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FIBA Ruling On Hijab Ban Is Too Little, Too Lame





While many of the activists and supporters backing her cause are in a celebratory mood, Indira Kaljo still faces the somber possibility that her career has come to a premature end. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, meanwhile, accepts the likelihood that her career may never begin.

Indira Kaljo has played pro basketball in Ireland and Bosnia.

Indira Kaljo has played pro basketball in Ireland and Bosnia.

Kaljo, a Bosnian-American from California, and Abdul-Qaadir, an African-American from Massachusetts, were once rivals on the basketball court. Today, they are teammates facing a challenge that is bigger than the game; one that impacts Muslim women and girls all over the world.

And on Sept. 16, they received the bad news–masked cleverly as good news–that they are still denied equal access to the sport they love because of the hijab headscarves they choose to wear as part of their Islamic faith.

The Rule

FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, has in its official rulebook a brief section known as Article 4.4.2. It contains a list of items and accessories that cannot be worn on the court because “they may cause injury to other players.” That blacklist includes “headgear, hair accessories and jewellery.” Headbands that are no more than five centimeters in width are permitted.

What it means is that during FIBA-endorsed competition–international tournaments such as the Olympics and World Cup, and just about every professional league on the planet outside of the NBA and WNBA—Muslim women cannot play while wearing hijab headscarves, Sikh men cannot play while wearing turbans or patkas, and Jewish men cannot play while wearing yarmulkes. If they are for some reason allowed on the court by officials, their team could be forced the game.

Kaljo is an overseas pro who has played two seasons in Ireland and Bosnia. Until recently she did not wear hijab on or off the court, but since deciding to cover earlier this year, she has been unable to sign with a pro team.

Abdul-Qaadir was a high school phenom who wore hijab on the court back then and made history in 2010 when she became the first NCAA Division-1 college player to wear hijab on the court (Abdul-Qaadir played for the University of Memphis at the time, and during that season she met Kaljo, who played for Conference USA foe Tulane University). Following Abdul-Qaadir’s senior season at Indiana State University, her pursuit of a pro contract was cut short because she couldn’t find a team willing to sign a player that could cause them to forfeit any wins she helped earn.

“Honestly, I pray for [Abdul-Qaadir} sake that this rule will be changed before too long,” Kaljo said when I first interviewed her in July for a feature on Ummah Sports. “I got my years in playing pro, and may Allah forgive me for not covering, but she deserves the opportunity to play because she’s a very gifted basketball player.”

The Resistance

FIBA’s anti-hijab rule has been in existence for years and has been challenged on occasion, but only recently has it come under widespread international scrutiny.

Abdul-Qaadir talked about her plight in an interview with Ummah Sports in May, which caught the attention of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Kaljo then reached out to Ummah Sports and CAIR to tell her story. Both women contacted FIBA on the matter, and against the advice of one FIBA official, Kaljo started an online petition to force the organization to eliminate its discriminatory headgear rule.

Eventually the United States Olympic Committee and the Indian government got involved, among others, and finally FIBA scheduled a review of Article 4.4.2 for its August 27 board meeting in Spain. That meeting did not produce a ruling, but after a follow-up meeting weeks later, FIBA made its announcement on Sept. 16.

The Ruling

FIBA will begin a two-year “testing phase” to explore lifting the headgear ban.

During that time, national federations must petition FIBA to allow players to wear prohibited headgear. If the petition is approved, the federation then must submit follow-up reports twice a year. Meanwhile, FIBA will allow players to wear non-headband headgear in its 3-on-3 basketball competitions, similar to the 3-on-3 tournament held at this summer’s Youth Olympic Games in China.

Article 4.4.2 will be evaluated again in 2015 and 2016, though a decision on editing or eliminating the rule will likely not happen before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

The headlines sounded good. “FIBA relaxes rules on headgear” … “FIBA to allow hijab, turbans in competition” … “FIBA rules players can wear religious headgear.”

But upon further review, what has really changed? And why could it take so long to right an obvious wrong?

Kaljo and Abdul-Qaadir still cannot play pro basketball in a FIBA-endorsed league without being in violation of the anti-hijab rule. The language in FIBA’s official statement seems clear that the trial period only applies to national federations, not individual pro leagues. So while Abdul-Qaadir could play while wearing hijab if she were on Team USA, she still can’t play while wearing hijab for even a lower-division pro team in, say, Germany or Italy. Kaljo is eligible to play for the Bosnian national team—which has been a longtime goal of hers— but she still cannot play in, for example, the Bosnian pro league that she played in last season.

The Reaction

“We are deeply disappointed with FIBA. It shouldn’t take two years to make what should be a simple decision to eliminate a discriminatory practice,” U.S. congressmen Ami Bera and Joe Crowley said in a joint statement following FIBA’s announcement. “There is no evidence that turbans or religious headgear pose a threat to players, and it’s time for FIBA to do what the rest of the sporting world is doing and let Sikhs play.”

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was an all-conference point guard at Indiana State University.

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was an all-conference point guard at Indiana State University.

As the congressmen point out, this would not be an unprecedented or groundbreaking move for FIBA to simply lift the ban. Soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, lifted their own anti-headgear rule in 2014 following a two-year trial run. The governing bodies for weightlifting and track and field also allow religious head coverings, and allow Muslim women to compete while wearing full hijab.

No one is asking FIBA to make a bold move to stand out from the crowd. All FIBA is being asked to do is fall in line and do the right thing.

CAIR’s official response to FIBA’s ruling was primarily positive.

“We welcome this policy change by FIBA because it allows Muslims, Sikhs and others who wear religious head coverings to take part in the sport that they love while maintaining their beliefs,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR National Communications Director, in a statement. “FIBA should be congratulated for responding positively to all those who sought reasonable religious accommodation for athletes of all faiths.”

That is understandable. As a political activism organization, CAIR has to, well, play the political game. With so many sensitive issues on their plate in what can be a very anti-Muslim climate in America, showing dissatisfaction with small victories like the FIBA ruling would soon earn them a label (albeit an unjustified one) of being impossible-to-please whiners and complainers.

Well, I’m going to whine and complain, if that’s what critics want to call it. And so is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. While FIBA’s ruling is a step in the right direction, it is a step that is too small, too slow and undeniably weak.

Imagine if we were talking about a woman’s right to vote. Or the racial integration of public schools. Who would be happy with a two-year testing phase that didn’t even cover all elections or all levels of education? Imagine a ruling that essentially said, “Sorry, sister, you can’t vote for the President. But you can vote for city council until we determine you won’t hurt yourself.” Or one that included a two-year trial run of integrating elementary schools but didn’t include middle and high schools. (Actually, if you want to get even the most stereotypically anti-Muslim individual on your side, make a similar argument for a hypothetical ban on an American’s right to bear arms.)

Hypotheticals aside, we are at this moment seeing how quickly a sports industry heavyweight can fix policies and procedures, with the National Football League’s sudden changes to pre-existing norms regarding domestic violence and drug use. FIBA is capable of moving just as quickly to solve its problems.

“I feel like this is just [FIBA’s] way of putting it off to the side and taking some of the heat off,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “All of a sudden they had all of these organizations joining in the movement, so it seems like they just did this to get the fire off their back. ‘Let’s not make a permanent decision, let’s make it a trial.’”

Abdul-Qaadir, who has returned to Indiana State to finish her master’s degree and work as the Director of Operations for the women’s basketball program, says she has been playing basketball while wearing a hijab headscarf for about a decade covering her high school and college career. Through hundreds of games and thousands of practices, she says the hijab has never caused an injury to herself, to a teammate or to an opponent.

Kaljo, who recently accepted a job offer to teach physical education in Saudi Arabia, played in a (non-FIBA) California summer league this year while wearing hijab, and similarly caused no problems for herself or other players.

“Alhamdulillah, I’m glad they made the decision because I understand change doesn’t always happen fast, but I still don’t know what this means,” she said.

I think it means FIBA still doesn’t get it. Or perhaps it means the organization’s desire to not look like they are totally wrong is being put above the overdue equal rights of at least three religious groups impacted by Article 4.4.2. The other alternative is that FIBA actually wants to continue blatantly discriminating against Muslims, Sikhs and Jews, but optimistically I don’t think that’s the case.

“At first I was excited when I saw the headline [on Sept. 16], but after I read the whole thing, I think people are being misled,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “It’s not over. I’ve been getting all of these congratulatory emails and texts, but as far as I know I still really can’t do anything. … Nothing’s really changed.”

“I’m starting to just, I don’t know, to like not even want to be part of (FIBA),” Abdul-Qaadir adds. “Even if they were to change the rule soon, do I want to play for this organization that didn’t want me to play in the first place?”

It’s not too late for FIBA to change its stance, re-review Article 4.4.2, and simply eliminate the prohibition on religious headgear before the start of the upcoming winter basketball season. There’s nothing that says the weak and insulting “testing phase” cannot be scrapped immediately in favor of a making a stronger statement against religious discrimination.

In this case, following the reactionary example of the NFL would actually be the right thing to do.

Amaar Abdul-Nasir was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., and received his B.A. in Journalism from Seattle University. A sports writer and editor by trade, Amaar founded, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.



  1. Avatar


    September 20, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    SubhanAllah, that’s sad. I go to a school which doesn’t have a lot of Muslims in it and I faced a similar problem, but on a very small scale, playing on my school’s basketball team.

    There’s always an issue when Muslims start going into careers/fields that don’t have a lot of Muslims in them, but things get easy over time. May Allah help these women.

  2. Avatar


    September 21, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Where there is a will InshaAllah there will be a way

  3. Avatar


    September 21, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    FIBA can institute any rules. If Hijab is not allowed, either remove hijab if you want to play, or keep it and then get out of the team.

    • Avatar


      September 22, 2014 at 5:53 AM

      You sound like a person who complains about ‘dem immigrants who c’mere and steal our jerbs’.

    • Avatar

      Amaar Abdul-Nasir

      September 24, 2014 at 2:12 AM

      Just because it’s a rule doesn’t mean it’s right. For the time being, the women and men impacted by this FIBA rule are following it — that’s why Bilqis Adul-Qaadir and Indira Kaljo are not playing pro basketball right now — but they are also free to challenge the rule and try to get it changed. If everybody just went along with the existing rules and never tried to change them, we’d still have Jim Crow laws, women wouldn’t be allowed to vote, police could search your home for whatever reason they wanted, etc.

  4. Avatar

    tariq Abdul-Qaadir

    September 23, 2014 at 8:14 PM

    Just like I remember as a kid saying I wish I was white. Now it’s religion and skin color.

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    September 26, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Allah Subhanahu wa taa’la tells us in the Noble Qur’an “They the disbelievers will not be content with until you follow their ways”!

  11. Pingback: Muslim Matters: Shaykh Qasim Hatem | Ummah Sports

  12. Pingback: Abdul-Qaadir attends White House meeting with Barack Obama | Ummah Sports

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How to Teach Your Kids About Easter

Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.




Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.

My mother put up her Christmas tree every year.  We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.

I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.

As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.

That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:

  1. The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
  2. Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
  3. We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
  4. The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.

So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.

There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.

There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:

Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.

Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.

Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.

Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.

If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.

Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.

We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.

So what do we believe?

Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.

  1. Allah is One.
  2. Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
  3. He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
  4. There is nothing like Allah in the universe

Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.

  1. Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
  2. We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
  3. We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.

When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.

You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.

If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:

  • Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
  • Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
  • Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
  • Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
  • You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.

We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.

It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.

Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah.  We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.

The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.

Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast.   Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.

You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them.  No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.

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MuslimARC Releases Guide for White Muslims By White Muslims

Bill Chambers



“As people who are both white and Muslim, we straddle two identities -one privileged in society and the other, not. We experience Islamophobia to varying degrees, sometimes more overtly depending on how we physically present, and at the same time we have been socialized as white people in a society where white people hold more social power than People of Color (POC). The focus of the toolkit is to provide resources and information that will help guide us toward good practices and behaviours, and away from harmful ones, as we challenge racism within the Muslim community (ummah) and in society at large.” MuslimARC Guide

As part of our mission to provide education and resources to advance racial justice within the Muslim community, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is producing a series of community-specific guides to be a resource for those who want to engage in anti-racism work within the Muslim community.

The first in this series, the MuslimARC Guide for White Muslims, has been written specifically for white Muslims, by white Muslims under the guidance of the anti-racist principles of MuslimARC. It is a tool and resource for engaging in conversations about racism and provides guidance in how to truly be a good ally to Muslims of color in this anti-racism work.

The Guide was developed by two white Muslim members of MuslimARC, myself (Bill Chambers) and Lindsay Angelow. The experiences, approaches, recommendations, and resources are based upon our own experiences, those of other white Muslims we have encountered or spoken to, and research and analysis by others who have been cited in the Guide.

We cannot always be aware when we say or write something that reflects our own white privilege and need to be open to feedback from Muslims of color. In our own experience in developing this Guide, we worked to practice that approach when we received feedback from other MuslimARC members and incorporated their analysis to strengthen this work.

My own personal process of helping to develop this Guide made me aware of the many times I was in discussions with Muslims of color especially women, when I had to not only check my white privilege, but also the white male privilege that comes with it. It is difficult not to feel defensive when you realize you may have said too much and listened too little on a topic that is really not about you. As one behavior the Guide suggests we avoid, “Don’t assume what People of Color need and try to swoop in to deliver. Instead, ask what you can do.”

For the white Muslim audience of the Guide, in reading this you will automatically feel defensive either that others may do these things but not me or that none of this behavior is based on racism or white privilege. Our advice is to examine that defensiveness and take the opportunity not to act on it, but instead, consider some of the alternative approaches we recommend in the Guide. 

The Guide provides a review of our role in addressing racism in the ummah; description of some of the ways white Muslims perpetuate racism; and specifically, how to be actively anti-racist in our work. A list of educational resources is provided including available training; articles on white Muslims and allyship; and guides to anti-racist parenting. A last and very important part of the Guide is organizations like MuslimARC that you can be involved in to do this anti-racist work.

“People, We have created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should get to know one another.” (49:13) One of our most important purposes is to really “get to know” the different races and groups Allah has put us in, all the time knowing we all come from the same source and will return together. If this Guide does anything, let it inspire self-knowledge about our white privilege as Muslims and help us to get to know how to be better allies to our brothers and sisters of color.

You can find the  #AntiRacismGuide for White Muslims at

Further reading:

White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism

Beyond Muslim Diversity to Racial Equity

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Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?

Mona Islam



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.


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?


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.


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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