Role of family
The role of family in the overall social structure of Islam is great and if we fail to grasp its importance, the whole edifice will collapse.
In Islam there is no family without union or marriage and there is no marriage without rules and discipline. The family in Islam is a unit in which two independent persons unite and share life together. The husband’s dignity is an integral part of his wife’s dignity. Accordingly, neither of them is better than the other. To unite and share, there must be mutual love and compassion – a genuine feeling which, unless translated into action and behavior, would be mere illusion.
Women’s rights in the family
From the very outset, Islam has been a liberating religion that uplifted the status of women and gave them rights that were considered revolutionary 1400 years ago. In spite of this founding spirit, Muslim practices today often oppress women and deny them the equality and human dignity granted in the Qur’an. The family should be the first essential area in which women’s rights have to be secured.
The question that arises is that if Islam liberated women centuries ago, then why is it that maltreatment of wives is not a rare occurrence among Muslim people? Most likely, I suspect, it comes from misinterpretations of a Qur’anic verse and of some ahadith.
The Institution of marriage
When Allah (swt) mentions marriage or the relationship between husband and wife in the Qur’an He describes it as one of love, mercy, and harmony between two human beings who have entered into a mutual contract. For example, And among His wonders is that; He created for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may incline toward them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think. (Q 30:21). And, It is He who has created you out of one entity, so that one might incline (with love) towards the other. (Q 7:189)
Expression of love
According to the Qur’an, the relationship between husband and wife should be one of love, mercy and mutual understanding. Allah (swt) also commands men to treat their wives, And consort with your wives in a goodly manner, for if you dislike something about them, it may be well that you dislike something which Allah (swt) might yet make a source of abundant good. (Q 4:19)
The Qur’an speaks of the intimate and close relationship of the two spouses in these words: They are like garments unto you as you are like garments unto them (Q 2:187). This verse, by using the simile of garments, explains two basic facts. First, dress is considered to be one of the most fundamental needs of human beings in all stages of life. Second, dress covers the nakedness of human beings and hides those parts which are to be kept hidden. Every person has his weakness and frailty and does not want them to be disclosed to others.
The two sexes working together, not only cover each other’s weakness and frailty, but also enhance each other’s capabilities and help each other make up their deficiencies. Men are told to be generous and liberal in their treatment of women under all circumstances, especially when the relations between the two are not very amicable. Surah al-Baqarah refers to this in these words: And do not forget liberality between yourselves (Q 2:237). Even in divorce, men are enjoined to be just and fair (ma’ruf) to their wives. We read these words also in surah al-Baqarah: When you divorce women, and they fulfill the term of their waiting (‘iddah), either take them back honorably on equitable terms or set them free with kindness and goodness.(Q 2:229)
So, it is through the institution of marriage that true expression is given to what the Qur’an refers to as “love and mercy” (Q 30:21) between men and women; that men and women are like each other’s garments (Q 2:187), that be you male or female, you are members of one another (Q 3:195), and that men and women are protectors, one of another. (Q 9:71)