.

I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah

Raashid Riza is a Sri Lankan Muslim, the Politics & Society Editor of The Platform. He blogs here and tweets on @aufidius.

 

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#Life

Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?

Mona Islam

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High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.

Salma and Yousef: 

Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.

Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.

This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.

 

Sarah and Hasan:

Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.

The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.

Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:

The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.

Preview:

This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:

  • The Family Unit In Islam
  • Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
  • The Nuclear Family
  • The Extended Family

Hamza and Tamika

Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

The Family Unit in Islam

We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.

The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.

 

Layla and Ibrahim   

Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived.  Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.

As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.

Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?

Marriage

The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.

How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.

Family Roles:

Each person in the family has a role which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.

What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.

Razan and Farhaan

Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.

Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?

Mawaddah and Rahma

The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.

Aliyaah and Irwan

Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.

Parenting

Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.

There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) reminds us,

“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).

Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.

Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah).  Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide.  An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.

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