The Family Bond

When Muhammad (saw) was given the Prophethood by Allah (swt), the Meccan society, and Arabs in general, lived under a social system that failed to preserve the dignity of the human being. They would bury their young daughters, deny inheritance to women, and institutionalise adultery. In addition, some men would send their wives to the noble men of the tribe, so that she would give birth to a son from the blood of that noble man. Even beyond this, sons would inherit the wives of their father as their own wives, and the lineage of adopted children was mutilated, severing the ties of kinship.

Looking to the Seerah of Muhammad (saw), we see that he (saw) struggled not simply to reform this degenerate type of behaviour, but to uproot the entire basis of the society, replacing it with the Islamic ideology at every level. Once the Prophet (saw) had implanted the Islamic ideology in the minds of the people and established its political authority, he (saw) began to, through Allah’s revelations, build a new social system. If one looks to the Seerah of Muhammad (saw) with this frame of reference, he would come to understand the dynamics of the struggle to change society. This article, however, will focus on the efforts of the Prophet (saw) to rebuild the social system only.

When Muhammad (saw) was in Mecca, he (saw) struggled with the Mushrikeen (idolators) of Quraysh when attempting to make them realise that their way of life was incorrect and that the Message which he (saw) had been sent with could liberate them from the oppressive nature of their system. One aspect of this struggle was that the Prophet (saw) challenged the well-established social customs in the society. As an example, Allah (swt) says,
"And when the female (infant) buried alive shall be questioned for what sin she was killed?" [Qur'an, at-Takwir 81:8-9]

This Ayah clashed directly with the Arab custom of burying their first born daughters alive (due to the "Shame" it brought them). Family loyalty, whether for good or bad, was valued highly among the Arabs and Islam directly clashed with this because of some family members who accepted Islam, while the rest within would not. Thus, the pagan Arabs used to accuse the Prophet (saw) of having undermined their goals and rupturing the relations within families.

Before Islam, the inhabitants of the unknown world grouped themselves along many superficial lines. This grouping intensified and fuelled the futile rivalries existing among nations as well as within nations and did nothing to melt these differences together. In the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabs were aligned along tribal affiliations and family ancestry. To the East and west, nationalism and religious commonalties formed the basis of the Persian and Byzantine empires. Islam abolished all of these bonds, replacing them with a strong ideological bond that was not confined to specific group of people or a geographic origin, but had the potential for including all of humanity regardless of race, colour, or creed.

Before Islam, an Arab would look down upon a black person for no other reason than the colour of his skin, and tribes would fight and kill one another for decades in the name of family pride. Islam established itself so firmly within the hearts of humans that, upon declaring their allegiance to Islam they would willingly shed away all of their previous affiliations to enter into the Brotherhood of Islam. For the Muslims, the colour of skin, the family name, the geographic origin, or the wealth of the individual did not matter. When the Prophet (saw) began the Da’wah, he (saw) established a core of leadership consisting of a Persian, a Roman, an African, people from among the Jews and Christians, and indigenous Arabs, and nothing bound them together but the idea they embraced.

Thus, the Brotherhood emanated from the idea to such a degree that they would wage war against their own family blood to protect one another. Hence, Abu ‘Ubaydah fought his father, who was an idolater, and killed him when he met him in the Battle of Badr, and he showed no concern for the body of his disbelieving father as it was dragged away and thrown into the well of al-Qabil at Badr.

When the early Muslims embraced Islam, they comprehensively accepted the idea with clear conviction. They acknowledge Allah (swt) as the Rabb and the only One worthy of their worship and their allegiance. With this clear understanding and submission, they wholeheartedly accepted all of the consequences of their conviction. When Allah (swt) mentioned,
"The believers are but a single brotherhood…." [Qur'an, al-Hujurat 49:10]
"O you who believe, take not for protectors your fathers and brothers if they love infidelity above faith; if any of you do so, they do wrong" [Qur'an, at-Tawbah 9:23]
The Sahabah (ra) found no difficulty in forsaking all of these affiliations and replacing them with the obedience to the Shariah.

The example of Mus’ab bin Umair is representative of the way in which Islam divided the family in Mecca. Mus’ab bin Umair (ra) was extremely loved by his mother and he too loved her. He was wealthy, well respected, and admired by the women in the society. Upon his acceptance of Islam, however, his mother became extremely upset and refused to eat until he renounced his Islam. Prior to accepting Islam, Mus’ab bin Umair would never have tolerated harm coming to his mother. After Islam entered his mind and heart, he replied to her that even if she had multiple souls and he saw each one leave her one by one due to death from starvation, he would not renounce Islam. This attitude reflects the impact that Muhammad’s (saw) call had on the social structure that existed in the Makkan society.

As Ibn Ishaq narrated: "Ibn Wahb, a confederate of Banu Abd al Dar told me that when the Prophet received the prisoners of war (from Badr), he divided them among his companions and said: ‘Treat them well.’ Abu ‘Aziz ibn ‘Umayr’ ibn Hasim, the full brother of Mus’ab ibn’ Umayr was among the prisoners. Abu ‘Aziz said: "My brother Mus’ab passed by me, and said to the Ansari who had captured him: ‘Don’t release him. His mother is rich; perhaps she will pay you a ransom for him.’"

Furthermore, Ibn Hisham narrated: "This Abu ‘Aziz was the flag bearer of the Mushrikun after al-Nadr ibn al-Harith had been killed. When his brother (Mus’ab) spoke thus to Abu al-Yusr, who had captured him, Abu ‘Aziz said: ‘O my brother, is this what you recommend for me?’ Mus’ab said to him ‘He (Abu al Yusr) is my brother not you.’" Mus’ab willingly severed all his ties with his own blood brother and addressed another Muslim, who had no family relation to him, as his own brother in precedence to his own family, because he realised that his obedience no longer belonged to his family lineage or his ancestry or his place of origin, but Allah (swt), and that Allah (swt) has determined his family and the criterion of brotherhood.

On another occasion, Al Tirmidhi narrates: Ibn Abu ‘Umar told us that Sufyan informed him from ‘Amr ibn Dinar who had heard Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah say: "We were on a campaign (ghazwah) against Banu al-Mustaliq,’ when one of the Muhajirun pushed one of the Ansar…’Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul heard about this and said, ‘How have things gone so far? By Allah, when we return to Madinah, the stronger will throw out the weaker.’ His son ‘Abdullah ibn Abdullah said to him: ‘By Allah, you will not go back until you admit that you are the weaker and the Messenger of Allah is the stronger,’ and his father did so." ‘Abdullah ibn Abdullah ibn Ubay used to treat his father well and respects him, but when the time came to choose between his father or Allah (swt) and His Messenger, his allegiance remained to his Iman, and he made an offer to the Prophet to kill his father and bring his head to him for insulting the Muslims.

Once the Prophet (saw) was able to establish the authority of the Islamic ideology via the Nusrah from the people of Medinah, Allah (swt) began revealing to him (saw) the laws which would be the foundations for a radically new social system. Unlike other human beings who establish laws based on their own minds and implemented them upon everybody but themselves, Muhammad (saw) being the Messenger from Allah (swt) was the first to act upon the injunctions which Allah (swt) revealed.

In the Pre-Islamic times, the Arabs used to adopt children, change their names from those of their fathers to their own, and used to consider the wives of their adopted sons as they would consider the wives of their own sons. The consequences of this were that he would consider his adopted son’s wife as a daughter for him and consider it dishonourable for him to marry her even if she were to leave his adopted son. Islam came and eliminates this tradition, by the words of Allah (swt),
"…nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons. That is but your saying with your mouths. But Allah says the truth, and He guides to the (Right) Way."
[Qur'an, Al-Ahzab 33:4]

The impact of this Ayah on the social system was that adoption was cancelled (in the sense that a child’s name would not be changed from that of his natural father’s to that of his foster father’s), the wives of those adopted sons would be lawful for the father if they came to be divorced, and that the adopted son would not inherit from the family’s share of the father’s wealth.

When this rule was revealed, Muhammad (saw) was the first to implement it, and go against the social taboo of marrying one’s adopted son’s wife, by marrying Zainab after she came to be divorced from his adopted son Zaid. This action by the Prophet (saw) not only illustrates the leadership qualities that he (saw) had, but also his resolve to undermine the Jahili customs which may have continued to exist in the minds of some Muslims.

In another incident, the Prophet (saw) said, regarding the cutting of the hand of the thief, that even if his own daughter, Fatimah, were to steal, he would cut her hand. This shows that the family bond would not be exempt from the justice of Islam. This redefined the way in which family relations were structured. Prior to Islam, family loyalty was supreme. The Shariah reordered family loyalty. Allah (swt) says,
"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a better Protector for both (than you)…" [Qur'an, an-Nisaa 4:135]

Thus Allah (swt) made the family ties to based on the better in Allah (swt) first, thus negating the absolute loyalty of the individual to his family or tribe and replacing it with the loyalty to Allah (swt). Islam confined brotherhood and close friendship exclusively to the believers when Allah (swt) said:
"The believers are but a single brotherhood…" [Qur'an, al-Hujurat 49:10]

Also, Islam forbade close friendship between Believers and Unbelievers from among the Mushrikeen, Jews or Christians, even if they were the fathers, brothers or sins of the Believers, and what any believer who did so had committed a grave sin, when the Qur’an mentions,
"O you who believe, take not for the protectors your fathers and brothers if they love infidelity above faith; if any of you do so, they do wrong" [Qur'an, at-Tawbah 9:23].

Islam placed all of the Muslim’s worldly interests and relationships beneath his love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw). It has warned the Believer against preferring their social interests and relationships to their obligations as Muslims, when Allah (swt) mentions explicitly,
"Say: If it be that your fathers, sons, your brothers, your wives, or your kindred, the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline, or the dwelling in which you delight, are dearer to you than Allah, or his Messenger, or Jihad in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His decision. And Allah guides not the rebellious" [Qur'an, at-Tawbah 9:24]

Islam established a society in Medinah on the basis of the love and mutual support exemplified by the Hadith: "The Believers, in their love, mutual kindness and close ties, are like one body; when any part complains, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever." Affection, compassion and keeping in touch formed the basis of the relationship between the citizens of the Islamic society, regardless of age, social status or wealth.

The teachings of Islam support the concept of spreading love in the society, and the Prophet (saw), in many instances, illustrates the close bondage that exists among the Muslims. For example, he states:
"None of you truly believes until he wishes (loves) for his brother what he wishes (loves) for himself" (Bukhari and Muslim);
"Whosoever helps his brother, Allah will help him" (al Tirmidhi and Iman Ahmad);
"Allah will help his servant as long as His servant helps his brother"
(al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud);
"It is evil enough for a man to humiliate his Muslim brother" (Muslim)
"It is not lawful for a Muslim to forsake his brother beyond three days"
(Bukhari and Muslim).

The Seerah of the Prophet (saw) also serves as a legislative source of how the family life is to be structured. The Prophet (saw) used to look to the emotions of his wives and take care of them. He (saw) would treat them justly, help them in their work, and would take care of his needs by his own efforts. This is in sharp contrast to the status of the Muslim families now, at a time when the Islamic ideology, as a comprehensive way of life, has all but vanished from the minds of the Ummah. Insha’Allah, if we commit ourselves to study the Seerah of Muhammad (saw) as it relates to ALL affairs of life, not only will we be able to restore the dignity of the Muslim family, but the Muslim Ummah as a whole.