Ayatollah Khamenei has introduced a model of an ideal Islamic family, which will aid in building an Islamic civilisation.
The word Khanivadeh in the Persian language is defined as “the smallest social unit of society, including a father, mother and children, and sometimes close relatives such as a grandfather, grandmother, daughter-in-law and son-in-law.” The definitions therefore of Khanivadeh and the common English word ‘family’ are quite synonymous.
The family is a fundamental structure of human society; it is a system through which individual interests are best served through interdependency. However, the specificities and nature of the relationships between a family’s constituents may vary throughout different times and cultures. Some argue that today in many parts of the globe, the very existence of this central unit of society is under threat. In the UK for example, there are currently 2 million lone parents with dependent children, 7.7 million people living alone, 3 million opposite-sex and 90 thousand same-sex cohabiting couples, and a general increase in voluntarily childless couples.
Others may argue that such changes simply reflect societal trends in a way that the ‘traditional’ concept of family may be declining, but the concept of living in an inter-dependent group where strong and meaningful bonds exist between its constituents still exists and that ‘living alone’ doesn’t necessarily negate this occurrence either.
Furthermore, the type, kind, and size of a certain family structure will be a product of its host society’s worldview. If the host society promotes liberalism, individual freedom, and materialism, family structures will adopt certain characteristics. If, on the other hand, a host society promotes traditionalism, religiosity, spiritualism, and awards respect and value to its experienced and aged members, family structures will naturally adopt a very different set of characteristics. Islam is undoubtedly a societal religion promoting many of the latter group’s values, with the aim of inspiring human beings towards their purpose: the worship of God. In the book “Khanivadeh”, a compilation of speeches by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Sayyid Ali Khamenei (Ayatollah Khamenei), a model of the ideal Islamic family structure is presented in a manner relevant to the 21st century to aid Muslims in utilising this fundamental societal structure for a Divine purpose.
The family of Ayatollah Khamenei
The wife of Ayatollah Khamenei recounting her memories on how her wedding was a very traditional and simple, religious ceremony. She goes on to talk about the couple’s subsequent struggles throughout the Islamic revolution. She describes the arrests and imprisonment of her husband by the Savak (Shah Pahlavi’s domestic intelligence service), and how through her understanding of the goals of the revolution, the role of her husband, and her trust in God, she was able to support her husband and maintain the household throughout. She would never mention her own difficulties or the illnesses of their young children when she would write letters to him in prison. She would aid him in his administrative activities during the revolution by sending letters to key centres in Mashhad and also collecting information to send to Imam Khomeini in Paris during his exile.
The philosophy and importance of marriage in Islamic society
In the beginning of many of his speeches at wedding ceremonies, Ayatollah Khamenei describes how marriage creates a new unit of family in society and compares this to how many tissues of the human body are in a continuous state of renewal; in order for these tissues (society) to remain healthy and functional, the cells (families) which replace them must also be healthy and functional. He insists that the only effective way of creating efficient family structures is through marriage and that the main aim of marriage is the creation of these structures.
He quotes the famous hadith of the Prophet (SAW), “Whosoever marries protects half of his/her faith,” explaining that a good portion of this half is the satisfaction of sexual desires within the bounds of a mutual contract of rights and duties. With regards to a youth who had not married, the Prophet (SAW) would turn away from him saying, “He has fallen in my eyes”.
Ayatollah Khamenei also emphasises the importance of getting married at a young age, as soon as the emotional, psychological and sexual needs for marriage begin. Marrying at an older age means that the bond created between both partners tends to be less strong, because it was created at a time when it was less needed, as opposed to a young, eager couple, whose bond from the beginning will naturally be much stronger due to their intense need for each other.
Ayatollah Khamenei then explains that marriage is a blessing from God, as mentioned in the Qur’an: “…and from His signs is that he created spouses for you from among yourselves.” Marriage is a means through which a man and a woman complete each other; thus, in order to show thankfulness for this blessing, it is incumbent upon Muslims to preserve and protect marriage. The Qur’an emphasises the importance of putting friendship and love rather than materialism and selfishness at the centre of a husband and wife’s mutual psychological, spiritual, emotional, and sexual needs. Another method of thanking God for the blessing of marriage is to utilise marriage for the divine purposes that it was created for: living together in one home, having children, and establishing a family structure that helps everyone within it gain proximity to Allah. Placing Islamic morals at the centre of this structure therefore is fundamental for its survival.
Family structures are essential to the advancement and protection of human society
In the continuation of the verse quoted above, God mentions that the purpose of marriage is “…so that you find peace in each other”. Living in a stable household with a caring, kind, supportive and loving spouse serves as a source of emotional, psychological and spiritual tranquillity which is essential for the development of humans and the advancement of Islamic society. The real effect of neglecting the importance of the family structure will soon limit the advancement of Western societies. One of the main reasons why the West insists on injecting Eastern traditional cultures with sexual corruption is to rid them of family structures and thus tear the fabric of society, providing an easy way to subsequently exploit the resources of these countries. Consequently, preserved societal values produced from centuries of cultural advancement and wisdom are lost, and youth no longer possess qualities of courage, independent thinking, responsibility, compassion, decisiveness and good-will, to aid them in fighting against colonialist foreign powers.
The central role of women
In many of his speeches, Ayatollah Khamenei emphasises that neither husband nor wife should see themselves as being the more important side of a relationship. Islam views the issue of genders to be secondary, as the primary angle is to view each gender as a human, judged upon his/her piety. Thus, the fundamental roles of men and women are both equal in this primary view. In a secondary view however, the roles of men and women are different. Focusing on the specific roles of women, Ayatollah Khamenei explains that, in the history of mankind, no group of people has been more effective in moulding human societies than women. It is a mother who through her morals, heart and soul, culture, and knowledge empowers a nation to stand on its feet.
Men and women have been created with different qualities and predispositions so that that they are better suited to carry out their societal roles. Islam views men as beings of physical and mental strength, decision-makers and supporters and women as a source of beauty, kindness, and warmth.
This is neither an insult to women, nor an insult to men; rather, it is instead a statement on the nature of man and woman. Both are complimentary to each other and require each other for a functioning family. Thus, when one side of a relationship engages in the roles of the other side, the duties of both sides are neglected – resulting in a loss of the family structure.
Quoting a saying from Amīr al-Mu’minīn (AS), “Women are flowers, not workers” Ayatollah Khamenei emphasises that husbands must understand that their wives are prized co-workers in the family system. On the issue of women’s rights, Ayatollah Khamenei explains that humans have no place in creating rights for women and instead should simply discover rights of women intrinsic to their own nature. Western feminist movements are for this very reason entirely misguided. Men must never misuse women, be it in the household or in society. The latter can be seen widely in modern Western societies where the female workforce is often exploited in the workplace. The pressures on women to achieve self-esteem through physical beauty are also another example of how women are oppressed by men in Western societies. Islam puts legal measures in place and encourages a culture to prevent this oppression, empowering women to excel and fulfill their roles in society. Knowledge and cultural advancement, not vain engagement in cosmetics or serving as an exploited workforce in a male-dominated society, provides women with value.
Hijab is also not to be seen as being a duty specific to women in shielding themselves from men. The true Islamic concept of hijab involves the separation of the specific domains of men from women. Ayatollah Khamenei emphasises that in addition to their role in strengthening the family structure, women must engage in academic, social, and political activities. However, all societal engagement, when engaged in without the protection of hijab, will result in sexual freedom and the disruption of the family structure. Thus, hijab empowers women to engage in their societal roles outside of the family without being objectified whilst also protecting the family structure. Furthermore, women should not find themselves in a conundrum of whether to be a good wife and mother or whether to engage in work and society as both sides are important, and both should be pursued according to each individual woman’s capacity. Although, in the case that a woman cannot attend to both, her duties towards her family must always take precedence, as no one else will be able to attend to these duties except her. The complexities of raising children in this day and age often means that many women may therefore decide to stay at home.
The peace provided through a family is a necessity for self-building
The emphasis of Islam on self-building and working on the path of God means that often the life of a Muslim is a lengthy struggle, necessitating that there be a peaceful getaway for a believer – the family structure. Such peace is necessary for both men and women, as even women who spend most of their time at home are also fighting a strong jihad and must find peace in their husbands. In fact, bringing up a family, if carried out properly, is more difficult than earning a living.
Observing good morals, manners, kindness, love, and affection in the household is essential for the establishment of peace and zen. A key way of creating such love is through trust. One of the reasons why Islam has limited sex to marriage is due to its central role in the creation of love and friendship; sexual corruption in society therefore jeopardises the ability of the family structure to provide serenity, and prevents believers from actively engaging in their personal struggle towards God. Thus, maintaining social and physical hijab is very important, as it has a key role in strengthening the bonds between family members.
Islam also places great emphasis on spending quality family time together. The Western lifestyles of people eating outside their homes and everyone attending to their own business even within the home without spending quality time together are also a key barrier to the establishment of peace and zen. A tranquil family atmosphere is also essential for the upbringing of children, as children spend the most impressionable period of their lives in the homes of their parents.
Apart from contributing to the peace and zen of a household, building love and friendship also provides a key basis for the building of each other. Husbands and wives are duty bound to help each other become better people; thus, wherever love and trust exists, both sides are more able to build each other, as they understand that they only wish for the betterment of each other. In the Holy Qur’an, God says “…they (wives) are clothing for and you (men) are clothing for them…” . Clothes protect a person, beautify a person, and also cover a person’s deficiencies. Like all believers, husbands and wives are also obliged to help each other in their religious duties, as it says in the Holy Qur’an “…and enjoin upon each other truth, and enjoin upon each other patience…” .
Choosing a spouse
Ayatollah Khamenei emphasises the importance of placing Islamic criteria at the centre of any decision on who to marry. Taqwaand piety are the most important things, whereas things such as beauty and wealth are not what build successful marriages. Love and friendship between two people is what makes them beautiful in each others’ eyes. Ayatollah Khamenei also criticises the idea of being too picky, explaining that Islam takes a much more simplistic approach, where Islamic morals are enough for two people to journey together. He quotes the hadith “A believing man is a match for a believing woman…” . This ethos creates a positive mindset in couples, showing them that it is not necessary for them to be close friends in advance. Ayatollah Khamenei then advises couples to “go and build together” (biravīd bā ham bisāzīd). No young couples should think that they will not face problems; rather, they should patiently help each other to build their personalities, especially during the first few years of their married lives. Young people must understand that ideal spouses do not exist and that human beings are naturally flawed; therefore, expectations need to be managed. However, a culture of self and mutual building is necessary to make marriages successful. Ayatollah Khamenei recounts the loyalty and selflessness of his own wife during the difficulties of the revolution, when he would be arrested and beaten in front of his family and thrown into prison. He describes successful wives as those who are able to support their husbands and manage their expectations at times when they see that their husbands, despite their best efforts, are struggling. This is the jihad of women.
Wedding ceremonies in all cultures hold a lot of value, and, due to their influence on the ability of people to get married and establish household, Ayatollah Khamenei often spends much time in his speeches speaking about Islamic recommendations with regards to how wedding ceremonies should be held. Ayatollah Khamenei explains his intense opposition against the materialism in weddings, especially the issue of large dowries and expensive wedding ceremonies. He explains that families should not face economic difficulties due to wedding ceremonies. Such types of weddings cause a lot of damage to society; they encourage competition, resulting in people finding it difficult to get married. This issue is not at all a personal issue but a societal one. The issue of high dowries for young girls devalues the status of women as it objectifies them, making the marriage contract look like a financial transaction. The transaction is a transaction of people, of hearts and minds. Ayatollah Khamenei also explains that he is not against jahīz (whereby the wife’s family buy household items for the married couple), but emphasises that it should be only to the extent of helping young couples begin their lives, not to the extent that a daughter’s family throw themselves into debt and economic difficulty.
Secondly, Ayatollah Khamenei explains that Islam is not against enjoyment and happiness in wedding gatherings, but that such enjoyment must be limited within the bounds of the religion. Mixed gatherings, forbidden music, waste, and luxuriousness are outside the bounds of Islam. Those who have wealth are also not exempt and should never cross the bounds of that which is considered a normal wedding in an Islamic society.
Doing so would be considered a great sin in Islam, foremost due to its wider effects on society and secondly due to its wastefulness. All Muslims must realise that every law and recommendation in Islam has wisdom behind it, and, through submission to these laws, we will benefit both in our current Islamic civilisation and in our hereafter. One such reality is that Islam wishes to help us control our relationship with the world, stopping materialism from impairing us in the struggle towards our higher purpose. The status of a Muslim, both men and women, is much higher than that which materialism depicts. Islam envisages us becoming spiritual and intellectual beings in this world. Living a simple life is essential for the advancement of the Islamic revolution, since one of the ways that the enemies of Islam wish to prevent the Islamic revolution is through distracting young Muslim youth with materialism.
It is incomplete to believe that Ayatollah Khamenei’s view of the ideal Islamic family is ‘traditional’, as it is far more than this. Undoubtedly traditionalism plays its part in the Islamic family structure, in as much as it coincides with Islamic morals and teachings. However, the reality is that Ayatollah Khamenei has introduced a model of an ideal Islamic family, which will aid in building an Islamic civilisation. He presents a family model where women, men, children and elderly can continue to progress on a spiritual and intellectual path, a model whereby people respect and honour each others’ rights, a model whereby people can seek peace and tranquility through each other so that they are motivated to continue struggling to fulfill their societal obligations. Ayatollah Khamenei presents this model with a deep understanding of the shariah and Islamic culture and does so in a non-apologetic manner.