Islam emerged out of the tribal culture of seventh-century Arabia, where a group of related extended families formed a clan, and groups of clans made up a tribe. People were identified not as individuals, but by their membership in an extended family. Even today, the basic family unit in Muslim societies is greater than just parents and children.
A family’s name and reputation are supremely important. Since most Muslim societies highly value honor and fear being shamed, any action that dishonors the family can lead to a strong response, up to and including death. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year in “honor killings” as families seek to restore their lost honor.
Traditionally, roles and expectations are determined by age and gender. Younger family members must show respect to their elders. Women and girls, even if they are older, are usually expected to submit to men and boys. They are given more domestic responsibilities at an earlier age. When a woman marries, she often leaves her home and joins her husband’s household under the authority of her mother-in-law. This can sometimes become a very traumatic, abusive experience.
Millions of Muslims today emigrate to the West to work, study, or seek asylum. These migrations are profoundly impacting Muslim family dynamics around the world.
Islam teaches that family is the building block of society. While permitted under Islamic law, the use of contraception is often discouraged by extremely conservative Muslims. Children are to be kind and respectful not just to their parents, but to all elderly relatives (Quran 17:23-24; 31:14). In addition, Muhammad reportedly once said, “No parent can give their children a better gift than training them in good manners” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi Hadith Collection 27:58).
The Quran and traditions of Muhammad encourage the special treatment of mothers. People should treat their mothers kindly because of the hardship of pregnancy and birth (Quran 46:15). In addition, Muhammad reportedly said that “heaven lies beneath the feet of your mother” (Sahih Hadith Collection 25:20).
Despite high praise for mothers in these sources, families in the Muslim world are thoroughly patriarchal: fathers, uncles, brothers, and sometimes even sons have authority over women. When this authority is abused, women and girls suffer greatly.
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.