The Fall of the
Family (Part II)
"Many houses have become more like dormitories than homes. Mealtimes are
desultory, tin-opening affairs; both parents are too exhausted to spend "quality
time" with active children; and the sense of belonging to the house and to each
other is sadly attenuated. By the time children leave home, they feel they are
not leaving very much."
The secular mind may be too
witless to notice, but to religious people the New Social Doctrines are fast
acquiring the look of a new religion. The twentieth century's great
liberationisms often feel like powerful sublimations of the religious drive, as
the innate yearning for freedom from worldly ties and the straitjacket of the
self becomes strangely transmuted into a great convulsion against restrictions
on personal freedom.
In this sense, the
politically-correct West is an intensely religious society. It has its dogmas
and theologians, its saints, martyrs and missionaries, and, with the arrival of
speech-codes on American campuses, a well-developed theory of the suppression of
Some have mused that all this is
necessary, and that human beings need certainties and causes, and that without
an orthodoxy to hold itself together the West would rapidly unravel and turn to
lawlessness. But the trouble is that the new doctrines, which are now enshrined
in legislation, school curricula and broadcasting guidelines, do not make up
either an authentic new religion, or even a sustainable substitute for one. For
religious morality, whether Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Eskimo, holds society
together with the idea that personal fulfilment is attained through the
honourable discharge of duties. The West's new religion, in absolute contrast,
teaches that it comes about through the enjoyment of rights.
Given the extremism of this
inversion, it is not surprising that the societies which it affects should be
running into difficulties. To paraphrase Conor Cruise O"Brien, the trouble with
secular social medicines is that the more they are applied, the sicker the
patient seems to become. It is certainly a blasphemy today to suggest that the
new orthodoxies have worsened our social ills rather than bringing us into a
shining and liberated utopia - but this is what has happened. And yet the
pseudo-religion is still powerful enough to ensure that the notions which have
presided over such destruction may not be subject to criticism in polite
society. Muslims are perhaps the only people left who do not care for such
One of the most characteristic
liberationisms of this century has been feminism. Divided into a myriad
tendencies, some cautious and reasoned, others wandering into unimaginable
territories of witchcraft and lesbianism, this is a movement about which few
generalisations can be made. But perhaps a good place to start is the
observation that women were the major though unintended victims of both
Victorian pre-feminist and late twentieth-century feminist values. The
disabilities suffered by wives in traditional Christian cultures, which denied
that they even existed as financial or legal entities distinct from their
husbands, may have been accepted without demur by most of them; but real
injustice and suffering was caused to those for whom the social supports were
cut away, and who found themselves in need of an independent existence. The
feminism of the suffragettes was thus a real quest for justice. It moved Western
society away from Christian tradition, and towards the Islamic norm in which a
woman is always a separate legal entity even after marriage, retaining her
property, surname, inheritance rights, and the right to initiate legal
What Muslims are less happy about
is the new feminism of the past three decades, the militantly ideologised
world-view of Friedan, Greer and Daly. These thinkers initiated a new phase by
attacking not only structural unfairnesses in society, but the most fundamental
assumptions about male and female identity. "Until the myth of the maternal
instinct is abolished, women will continue to be subjugated", wrote Simone de
Beauvoir; and similar noises could be heard from the new feminists everywhere.
In this view, the traditional association of femaleness with feminity and
maleness with manhood was biologically and morally meaningless, and was to be
attacked as the underpinning of the whole traditional edifice of "patriarchy".
At this point, people of Muslim
faith have to jump ship. The Quran and our entire theological tradition are
rooted in the awareness that the two sexes are part of the inherent polarity of
the cosmos. Everything in creation has been set up in pairs, we believe; and it
is this magnetic relationship between alternate principles which brings movement
and value into the world. Like the ancient Chinese, with their division of the
1,001 Things into Yin and Yang, the Muslims, naming phenomena with the
gender-specific Arabic of revelation, know that gender is not convention but
principle, not simple biology - but metaphysics.
Allah has ninety-nine names. Some
are Names of Majesty: such as the Compeller, the Overwhelming, the Avenger.
Others are Names of Beauty: the Gentle, the Forgiving, the Loving-Kind. The
former category are broadly associated with male virtues, and the latter with
female ones. But as all are God's perfect Names, and equally manifest the divine
perfection, neither set is superior. And the Divine Essence to which they all
resolve transcends gender. Islam has no truck with the hazardous Christian
notion that God is male (the "Father"), an assumption that has been invoked to
justify traditional Western notions of the objective superiority of the male
Islam's position is thus a nuanced
one. Metaphysically, the male and female principles are equal. It is through
their interaction that phenomena appear: all creation is thus in a sense
procreation. But justice is not necessarily served by attempting to establish a
simple parity between the principles in society "here-below". The divine names
have distinct vocations; and human gender differentiation was created for more
than simple genetic convenience. Both man and woman are God's khalifas on earth;
but in manifesting complementary aspects of the divine perfection their
"ministries" differ in key respects.
Islam's awareness that when human
nature (fitra) is cultivated rather than suppressed, men and women will incline
to different spheres of activity is of course one which provokes howls of
protest from liberals: for them it is a classic case of blasphemy. But even in
the primitive biological and utilitarian terms which are the liberals"
reference, the case for absolute identity of vocation is highly problematic.
However heavily society may brainwash women into seeking absolute parity, it
cannot ignore the reality that they have babies, and have a tendency to enjoy
looking after them. Those courageous enough to leave their careers while their
children are small increasingly have to put up with accusations of blasphemy and
heresy from society; but they persist in their belief, outrageous to the secular
mind, that mothers bring up children better than childminders, that breastmilk
is better than formula milk, and even - this as the ultimate heresy - that
bringing up a child can be more satisfying than trading bonds or driving buses.
There are already signs that women
are rebelling against the feminist orthodoxy that demands an absolute parity of
function with men, and that "dropping out" to look after a child is less
outrageous in the minds of many educated women than the media might suggest. But
much real damage has been done. The campaign to turn fathers into nurturers and
house-husbands shows little sign of success; and many houses have become more
like dormitories than homes. Mealtimes are desultory, tin-opening affairs; both
parents are too exhausted to spend "quality time" with active children; and the
sense of belonging to the house and to each other is sadly attenuated. By the
time children leave home, they feel they are not leaving very much.
In such a dismal context,
dissolution is almost logical. The stress of the two-career family is greater
than many normal people can manage. Increased income and (for some) pleasure at
work are poor compensations for the increased scope for fatigue and dispute.
Deprived of the woman's gift for warming a house, both husband and children are
made less secure. The overlap in functions provides endless room for argument.
And when the dissolution comes, it is almost always the woman who suffers most.
As an ageing lone parent, she finds that society has little interest in her. She
has joined the new class of "wives of the state".
The state, luckily, can afford to
be a polygamist. The social unravelment of modern Britain has coincided with a
massive augmentation of tax revenue. As long as the rate of social collapse does
not outstrip the annual growth in GDP there is little for politicians to worry
about. And yet the fate of literally millions of single families is a harsh one.
The case for traditional single-income families, in which women are permitted to
celebrate rather than suppress their nurturing genius, is increasingly looking
more moral than the liberals have guessed.
But the feminists are not the only
moths to have been gnawing the social fabric. There are others, some of them
even more radical. The most strident are the homosexualists, the curious but
always repulsive ideologues who are forcing on the population a dogma whose
consequences for the family are already proving lethal.
As with feminism, the theological
case against homosexuality is related to our understanding of the "dyadic"
nature of creation. Human sexuality is an incarnation of the divinely-willed
polarity of the cosmos. Male and female are complementary principles, and
sexuality is their sacramental and fecund reconciliation. Sexual activity
between members of the same sex is therefore the most extreme of all possible
violations of the natural order. Its biological sterility is the sign of its
metaphysical failure to honour the basic duality which God has used as the warp
and woof of the world.
It is true, nonetheless, that the
homosexual drive remains poorly understood. It appears as the definitive
argument against Darwinism's hypothesis of the systematic elimination over time
of anti-reproductive traits. In some cultures it is extremely rare: Wilfred
Thesiger records that in the course of his long wanderings with the Arabian
bedouins he never encountered the slightest indication of the practice. In other
societies, particularly modern urban cultures, it is very widespread. Theories
abound as to why this should be so: some researchers speculate that in
overpopulated communities the tendency represents Nature's own technique of
population control. Laboratory rats, we are told, will remain resolutely
heterosexual until disturbed by bright lights, loud noises, and extreme
overcrowding. Other scientists have speculated about the effects of "hormone
pollution" from the thousands of tonnes of estrogen released into the water
supply by users of contraceptive pills. Again, this remains without proof.
But what is increasingly suggested
by recent research is that homosexual tendencies are not always acquired, and
that some individuals are born with them as an identifiable irregularity in the
chromosomes. The implications of this for moral theology are clear: given the
Quran's insistence that human beings are responsible only for actions they have
voluntarily acquired, homosexuality as an innate disposition cannot be a sin.
It does not follow from this, of
course, that acting in accordance with such a tendency is justifiable. Similar
research has indicated that many human tendencies, including forms of criminal
behaviour, are also on occasion traceable to genetic disorders; and yet nobody
would conclude that the behaviour was therefore legitimate. Instead, we are
learning that just as God has given people differing physical and intellectual
gifts, He tests some of us by implanting moral tendencies which we must struggle
to overcome as part of our self-reform and discipline. A mental patient with an
obsessive desire to set fire to houses has been given a particular hurdle to
overcome. A man or woman with strong homosexual urges faces the same challenge.
To the religious believer, it is
unarguable that homosexual acts are a metaphysical as well as a moral crime.
Heterosexuality, with its association with conception, is the astonishing union
which leads to new life, to children, grandchildren, and an endless progeny: it
is a door to infinity. Sodomy, by absolute contrast, leads nowhere. As always,
the most extreme vice comes about when a virtue is inverted.
None of this is of interest to the
secular mind, of course, which detects no meaning in existence and hence cannot
imagine why maximum pleasure and gratification should not be the goal of human
life. The notion that we are here on earth in order to purify our souls and
experience the incomparable bliss of the divine presence is utterly alien to
most of our compatriots. And yet there is a purely secular argument against
homophilia which we can attempt to deploy.
Homosexualism represents a radical
challenge to the institution of marriage. Its propagandists will not concede the
fact, but it attacks the most vital norm of our species, which is the union of
male and female for which we are manifestly designed and which is the natural
context for the raising of children. In times such as ours, when nature is no
longer regarded as authoritative, and lifestyles are in all other respects an
abnormal departure from the way in which human beings have lived for countless
millennia, society cannot afford to believe that male-female unions are of only
relative worth. The more the alternatives proliferate, the less the norm will be
seen as sacred. Every victory for the homosexualist lobby is thus a blow struck
against that normality without which society cannot survive.
It is in the context of the
struggle to protect the family that the campaign against homosexualism becomes
most universally accessible. The screaming fanatics who "out" bishops and demand
a lowering of the "gay" age of consent are among the most bitter enemies of the
fitra, that primordial norm which, for all the diversity of the human race, has
consistently expressed itself in marriage as the natural context for the
nurturing of the new generation. That which is against the fitra is by
definition destructive: it is against humanity and against God. This awareness
needs to be reflected in legislation, which for too long has sought to
relativise the family as merely one of a range of lifestyle options. Muslims
sometimes hold that the collapse of family values in the West will serve the
interests of wider humanity. Decadence, they say, is what it has chosen and
deserves; and the inevitable implosion of its society will leave the field open
for morally-strong Islam to regain its place as the world's dominant
civilisation. The trouble with this theory is that the implosion shows no sign
of leading to total collapse. Technology and wealth allow the creation of
surveillance and social-security systems which can deal with the growing number
of casualties. There is certainly an irony in a New World Order policed by a
state which cannot keep order in Central Park after nightfall. But unless we are
foolishly optimistic, or hope for absolute totalitarianism, we cannot but be
anxious about social trends in the West. The survival of the Western family is a
question of immediate Muslim concern, and we must offer our views until the time
comes when our friends and neighbours, their doctrines broken on the anvil of
reality, are humbled enough to listen.
British convert to Islam,
Abdal-Hakim Murad, was born in 1960 in London. He was educated Cambridge
University (MA Arabic), and at al-Azhar University, the highest seat of
learning in Sunni Islam. He has studied under traditional Islamic scholars
in Cairo and Jeddah, including Shaykh Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad, and Shaykh Ismail
al-Adawi. Abdal-Hakim Murad has translated several classical Arabic works,
including Imam al-Bayhaqi's 'Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith', and 'Selections
from the Fath al-Bari'. He is also
the Trustee and Secretary of The Muslim Academic Trust and
Director of The Anglo-Muslim Fellowship for Eastern Europe.