Written by MAHMOUD ABU SAUD   


Unless sex education addresses "values, morality, deferment of gratification, and goals, it is incomplete and potentially dangerous."

Donald Ian Macdonald.
An Approach to the Prevention of
Teenage Pregnancy,
Public Health Report,
July/August 1987

Sociologists give different definitions of the family institution to which we shall refer later. However, and for the purpose of this essay, we shall consider that the basic biological coupling of a male and a female is an essential element to constitute a family, as homosexuality does not exist in nature.


Biologically speaking, all living things are made of just two kinds of cells: eukaryotes and prokaryotes. The first ones are those cells which have nuclei and multiply by mating or marriage. The second, the prokaryotes, are those which have no nuclei and accordingly are unicellular, multiplying by division. Each cell has its hereditary traits and carries its information in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). ". . . two extremely long strands of it, wrapped around each other in a double helix."' It is of fascinating interest to know that only the eukaryotes are "capable of making up the bodies of the marvels of creation-those with hearts, lungs, kidneys and brains.112 The prokaryotes are parasitic by nature and are deadly enemies of the eukaryotes who eat them up or destroy them with their enzymatic secretions. Human organisms are no more than the sum of their cells functioning together.

Sex, a word for the exchange of genetic material, requires two organisms to come together and reproduce. Though there are some organisms that can reproduce without sex, such as some bacteria, their progeny are doomed to be identical to the parent without variation or susceptibility to evolution. Evolution needs genetic variety which can only be realized by means of ever new combinations of genes of heterosexual cells-the eukaryotes.

Before exploring the functioning of cells as constituents of human males and females, it is of great interest to know that cells themselves are the product of atoms. Atoms follow an eternal strict code of behavior as if they had some sort of consciousness that brings them together in a highly organized manner. They form molecules in extraordinarily geometric forms; molecules make "tissues that become the organs that inexorably build the organism.. Every molecule has its own distinct properties by virtue of the atoms that make it up and... life has its properties by virtue of the molecule used in constructing living organisms.113 All living organisms, including bacteria, must use nucleic acid organized into genes for reproduction. The genes are the true carriers of all hereditary traits and properties of the offspring.

Such established elementary knowledge reveals some basic facts of life that concern us in this study. The first fact is that prokaryotes-the unicellular organisms-are parasitic and destructive. They are not capable of evolution and do not constitute any part of our functioning organisms.

The second is that eukaryotes cannot continue to exist without marriage as they multiply by means of coupling. Their union is the basis of evolution to the better through a process of natural selection. They are endowed with a gift to choose the fittest from among themselves and thus genetically improve.

The third is that all molecules belong in their first origin to the atom, which by virtue of its nature does not exist without union. The components of the atom: the protons, the neutrons, and the electrons are likewise bound to unite.

Thus, marriage is simply a law of existence, an inherent property ingrained in our cells and constitution without which we cannot continue to live or evolve. In each cellular marriage there must be the male and the female, or the positive which gives in mating to the negative which takes. In the world of the cell, which is our world, everything goes on progressing in meticulous order. Order defines the cell as the cell defines life- "Before there was life, there had to be a system... there has to be order. . . it is life... Death is disorder."


Much has been discovered about the cell, its composition, its functioning and its reproduction yet nobody has been able to guess how the first cell came into being. The eukaryotes, as mentioned before, are highly organized and highly specialized cells that build our body and, in fact, bring us into life. Every cell is composed of several layers above layers of molecules separated by membranes, and in its middle there is the nucleus ringed by double membrane. The nucleus holds the genes-the ultimate dictators of the cell-wound into the coils of chromosomes.

Humans reproduce through the union of a male and a female cell, exactly as any other offspring is reproduced. When fertilization (union or mating) takes place, a new cell is formed and the sex, together with the physical structure, including the brain, are determined by the genes united in the new cell. Both males and females have the same basis of a chromosome (X). But from the very beginning, if this basis is coupled with one (X) chromosome or more, the offspring is a female. If the basis is coupled with one chromosome (Y) or more, it is a male.

Once the new cell is "born," it starts functioning on its own, activated by its inherent power administered by the new set of genes, and is called, in this early stage, a zygote. Soon after inception, male embryos secrete a predominant hormone called androgen, while female ones secrete estrogen, and later on the female hormones: the progesterone and the prolactin. The growth of the embryo, whether male or female, follows the same laws of growth: the reproduction of the specialized cells continues building up our different organs, without any deviation except for hormonal secretions. By the time the child is born, he or she has already been influenced by the most active hormones which affect the functioning of the brain.

The human brain is one of the greatest wonders of creation. In its lower part, there is a small zone called the "limbic system," composed of structures which are involved in both human emotion and motivation. One of these structures, named amygdala, is among the major brain parts responsible for our behavior, as it affects some endocrinal secretions, especially those touching upon our sexual dispositions. Moreover, "the cortex also feeds it (the limbic system) with condensed indications of cortical activity, including categorized representations of the state of the external world. It appraises and evaluates the activities of (the upper brain -system)... and balances current priorities with regard to short term and long-term needs of the organism and the selection and evaluation of different integrative activities."

It is well-established that the structure called "hypothalamus" of the limbic system is prenatally formed and becomes indelibly 'sex-typed' through the action of sex-hormones, thereby permanently pre-disposing the animal to male or female physiological and behavioral responses. In most animals this critical period of hormone action is thought to occur prenatally and thereafter be immutable. "This irrevocable hormonal sex- typing of the nervous system has the most far-reaching implications for sex differences in human behavior."This means that from the earliest days of conception the new fertilized cell or zygote our brain starts its formation, disposition and mode of functioning.

When born, an infant carries within himself or herself its own particular way of thinking, imagination, motivation and manner of evaluation.
Even among individuals of the same sex, there are genetic inherent differences due to the differences in the rates of flow of hormones into the brain. Chromosome (Y) is responsible for the male hormones androgen, which are associated with what the psychologists call the "aggressive" tendency, meaning that type of behavior which is generally characterized by a direct and overt reaction, competitive acumen, and long-term evaluation and perception. The term implies, also some final and actual aggressive action which, unless well disciplined, would cause destructive consequences. As a matter of biological fact, such hormones in a male embryo rely on a hormone called "gonadal" which accounts for the behavioral differences between the two sexes and which is thought to influence the behavioral decisions issued by the brain.

In the female, sex hormones are responsible for the menstrual flow which is directly regulated by the key female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Less secretion of these hormones causes menstruation usually accompanied by a state of discomfort, inhibition, and often gloomy attitudes. It is believed that the hormonal input in this case affects the functioning of the brain of the female, inhibiting or reviving her emotional state. Biologists emphasize the fact that the natural disposition in human is to a female system (X) unless broken by the male chromosome (Y) causing production of the male hormone: androgen.

Aggression-as previously defined-is the product of the testestrone hormone, androgen, a hormone that exists in the supra-renal glands of both sexes but, of course, in widely varied quantities. Aggression in women is mostly due to an overdose of this hormone, unless the woman is suffering from some societal trauma. A violently aggressive man is like- wise greatly motivated by an extra dose of androgen. If such a man is given estrogen, he would calm down in most cases and develop a new more docile behavior. In transsexuality, the individual who chooses to become a female undergoes surgical intervention and female hormone therapy without which femininity cannot take its usual course. Hormones, in such circumstances, are necessary to build up the breast, to stimulate sexual desires, to eliminate profuse facial and body hair, etc. Once the new female is given such hormonal treatment, her limbic system functions accordingly: The maternal instinct becomes greatly felt, the desire for talking more becomes more persistent, the feminine emotionality supersedes rationality, and the lachrymatal glands secrete more profuse tears during emotional stress. Nothing, perhaps, can be more convincing of the biological dichotomy than maternity. Weitz writes, "Animal evidence does support the concept of the maternal instinct, in that female sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and prolactin seem to be implicated in the ontogeny of maternal behavior." The same author relates the experiment of the monkey-mother who killed its newly born babies when given androgen and the motherly monkey-father who cared for the babies after receiving female hormones. Nowhere in the animal kingdom do fathers assume the basic role of caring for the newly born offspring.

A female child is born with a maternal instinct: she distinctly feels a strong interest in children and this explains why girls prefer to play with dolls. It has been established that girls with an excess of prenatal androgen "do seem to show less interest in infants than normal girls," and obviously more than normal boys. The maternity behavior is mainly characterized by tenderness, affective bonds, self-preservation, protectiveness, and self-identification with the child.

To conclude, one can safely say that, "Sexual behavior of an individual, and thus gender role, are not neutral and without initial direction at birth. Nevertheless, sexual predisposition is only a potentiality setting limits to a pattern that is greatly modifiable by ontogenetic experience."

In other words, the ontogeny (i.e. the biological development of the individual organism) asserts that a female is born with a maternal instinct carrying genetic predispositions different from those of a male. It is of interest to note that there is differential treatment of children by parents according to their sex. Mothers are more inclined to tolerate boys and girls, while fathers are more tolerant towards girls than towards boys. This phenomenon prevails among humans and some primates and is quite conspicuous among monkeys.


"Conspiracy theories of history, which seem to imply that men have kept women down over the centuries through some collective act of will, do not merit serious consideration." There is no doubt that our physiological functioning is affected by our psychological and societal conditions and that biology, psychology and society have contributed to the present sex roles in their different grades and limits. It is rather impossible to separate the biological factor from the societal. Yet, one has to take into serious consideration that there is a definite predisposition in each sex that takes place in the embryo and the fetus. This prenatal conditioning cannot be due to any societal agent, but most probably can be a major cause of societal differential treatment of the sexes. When parents give a doll to their daughter, they are aware of her instinctive motherly feeling and they are responding to her instinctive desires. Instinctive urges can be mollified, re-oriented and mitigated, but never nullified or totally wiped out. To suppress such urges is to cause more harm than good to the individual and to ignore them is to push the child in a wrong way where he or she tries to fulfill the desires by any means, legitimate or illegitimate, socially acceptable or unacceptable.

Socialization agents, namely: the parents, the school, the peers and the social symbols of the sexes, are supposed to be, and in fact should be, factors of disciplining the instinctive behavior. Our basic sexual desires should be satisfied by marriage and not by adultery and fornication. Our instinctive need for security should be met by honorable work and lawful gain and not by theft and violence. Even our innate instinct implanted in the eukaryotes for evolving to the better must be encouraged through a proper education leading to a feeling of self-esteem and elation. Failing this, the individual would resort to unhealthy and even anti-social practices to feel the importance of his ego he or she may develop the bad habits of lying, boasting, or even killing. Any infringement upon instincts is a violation of a natural law of life that conduces to masochism, narcissism, schizophrenia and the rest of the psychotic ailments.

The family has a lasting effect on sex roles as most of the individual's latent behavior is basically formulated in the first seven or eight years of childhood. The major role of parents relates to the child's identification where affective bonds, mechanism of modeling and cognitive categorization should be carefully observed. Here the question generally raised by the "libs" is whether parents should or should not differentiate in their treatment between males and females. Many of them believe that they should not heed the sex and thus should treat both the boy and the girl as if they were of the same sex. They allege that any differentiation at this early stage leads to some category of inferiority complex in the girl and to a bias in favor of the boy. There is enough evidence in everyday life that supports such allegations. However, any fair mind can easily see that it is not the differentiation, per se, that causes such inhibition in the girl, if only because differentiation occurs in families which have girls and no boys. Every individual child is different from others and should accordingly be treated differently. What hurts a child is the way parents associate differentiation with sex. If a doll is given to a grid it is not because she is inferior to a boy who was presented with a horse or a gun. Girls would only suffer inhibition and inferiority if the parents treat them as inferior, or if when differentiating between both of them, parents explain the act in preferential language.

Another important factor in socialization is the school infants in nurseries, children in kindergarten and boys and girls in higher age brackets are treated differently in one way or another, in accordance with their sex. In pictures for the very young, in all books and prints, there is always a "he" and a "she." He is tough, daring, exterior-oriented, and somehow aggressive, while she is kind, caring, child-loving, interior oriented, and somehow self preservative. Then, there are the great differentiation in students' activities: the boys compete in physically rough and hard sports, participate in political and social discussions, and are expected to excel girls in empirical sciences. On the other hand, girls practice dancing and singing, fight and non-violent sports, domestic arts, and are expected to excel boys in artistic sciences.

Here again differentiation is undeniably conspicuous and while it is in essence compatible with human biology, it is condemned by the "libs." Their plea is always the same: such treatment leads to the development of a feeling of inferiority in the female. It indoctrinates the subconscious mind of the girl with a view to convince her of the conspired falsehood, i.e., the superiority of the male. The "libs" believe that keeping the "traditional roles" of sexes in the school gives an edge to the boy over the girl: he is depicted as the hero, the protector, the leader and even the mastery. This seems to be an exaggeration which has its roots in feminine emotion. In many cases, the slave-mind prevails over the "libs" and is manifested in irrational and perverted behavior.

The staunchest proponent of liberalism cannot deny that the male is created with more muscular strength, that biologically speaking, he is more "aggressive '" that his mind is more outwardly inclined, and that he is more free from physiological cyclical effects. The female is created with other exceliencies anti-distinctions by virtue of her constitution. Her motherhood instincts, her feminine tenderness and her physiologically receptive aptitude for procreation. These clear facts should induce us to accept, at least, such differentiation that confirm anti correspond with the distinct natural characteristics of each sex. It follows that there must be differentiation in all schools to respond to these basic biological divergent requirements.

The so-called peer group effects and the symbolic agents of sex roles are very akin to each other, especially among adults. Clubs of men and women, the distinction in public behavior and the discriminatory treatment of the sexes in many public and social functions do exist in all present societies. One has to admit that some of this differentiation is due to societal factors and/or obsolete inherited tradition. But one cannot also deny that there are genuine irrefutable reasons for differentiation in this field. Despite the equal opportunities open to both sexes in education and public life, women have been active in fields that do not require much "aggressiveness," and where there is a concurrence of biological effect and societal functioning. In such activities there is no reason whatsoever for a woman not to succeed and even excel any man.


There is evidence that socialization factors, when carried out extensively at an early age, affect the biological functioning of the child. That is how we notice the 'sissy' boy and the 'tomboyish' girl. Also, oversecretion of female hormones in a male would produce the same effect, despite any socialization effort to the contrary. In both cases, the situation becomes unhealthy and the individual suffers from some perversion and could develop trans-sexualism. The correct attitude is obvious: we have to adapt our socialization processes in such a manner that they correspond to our biological functioning. The indelible male and female characteristics installed in our limbic systems as a result of the prenatal hormonal secretions must be the basis of our socialization process. There must be harmony between the act of creation (natural state) and the willful human action. Failing this, a grave imbalance takes place, shaking the personality of the individual to its very roots. Thus, the "libs" claim for identical treatment of males and females in every domain denies the biological constitution of the human mind and body and nullifies masculinity and femininity. Homosexuality, which at present is assuming some prominence in industrialized Western societies, is the product of lopsided thinking and is bound to fail. It is a revolt against the law of creation and will not be allowed to prevail, whatever price humanity may pay for it.

A female must be brought up in a manner that makes her feel proud of her femininity and not ashamed of it. She must be treated with equity but she must not be equated to the male. They are different and can never be equals, as each of them has a domain predestined from his or her conception.


We have seen that there is no continuity of life without marriage-a union between male and female-and that life is order. Death is entropy or disorder. In Cadmure's words: "Life is mainly to reproduce and to feel." The marriage of cells which constitute our body, brain, and nerves is a highly organized "institution" administered by sophisticated laws and geared by strict discipline. Humans are no more than their cells, and the rule of order and discipline is the essence of their existence. Any violation of this rule is a step towards entropy or self-destruction.

As we live, we reproduce-we marry. Humans learn to live in heterogeneous couples and reproduce within a certain orderly social framework called the "family institution." The word "social" here is not a mere fabrication by man. It is necessarily biological in the sense that one human cell cannot alienate itself from other similar cells. Whenever a group of cells (families) comes together, the necessity for order and discipline becomes incumbent. Hence those who believe that there should be-or even could be-a society of human cells (families) without rules administering the relationships between its individuals, are asking for the impossible, the anti-natural. Such a chaotic grouping does not exist in nature.

Oparin, a Russian biologist, proved that if a collection of molecules (he calls them coacervates) is given a chance to act, they have order. He set a chemical reaction in the solution where these coacervates were floating and found that they formed an inexplicable and unpredicted order: heads outward and tails inward. There was a mystifying difference between the rate of reaction outside and inside the coacervates. According to Oparin, "This difference accounts for the formation of the cell."

Sociologically speaking, a family is operationally defined as "...a special kind of structure whose principals are related to one another through blood ties and/or marital relationships, and whose relatedness is of such a nature as to entail 'mutual expectations' that are prescribed by religion, reinforced by law, and internalized by the individual." This definition takes into account the general aspect of any family and the Islamic point of view. Dr. Abd al-Ati, accordingly specifies the purposes of marriage as:

-a means of emotional and sexual gratification,
-a mechanism of tension reduction,
-a means of legitimate procreation,
-social placement,
-an approach to inter-family alliance and group solidarity, and
-above all, an act of piety.

Both above definitions and purposes are quite elaborate and comprise many views about the functions of the family. Nevertheless, there is the intricate cause and effect relationship between the family and society.

The culture of any society comprises many traditions installed in its individuals' minds and which are passed on from one generation to another. As man is conservative by instinct, he does not try to change such traditions except under the great pressure of evolutionary requirements. This perpetual struggle between the two instincts: conservatism and evolution plays an important role in delimiting the functions of the family institution in every society. Both instincts are dynamic and must be kept in good balance for any sane society to develop. Traditions constitute a part of the established ideology of a people, whilst evolution is the active element that steers the present status towards a future one, and as such, it formulates another part of the ideology. Amidst this continuous process the family exists, caught between the two parts. The family is there to conserve what is best and most appropriate in tradition, and to adopt and practice what is best and most appropriate in the new evolution.

To apply the above philosophy, functions, and definitions to the Muslim family in the States, we come immediately to a host of variegated and intertwined problems. Islam is integral and Muslims are supposed to adopt it in its entirety. "Believe ye in part of the Scripture and disbelieve ye in part thereof And what is the reward of those who do so save ignominy in the life of this world, and in the Day of Resurrection they will be consigned to the most grievous doomed" (2:85)

Accordingly, they are required to apply Islamic laws concerning all matrimonial matters. Yet, being residents in a non-Muslim country which does not follow the Islamic Shariah, they are bound to meet with a complex of contradictory situations. Such complication is exacerbated by the lack of consolidated Muslim communities and the absence of any Islamic order that could help solve their problems.

To start with, there is the problem of the marriage contract. Muslims who intend to live here for a protracted length of time or forever are obliged to register their marriage in accordance with the laws of the state in which they wed. Once this is done, the rights and obligations of both spouses are defined by what these laws stipulate and not by Islamic injunctions. This applies, in fact, to all subsequent familial issues. The husband's financial obligation towards his wife and household, the wife's duties towards her husband and household, and the social code which should be observed by both-all these important issues become subject to local American jurisprudence. In case of divorce, it is again the state laws that adjudge the final separation act irrespective of the Islamic injunctions.

Another important issue that affects the Muslim family in the States is the economic status. In many cases, both spouses are obliged to work and gain more income to make ends meet and to save something as a security for the future. This economic aspect is very common to most American families and is taken for granted by them, with its good and bad effects. It does not constitute a major problem to them as it is consistent with their material civilization and ideology. Westerners have developed a certain philosophy of life in regard to the status of women as a result of their past heritage and present industrialized societies. It is common knowledge that Athenians treated women as a commodity which could be bought and sold. The Romans considered women to be the property of the father and/or the husband until the days of Justinian (5th century) when some separate identity of women was legally acknowledged. Judaism looks down upon women as a curse worse than death and considers them essentially evil. The Christian views on women varied from considering them to be living beings without souls to humans without identity. The British law until 1801 allowed the husband to sell his wife. The list of historical abuses of women in the West is too long to be enumerated in this paper.

It is only very recently that non-Muslim societies agreed to give women some independent status. Even today, the renowned liberal American wife cannot buy property without the consent of her husband nor is she allowed to stick to her maiden name without adding that of her husbands. In Switzerland, she cannot enter into any contractual transaction without her husband's written consent, and if she earns any money from her work, he is legally entitled to half her income. All over the West, the husband can deprive his wife of his legacy after death.

No wonder, then, we hear women claiming "equality" with man and justice in treatment. The present culture, predominantly influenced by the economic or materialistic agent, gave justice, equality and liberation a material implications pecuniary value. In their industrial age where money is power, where rich is good and poor is bad, where dog eat dog are accepted premises of individuals' interrelations, and where moral values have been dumped into the garbage bin, women are contending for economic independence as a basis for their claim for equal human rights.
To achieve this end, they did not mind the commercialization of their femininity, the loss of their chastity, the destruction of their family and the perturbation of their emotions. This yearning for liberation pushed the Western woman into deep waters. Her desire for independence dragged her into competition and aggression, and her pride alienated her from the affectionate society. In her solitude, she accepted permissiveness and along with her struggle for survival, she nurtured bitterness and rancor. In the midst of her secular preoccupation, she suppressed her spiritual values and trod on her motherly instincts. The American concept of family and marriage has undergone radical change in the last few decades. Originally, as Edward Westermack puts it, "Marriage is rooted in the family and not the family in marriage." The family in turn was the foundation of society. Hence, the regulation of all family relations was considered a necessity called for by two fundamental exigencies: wholesome human procreation and preservation of society.

The modern industrial culture upset the past norm of family life and greatly changed the purposes of marriage. New opportunities of material gain were opened to married and unmarried. Women making them eco- nomically independent from their husbands and male providers. The women's emancipation movement accordingly declared that there was no more reason for tolerating subjugation to the male and cultivated the eccentric tendencies against the traditional functioning and sex-roles in the family. "The woman's new freedom has greatly increased sexual opportunity outside marriage, supported by contraception and abortion." The main purpose of marriage has become to satiate the desires of the couple, or what the libs call to achieve individual fulfillment and to ascertain the spouse's identity. The new concept has become tantamount to fulfilling the "desire of each other's need for individual happiness" and "the development of man-woman relationship." This, according to them, would lead to giving the wife the same status as the husband without differentiation or discrimination. Thus, a new concept of marriage rooted in the family had to be developed, and four substitutes are being practiced in modem societies:

1. Serial monogamy, where a series of marriages take place one after the other. This is what prevails in the United States at present where divorce occurs in 40% of marriages and where 75% of the divorced remarry. There are some modernists who suggest the "bypass of divorce by requiring renewal or cancellation of all marriage contracts at three year intervals."

2. Open marriage, where the exclusivity of husband-wife (sexually and otherwise) is eliminated. Those who advocate this category of marriage practice "wife swapping" or "swinging." They claim that extramarital experiences would reduce jealousy, relieve tensions and ease the pressures of personal conflict.

3. Polygamy and group marriage where an association of husbands and wives and their children mix together without restriction or constraint. The claim here is that multiplicity of parenthood for adults and children would offer a wider variety of interactive experiences in meeting individual needs.

4. Homosexuality, where women "marry" women and men "marry" men without the usual conflict which is inevitable in every new normal marriage.

All such approaches can never succeed in creating a happy family because they ignore the biological and the spiritual elements. Humans cannot survive without a society and no society can survive without the family. As individuals, "to live is to love and to love is to live," as Havelock Ellis puts it. Serial monogamy, open marriage, group marriage and homosexuality lack the premodial basics of the family. Humans are the only species where the offspring needs parental catering for a relatively long period after birth, not only physically but emotionally as well.

The new frustrated efforts, as reflected in the modern abnormal family life do not unite man and woman in a bond where both enjoy material and emotional security, stability and contentment. They do not cure the ailments created by the prevailing technological culture: alienation, loneliness, anomie, lack of love, and anxiety. "Search any average human being and you soon find evidence of heart-hunger for closeness and intimacy and the shared life as the only dependable sources of a sustained sense of self-esteem and of personal worth."

The women's emancipation movement in this country is revolting against long-standing inequitable treatment, against a biased, unjust legal system and a domineering economic exploitation. In their revolt, and in the absence of any effective religious or moral guidance, women have gone to the extreme which has brought down on them the misery of "civilized prostitution and adultery."

Such are the circumstances of the culture under which a Muslim family lives in this country. It would be a gross mistake to assume that Muslims will not be affected by the American way of life, the American materialistic values and American laws. Hence, the complex of problems of Muslim families start. If we add to the above anomalies the problems arising from the educational systems and its repercussions on the youngsters and adults, we could better understand the vast dimension of the Muslim dilemma. An example of this confusion is the so-to-speak highly educated Muslim wife who believes that it is her legitimate right to invite any male friend into the home, even in the absence of her husband, to accept an invitation in another city or another country without his permission, or the right to choose hard work in a locality other than where he lives. It is not a rare case to come across a Muslim woman who believes that she has the right to work as she has spent long years qualifying herself in a certain profession. In most cases, she would be motivated by her desire to material gain, especially when she can have some fulfillment out of the social activities in her professional domain. Such wives are deeply influenced by the American materialistic mentality and would claim the best of two worlds: to keep her job and to claim her Islamic right to be sustained by her husband.

The problems of children born in Muslim families are well known to all and have been repeatedly discussed by Muslim sociologists and thinkers in numerous conventions and symposia. They revolve on the cold fact that the American environment and culture affect the Muslim child's mentality and code of ethical values. When both parents are working, the child does not get enough care and domestic orientation to protect him against anti-Islamic practices. More serious a menace is the loss of the child's Islamic identity and his relatedness to a Muslim community. But these children's problems are mainly derived from the principal family problems which, if solved, would automatically bring relief to the chil- dren's ordeal.


There is nothing more compatible with human nature than Islamic teachings and injunctions, if only because they take the individual as a fallible being, subject to trial and error and subject to correction and evolution. "On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can beat" (2:286)

It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. As we are concerned here with the Muslim family, it is natural that whatever solution we may suggest, it must be in accordance with Islam. Luckily enough, Islam decides upon every issue, taking human nature in consideration and exhorting us to abide by the eternal laws of creation.
Empirical sciences have discovered many facts concerning our biological structure and physiological functioning, but there are still many more of life's secrets to be uncovered. There is not one single established scientific fact that runs contrary to any Islamic injunction; but there are many postulates, ideas and theories that may be incompatible with Islamic teachings. Under such uncertain conditions, the Muslim is supposed to follow the Islamic rules irrespective of the scientific dubious points of view and his personal desires.

Regarding the traditions and cultures that affect our socialization, we must bear in mind that these are the product of certain practiced ideals and established ideas prevailing at one time in a certain society. This is an extremely important element in the Islamic syndrome of solutions to societal problems. Islam is a philosophy that defines the purpose of human life, the relation between man, nature, and the Creator. It is a doctrine that sets up the broad outlines of the social, political, economic and esthetic systems which should be applied in our daily transactions and intercourse. Such philosophical definitions and doctrinal delineations are confined to the basic facts which do not evolve or change in accordance with the continuous human evolution. Facts are absolute and are not subject to change, otherwise they are neither facts nor absolute.

Whatever solutions we find in Islam, they are based on such absolute facts whether known to our contemporary scientists or unknown to them. The entire concept of the family and roles of its members is a part of the general concept of the Islamic society. Let us bear in mind that marriage is dictated by our biological needs and is a part of the indispensable human society and not just a matter of individual option. "And of everything we have created pairs" (51:49).

The word 'zawj' is used in the Quran as meaning a pair or a mate. Both words connote marriage. "Do they not look at the earth, how many pairs of noble things we have produced therein" (31:10). Even in Paradise, the Quran informs us that we shall have mates (see 2:25, 4:57). God created humans from one soul, which could be the first cell. From this soul He created the male and the female. The story of creating Eve (the first female) from a rib of Adam (the first male) is not mentioned in the Quran. "And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from yourselves that ye may find rest (and peace) in them" (30:2 1). "' 0 mankind, heed (in reverence) your Lord Who created you from a single soul andfrom it created its mate andfrom them twain both spread multitude of men and women" (4:1).

Our Prophet orders us to get married as soon as we can. The family is the nucleus of the Islamic society and marriage is the only way to bring about such an institution. Extra-marital relations are categorically condemned and prohibited. "Nor come nigh to adultery (orfomication) for it is a shameful deed and an evil, opening the road to other evils" (17:30).

It is only logical that Islam set up the rules to regulate the functioning of the family whereby both spouses can find peace, love, security and relatedness. The elements are necessary to accomplish the greatest purpose of marriage: the worship of God. By worship it is not only meant the performance of rituals, but it essentially implies righteousness in all transactional behavior. Every good deed, every service to humanity, every useful productive effort, and even every good word are a part of a true Muslim worship of his God. If both husband and wife observe this main purpose, this cardinal purpose of their union, they would easily learn how to help each other achieve this goal which is greater than themselves. They would learn how to tolerate each other, how to love God in themselves and in other beings, and how to overcome their difficulties and their shortcomings.

The second purpose of marriage is to respond to the basic biological instinct of procreation. Children are the realization of motherhood and fatherhood. Islam is particular in providing the most possible wholesome atmosphere for bringing up the offspring. To give birth to children and neglect them is a crime towards society, the children, and the parents themselves. The child who is deprived of the ample love of his or her parents, who is not properly tutored at an early age, and who is left to babysitters and nurseries will develop many anti-social behavioral patterns and may end up with crime, perversion and corruption. Such a child may never find his or her identity as he or she could have felt it in a systematic manner during his or her childhood. Without a family life, governed by Islamic order and discipline, how can we expect a child to have the Muslim conscience and the Islamic value of righteousness.

Islam prescribes clear rights and obligations on parents and their descendent Parents are legally responsible for the education and maintenance of their children. These, by turn, are legally responsible for accommodating and maintaining their parents, if they so require, in their old age. Both parents and children inherit from each other according to a prescribed and accurate law of inheritance specified in the Quran. Neither of them can deprive the other of their respective shares in the legacy. This is only part of the long family code in Islam. What is of import here is the husband-wife relationship-their sex roles-within the context of Islamic comprehension: "And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may find rest (and peace) in them. And He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); Verily in this are signs for those who reflect" (30:21).

Despite the importance of these moral values: rest, peace, love and mercy, Islam did not stop there. It bolstered its original concept of the family by defining the roles of man and woman in such a manner that each should act in accordance with his or her biological merits. The man, with his aggression, is charged with what is called the instrumental functions: maintenance, protection, dealings with the outworldly matters and leadership within the family. The woman is entrusted with caring for and rearing the children, organizing the home, and creating the loving atmosphere inside. Let us be clear from the beginning that in an Islamic society the wife is not expected to be pushed to work to gain money. Even the unmarried, the divorcee, and the widow are guaranteed, by law, an income that helps them lead a reasonably comfortable life. Work or trade are not prohibited to women. Yet, they are not recommended to undertake such activities unless there is a justification for them and without prejudice to their husband's rights. Once the woman gets married, she accepts the Islamic ruling on the functioning of the family. Her role becomes mainly to achieve the welfare of her household and to look after the internal family affairs. If she wants to work, she is bound to ask the explicit approval of her husband. However, if she has her own property or fortune, and if she opts to run or invest such wealth, she is entitled to do so without her husband's permission, but provided this does not infringe upon her marital obligations.


In Islam, as in biology, there is no family without marriage, and there is no marriage without rules and discipline. The family in Islam is a unit in which two independent persons unite and share life together. The husband's dignity is an integral part of his wife's dignity. Accordingly, neither of them is better than the other. To unite and share, there must be mutual love and compassion-a genuine feeling which unless translated into action and behavior would be mere illusion and futile emotion. One can hardly accept the claim of love of the spouse who does not care for his or her sick partner or who does not share the family responsibilities.

This fundamental basis, if well understood and observed, makes the first loyalty of both spouses to their family which is supposed to serve God in piety as the main purpose of marriage. It implies that they act as if they were one person with many organs. The head of the human is not better than the heart, and the hand is not better than the foot. If the man is charged with the duty of leadership and maintenance, he is not better than the woman who is assigned the duty of keeping the household, even if the first duty is more difficult and perhaps more significant. Imam Muhammad Abduh emphasizes this point as vital for the right understanding of the sex roles of spouses. He adds that the Quranic verse, "And in no wise covet those things in which God hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn," (4:32) does not imply that every man is better than every woman or vice versa. According to him, each sex, in general, has some preferential advantage over the other, though men have a degree over women.

There has been much controversy about this 'degree'. Some interpret it as the delegation of leadership, surveillance and maintenance which are bestowed on men. Others say that it is the tolerance with which men must treat their wives. A third view is that it is men's natural gift for judging matters and managing external problems. However, the consensus is that this 'degree' comprises the principle of 'guardianship' or 'qiwamah'.

Imam Abduh in the course of interpreting the preceding Quranic verse, stated that qiwamah or guardianship has four elements: protection, surveillance, custody and maintenance. Dr. Abd al-Ati considered the element of obedience over and above the aforementioned four elements- the most important indication of qiwamah. Obedience, to him, and in accordance to the Quran and Traditions comprises the following:

1. She must not receive male, strangers or accept gifts from them without his permission. Nor must she lend or dispose of any of his possessions without his approval,

2. The husband has the legal right to restrict her freedom of movement and prevent her from leaving her home without his permission. She must comply with this right unless there is a necessity or legitimate advantage for her to do otherwise. However, it is his religious obligation to be compassionate so as to relax his right to restrict her freedom of movement. If there arises a conflict between this right of his and wife's parents' right to visit and be visited by their daughter, his right prevails.
Yet it is religiously recommended that he be considerate enough to waive his right and avoid estrangement within his conjugal family or between any member of this family and close relatives, e.g. the wife's parents.

3. A refractory wife has no legal right to object to the husband's exercise of his disciplining authority. Islamic law, in common with most other systems of law, recognizes the husband's right to discipline his wife for disobedience.

4. The wife may not legally object to the husband's right to take another wife or to exercise his right of divorce. The marital contract establishes her implicit consent to these rights. However, if she wishes to restrict his freedom in this regard or to have similar rights, she is legally allowed to do so. She may stipulate in the marital agreement that she too, will have the right to divorce, or that she will keep the marriage bond only so long as she remains the only wife; should he take a second wife, the first will have the right to seek a divorce in accordance with the marriage agreement.

5. Finally, if the husband insists on patrilocality or neolocality, the wife Must Comply."


The problems facing Muslim families living in the States can be dealt with in compliance with Islamic teachings and principles once we accept them as binding. If the spouses are really devout, they will have no difficulty in encountering the evils of the Western culture and in escaping the anti-Islamic societal factors that may run contrary to Islam. The guidelines as we see them would be:

1. The main purpose of marriage is to live in piety and to serve the Islamic Cause. The wife has the right to discontinue working whenever she pleases. The husband may allow the wife to work with the condition that her gain belongs to the family and not be considered as her personal property.

2. Household: When the wife is not employed, the household becomes her first occupation. By household it is meant the rearing of the children and all domestic services required for maintaining a clean and comfortable habitation. The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Cleanliness is a part of faith." Motherhood is highly appraised in Islam and is the most elated value second to the worship of God.


Marriage: Muslims should marry according to Islamic traditions and rules. The marriage will have to be registered with the State in which they wed in order to give it a legal force. This legal procedure subjects the marriage contract to the jurisdiction of American laws which, in most cases, contradict many Islamic rulings. However, such contradiction does not happen unless there is a dispute that both spouses fail to solve in accordance with the Shariah.

Disputes: These are expected to arise in all matrimonial relations. Muslim abiding spouses must learn how to compromise and tolerate each other. Their guide is the teaching of their religion and their good example is their Prophet.

However, in case they fail to solve their own problems, they have to resort to arbitration. The spouse who refuses this Quranic injunction or who defies the other partner taking shelter under the umbrella of American laws is failing in his or her religious commitment. The Quranic arbitration is meant to be binding on both spouses and would, indeed, relieve the Muslim family of most of its problems.

Divorce: If one to the spouses refuses arbitration, non-Islamic divorce is bound to take place, leaving a deep painful scar on both of them. Arbitration may end in divorce, but in this case it would be least harmful as both would feel more content when Shariah is justly applied.

It is a pity that many recalcitrant (nashiz). Muslim women think that American law would serve their interest more than the Islamic Law. This is not only wrong but the consequences of litigation generally leaves more ill feeling than should be.


Nobody can deny the impact of environment upon adults and children. Up until now, one can safely say that Muslims of America could not constitute any physical or moral community comparable to that of the Jews or the Chinese. Granted that there are some groupings in scattered localities and spiritual guidance from different sources, yet there is no community that could respond to many basic needs. The family must live in a society, and unless an Islamic community is created, the Muslim family will have no alternative but to merge in a non-Muslim one.

The danger is so imminent that it forms the major part of the family problems in the United States. Both adults and children are influenced by American values and traditions, and by American behavior and manners. There is no escape from this "assimilation" except by strengthening the family bonds and by steadfast observation of Islamic teachings. The husband must lead here by strict adherence to Islamic ways of life and by requiring the same from his wife.

Such are the sex-roles in Islam and the main problems facing Muslim families in the United States and, indeed, in all non-Muslim countries. The solutions mentioned above entirely depend upon the faith of the spouses and their earnest desire to live up to their religion. God, according to the Holy Quran, has made men in charge of their wives, has ordered them to maintain and protect them and has ordered women to obey their husbands and guard their secrets (see 4:34, 35). As for those spouses who claim the right to twist the meanings of Quranic texts so as to suit their personal desires, and those who try to subject Islam to non-Islamic laws are sick in their hearts and are transgressors. Most probably, such persons would not like to read this essay, though we pray to Allah to guide them to the right way: "Say: This is my Way: I call on God with sure knowledge and whosoever follows me-glory be to God-and I am not of the idolaters" (12:108).

1. L. Cadmure and L. Larson, "The Center of Life," The New York
Times Book Co., 1977, p. 8.
2. Ibid., p. 9.
3. Ibid., p. 28.
4. Ibid., p. 38.
5. 1. R. Symthies, "Brain Mechanisms and Behavior." New York:
Academic Press, 1970, p. 156.
6. Shirley Weitz, "Sex Roles." New York: Oxford University Press,
1977, p. 7.
7. K. E. Moyer, "Sex Difference in Aggression." Quoted in R. C.
Friedman, R. M. Richart, R. L. Vande Wiele, eds., "Sex Differences in
Behavior," Wile, 1974, p. 156.
8. Weitz, op. cit., p. 42.
9. D. B. Lynn, "The Father: His Role in Child Development,"
Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole, 1974, pp. 14-21.
10. Weitz, op. cit., p. 42.
1 1. M. A. Diamond, "A Critical Evaluation of the Ontogeny of
Human Sexual Behavior," Quarterly Review of Biology, 50 (1965), pp.
12. Weitz, op. cit., p. 5.
13. Cadmure, op. cit., p. 8.
14. Ibid., p. 39.
15. Hammudah Abd al-Ati, "The Family Structure in Islam." Indiana:
American Trust Publications, 1977, p. 19.
16. Ibid., pp. 54-55.
17. Lately a few states have allowed married women to use their
maiden names.
18. R. H. Williams (ed). To Live and To Die. "Marriage: Whence and
Whither," NY- Springer-Verlad, 1973, p. 298.
19. Ibid., p. 299.
20. Ibid., p. 304.
21. Tafsir al-Manar, vol. 5, p. 68 ff.
22. Abd al-Ati, op. cit., pp. 172-173. These rights and obligations are
corroborated by the Quran and Hadith.