The Social Bomb - Destruction of the Traditional Family
By Professor Nazeer Ahmed
civilization has gone off on a tangent and has created not one but multiple
threats to its own survival. Of these, the nuclearization of the family has by
far the greatest potential for destruction. Global warming, ecological
destruction, and excessive consumerism are other well-known threats.
The family is the
first building block composed of individuals. The structure and stability of the
family determines the strength and stability of the social edifice that it
erects and ultimately the stability and survival of the civilization that it
seeks to build. When the family is strong, a civilization endures. When the
family comes apart, a civilization unravels.
from a multitude of reasons. Some are no more than a matter of convenience. They
are like froth on the ocean and disappear just as the wave that generates them
withdraws into the womb of the ocean. Their stability is uncertain as is the
outcome of a cast of dice in gambling casino in
Then there are
marriages that are built on contract. On the global scene, by far the largest
number of marriages that take place, and the families they generate, are based
on contract. A large number of Muslims have also come to accept marriage as a
contract between a man and a woman.
in Islam is more than a mere contract. The Quran describes men and women as
garments of each other, meaning the two are intertwined like two bundles of
light sustaining and reinforcing each other in their march towards divine
A contract cannot
be a substitute for spiritual bonds. How can a contract capture the love between
a parent and child, or the bonds between a brother and sister? Contracts may be
nullified but love endures.
The family in
Islam is based on marriage between a man and a woman. It is a covenant before
God in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet. It has the elements both of a
contract and a spiritual union. It is sanctified by Law, ratified by contract
and sustained by the goodwill of the extended family and the community.
Even the rituals
that are observed by a family and the community serve to reinforce familial
bonds. They serve as occasions when the individual reinforces existing social
bonds and develops new ones so that when the family comes under pressure, these
bonds sustain the marriage and the family.
customs give life to a culture. The diffusion of Islamic spirituality into local
traditional cultures have knit them together into a global Islamic labyrinth so
that there is a recognizable taste, feel and aroma to Muslim culture whether it
is observed in Malaysia or Nigeria. A Pakistani can marry a Moroccan and
maintain a family within the rhythm of an Islamic life. This is so because
regional cultures have absorbed and internalized the transcendental values that
have knit the Islamic civilization together.
It is unfortunate
that under the double hammer of Western culture and internal extremist pressures
may of the traditional social customs and ancient rituals are disappearing among
Muslims. Stripped of the multiplicity of support systems that customs and
rituals help nurture and sustain, the individual is thrown back to his own wits
to weather the storms of life. He is like a tree that stands on a single root. A
single waft of turbulence from a strong wind knocks it down. Marriages come
apart and the family disintegrates.
The weakening and
disappearance of traditional support systems for the family is one of the
greatest threats to human civilization. Muslim societies are no exception to
this. Broken marriages, disintegrated families and single parent families are no
longer rare among Muslims.
The shock waves
produced by the intrusion of technology in modern life have destroyed the
traditional family and have given birth to the nuclear family. Economic
pressures stifle social interactions. Mass media have invaded the space that was
once the exclusive preserve of the family. Working men and women cannot take
care of their aged parents and send them off to old age homes. Children return
from schools to empty homes. The television takes the space that was once
occupied by the grand parents. Mobility destroys the social bonds that once
sustained community life in towns and villages. Where there once were a thousand
hands sustaining a family, there are now just those of the nuclear family, of
the husband the wife or those of a single parent.
Islam offers a
balanced spiritual, social and cultural framework wherein the family may yet
escape the destruction that is wrought by modern centrifugal forces.
A civilization is
held together by a transcendental idea which acts as its cement. Ibn Khaldun
postulated that this cement was none other than Asabiyah, the racial and ethnic
cohesion born of blood relationships. The nomads of the desert possess this
characteristic in abundance which fosters in them the virtues that moves a
civilization forward. As the nomads settle down in cities, they lose these
virtues and are ultimately overcome by a fresh wave of nomads.
Khaldun’s theory may explain the formation and disintegration of tribal
societies, it fails to explain the rise and fall of global civilizations. Islam,
for one, condemns Asabiyah. “I evolved you into tribes”, extols the Quran, “so
that you may know one another”. What has welded Islamic civilization is its
innate spirituality which is based on the continual consciousness of Divine
presence. This innate spirituality has provided the reservoir for internal
renewal when the community has faced global challenges.
molds the Islamic personality. On the one hand Islamic spirituality accepts and
extols the individual worth and the individual responsibility to himself and to
divine creation. On the other, it captures the individual ego within an
infinitely elastic shell of divine presence. Man was created to know, serve and
worship the divine. For the execution of this grand design man has been provided
guidance and has been anointed the khalifa over all creation. The resultant
personality represents a just balance between the spiritual and the physical,
between the internal and the external, between the self and the selfless.
community is a composition of such individuals who derive their sustenance from
a consciousness of divine presence and observe divine commandments based on
justice and balance to create divine patterns on earth. Each individual is like
a brick that becomes a part of a grand edifice fulfilling the divine plan.
In the global
village, where civilizations interact and learn from each other, Muslims have a
unique opportunity to make a contribution towards the preservation and
sustenance of human civilization. Whereas the basis of marriage and family in
the West is contractual, and exclusively spiritual in the East, in Islam it is
both contractual and spiritual. The stability and permanence of the family will
be the ultimate barometer of the survival of our civilization. In this struggle,
custom and ritual have an important role to play. Let us not discard what is
traditional under the pressures of modernity. If we do, both tradition and
modernity will be the losers