Family and Community

Islam begins at home with the children being taught Islamic values and way of life from a very young age. This way of life extends into the community with the family attending congregational prayers, ‘Sunday school’, ‘Id celebrations and other social events. Pilgrimage to Makkah, as well as shrines of Imams and saints, further establishes even a greater sense of belonging.

Family is crucial in Islam (birth rituals, teaching children to pray and recite Qur’an and Islamic morals). It is forbidden to break ties (silah al-rahm) with family (unless one is asked to disbelief) for which one will earn grave punishment. The Qur’an stresses on showing kindness towards the parents especially in their old age (Surahs 17:23, 29:8).

For most Muslims to be part of a family unit and a community offers them a sense of identity and security. They are usually a Muslim’s first port of call for support and strength especially in times of need and act as a reminder to carry out one’s religious duties hence making one stronger emotionally and spiritually.

The importance of family and community has its roots in the Qur’an. Muslims are instructed to keep close family ties and to treat their parents with nothing other than kindness:

Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (Surah 17:23)

Ramadan is a month in which family and community ties are strengthened: families endeavour to break the fast together; people often fund an iftir (breaking of the fast) for the whole community at the mosque; in the Sunni school, some Muslims will attend the mosque’s tarawith prayers every night; all this culminates in the ‘id prayer in which the whole community usually attends at the end of the month.

The home and the mosque are the main places where a Muslim family practises its faith. At home, the whole family can pray together in congregation, recite supplications together, children are taught the Qur’an. Many Muslim families will have Qur’anic passages in their homes. A Muslim should care for the elderly and visit the sick. Islam is present in every aspect of our everyday life and hence one can be constantly God conscious. There are supplications or praises for almost anything a person can do: waking up in the morning, before one leaves the house, before and after eating, entering or coming out of the restroom.

A very important concept in Islam is ummah (community). It encourages Muslims to support and help each other especially in times of need such as after the loss of a loved one. Also Imam ‘Ali says in a famous tradition: ‘A person is either your brother in religion or your brother in humanity.’

It is highly recommended that a person lives near a Muslim community as it can serve as a support for the person and a reminder of one’s duties to God. Islam in its totality is based on unity. First, unity (tawhid) is recognising that God is One. But unity extends to every other aspect of the religion for example the Islamic rituals such as hajj which is probably the greatest symbol of unity where people of all ages, colour and status perform the same act at the same time in the same way submitting themselves completely to the One God. Hence for Muslims, belonging and being a unit is part of their faith.

And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves […] (Surah 3:103)

Muslims are described in the Qur’an as brothers. This brotherhood which is not based on blood relations unites them spiritually.

The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy (Surah 49:10).

Hence, both the family and the community have since the beginning of Islam been important elements of a Muslim’s life.

Most Muslim communities hold a congregation for the daily prayers at the mosque. The Friday prayer (salah al-Jumu’ah) including the two sermons (khutbah, sing.) plays a very important role in Muslim communities; usually the mosque is full for the Friday prayers so it is a great opportunity to educate those attending about Islamic issues as well as to raise issues affecting the local and global community. The Islamic festivals (‘id, sing.) are celebrated with the family as well as the community. The ‘id prayers are held at the mosque and some communities organise a whole day of activities for the whole family. Weddings and funerals are important times for the community to come together. In weddings, there may be Qur’an recitation, supplications, poems and Islamic songs (nashid, sing.). In funerals, everyone joins the prayer of the deceased. As the first night in the grave is known to be the most difficult night for the deceased, the members of the Shi’ah community usually recite individually after the evening prayer a special prayer called salah al-wahshah which is performed the night of the burial as it is known to reduce the suffering in the grave. ‘Sunday schools’ are run now in most communities to teach children about their faith and to have a sense of belonging.

Many Muslims nowadays live in multi-ethnic multi-faith western communities. For these Muslims, to belong to a community is vital as it helps stay strong in their faith and to keep an Islamic way of life. This becomes even more important as in today’s climate as Islam has been in the spotlight for different reasons. Some Muslims might feel a sense of insecurity as they may be directly or indirectly affected by some extremists’ actions in the name of Islam. Therefore belonging to a community offers them security and comfort.

One of the most powerful experiences of what it means to belong to the Islamic faith tradition is the annual Hajj. Muslims gather from every corner of the world, with every ethnic group, every nationality, every language represented, one truly experiences the depth and breadth of what it means to belong to the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is a point at which one is touched by Tawhid at its deepest level – not just the Oneness of God but the witnessing of Oneness of humanity too. The stories of Hajj are brought back home by the Hajji, a memory, a reminder, to the community of his journey in the footsteps of the Prophet and his great ancestors – Adam, Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar. It is an affirmation of Islamic beliefs, history, and the realization and fulfilment of the primordial covenant of Alastu bi Rabbikum (Q. 7:172) and the link between the local and global community of Muslims.

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