Family and Social Affairs department of
The Islamic Centre of England
Causes of Disputes Among Muslim Families Living in The West:
The Family and social affair department of the Islamic Centre of England was one of the first departments to be set up upon the establishment of the Centre. The department which has gone through substantial transformation since it was first conceived offers a number of services to the Muslim community in the UK.
The main areas of work of this department are in: solemnisation of marriages, family consultation, miscellaneous social affairs, Islamic divorce procedures and responding to many other queries related to the above issues.
The department offers an excellent opportunity to gauge the extent of problems or trends in Islamic communities having direct access to real people.
Family disputes leading sometime to divorces, are a harsh reality of modern life which effects also the Muslim community. There are several causes that can bring about disputes in a family, some are general and other specific. Among the general causes we can mention: Legislations, Egoism and Ignorance.
- Legislations. Legislation brought about by having an extreme and unbalanced view of individual rights in the European Community
- Egoism and self-centeredness. This attitude destroys the basic foundation of the family.
The Qur’an says:
And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect. (30:21)
Love and compassion or friendship and forgiveness are values that God has planted between couples, but these can be eroded by selfishness and egoistic behaviours leading to a loss of mutual respect.
In born Muslim couples this behaviour starts usually with man, and varies depending on the ethnic background. In such case the husband tends to put his desire and gratification before that of the family (wife and children). After a period of toleration (often long) by the wife, the woman may start to behave in kind resulting in the start of a conflict.
- This is due to the couple unawareness of their legal and religious rights. Not knowing what is lawful or unlawful. This can lead to the trespassing of one’s rights and abuses of authority within the couple relationship which is in turn passed onto the children.
- Effects of the environment. Living in a non Islamic country which has a more care free and permissive attitude towards personal décor and moral /religious codes, can lead toward an unconscious and contagious relaxation of moral standard. This can be visible in woman in particular, who in order to gain the husband’s attention, compromise on their Islamic attire. Some individuals expect their spouses to accompany them to unlawful gatherings, not knowing that by doing so would expose them to ethically unhealthy environment. This kind of exposure leads to change in one’s character weakening the feeling and spirit of friendship and forgiveness that is divinely implanted between husband and wife, leading to a culture of recrimination.
- Family law and legislations in the West. After centuries of oppression by man women in Western countries have been able to turn legislations to their protection. Unfortunately, this has reached extremes, which are putting the rights of men and fathers at risk. The effect of these policies and legislation, have made women intolerant of any situation and more willing to discard their marriages. This has had an effect also on Muslim women who have become unaware of the Islamic approach in resolving family dispute. Unfortunately, western legal advisers and lawyers are more concerned in winning cases, no matter what, rather than finding the best solution when dealing with family disputes.
- Financial circumstances. Affected by the financial situation and by legislations that give couples living separately more financial benefits, couples may decide to go for separation, since in this way they can receive a bigger amount of individual government economic assistance. The problem with this practice is that often leads to real separation.
- Joblessness of the husband. Cases looked at, in the Family and Social Affairs department, show that a continuous presence at home of a jobless husband can lead to tensions within the family.
- Not knowing one’s responsibilities. Islamic teachings and legal rulings put a direct responsibility on the shoulder of a husband with regards to the up keeping (maintenance) of wife and children. Some couples are unaware of their duties and responsibilities. To be a husband is considered an important responsibility in Islamic society and it requires the acquisition of skills and maturity. Not knowing the “art of managing a husband” and failure to appreciate the father by the children, can jeopardise all family relationship. Also women who are inclined to confront their husbands harshly and without consideration can push the husbands to react physically and therefore aggravating relationships.
- Lack of piety.
- This in itself can also affect our behaviour by preventing us from interacting with religious scholars, failing to obtain the basic information on family building, duties and responsibilities from a correct Islamic perspective.
- Misusing religious rulings for one’s own benefit to the detriment of the rest of the family.
- Some men exert pressure on the wife and children in order for them to abide by religious rule, while they themselves do not practice.
- Interference from relatives. The most usual case of interference is from in-laws. This kind of interference intensifies lack of understanding and increases division between a couple by removing friendship and forgiveness which are attitudes divinely placed in marriage.
Prevention and cure
- Problems and difficulties within families are part of the human condition and would be impossible to imagine, at present, a society without such problems. What is important however is “when” to intervene and cure.
The holy Quran states:
And if you fear a division between the two, then appoint judge from his people and a judge from her people; if they both desire agreement, Allah will effect harmony between them, surely Allah is Knowing, Aware. (4:35)
Unfortunately, in this day and age, due action in prevention does not take place in time, probably because the prevention mechanism is not given due consideration.
In this process two factors should be considered: the right time to intervene and who should undertake this task.
The time to intervene is when the fear of division looms above the couple. This is normally sensed beforehand by the couple. Unfortunately, prompt action in the form of mediation and intervention by a neutral party is often delayed. This creates a critical vacuum at a time when intervention by a competent mediator is much needed.
An additional problem faced by immigrant families living in the West, is represented by the lack of extended family around the couple reducing the change of founding competent and unbiased individuals willing and able to mediate. In this respect Islamic Centres and religious organizations have a very delicate and important duty to perform by providing the professional needed assistance especially for the families of the immigrant community.
The need of social interaction for any human being
Human beings are social beings and Social interactions need a thoughtful approach if one wishes to keep one’s religious values. If no interaction is taking place with the indigenous community, there is a risk of ostracising oneself from the larger society. On the other hand, in “going with the flow”, there is a risk of being fully assimilated within society, therefore, loosing one’s religious identity and values. The guidelines for a correct interaction and the boundaries towards which one can go are clearly set by the Sharia. It becomes imperative at this point to make sure that the community is well educated and versed in these natural limits set by the Sharia. Communities have a duty to educate and being educated in the art of communicating with others.
In terms of family relationship, it is imperative to know the right of every individual within the family unit (husband and wife, parents and children…).
The right between husband and wife and the right of children by their parents need proper addressing and additional emphasis. Unfortunately, present religious discourses tend to focus on the right of parents and the duty of children towards their parents, neglecting to elaborate on the other two prior. A good and healthy relationship between husband and wife can have a huge impact on the upbringing of children who are constantly looking for role models to follow. The behaviour of children towards their parents is affected directly by the way in which parents behave towards each other and towards the children.
By: Saeed Sotodeh – 2008 AD