Muslim Families and Family Therapy

By Daneshpour, Manijeh | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Muslim Families and Family Therapy


Daneshpour, Manijeh, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


Muslim immigrant families living in the United States may well come to the attention of mental health professionals. This article examines the applicability of the Anglo-American models of family therapy to Muslim immigrant families. The most significant differences in value systems between the Muslim and Anglo-American cultures is Muslim families' preference for greater connectedness, a less flexible and more hierarchical family structure, and an implicit communication style.

Systemic thinking, which deals with the pattern of relationships, is valid for all families regardless of cultural differences. However, the preferred directions of change for Muslim families need to be integrated into the assessment and goals for family therapy.

There is an increasing interest among family scholars, researchers, and therapists in understanding cultural diversity, family systems, and the impact of religious ideology on family life (Falicov, 1988; Haj-Yahia, 1995; McGoldrick, 1993; Modares, 1981; Tseng & Hsu, 1991). However, there remains a lack of information on Islamic ideology and its impact on the lives of Muslim immigrant families living in the United States.

Islam is a monotheistic religion, civilization, and way of life practiced by 1.1 billion people (Bill, 1994). Shortly after the year 2000, for the first time in history, the number of Muslims will surpass the number of Christians in the world (Bill, 1994). Islam is the religion of the majority of citizens in the Near East, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and much of northern Africa. Large numbers of people in Indonesia, Malaysia, and China also live in accordance with Islamic traditions (Fellows, 1979; Ludwig, 1989).

Muslim immigrants comprise a steadily growing group in the United States. Today there are more Muslims in America than there are Presbyterians and Episcopalians put together (Bill, 1994). These Muslim families have immigrated to the United States from many different countries with distinct cultural backgrounds. Therefore, it is difficult to make universal statements about the relationship of Muslim men and women and their attitudes about family life. Local ethnic, social, and historical factors affect the ways in which the Islamic faith is interpreted and applied. These influences determine how strict and traditional or how flexible and open the interpretation of Islam is in any given place. Most important, the attitudes of the family members toward their own ethnicity and its values and their own perception of their position in the dominant culture influence every Muslim family differently.

Despite these differences, Islamic ideology creates a fundamental link between cultures and establishes a common framework for understanding family life. Family structure, which derives from these belief systems, is predominantly patriarchal and based on the extended family. Traditions and rituals celebrating important events in both individual and family life cycles often have religious underpinnings. These religious influences foster important similarities in individual and family developmental tasks through the life cycle, reflected in the way children are socialized (Amini, 1994).

This article is an attempt to identify, discuss, and clarify some important issues for family therapists and family life educators working with Muslim immigrant families. Generally, these issues can be most clearly understood when viewed through the lens of Islamic ideology. As a native of Iran and a member of the Shi'i' sect of Islam, I have an insider perspective on Islamic ideology. Although my viewpoints might differ in some ways from those of an Orthodox Sunni Muslim, my goal is to focus on Islamic themes and premises that are common to many Muslim immigrant families regardless of their religious sects.

This article has three major goals. The first goal is to familiarize readers with the basic premises of Islamic ideology as it relates to marriage and divorce. …

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