Our families are unlike any other units or groups we will witness in this life. They do not follow the conventional laws of a relationship. If you were to offend them, they would forgive you before you even asked. If you were to fail to consult with them when making an important decision – deliberately or otherwise – they would continue to treat you as though it never happened. And if you were to ever reach a point in your life when you felt you were overwhelmed and mentally paralysed, your family would be the first source of aid on your doorstep, ready to offer their support and comfort. They will ensure you get out of the high waters and return back to your feet.
Our families will forever be our backbone and have supported us our entire lives. Even when we explore newfound independence, they will still be the first point of contact in our times of need. We share one another’s joys, sorrows, hopes, and concerns. This bond is formed primarily due to consanguinity but also is due to the close affinity that family members have with one another. But while adults may always surpass children in terms of age and possibly maturity, it doesn’t necessitate that will be better than them in religion, knowledge, and character. I will address this crucial point later in the article inshā’ Allah.
The importance of family
The status of family can quickly be recognised and observed in almost every fictional storyline. Statements such as “he’s my brother”, “she raised me”, and others are commonly heard. An irrational plan or idea for the safety of a family member would never have any opposers. That is because family hits home with everyone; it is a bond that supersedes distance and previous quarrels. Even non-Muslims who may not follow scriptural guidelines – as religiously as Allah and His Messenger ﷺ require of us – still consider family life to be a blessing. They will rarely dispute the rank of family in their lives. When you speak to them, you will quickly realise that Christmas is not about gifts or holidays, as we were once led to believe. It is about the chance to come, go, sightsee, and laugh with one’s family. For Muslims, on the other hand, the family is the foundation of society as a whole. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members.
In recent times, however, the nature, role, and structure of the family has been put into disarray. Now common-law couples, same-sex partners, and even pets can be regarded as legitimate representations of a family. In some cases, society has thrown the necessity of the family into serious question, instead indicating its favour for a more ‘unfettered’ way of life. Islam, however, adopts a more conservative position, arguing that the family is an institution that is divinely inspired, with marriage at its core. Furthermore, it imposes several laws and regulations to protect this institution’s sanctity.
Moreover, the Qur’an makes mention of many dynamics within familial relationships, further emphasising the family’s role as the cornerstone of a healthy and balanced society. Every possible relationship is encompassed by the sacred law, not just bonds at a marital level. In addition, mention is made of siblings, cousins, and even uncles, illustrating that there will inevitably be problems in the home. But the key point to keep in mind is that if these problems can be rectified, then so too can the issues that are found in the rest of society.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
“[There is] a dinār which you spend for the sake of Allah, a dinār which you spend on emancipating a slave, a dinār which you donate in charity to a poor person, and a dinār which you spend on your family. The greatest of these in reward is that which you spend on your family.”
And he ﷺ said:
“The one who is killed defending his wealth is a martyr, the one who is killed defending his life is a martyr, the one who is killed defending his religion is a martyr, and the one who is killed defending his family is a martyr.”
Furthermore, the Prophet ﷺ also said:
“Any act devoid of the remembrance of Allah is void except four: shooting, training a horse, playing with one’s family, and swimming.”
Despite the importance bestowed upon the family, rarely do our actions reflect the Prophetic message. Families are part of the Islamic social order, yet they often not recipients of our daʿwah and kind treatment. Nor do we provide sufficient care and concern for their success in the Hereafter.
Imam al-Shawkānī said:
“You will find a man that has the worst character, is prideful, and displays very little good whenever he comes into contact with his family. But if he meets with other people, his disposition is very gentle, his character is very soft, he is very giving, and he displays much good. There is no doubt that this type of individual is from those who have been prevented from good and success, and he is someone who has deviated from the correct path. We ask Allah for protection!”
Sheikh Ibn ʿUthaymīn regretfully said:
“Many people display good manners in front of people, yet they do not behave in the same manner towards their family, which is a mistake and an upsetting reality.”
Family in the Qur’an
There is a verse in Sūrah al-Ṭūr where Allah describes the people of Jannah. He says that they will approach one another, and after some queries, state the following:
“Indeed, we were previously among our people fearful [of displeasing Allah]. So Allah graced us and protected us from the punishment of the scorching fire.”
ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAbbās said that this questioning and discussion will be regarding the fatigue and exhaustion they experienced in the dunyā, and they will express this by saying: “We used to fear Allah amidst our families.”
The same message is repeated in Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, where Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ
“O you who believe! Protect yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel consists of people and stones…”
To practically exemplify this, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib stated that this verse commands one to “discipline and teach” their families. Ibn ʿAbbās expounds on the verse by stating: “Stay obedient to Allah, stay away from disobeying Allah, and command your families to remember Allah. He will as a result save you from the Fire.” Mujāhid, who was a student of Ibn ʿAbbās, said: “Fear Allah, obey Him by observing taqwā, and tell your families to practice taqwā.” Qatādah relates that: “A person protects his family by telling them to obey Allah and forbidding them from disobeying Him. He upholds Allah’s commandments and helps his family to uphold them. So if you witness disobedience of Allah, you must stop them from doing that by reprimanding them.”
Notice the emphasis on observing correct Islamic practice within the family setting. The world sees our masks, but it is at home where those masks begin to slip away. This means that not everyone who fears Allah in public will fear Allah in private. Conversely, anyone who fears Allah in private must certainly fear Allah in public. The people who can truly testify to their īmān and uprightness are those who live honourably with their family members. That is why our Prophet ﷺ said:
خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ ، وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي
“The best of you is the best to his family, and I am the best to my family.”
The Prophet ﷺ as a family revivalist
It is no surprise that whenever an action of immense reward is mentioned, you will notice that the Prophet ﷺ observed it in practice. If his private slavehood was demonstrated by his frequent visits of solitude to the Cave of Ḥirā’ prior to revelation, then one can only assume that his public actions were of a similar calibre. He was a role model, as well as a family man. Even when his children got married to the finest of people, he constantly ensured that their servitude to Allah was never compromised.
وَأْمُرْ أَهْلَكَ بِٱلصَّلَوٰةِ وَٱصْطَبِرْ عَلَيْهَا
“And enjoin prayer upon your family [and people] and be steadfast therein.”
He assumed the responsibility of knocking on the door of his daughter Fāṭimah – even after she was married to ʿAlī – by saying, “Will you not pray?” Furthermore, his wife ʿĀ’ishah described his conduct vis-à-vis his family with the phrase, ‘fī khidmatihim’, meaning that he was ‘in their service’. In fact, this is a constant that we find in the lives of all Prophets: they were always at the service of their families. They never neglected their inner flock, despite being entrusted by their Lord to deliver messages to entire societies.
Where do your priorities lie?
Perhaps the stagnancy that we see in our families is by our own accord. When we speak about tarbiyyah of the family unit within an Islamic context, we often speak about the importance of parents, the rights of spouses, how to raise righteous children, and the necessity of maintaining ties of kinship with relatives. But very rarely do we begin our mission by addressing the objective of excelling in the dīn with our families.
There is an Arabic expression that reads:
الأقرباء أولى بالمعروف
“Your closest are most worthy of goodness.”
As Muslims, we must assume the responsibility of first maintaining the īmān of our family members. They have a much greater priority than any goodness we can disseminate in the public sphere. A portion of our knowledge and teaching should be reserved first and foremost for those who we share our sofas and dining tables with. Our family members are worthier of oour care before we go out. Unfortunately, our gaze often extends far too much towards those who we see on our screens. While this is good, serving one group of people at the detriment of others who are more deserving of our care is not from the Prophetic example. He ﷺ said, speaking of our companions in Paradise: “You will be with those whom you love.” In the life of this world, who do you love the most?
Sheikh ʿAbdul-Salām al-Shuwayʿir said:
“The first people that you should be teaching knowledge are the members of your household. If you see the household of a student of knowledge benefitting from them, then this is a sign that there is barakah in their knowledge.”
Your family is your government. If there is corruption, you have a corrupt government in your home. Sadly, our homes could be becoming dangerously polluted. The tragedy of our times is that changes are being imposed upon us because of technological and other external advances; making the entire process of change somewhat non-discretionary and involuntary. One of the primary objectives of every Muslim in life must be to safeguard their family. This involves providing protection, care, and resisting the negative characteristics infiltrating the family.
Family life needs to be studied and understood within the parameters of the scheme of life that Islam seeks to establish. It cannot be understood as an insulated unit. Its discipline is not an imposed one, but one that flows out of every individual’s commitment to the values and ideals of Islam. In this society a high degree of social responsibility must prevail. The entire system must operate in a way that strengthens and fortifies the family. We could even theorise that the disintegration of the family in the West is, in many respects, a result of confusion about the place and role of the family in society, as well as the purpose of life itself. If the objectives and values of life are not correctly set, further disintegration of the family and other institutions cannot be prevented. The fundamental question that remains is: who will set these values straight?
When we study the lives of the great renewers of faith in Islamic history, we cannot fail to notice that a significant part of their mission was directed towards their families. Customarily, a family’s notions of success are simply derived from what they have seen or been taught. But success has different forms. Upon reflection, you may agree that for many families, the habits from one generation transfer themselves onto the next, and so on. If the accrued values are morally faulty, over time the generations will fester in their character and love for the dīn. They become accustomed to their abysmal ways, which lowers the heights at which the next generation will reach. However, I believe that we can never underestimate the power of one person to break such negative cycles. One person can revive the family and cause them to leave such dark states.
This can be achieved with small mannerisms in our interactions with them, such as observing softness in our speech, suppressing our anger, exercising patience, demonstrating nobility in our actions, and having zeal in our daʿwah. These traits will over time eradicate the polluted practices, foreign concepts, and variegated ideologies that have been implemented in our homes. With your family you should be particularly careful: use emotional intelligence by being smart and nuanced in your approach. Argumentative behaviour will not help you in your pursuit. Instead, a measured approach such as being soft towards the young and showing respect towards the old will help to bring about a better result for the family’s religious state.
In recent times, children have found themselves to play more influential roles within their households and in the public sphere. After being exposed to positive influences, they turn their sights to their families and strive to be a force for change. They are often more effective, as they have no cultural or language barriers holding them back. Yes, the elders hold the family together, but the youngsters can help steer them in the right direction.
Granted, one of the most difficult challenges in this world is found within the family. Remember that you will not be held accountable for the actions of your nation. Instead, you bear responsibility for what happens in your circles of influence. Without any doubt, the main sphere of life consists of your family. When the Prophet ﷺ was given the message, it was his own family members who cast him out and initiated the inter-tribal boycott against him. He tried to guide his uncle Abū Ṭālib, who had practically raised him, but to no avail.
Allah says the following in the Qur’an regarding this matter:
إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِى مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ
“You do not guide the one whom you love, rather Allah guides the one whom he chooses to.”
That is because guidance ultimately comes from above. It is not in your hands. The only thing that is in your hands is the effort that you give.
Imam Hafiz Patel (rahimahullah), the late leader of the Tablighi Jamaat in Britain and Europe, once made the following memorable statement:
“When the effort of dīn is taking place, Allah will make pious people from a family of wrongdoers. And when the effort stops, Allah will make wrongdoers from a family of pious people.”
A modern-day story of a family revivalist
To encapsulate all that you have read, let me share with you a story of a modern-day example of one person’s efforts with their family, and the goodness that came as a result of that. Not too long ago, after a lecture that was hosted by the Islamic Society, some brothers took the guest speaker out for a customary meal. For me, this was one of the initial instances where I was able to sit in close proximity to someone whose readings and videos I had benefitted from tremendously. Naturally, my inquisitive self chose to take advantage of this opportunity. I was intrigued, because at one point he was on a similar trajectory to myself: a university student. But then he opted to follow a path of scholarship, where he decided to learn the religious sciences and teach the dīn. I asked him, “How did all of that come about?” His response was unexpected, to say the least.
He said that while growing up, his family was not that practicing. Like many other families at the time, they only fulfilled the basic obligations. However, as is the case with a lot of people, it was more of a cultural following rather than an Islamic one, in the sense that women would not cover in front of non-maḥrams and the youngsters would listen to music, for example. He then spoke of his uncle – again not the most practicing person – who went to university and befriended a pious man who was zealous with his ritual obligations, and exemplary in his character. Over time, this man’s spiritual fragrance rubbed off on his uncle, and his family noticed changes in his character and conduct when he would come home. The Sheikh, who was approaching his teenage years during this uncle’s transition, told us of the friendly tricks his uncle would play with them to make them better Muslims. These included simple yet effective tactics, such as giving one pound for every song that they deleted off their phones. But he was not just exerting efforts with those younger than him. He also devoted attention to senior members of his extended family. I comically remember the Sheikh describing the moment his uncle – then a student – dropped a bombshell in the family gathering by saying, “I think the men and women should be sitting separately.”
Over time, and through his gentle persistence, the whole family became closer to Allah. Music was no longer listened to, the prayer was never missed, and now all observed the ḥijāb. To round it off, one of the by-products of his efforts was that his nephew would go on to pursue a path of religious study. The Sheikh has authored articles, written books, delivered khuṭbahs, and provided public lectures. All of these noble deeds will inshā’ Allah be put on his and his uncle’s scales of good deeds, and maybe also on his friend’s, if he was sincere.
This is what a family revivalist can do. If you want to be the agent of change for your loved ones, then ensure that you equip yourself with the following three qualities:
- Knowledge: you cannot revive any group of people if you are ignorant.
- Love: you cannot revive individuals if you have no affection towards them.
- Duʿā’: you cannot revive a people without the help of the Creator.
To summarise, Muslims are the last remnants of true religiosity, and the family is the first stronghold that should be well-fortified to prevent the collective Ummah from falling into pieces. Despite this, it is important to note that as a disclaimer, I do not intend for anyone to use this article as a proof against their families to support their noble – but perhaps overly prescriptive – approach to have them progress in their faith. The preservation of the family unit and maintaining the ties of kinship take precedence over such goals.
Imam Malik said:
“A man should be good to those in his household, to the point that he becomes the most beloved person to them.”
The revival of a family’s religious spirit does not happen overnight. It is a vision for life and a project for your Hereafter. Undeniably, the crux of a happy family is unity, but the crux of a righteous family is God-consciousness.
With this in mind, I challenge every reader to become the person who re-invigorates the light of īmān within their families. Everyone should become an ideal model such that Islam is lived, understood, and effectively practised within their homes. Before you move onto chasing the adoration of others outside, start with your families; it will produce the same desired outcome. After all, our plight at the global level did not stem from a vacuum. It is a reflection of problems found in my household and yours. But through the exertion of some efforts, the family unit can become one of our greatest strengths. Reviving the family is akin to reviving a community, and reviving a community is akin to reviving an entire nation. Even more so, reforming a nation is akin to revitalising the Ummah.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ.
 Nayl al-Awṭār (2/246).
 Makārim al-Akhlāq, 30.
 Al-Qur’an, 52:25.
 Al-Qur’an, 66:6.
 Al-Ṭabarī, Al-Tafsīr.
 Al-Qur’an, 20:132.
 Al-Qur’an, 28:56.