If you want to get a glimpse of the future of Islam in America, take a good look at the state of the Muslim family here today.
For Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, the family is where Islam’s first seeds are planted and nurtured, not the mosque or other societal institutions. It is by watching family members pray, fast, tell the truth, and respect each other that children learn Islamic values; it is by watching parents and siblings decorate the house for Eid, exchange gifts and attend congregational prayers on a regular basis that an Islamic identity is built.
What this means in the long-term is that if the Muslim family suffers, then the state of Islam in this country will too.
The Muslim family is not immune to currents affecting all families in America. Divorce, the rise of single-parent families, the challenges of dual-earner families, the need to care for aging parents and the dramatic overhaul of the nuclear family system in general in the last 45 years are issues that affect all families.
According to New-York based Muslim sociologist Professor Ilyas Ba-Yunus, Muslims in America have a divorce rate of slightly over 30 percent, which is much smaller than the combined rate of North America of 48.6 percent. However, it is very close to the United Kingdom’s divorce rate of 33.2 percent, which is the second highest in the world.
Other statistics relating to the American family include the following:
Statistics From the US Census Bureau
- Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.
- 27.8 percent of families in America are one-parent families
- The number of unmarried partner households has increased by 72 percent in the last decade from three million in 1990 to more than five million in 2000. These figures include both same-sex and different-sex couples.
- More and more young children are being left alone. Nearly 1 out of five children between the ages of 5 and 14 regularly cared for themselves
Statistics From Other Sources
- More than one million children have parents who separate or divorce each year. The National Commission on Children
- ore than half of Americans today have been, are or will be in one or more stepfamily situations. Stepfamily Association of America
- One in two children will live in a single-parent family at some point in childhood. State of America’s Children Yearbook 2000, Children’s Defense Fund
- One in three children is born to unmarried parents. State of America’s Children Yearbook 2000, Children’s Defense Fund
- 1 out of 5 children have a learning, emotional, or behavioral problem due to the family system changing. (National Center for Health Statistics)
- More than one half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts lived in one-parent families when they were children. (Children's Defense Fund)
Successful families don’t happen by accident. They are the result of choosing the right spouse, carefully establishing a solid partnership in the first two years of marriage, and couples seeing each other as a team, not as competitors.
Solid families engage in open communication in all aspects of life, from mundane issues like establishing a budget to big ones like how to pass the beauty of Islam on to their children.
Successful families also require a tremendous amount of patience. In practical terms, this means trying our utmost to work out conflicts through mechanisms like consultation, mediation and arbitration before deciding to divorce.
Committing to build a successful family also means rooting out all kinds of abuse ranging from domestic violence to sexual abuse.
Giving our families the proper time, care and attention will yield far greater results for Islam on this continent than anything else we do. If our children and grandchildren see Islam as an exotic cultural import to be displayed twice a year on Eid days, the mosques and schools we are racing to build today will be empty tomorrow.
One Muslim sister who married almost a decade ago sought advice from family and friends about the secret to a successful marriage. She noted that all of those she spoke to who had successful marriages identified one common denominator: good communication. Not looks, money, fame or even chemistry.
But what is good communication? We may have grown up witnessing our parents and other couples talking to each other, but were they really communicating effectively? Good communication that builds strong families occurs when family members consult each other to run their affairs. But listening is just as critical to consultation, if not more so.
Solid Muslim families are also built on a commitment to Allah that is nurtured by a connection to the Quran. In this regard, establishing a weekly family study circle in which everyone read, reflect and discuss themes of the Quran together is an invaluable tool in strengthening everyone’s commitment to God and to the family unit as a whole.
We need to evaluate our family lives and plan this month. Hold a couple of meetings with the family. Do it today, even if you have never done it before. Discuss what new skills to develop individually as well as a family. Talk about where you'd like to go on vacation; discuss how to spend your money this year and which causes to donate to. You can develop your own outline or use the one we've provided as a template to start with.
Whatever you choose to do, take the step today. Every day we lose to become stronger as Muslims and as families will be one that we will sorely regret tomorrow. Will our future generations look back in time and merely say, "I remember my grandparents used to talk about something called Islam"or will they develop into stronger Muslims than we are today? The answer lies in the steps we take now to revive our families.