AN OLD FRIEND confessed her thoughts of asking for divorce after 25 years of marriage, because of her persistent marital problems that she could not tolerate any longer. Her fear of Allah (taqwa) made her more patient to stay in the relationship, but she still felt unhappy and unsatisfied. Why does Sûrat Al-Nisâ’ (the Surah of Women) — where many commands regarding rights and responsibilities of spouses are given– begin with reminders of taqwa? Because, the Islamic prescription for success in married life is based on taqwa: fear and consciousness of Allah. A direct consequence of this awareness is that a fight for rights is replaced by a concern for responsibilities.
In this article and the subsequent ones we will attempt to shed a light on the most common Muslim family problems that hinder building a happy home and to investigate their solutions based on the Quran and Sunnah.
What is a Happy Home?
Is a happy home the most extravagant house that has a huge space furnished with the most expensive furniture, appliances and entertainment equipment? How do we seek happiness? When faith is weakened or lost, the search for happiness continues in different directions—all in vain:
But the disbelievers—their deeds are like a mirage in a lowland which a thirsty one thinks is water until, when he comes to it, he finds it is nothing but finds Allah before him, and He will pay him in full his due; and Allah is swift in account. [Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:39]
Islam is the final and complete message to humanity that depicts in detail the way of life which guarantees achieving a genuine lasting happiness in both this life and the hereafter. We refer to genuine happiness as the state of contentment, satisfaction, pleasure and harmony with oneself and other human beings.
Only Islam—the way of Allah— guarantees genuine and lasting happiness; true happiness is a state of contentment, satisfaction, pleasure and harmony with oneself and other human beings.
A Happy Home is Our Top Priority!
The first step is to realize that a happy home is our—every man and woman’s—top priority. Allah is happy with those who keep their families—parents and spouses— happy as a way of submitting to Him. Seeking happiness is the most fundamental instinct and desire of all human beings—and that cannot happen except in a happy home. It is worth all the effort, time and energy. Not only that, but a happy home is helpful in achieving success in other fields of life—whether Islamic or worldly.
What are the Challenges?
In today’s world –where faith takes a back seat in life– family and home are facing tremendous stresses and challenges. In societies that are ruled by secular systems and constitutions of man-made laws, family suffers the most serious consequences. With the human conscience almost dead, the only motivations that control and guide human behaviors are selfishness, materialism, and immediate self-gratification. The man-made laws and regulations have only a limited effect on shaping human attitudes and behaviors. Whenever the disbelievers are able to get away from the watchdogs of the system, they would not hesitate to follow their desires regardless of the effects on others, since they do not fear the ultimate super power, Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.
Even in Muslim societies, families are struggling due to local cultures that adopted a distorted understanding of Islamic teachings or that are influenced by other foreign traditions. Between the rigid traditions of the East and the bankruptness of the traditions imported from the West, many sincere Muslims are torn. What adds to their problems is lack of Islamic institutions that provide social or counseling services in the form of education or mediation. Consequently, so many Muslim couples are forced to seek refuge in non-Muslim institutions and end up destroying their families for trivial problems that could have been solved, if only they had had adequate Islamic education and guidance.
The problems that our Muslim families are facing range from domestic violence and teenage abuse to small but persistent problems which, if ignored, might develop a sense of resentment and dissatisfaction. With time the accumulated effect of these small problems that happen frequently can be as damaging to the relationship as the big ones.
In an incident of a teenager who was beaten by his Muslim father, the police took the child away from his Muslim family and moved him to a Christian family. In another case an argument about a minor issue started between a Muslim couple escalated to a level that made the neighbors call the police, who arrested the husband. Later the couple regretted what had happened, but the case against the husband is still in, and both of them have to fight to prove the husband’s innocence. In another case the couple had been having problems for years; they sought help from a mainstream counselor who charged them a lot of money just to listen to them for hours without saying a word. Now they have filed for divorce in the American court system. The Muslim woman confidentially confessed to me her thoughts of asking for divorce after 25 years of marriage, because of her persistent marital problems that she cannot tolerate any longer. Her fear of Allah (taqwa) makes her more patient to stay in the relationship, but she still feels unhappy and unsatisfied.
The above examples are real life stories from a small sample that I came across through my volunteer work as a Muslim family counselor for a short period of time, demonstrating the size of the problems that our Muslim families are facing. Besides the suffering from the original problem, we have to be aware that often the interference of the police can only make a bad situation much worse. This is not to discourage anyone from seeking help in case of serious abuse, but we must be very cautious in making such a decision, and do everything possible to find Muslim institutions to help before getting the law involved. The law is basically heartless; besides, interference of the authorities that do not understand our culture and religion often only adds to our problems.
Learn from the Prophet’s Example
In addressing most of the problems that our families are facing, we have the best role model in the life of Prophet Muhammad, ﷺ. We must put forth the necessary effort to study his Sîra, how he dealt with his family, how his wives dealt with him through the hardship that they went through. We are sure to find a cure for every ailment only if we approach it with complete submission to and absolute trust in Allah. Allah emphasizes this concept in the Quran:
Say, (O Muhammad) ‘If you should love Allah, then follow me, (so) Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:31]
And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:132]
What can we gain and implement from the contemporary research in human relationships generally, and specifically in marital relationship?
Our problems now seem different in form and context from the ones that Muslims used to face at the time of the Prophet and his Companions, but they still have the same root reasons and can be solved by the same methodology that was successful fourteen hundred years ago. Human nature never changed and it will never change. The core relationship between husband and wife is the same and will stay the same until the end of the world. However, there is still some benefit from exploring the contemporary social science fields and adopting what fits our Islamic laws and guidance.