Individual – Family – Society: Where are we headed?

I tend to think a lot about what makes Islam so exceptionally unique, and what we as Muslims have to offer to everyone around us.

I would say the first valuable uniqueness of Islam is the Islamic method of living. The problem we as Muslims have is how distant we are from the true teachings of Islam, and how we are being negatively influenced by the alternative lifestyle choices around us. It’s become very difficult to pinpoint exactly what lifestyle system we should adopt.

There’s the problem of modernity, globalisation, Western non-religious values, cultural difference and even personal preferences.

In short, Islam offers a simple but extremely important equation as a system of living, based on three pillars:

 Individual – Family – Society.

Other systems, religious or not, skip the middle pillar, and focus just on:

Individual – Society.

Let me explain:

Seeing that I am an individual, and I come from a family, and live in a society, I must find some way of dealing with all three levels in a healthy way that would not only keep me as an individual happy, but also preserve cohesion with the other two: family and society.

I’m sure you have already come to understand how modern society has gradually removed the middle component, family. When you look at today’s society, you can clearly see this. We can see that family has a primary role only during the early ages of an individual’s life. Until he/she reaches adolescence. After that, family plays a role only if it suits the individual’s personal interests and needs and personal happiness.

The Western Capitalistic approach promotes the idea that your main focus of attention and interest should be “you” – the individual. You do what you think would make you happy, and you individually decide your fate and choice of lifestyle.

In the view of modern society, family is ok, but members of a family function on their own, and fend for themselves. Once there is a conflict between individual and family, the individual takes precedence.

As for society, from this same modern approach, nothing is sacred and everything is subject to change and critique. What is in mode today can be old tomorrow, and what we saw to be morally or socially acceptable yesterday can be completely rejected today. Society encourages people to interact, but based on individual interests and personal benefits, not on common norms or collective views.

Although individual, family and social rights is a very important topic, what I am referring to here is not how we understand or promote rights on all three levels, or violation of rights in any of these levels. Rather, my aim is to highlight how we Muslims have a strong system we must stick to, and introduce to others as a way of solving many problems in today’s society.

Should we fall short of our commitment to our religious system of living, we will witness our own social and religious plight.

If I focus on “me”, and neglect family and society, I will fall into problems. If I focus on “family”, and overlook myself and society, I will suffer, and if I focus on “society”, and abandon myself and family, I will also face difficulties.

This means that all three pillars work equally together. You the individual have your own interests, and you function within a family, and you are also an important link in society. You cannot neglect yourself, nor can you abandon your family, nor cancel your membership to society.

The main focus is ‘individual’ and ‘family’. And then it is family that makes up a society. A family is a smaller social system, and if it is not strengthened or supported by the individual and the larger social system, neither will survive.

Is happiness our goal and objective? Should we aim to be “happy”?

This is where we have to define what “happiness” is. Will your happiness conflict with God’s commands? Will your happiness split apart your family? Will your happiness damage social norms? Are your expectations more important than your family’s expectations, and do you even give thought to society’s expectations?

What we do know as Muslims is that God is central in our lives. We live under the shadow of Almighty God, and what we do must comply with His commands.

How can we assume that God’s command should be followed and is valid to begin with?

Once acknowledging that there is a God that has created everything and that all rely on for their ongoing sustenance, then adhering to His injunctions is the minimum act of gratitude and reverence expected from such a feeble, weak and lowly being. We also recognize that God is Wise and All-knowing. He doesn’t do things in vain and does not request from His creation except that for which will benefit humankind themselves. We can conclude that His commands not only are there to show submission to Him but also have a purpose that are for the benefit of the creation in this worldly life.

We also believe our objective in life is “passing tests” to enter into a greater realm in our next life. If I believe that there is a greater purpose for my life on earth, then I will never ruin my chance of a successful spiritual life by pursuing my lusts at the cost of disobeying God.

We believe in family, and we expand the meaning of family to include our kin. We also believe in the welfare of others and put their welfare ahead of our own.

I would never put my interests first if it would affect my homage to family. I would never abandon my commitment to the Ummah for the sake of my own personal likes.  I have to follow the peace and order clearly shown to me by my religion. The institution I am a part of mandates that I safeguard my eternal self, my family and my community.

When this isn’t observed, that’s when we start our plight, spiraling down. That’s when personal desire and lust is preferred over family and community. Of course, someone in this situation will try and resort to cover-ups and justifications. You might use the word “preference” or “love”, but reality of the matter is it is far from preference or love.[1]

I think that’s the very problem that we need to address. That we need to revisit what Islam has given to us. We need to stay away from being influenced by other non-religious systems of living. This mixing of lifestyles is also very confusing for most of us, especially youth.

When a youngster is fed with overwhelming confidence that he/she is able to live alone, or act alone, or not care about ‘other’s, then this Islamic lifestyle begins to gradually fade away, and is replaced with the modern or non-religious lifestyle.

In most cases problems occur when there is a clash between the needs of the individual and the requirements of the family. The individual would like to pursue a certain path in life, or partner up with another individual, and he/she makes the decision on their own, away from considering family requirements or parental guidance. Of course, once the secret life is revealed, the family is upset that they were sidelined, and then further tension is created, spilling out into the community.

Or, when a husband and wife (a family) have not yet been willing to compromise and are refusing mediation. Both sides have no concern for social norms, nor do they care about how damaging divorce will be for their child.  They do not wish to mend their relationship, and have no understanding of family solidarity or commitment, so they tap-out, even though there still may be hope.

These are common examples of such conflicts between the individual, family, and society that we come across.

You see when you show this indifferent attitude, and believe in ‘to each to their own’, and ‘who are you to tell me what to do’, and ‘I don’t care what others think’, and ‘as long as I am happy’, and all these other very un-Islamic slogans that really mean nothing, then you will be heading towards a dangerous path. A path where you might have very little satisfaction and short-lived happiness, but long-term sorrow and loneliness.[2]

It’s when your individualisation becomes more important than your family and community. It’s when your personal decisions exclude the interests of your family values or religious requirements. It’s when you have no care for what your Islamic social system expects from you.

When you cross these sacred lines and get to this stage of insolence, becoming self-centered, even your emotional attachment and feelings towards family start to diminish. You have found solace outside of family commitment, and that short-term comfort covers up what you are losing.

Of course, on a positive note and due to our intrinsic nature, in many cases individuals wake up and realise where they are heading, and return back to their principles by removing their clouds of emotional misjudgment.

Among these principles is the principle of family commitment and authority of parents. This is fundamental in understanding the individual-family-society equation.

Our submission to our parents is what distinguishes us as Muslims, and we take it many levels further to include our family members, and even our kin.

You have relatives that for some reason you hate. Do you pester yourself about it, or just block them from your life and get rid of them altogether?

Islam says family comes first, and you have to bite your lip and tolerate. Abandoning your relatives is a major sin, and worse than that is disobedience or insolence to your parents.

The Prophetic (s.a.w.) hadith says:

لِيَعْمَلِ اَلْعَاقُّ مَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَعْمَلَ فَلَنْ يَدْخُلَ اَلْجَنَّةَ

One who is disobedient to their parents can do what they wish, but they will never enter Heaven.[3]

It means whatever praying or fasting or acts or worship or good deeds you do, if your parents are not happy with you, then you will never see Heaven.

And not only your maternal parents have authority over you, so do other members of the family.

In many ahadith, we see the elder brother has the status of a father, and an uncle has the status of a father.

In numerous places and cases the holy Prophet says:

اَلْعَمُّ وَالِدٌ

An uncle is a father.[4]

Imam Ali al-Ridha (a.s.) says:

اَلْأَخُ اَلْأَكْبَرُ بِمَنْزِلَةِ اَلْأَبِ

An elder brother has the status of a father.[5]

Islam entitles these family members and grants them authority. Extending beyond that, we have obligation towards our kin as well. Upholding ties with relatives is among the greatest of things a believer can do. I have a post on this, speaking about the many dunyawi and ukhrawi benefits of keeping ties with kin. As for its opposite, severing ties, well that just feeds into the un-Islamic mode of living, and it leads us back to the point of removing the middle link of family.

Again, that’s why I think this topic is very important. If we were to spend serious time in looking into this topic, we wouldn’t be surprised or shocked when we hear what harsh things await one who cuts ties with kin.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) has said:

لاَ يُجَالِسُنَا قَاطِعُ رَحِمٍ فَإِنَّ اَلرَّحْمَةَ لاَ تَنْزِلُ عَلَى قَوْمٍ فِيهِمْ قَاطِعُ رَحِمٍ

One who severs ties with their kin is not to sit with us, because [God’s] mercy will not descend on a group in which among them is someone who severs ties with kin.[6]

 

And:

لاَ يَدْخُلُ اَلْجَنَّةَ قَاطِعُ رَحِمٍ

One who has severed ties with kin will not enter Heaven.[7]

 

You as an individual have greater duties than just your personal interests. When you grow and bloom, you do so with yourself, your family and your community. You cannot become a rebel and marginalise your family, or be careless towards your involvement with community affairs. You cannot isolate yourself and think you are capable of living alone and making all your own decisions, without any consideration of family or others. Doing so is indeed disloyalty, and far from our values.

 

Therefore it is of utmost importance that we always keep the three factors of individual, family and society in mind when we evaluate our actions and make major decisions in our lives. It is what Islam teaches us through the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (as).

If we give particular importance to one of them at the cost of the others, our lives will become imbalanced and we can cause damage to the neglected factors that will be very difficult to recover from.

So we should seek to draw closer to our pure Islamic teachings which provide a road map to living and maintaining balanced, positive and healthy physical, spiritual and mental lives; rather than other ideologies particularly in today’s not-so-religious world, which lead to isolation, loneliness, depression, stress, selfishness, conflict, and ultimately, hate.

 

[1] Our understanding of preference is not what you prefer and what you would choose for yourself to make you happy, but preference and iethaar is when you give preference of others over yourself, even if it is at your cost. This is being selfless. This is the sign of a believer. The Quran says: And they give preference of others over themselves, even if they themselves are in dire need. [Surah al-Hashr, 9].

[2] This is kind of what the verse in the Quran refers to, where it says they will be happy and laugh for a short time, but then cry for a long time, because of what they did. [Surah al-Tawbah, 82].

[3] Mustadrak al-Wasa`il, vol. 15, p. 196.

[4] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 12, p. 124.

[5] Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, vol. 1, p. 442.

[6] Mustadrak al-Wasa`il, vol. 9. p. 106.

[7] Ibid.

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2 Comments

  • Ahmed Al Ali
    Posted April 1, 2020 5:12 PM

    Ashant sheikh very well written article and it goes into full detail.

    My thoughts led me to an example I heard by a sheikh one time, he said: “we are all on a ship, you can’t let some one or a group of people destroy it because we will all suffer”. The ship is society, the rooms are our families and the beds are our individual selves. We must maintain all aspects of the ship in order to have a pleasant journey.

    Jazakallah, keep up the good work.

  • Vahid
    Posted April 1, 2020 6:03 PM

    It was awesome. I guess It’d better if you divide this amazing article into two. But it was quite informative.

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