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The Institution of Family
Social Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

If we minutely observe our universe, it becomes evident that the Almighty has created almost everything in pairs. Both members of a pair complement one another and there exists a tremendous amount of affinity between the two. The poise and balance necessary to create harmony and concordance in this relationship is very delicate, and a slight divergence can damage it beyond restoration. One of the members plays an active and dominant role and the other a passive and acquiescent one. In case, a piece of paper does not submit to the initiative taken by the pen, no writing can come into existence. If the pen smoothly slides across the sheet of paper, it can produce a masterpiece, and if it harshly scrapes on it, it will only tear it apart.

Man and  woman, perhaps, are one of the perfect examples of such `paired-creation'. When they interact with one another, it is in their own well being that harmony and concordance result. But then what should be the nature of this interaction? Should it be permanent in nature or only a temporary association? What should be the norms of bringing this association into existence? If the association be permanent in nature, how should a typical family set-up be organized? In the following paragraphs, we shall attempt to answer these questions in the light of the Quran and Sunnah.


As far as the first question is concerned, two aspects must always remain in consideration.

Firstly, a person throughout his lifetime, has to remain dependent on a number of relationships, and without these he cannot embark on this tempestuous voyage. In the prime of his youth, he might consider himself to be the king of the world but during his childhood and old age he needs the love and affection of the near ones which must not cease with time. In both these periods of life, he must be looked after by those who have warmth and compassion for him. In other words, his life demands relationships which should be permanent in nature so that his parents, children, brothers and sisters --- all can play their role in his life.

Secondly, it is evident that in contrast with almost all the animal forms, the relationship once formed between a man and woman has a permanent impression in human memory. In all animals, the relationship between a male and female species does not leave a lasting imprint in their minds. The male species departs from the female soon after mating, while the female, once she has brought up her young, resigns them to the whole world to start the cycle all over again. The affection it has for its young and the fondness for the male who fathers them is only temporary. With the passage of time, this attachment is obliterated from her mind. However, in case of human beings, this attachment is so strong that it is even felt at the level of grand and great grand parents. Common sense demands that just as there is a permanent base in human memory regarding these relationships, the actual relationships also be permanent.

Keeping in view both these aspects, Islam lays its social structure on the basis of a permanent relationship between a man and a woman. This relationship comes into existence in the form of an everlasting marriage bond. Consequently, to preserve this marital relationship, it forbids all forms of temporary associations between a man and a woman.


In Islamic terminology, the union between a man and a woman is solemnized by the marriage ceremony of nikah. Before dealing with the norms of this association, one important point needs to be emphasized: Although the consent of a man and a woman is enough for the union to take place, yet since this union is a not just a union between a man and a woman, it is, also, a union between the families of the two, the consent of their parents, in general circumstances, is highly recommended by Islam. Similarly, it is highly advisable that the two families be similar in their social background and setting. Of Course! if the basis of this wedlock is some higher objective or some noble cause, a man and a woman have all the right to go ahead.

According to the Shariah, there are two essential norms of this association.

Firstly, a man is required to pay a certain mutually agreed sum to his bride before the nikah ceremony. In legal parlance, it is called Mehr (dower). The Quran asserts that the amount of Mehr should be fixed keeping in view the social customs and traditions of a society1. The basic philosophy of Mehr must be clearly understood since the payment of Mehr these days has become a ridiculous affair. Islam has entrusted the husband with the responsibility of supporting his wife and children as will be explained later. It is he who must earn to fulfil the requirements of the family. The Mehr money, is only a token of this responsibility. In other words, when a man pays this sum, he makes a symbolic expression of the fact that he has taken the financial responsibility of the woman he intends taking as his wife. Consequently, it is in the spirit of this commitment that he pay the agreed sum before he takes home the bride.

Secondly, Islam requires that the association be publicly proclaimed, since this association is a declaration of a life long relationship of purity between a man and a woman. In other words, the formal consent of the bride that she has agreed to accept someone as her husband must be openly announced so that the society is aware of this union.

These are the only two essential requirements which must be fulfilled to solemnize a marriage.


As far as the question of organization of a typical family set-up is concerned, it is evident that just like a state needs a ruler, a family needs someone to head it. According to the Quran, a man, owing to two reasons is the appropriate choice to head a family:

"Men are the guardians of women because Allah has given one superiority over the other and because they [--- men ---] support them from their means." (4:34)

The first reason for this choice is that men are naturally more suited for this task2. Their physical strength and mental disposition make them more appropriate of the two to carry out this responsibility. The word qawwaam combines in it the concepts of physical protection and moral responsibility. The verse, it should remain in consideration, very clearly states that men's superiority to women is not absolute; it is only relative and confined to certain spheres. There are other spheres in which women are superior to men and as such must be acknowledged. 

The second reason for this choice is that on a man rest the responsibility of earning for his wife and children3. It is but natural for one who financially maintains and looks after the individuals entrusted to him to spearhead them.

To promote harmony and well-being within the set-up of a family, the Quran urges pious women to adopt two attitudes.

Firstly, they should adopt an attitude of submissiveness and docility before their husbands. Just as law abiding citizens obey the rules and regulations of the state they are a part, wives should follow the code of conduct of the family set-up they constitute. Generally, all differences of opinion should be resolved in an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence. The husband and wife should try to win over one another through love and affection and convince each other through arguments and reasoning. A husband who tries to impose his opinion on his wife is a long way from the art of governing a house, and a wife who makes it a point to differ with her husband is a long way from the art of dealing with him. However, whenever there arises a situation of anarchy and disorder which threatens to disrupt the whole family set-up, the wife, according to the Quran must adopt an attitude of submission and adjustment.

Secondly, women should be very faithful to their husbands as far as keeping secrets is concerned. The shortcomings of a husband's personality need to be concealed. Women who hide the flaws and mistakes of their husbands promote an atmosphere of mutual trust in the family and many a time are able to reform them. Men, of course, should reciprocate in this attitude. The Quran says:

"Consequently, pious women are obedient [to their husbands] and keep their secrets for Allah also keeps secrets." (4:34)

In case a wife adopts a rebellious attitude with her husband and challenges his guardianship, the Quran has laid down a complete procedure to deal with this situation. It must remain clear that this procedure must only be adopted in the extreme situation when a wife is guilty of disrupting the discipline of the family set-up. Any difference of opinion or altercation is not be resolved by this procedure. Disagreements and disputes must be settled mutually. It is only when the wife stands up against the authority of her husband should this procedure be employed. The Quran says:

"As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them [first] and [next] refuse to share their beds and [last] beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them." (4:34)

It is clear that a good time should elapse in each of the stages mentioned in the verse. The husband should first of all admonish his wife and convince her to give up her defiant behaviour. He should exercise all the patience he can muster to urge and beseech her to change her stance. If after repeated pleas and continuous admonition in a considerable span of time, the wife continues to persist in her rebellious attitude, he has the authority to go on to the second stage by severing marital contact with her. This detachment, it is clear, is a form of reproval, and a very strong appeal to the wife to correct herself. Again, this attitude should continue for a substantial period of time so that the point is driven home. It is highly unlikely that most women would persist in their arrogance after these two initial stages. Patience, forbearance, and admonition would have conquered their hearts. However, even after this stage, if a wife refuses to accept the authority of her husband, the husband has the right to finally resort to gentle physical affliction. The Prophet (sws) has directed the husbands to be very careful in this regard and they must not wound or injure their wives. This physical chastisement is similar to the one a teacher gives to a student under training. Just as an affectionate mother has the authority of punishing her child, a husband has the authority of punishing his wife. This authority, it is evident, has been invested in him to preserve the family set-up and to protect it from anarchy and disorder.








1. ... pay them their dowers according to the custom." (4:25)

2. Both the Old and New Testaments hold the same view in this regard: `Unto the woman He said ... thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' (Gn. 3:16) `Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church; and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in every thing.' (Eph. 5:22-24)

3. In this regard, however, it must remain clear that Islam does not forbid women to earn a living. It has only freed them from the responsibility of earning, which rests with men.

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