Center for Muslim Life (New Jersey), describes the factors that can contribute to the destruction of the family and offers suggestions on how to reconstruct it, even starting with one’s own roots in Islam.">
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Religion and Society

Broken families. The care of Muslims

How does the Muslim family face the disintegration of relations between couples and with the children? Suzi Ismail, who has many years experience at the Center for Muslim Life (New Jersey), describes the factors that can contribute to the destruction of the family and offers suggestions on how to reconstruct it, even starting with one’s own roots in Islam.

We are broken. Not necessarily as individuals, but as a collective whole. We’ve lost our way, lost our human connections, lost our hierarchy of priorities. Amidst this cyclical process of loss, we’ve also lost our perspective on what is important and what it means to be a family.

 

Maybe our brokenness does not reside in the physical sense of the word, maybe it does not even reside wholly in the spiritual sense per se. Either way, we cannot deny that what we have shattered is the family dynamic in our Muslim communities. Our faith teaches us the importance of maintaining mawaddah (care) and rahma (mercy) in our families. In breaking the mawaddah within our families, we’ve succeeded in breaking the connection with our communities and the connection with each other in the greater realm of society. How we interact with others often forms the cornerstone of society. How we interact with our family forms the foundation of that cornerstone.

 

 

As Muslims, we are reminded by the Prophet (peace be upon him) that ‘The best of you is he who is best to his family….’ (Al-Tirmidhi hadith 3252) How many of us can say that we live our lives this way though? How many of us can honestly say that our nicest smile is saved for our children? That our softest voice is saved for our spouse? That our kindest compliments are reserved for our parents? Unfortunately, in the name of comfort, familiarity, and ease, many of us have strayed from keeping the best part of ourselves for our families. Instead, where we try the least is in our own homes. Once we stop trying to be the best to our families, all that is best within our families begins dying.

 

 

It’s hard to accept that there is a problem in our communities today and that the root of the problem may be found in our own homes. It’s even harder to fix what is broken if we won’t acknowledge the damage. We don’t like to be told that we’ve neglected an important part of our being. So we are left saddened, hurt, and feeling less than whole even when we can’t articulate why.

 

In the darkness of our acute emptiness, we are left to ponder what it is exactly that we’ve lost. As much as it pains us, the first step towards healing is recognizing the truth. And the truth is that we are broken. The hard question we must ask ourselves is whether or not it is too late to salvage the broken bits of our families? Is there hope to rebuild the broken bonds again?

 

 

Many of us wonder sometimes, how did it happen? How did I lose that connection with my family? The breakdown doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an insidious process of loss and pain. The insanity of the world and the belief that we don’t have time for family breaks into the bonds of our lives in small steps when we are steeped in filial security and feel most confident and comfortable in our connections. Sowing the seeds of personal discord in family life seems to be a most prevalent problem across faiths today. How can we guard against society’s assault on family life then? How can we recognize the signs and avoid what seems to be as inevitable as the breakdown of families today?

 

 

The breakdown of the family doesn’t happen all at once but slowly and when the family members feel most comfortable, content, and secure in their own surroundings. It might begin with an increased attachment to the cell phone maybe. A mother who checks her phone for texts, emails, and Facebook posts consistently at dinner, at soccer games, at family gatherings. Then, the family breakup might move to the father spending late nights in seclusion on the laptop, the children constantly connected to the iPad, the teenagers glued to the Internet, the video games, and the TV. Soon, the entire family is always connected, but to gadgets and technology and not to one another.

 

 

The next step in the family breakdown might be a move towards a lack of communication. Slowly, the parents stop talking to each other except in shouting matches, or even worse… they simply stop talking. The children might no longer have anything they want to share with the parents since they’d rather share with friends. Before anyone realizes what is happening, the adults in the family stop talking to their own parents or siblings because of the burden that “real” relationships represent.

 

 

It doesn’t happen overnight, yet we’re shocked when it happens to us. We might find ourselves moving away from our connections and blaming it on work, busy schedules, lack of time, and a million other excuses that society conveniently supplies. Before you know it, you wake up and the realization hits you hard…you’ve lost your sense of family. The husband and wife no longer have companionship. The children lock themselves in their rooms and look to friends or pop stars for guidance. And then we wonder why? Where did our families go? How can we fix it? Is it too late?

 

 

It’s never too late for us to fix what is broken. It’s never too late to pick up the pieces and build again. Here are some practical steps that can help us in rebuilding our families from a Muslim perspective but that can be applied to anyone of any faith:

 

 

Unplug. Force yourself to disconnect from the technology that pervades our lives. We cannot have meaningful connections with our families if we are always turning to our devices and gadgets to connect with others.

 

Communicate. Schedule in “talking time.” This is very important for the well-being of the parents’ relationship and for the children in learning how to connect with others.

 

Respect. Build respect, companionship, and camaraderie between you and your spouse, you and your parents, and you and your children. Try to always be on the same page as husband and wife while raising your children. Don’t let your children see you divided. Your marriage should be a place of trust, rest, tranquility, care, and mercy.

 

Support. Recognize that no one exists in a bubble. As a family, you must provide the emotional as well as physical and financial support for one another from the oldest to the youngest.

 

Connect. Don’t lead separate lives. Yes, it is important to nurture your own interests and pursue self-enriching activities.

 

 

However, it’s equally important to always come back to home-base and to recognize the role of the family in your life and to enjoy the blessings of being with people who truly care for you.

 

Be Responsible. Foster a sense of responsibility in your children and in your spouse. What are the rights and responsibilities in a family? How can everyone be a part of fulfilling those? The Qur’an mandates the importance of being good to our parents. Be an example to your own children by not neglecting your responsibilities to your family as well. ‘Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that (you show) kindness to parents. Should one or both of them attain to old age with you, Say not “Uff'” unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little. Your Lord is best aware of what is in yourselves. If you are righteous, then Lo! He was ever forgiving unto those who turn unto Him’ (17: 23-25).

 

Un-break what’s been Broken. Acknowledge and fix whatever has gone wrong in your family. Have a serious heart to heart with your spouse and with your children about why you feel that your family is falling apart. Don’t absolve yourself from the blame. The family must work together like cogs in a well-oiled machine. If one part of the machine isn’t working correctly, the other parts must pull together to make it work. Jaabir ibn Muntam (RA) narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘The person who breaks family ties will not enter Jannah.’ (Bukhari and Muslim) Don’t persist in the path towards breaking the family connection.

 

 

Expect the Unexpected. Learn to roll with the punches. Establish a core of unshakeable faith where you rely upon God alone in good and bad. Family life is not all about smooth sailing. It is about having the right mates on your ship as you navigate the rough seas. As Muslims we believe that ‘Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.’ (94:6) Let the beauty of this verse from the Qu'ran permeate your life and filter through everything you experience with your family. Family life is about the journey and the destination. Enjoy every moment and recognize that life is not always going to be perfect, but it’s perfectly imperfect just the way it is.

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