While God may test a person with challenging or difficult parents, they are still owed filial piety. Differences in religion is not an obstacle to filial piety. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught his companions to remain kind and respectful towards their disbelieving parents. On one occasion, a man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked him who was most entitled to polite treatment. The Prophet replied, “Your mother.” When the man asked who was most entitled after that, the Prophet replied, “Your mother.” When asked a third time, the Prophet gave the same answer. The fourth time the Prophet said, “Your father.”
Another category of relationships that is given special consideration in Islam is family to whom a person is related by blood. They are owed an abiding relationship that is on good terms. A person should keep in touch with them, visit them, and ask about those things that are important to them. While a person has no part in deciding who one’s relatives are, maintaining a constant relationship with them on good terms is an obligation of the highest order. The word for mercy in Arabic is “raḥmah” and it shares its root with the word for womb which is “raḥm.” In a narration (ḥadīth) from Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the inseparable relationship between mercy and maintaining family ties is made clear. He recounts a statement from God in which He says, “I am God, and I am the Merciful (al-Raḥmān). I created the womb (raḥm) and derived its name from My own. If someone connects the [ties of the] womb, I will connect him with Me, but if someone severs the [ties of the] womb, I will cut him off from Me.” In another tradition He said, “There is no sin more deserving of God’s punishment in both this life and the next than oppression and the severing of family ties.” Therefore, maintaining family ties and treating family members with courtesy and respect is a religious requirement, and a believer works to keep connected with extended family members, hoping for divine mercy.
In the Quran, God illustrates the relationship between spouses through the metaphor of garments to be worn. Each spouse is the garment of the other, meaning a source of protection, comfort, and shared intimacy. God also relays the blessing of spouses coming together in marriage as love, tenderness, and serenity.
In Islam, marriage is a contract entered into by a man and a woman willingly, with the intention of establishing a permanent relationship. The contract must be witnessed, and the groom is required to gift the bride (not her parents) a wedding gift (Mahr). It is a Prophetic practice (sunnah) to announce the marriage and to hold a wedding feast for loved ones and family. A few features of the Islamic concept of marriage are worth reviewing here. First, although it is initiated with the intention of being permanent, the relationship can be terminated through the process of divorce. In the interest of preserving marriage, divorce is considered the most disliked of acts. However, Islam also acknowledges that some relationships do more harm than good, both to the individuals and to society at large, therefore divorce is not forbidden. In relation to the question of who can marry who; It is permissible for a Muslim man to marry either a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish woman, but not a woman from another religion or one with no religion at all. For a Muslim woman, on the other hand, it is only permissible to marry a Muslim man. Part of the reason for this is that children predominantly take on the religion of their father, and it is a condition of Islamic marriage that the children be raised as Muslims. Within the household, God has placed the responsibility of a family’s upkeep on the man. Whereas a wife may do with her wealth as she personally desires, the same is not true for a husband or father. His wife and children have a right to access and use his wealth for their basic needs. Islam also recognises that a family, like all institutions, requires defined leadership to achieve internal harmony. The vast majority of societies over history have followed this arrangement, but Islam defines the role of family leader not in terms of power and authority to be used for male domination, but in terms of a higher degree of responsibility and accountability before God. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, placed much emphasis on this, perhaps as a warning to men, when he said, “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best to my wives.” Although this is different from the cultural norms we may be used to, it is worth mentioning that Islam allows for men to marry multiple wives (up to a maximum of four) under particular circumstances. There are many preconditions to such an arrangement, the most important of which is a fair and just treatment of the wives, financially and otherwise. This illustrates Islam’s acknowledgment of the complexities and diversity of human society. Particular societies may find this permissibility useful in preserving social harmony, while others may prefer not to utilize it.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, reminded people that they will be accountable for those in their care, saying, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you shall be questioned about his flock.” Among the rights of children in Islam is for the parent to select a suitable spouse to raise the child with and providing the child with a pleasant name. Children have the right to be looked after and cared for in terms of their physical, intellectual, and emotional needs. They also have a right to being taught manners, morality, and the essentials of their religion. By fulfilling these rights, the believers contribute to the future health of society and are rewarded by God for their efforts. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was very considerate of the needs of children. If he heard the cry of a baby while he was leading the congregational prayer, he would shorten it so the mother could tend to her child and be relieved of her distress. Once a man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and declared, “I have ten children and I never kissed even one of them.” The Prophet replied, “He who does not show mercy shall not receive mercy [from God].”