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The Muslim family in Western society: Confronting the challenges

In Islamic legislation, the family occupies the position of the first social cell that of the human incubator, and is distinguished by the warm emotional element that draws the person to his spouse, children, father, mother and brothers. This becomes a means to build a humanistic personality on a foundation of spiritual kindness, which nurtures the person, filling his mind heart with security, through the type of interaction that makes one spirit open to another. He should feel this emotional atmosphere overwhelming and surrounding him, in a humanistic way in which he experiences all its psychological, spiritual and intellectual details without any burden to his self or harm to his childhood, for it should make him breathe this (atmosphere) through his feeling as a matter of course, without it being imposed upon him.

Responsibility of care for the family

In light of this, the Islamic responsibility of care for the family proceeds from a foundation of intellectual and psychological planning, which achieves for its members the opening up to Islamic concepts as a way of thinking and feeling and a way of life. Thus, the person will start his movement from an Islamic base, upon which stands his mental, emotional and dynamic building, this enables the Muslims who- from childhood -has to face an opposing reality with strength and firmness, to avoid becoming a feather in the wind or a piece of wood adrift in the current. This is what pushes an Islamic generation into the public arena, in which beliefs, steps and tendencies differ, to take its position on a basis of balance that protects it from all violent disturbances in an atmosphere of challenge?

The essential matter to address, as far as responsibility in the family is concerned, is the upbringing of the individual within it, and how to make him a person of God in his service to Him, his loyalty to Him and his relationship with Him through his belief, practice and feelings, through which he may experience the meaning of loving Allah and fearing Him. In this way, he will find his opportunity to acquire His satisfaction, to enter His Holy arena and to avoid the places of His wrath and Fire. This is what the gracious verse emphasizes: "O Believers, guard your selves and your family against a Fire fuelled with men and stones, under the charge of fierce and mighty angels who never disobey Allah's command and how promptly do His bidding." 66:6. We notice, in this verse, that Allah, the most Exalted, stirs the emotional side so as to proceed in planning, to achieve the internal and external preventive measures that prevent one from falling into the great Fire that is cruel in its nature and in those who are put in charge of it. It is exactly as if the father, husband or mother, in this life, is in a position where the other person -wife or child - is in danger of burning in fire: He stirs the depths of anxiety to make them do something to rescue them from an inescapable fate.

On the other hand, we find the other verse: "Gardens of Eden; they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their father, their spouses and their offspring, and angels shall enter unto them fro every gate. "Peace unto you foe all that you have steadfastly endured, now how excellent is the (your) final home." 13:23,24.

This shows that familial atmosphere in Paradise, where the pious among fathers, wives and offspring meet once again in the place of God's satisfaction, because of their piety -in this life- in belief and practice and the fact that they stayed on the right path in the line of Oneness of God and obedience to Him.

The Quran present these two pictures to people to stir resolve within them, and so they abandon the first picture for the second, reaching the happy ending that any person wants for himself and his family. This makes the matter one that concerns fate, and not a temporary situation that comes into his life every now and then.

In light of this, the matter requires collective effort, in addition to individual effort, so as to prepare the right atmospheres and conditions - which represent the environment in which the family can grow and archive for its individuals the guarantee of self-defense against deviation and succumbing. This can be achieved through preparation of different means, such as schools, 'incubators' and various programs that fill the soul with its needs in education, innocent leisure and spiritual development, all of which provide the individual with the necessary conditions for a normal life.

Responsibility for solidarity


The responsibility, perhaps, falls not only on families in their familial or local communities, but also on all those active in the Islamic field, the Islamic Grand Authorities, active movements and intellectual groups -thinkers, callers and conveyors, who move dynamically towards the integration of their endeavors, who move dynamically towards the integration of their endeavors to find the wise plan needed for an Islamic generation that is open to Islam and our era, making it an effective force in contemporary Islam's lift off towards the world. The issue is not one of those issues that relate to the individual side, that of fathers and mothers with their children - everyone in his own family - but, rather, it relates to the new Islamic generation, in its general aspirations, and its open arena, and in dynamic struggle with the Islamic and intellectual challenges that it faces.

And if the responsibility is big and embraces the social reality inside the Islamic countries, it is even stronger in infidel countries, when Muslims are forced to emigrate and reside in them. Here they may encounter a reality that does not represent a land, in which they can put down roots, and environment, which they cannot open up to, and a world in which they feel foreign - through its concepts, habits and traditions that are different to the ideas, habits and traditions, which they have inherited.

The problem of the young generation

If adults have started (their life in places of emigration) with deep roots of Islamic affiliations, in theory and practice, the younger generation will not necessarily have inherited these elements, since what it possesses may represent nothing beyond some passing words and foggy concepts which do not touch their true depth - even if they have touched some of their behavior. The danger may lie in the Western school in which Muslim children are educated, where they breathe in the atmosphere of the West in all its emotions, conditions and aspirations, as if they were something natural to move around in, exactly like the natural aspects of their fellow pupils in play -grounds and classes. They may find it strange to hear the negative remarks of their fathers and mothers, as if these are outside the norm. They may confront the matter with increasing and unspoken rejection, which looks like a complex from the stance of the family. They will start to embody the bitter adolescent query: why do they prohibit us from dancing with out friends, or from swimming in mixed swimming pools, or from enjoying free and warm relationships etc?

The difficult problem, in this situation, is that the new young generation does not have a sufficiently deep or clear conception of its personality to protect itself from the influences that move in the atmosphere into which is was thrown and the arena in which it was placed. What is its understanding of God, and His relationship with man, and man's position before Him? What is its understanding of personal freedom? What about morals in all of this?

Some teaching may get through with recognition, but some things may create contradictions within it, leaving it in a state of deep puzzlement between its past that it has learnt from the family and the new that it has learnt from the school or the surrounding environment. It may not be able to confront the situation in a balanced way that permits answers to its puzzling questions, with the result that it becomes shattered psychologically, if not consciously.

A suggestion for a remedial plan

With children who have been implanted in a land that is not their own, their growth will be separated from the natural elements that provide them with the natural process of growing. This makes it essential that the remedy comes within the framework of a thoughtful, realistic plan, along the following lines:

1- Proceeding from the narrated word of Imam Ali (as): "Do not (try to) give your children your morals, for they have been created for a time other than yours", we may extrapolate from this by changing the idea of a change in place to a change in time. This is justified, because the concept is not based on time in its absolute sense, but rather it means -in its intellectual implications -that dynamic morals are subject to different circumstances, for they may change according to their dynamic peculiarities, as we notice in the differences in morals regarding behavior in social etiquette, in food and drink, dress, different ways of expression, social dynamics, patterns of leisure etc; place may have a role in the differences between societies, habits and traditions, time may have a role as well.

Therefore, we must study the reality in which children in the West live in order to make a comparison between the unchangeable morals which stretch across time and place -on the basis that they are man's morals as defined by his humanity, which represents truth that goes beyond time and place - and the changeable morals that are not related to the value but to circumstances, reality and the conditions surrounding a person. This enables us to observe the former and to plan to organize and guide their movement in the latter, for the problem is that fathers and mothers strive to make their children into an image (carbon copy) of themselves, without studying the circumstances that molded their image in its intellectual and practical dimensions, not with regard in its intellectual and practical dimensions, nor with regard to the new circumstances that may impose another image through new dimensions.

In a lot of situations people, including religious Muslims, may confuse what is tradition with what is religious adherence, and the result is confusion regarding moral concepts, deriving from a lack of religious Islamic awareness of the original Islamic morals on intellectual basis, which opens up to the behavioral dynamics.

We are not calling for a moral and intellectual coup d'etat, but for re-looking at moral lines, including Islamic lines regarding rulings (fatwas) that prohibit Muslims from every leisure even if it is innocent, such as a ruling that prohibits clapping in a certain way, or any kind of leisure except what is proved to have been allowed. This has created the basis for the prohibition of leisure, with some as exceptions. This may make a person think that there is a mentality which regards joy, in its deep movement within the self, as not recommended Islamically, and that (according to this mentality) a person must embody the sad feelings that link him with death, whilst he is in the heart of life!

When pointing to such a jurisprudence mentality in regarding man's behavior, we do not want to talk in a negative way that rejects such an approach outright, for the matter must be subjected, in rejecting or accepting, to specialist research where the Islamic jurists have differed in their results. Rather, we want to point out that some jurisprudence opinions, in allowing and forbidding, may be subject to environmental influences which this or that Islamic jurist experienced, and these may be reflected in their understanding of the (sacred) text or the Islamic pillars in the minds of religious people, or not.

As we said, we do not want to abandon the jurisprudence way simply because there is a new reality to which we must open up, or that there is an intellectual development which we must face, but we want to study the reality according to its Islamic legal categories, through an objective formulation of rulings (ijtihad) that is open to the general Quranic lines regarding details in specific rulings, in both public and private lives.

2- It is essential to open modern scientific schools in which the new generation - in its initial stages of education -breathe Islam's spiritual, moral and social atmospheres. This will contribute greatly in protecting young Muslims from elements of spiritual and moral deviation and intense psychological complexities. We might perhaps emphasize that the school project in the West is more important than the mosque or Husainiyyah, not the Opposite. And perhaps executing this project is what can make it allowable for Muslims to stay in these countries, since negative results reflected in the new generation from the Islamic point of view may lead to making emigration out of these countries obligatory, for it is not allowed to stay in countries where a person's, or his family's, religion may weaken.

3- Opening sports, social and youth clubs for the young Muslim generation (is important), so that they find a natural release from the psychological suffocation and daily tiredness that come from schools or practical obligations. Also, starting dialogue forums for the Muslim youth (is useful), in a style through which we can discover their ideas, learn their views about the vital elements in belief and behavior, and to see the new concepts and feelings that they have acquired -all this to try to open up to this generation from within, to correct what has become corrupt and straighten out what has become deviant, in a way in which they do not feel the psychological pressure that may can create opposite reaction, especially if accompanied by physical pressure.

4- (It is also important to) prepare worship atmospheres that are open to the dynamic elements in religious and spiritual matters, and to abandon boring routines in the practice of worship, in order to encourage the desire in the young to go to theses places and partake in the spirituality of prayer and the dynamics of supplication.

5- (It is also important to) prepare religious social atmospheres by stirring Islamic memories, and trying to refresh their styles and methods with what fits in with the different mentalities of youth.

This is to make them (the youth) open up to these memories on a level in which they feel strong and in close relationship with the historic personalities involved and the events in question, and through planning, to provide a bright picture which makes them store, within their consciousness, its spiritual features, moral elements and secrets about humanistic greatness.

We are(currently) raising some general ideas with regard to initiating some experiments that are appropriate to the new reality, so that more ideas may be forthcoming and a lot more experiments are engaged in, and so that a comparative study may, in the end, achieve the integration needed to deal with this difficult problem.

We believe that the responsibility of staying in the West imposes on us the responsibility of preparing all means to preserve our Islamic identity, original moral values and Islamic adherence, so that we do not lose ourselves under the influence of deviant atmosphere, and do not lose our children through an -un-Islamic upbringing.

Perhaps we cannot reach perfection in what is required; we have to accept this and use it to encourage experiments in the process of cooperation and integration, until we arrive at the better reality.

The Muslim family in the West, as in any infidel country, is living with one of the most difficult problems, and our greatest responsibility is to work towards finding suitable solutions, especially since our great ambition is to proceed with the Islamic Message to guide the world to Islam. Therefore, we must not lose ourselves and our families whilst trying to bring benefit to others!