THROUGHOUT HISTORY, in all known cultures, the family has been the basic building block of society. Our web of family relations, more than any other factor, mediates our relations with our fellow human beings.
Human beings need families as much as they need fresh air, clean water, and nutritious food. That is why it is so frightening that in America today, the family is becoming an endangered species.
Nearly two-thirds of American marriages end in divorce. Think about that for a moment. The majority of American children will be growing up in broken homes, lacking the sense of security that a stable nuclear family offers.
And if you think the American nuclear family is endangered, take a look at the extended family—if you can find one to take a look at! You may have to look for a long time, because in America, the stable extended family of the traditional type, with aunts, cousins, grandparents and other relations living in the same vicinity and socializing on a near-daily basis, has gone the way of extinction.
The average American pulls up stakes and moves every few years, cutting her ties to family, neighborhood and community and sacrificing human relationships on the altar of the almighty dollar.
- Grandparents are left to rot in the chemically-overpowered stench of their own excreta, in those concentration camps for the elderly that are euphemistically called rest homes—perhaps because they’ll be stuck there, useless, for the ‘rest’ of their lives.
- Children are thrown into day care centers and public schools, where a factory-style mass-production assembly line approach to education ensures that all will be manufactured to the standard of the lowest common denominator.
- The most basic human relationship—that between the child and its mother during the first two years of nursing which the Quran tell us is so natural and sublime—is sundered by early day care and the pressures that herd mothers into the work force like cattle to the slaughter.
Muslims, who rightly appreciate the freedoms and opportunities that America offers, must take care not to let their own families follow others onto the endangered species list. Currently the divorce rate for Muslims in America is higher than among Muslims in any other country. Muslims are increasingly seduced into following destructive patterns from American culture:
- Teenage dating and extramarital sex;
- Nursing homes for the elderly;
- The culture of alcohol, drugs, pornography, and other forms of hollow and unsatisfying instant gratification;
- The lack of family togetherness even at mealtimes;
- The tendency to marry and divorce out of selfishness rather than selflessness;
- The use of technologies like television, the automobile and the computer to escape the family hearth in pursuit of individualistic excess;
- The increasing tendency to work longer and longer hours that are stolen from the family;
- And on and on.
One of the roots of the family crisis today is the tendency of parents to treat their children as ‘others’—almost as things or commodities rather than beloved gifts of Allah. Many want to select the sex of their child as if they were shopping for one at the mall. They throw their few months-old baby in day care as if they were putting it aside in the closet, to be taken out only at their own convenience. They project their own neurotic frustrations and desires on the child, forcing the child into endless rounds of soccer games, music lessons, and other organized activities, while pushing the child to become an Olympic athlete or an Ivy League scholar in order to bolster their own egos. Then, when the child is grown, they throw her out of the house—and charge her rent if she wishes to remain for a few years past her 18th birthday, as advised by the cultural gurus. If she ever needs a loan, the American parent is to charge her interest!
Islam is a universal message of Allah, and its culture has been historically enriched by so many other cultures. It is in fact being enriched by many good things in the American culture as well. The American family values, however, are a disaster for our Muslim communities. We must hold tightly to our family values and reject the individualistic and hedonistic excesses of today’s materialistic culture.
In doing so, we will be doing the best form of daʿwah— daʿwah by example. As the American divorce rate shoots toward higher rates, and its current family values prevails, our neighbors will notice that we Muslims are somehow managing to keep our families more or less intact. They will ask us how we do it. We will tell them that maintaining our family ties is a crucial part of the last revealed message of Allah as it has been in His previous messages. Seeing the smiles on our faces and the happy family members around us, they will, inshâ’Allah, want to know more about that message.