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On Joint Family System In Islam

Everyone should have a separate house and must be self-reliant and self-supporting.

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It is only by observing the limits of Allah and giving the rights of all individuals in a way it is ordained in Islam, a Muslim family can live in peace, tranquility, and harmony.

He was deeply saddened. Every member in the family turned against him. He was trying to come to terms with their rude and unethical behavior. He had been immensely supportive and most caring for the entire family and relatives since the very beginning. His contributions to the whole family failed to earn any recognition for and were further regarded worth less. His insistence on living with his spouse and kids, taking care of their needs materially and spiritually, did not seem to be fair to them. They got sarcastic about him in no time. They came up with numerous conspiracy theories, and blamed him for trying to create division among family. He tried to figure out the contributing factors behind the conflict. He could only relate it to the reality that he was a part of Joint Family. A system, which is mostly supported by elderly, rooted deeply, promulgated culturally and accepted traditionally acrosssocieties in many countries. A system, which, in spite of possessing some good aspects such as mutual trust and co-operation and union in domestic management and family life, has the potential to disturb many important aspects of Islamic society.

He was brought upon as a practicing Muslim family. A family that observed strict adherence to Islamic rulings in all matters. The whole family got educated to be dutiful to Allah, observe Islamic commands, and abstain from all kinds of evils. However, they fell well short of observing Islamic code of conduct concerning the family life. The cultural and traditional restrictions did not allow them to observe the Islamic rulings in managing family affairs. Multiple tiers of relatives with their respective spouses and children along with their elderly parents lived under one roof, ate meals together, and financially supported each other even if the one was well-off. He was always expected to be in the providing position for the whole family including brothers and their kids. It is due to this, that he never considered his income his own and thus not treated it his personal possessions. And despite others owning a considerable amount of wealth and the means to meet the expenses of their own independently, yet the parents insisted that the household’s running expenses must be covered by his monthly incomes. The insecurity on the part of the parents caused by the belief that if, too much independence given to their married sons, they will ignore them, has been the driving factor to insist on retaining their powers. The fear to lose their importance and authority in the household did not allow them to let their sons and their spouses act independently in controlling all their affairs and making all the big decisions.

The joint family system has undoubtedly benefited the families where not every member is earning and many are relying on the income of others.  This system caters to the need of households even if some of its members are unemployed, sick, and unable to learn their livelihood. However, the sad reality is that the very system causes the great harm to the family in particular and society in general. It discourages the striving and importance of earning. This is the reason we find that there are many in joint families not willing to work, rather prefer to just rely on others hard work. This makes them lazy and get discouraged to make any real efforts to earn money. Consequently, they become the burden for the family and a useless member of society. This mindset is very dangerous and has far-reaching effects on the lives of those who are hard workers. When they see that, there is no difference in terms of living standard between his family and others. While that fact is that they work hard to meet the expenses of the Joint Family, while others in the family make no efforts and all the time engage themselves in worthless things, it kills the urge to strive hard and results in hatred and enmity in the family relations and eventually leads to domestic strife in many families. The home atmosphere gradually turns in ugliness and then comes a time when separation remains the only solution.

The other serious problem generated by the system, supported by cultural practice, is the lack of privacy. Male relatives of the husband are allowed to freely enter the home without observing that there lives in the house daughter-in-law who is non-mahram to them. Thus in spite of all efforts, it simply becomes impossible for observing Hijab. The statement of one of the Muslim sisters who has been living in a joint family, demonstrates well the threatening danger of the system. “I have no choice in the matter. By now, the point has come that I am lucky if the dupatta is on my head when my brother-in-law passes by. It’s just not possible to maintain hijab when everyone is living together in such close proximity. With little children to run after, pregnancy weighing you down, having to cook on the hot stove, and laying the table with heavy crockery, how can one stay wrapped in a chador? My hijab from my husband’s brothers has dwindled to almost nothing by now.” (Sadaf Farooqi-Joint family system in Islam: challenges and solution).

Moreover, there are instances where, in most joint family households, young Muslim couples live in a single bedroom along with their children. This is in clear disobedience to the Islamic teaching (An-Nur 24:58), which commands even young children of a Muslim couple to be prevented from entering upon them in their bedrooms without prior permission.

Joint family system also does now allow its members to live independently in a separate accommodation. All married couples along with their elderly parents are supposed to live together in one house, with their bedrooms opening on to a common area and a shared kitchen. One of the reasons for this is the belief that the elderly should be taken care for by a son and his wife. This, however, does  not comply with Islamic ethics because it assumes that everyone has sons. Islam commands both son and daughter to support old parents financially and physically. There is no discrimination on this issue. However, the husband of a daughter is entitled to have more rights on her than her parents. Living together in one home undermines the very right of independence and control of husband over his family in terms of bringing up his own child, or managing space the way he wants. Taking any major step in his life without prior consultation with the elders is strongly discouraged. Elders have major say in every matter in the family. Many young couples get frustrated at the lack of privacy and control over their private life and decisions, over their children’s upbringing. The joint family thus prevents practicing the compulsory Islamic commands in their family lives. It creates ‘elderly authority’ and succumbs the family to their ‘words’.

The important question is what are the Islamic ethics on joint family?

Islam, being the final chosen religion, has provided the ideal shari’ah. Islam has primarily stressed the need to maintain the balance between the demands of body and spirit. It has provided the guidance concerning life in this world as well as life in the hereafter. The teachings of Islam are well balanced.

Islam has brought a wise system to manage the family affairs, which is very much in conformity with nature. Islam removes the basic cause of weariness by commanding that everyone is responsible for the expenses of his own dependents. No one is given the right to place the burden of his own kids, on the shoulders of other relatives. This way the evil effects of the Joint Family System are avoided; at the same time, everyone was categorically commanded to “keep the bond of relationship intact.” This prevents the tendency to self-contentedness and unfriendliness.

Islam considers spending on one’s wife and children to be one of the best kinds of spending, one of the deeds, which will bring the greatest reward. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: ‘Money you spend for the sake of Allah, the money you spend to free a slave, money you give in charity to the poor, and money you spend on your family. The greatest in reward of all of these is spending on your family.” (cited in Bukhari and Muslim books of Hadiths)

However, if he is affluent and well-to-do, then he has been emphatically enjoined to spend on other relatives if they are in need. A Muslim earns two rewards when he treats his relatives with kindness and respect: one reward for maintaining the relationship and, another reward for giving charity. This gives him a greater incentive to give to his relatives, if they are in need.

Islam does not allow the daughter-in-law to interact with non-Mahram residents of the house, such as male servants or brothers-in-law. It is evident from the Hadith below.

“Beware of entering upon women.” A man from among the Ansaar said,“O Messenger of Allaah, what do you think about the brother-in-law?” He said, “The brother-in-law is death!” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, Fath al-Baari, 9/330).

Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “What is referred to in this hadith is the husband’s relatives apart from his father and his sons, because those are mahrams for his wife and can be alone with her, so they are not described as death. What is referred to here is his brother, nephew, uncle and cousin, and others who she would be permitted to marry if she were not already married. Usually people take the matter lightly with regards to these relatives, so a brother may be alone with his brother’s wife. Thus he is likened to death, when he should be prevented from being alone with her more than a stranger should.” (Fath al-Baari, 9/331), quoted in “Dangers in the home” by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid.

Aforementioned Hadith states clearly that a married Muslim woman must observe complete Hijab in the presence of her husband’s male relatives, but his father, sons from another wife or grandfathers.

According to the commands given in the below verse of the Quran, the young children of Muslim family are not allowed to enter upon them in their bedrooms without prior permission, during three times – before Fajr, after Dhuhr (during siesta) and after Isha. Yet, the fact is that many Muslim families live in a single room along with their children.

“O you who believe! Let your legal slaves and slave-girls, and those among you who have not come to the age of puberty ask your permission (before they come to your presence) on three occasions; (i) before Fajr (morning) prayer, and (ii) while you put off your clothes for the noonday (rest), and (iii) after the Isha (late-night) prayer. (These) three times are of privacy for you, other than these times there is no sin on you or on them to move about, attending (helping) you each other. Thus Allah makes clear the Ayat (the Verses of this Quran, showing proofs for the legal aspects of permission for visits, etc.) to you. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (An-Nur 24:58)

Joint family system does not allow adherence to the important decree stipulated in the aforementioned verse.

Everyone should have a separate house and must be self-reliant and self-supporting, is evident from Surah Noor (24:61):

“There is no blame upon yourselves that you eat ( without asking permission) in your own houses or the houses of your fathers, or houses of your mothers, or the houses of your brothers, or the houses of your sisters, or the houses of your fathers’ brothers, or the houses of your fathers’ sisters, or the houses of your mothers’ brothers or the houses of your mothers’ sisters, or in houses of which the keys are in your possession, or in the house of a friend of yours.”

What needs to be done?

Maintaining a balance between extremes is the law of nature. If natural spheres of activities for man and woman, and the aims and objects of married life are understood properly, then it will be easy for Muslim families to adhere to the Islamic code concerning family affairs.

The Shariah has specified certain rights to both husband and wife. Denial of rights to any of them will certainly result in conflict and ultimately lead to the breakdown of marriage. These rights, at times, may not go down too well with certain people and cultures. Hence, it is vital for Muslims who have been affected by cultural customs and traditions to learn the injunctions of Shariah so they can taste its fruits and lead a blessed marital life.

There is no denying of the fact some Muslim couples, due to their inability to cope with mounting prices of property and rent, are compelled to live in a joint family after marriage and face the problems in adjusting to relatives especially non-Mahram men. It is very challenging, in such a scenario, to maintain Hijab. There has to be a set of rules every member of the family must adhere to it strictly. All are required to be God-fearing and observing the necessary conjunctions stipulated by Islam to deal with such situation,  e.g., lowering the gaze, covering with a loose outer garment, taking permission for entering rooms, avoiding socializing, using door locks and abstaining from joking or teasing.

And if Muslim couples are compelled due to reasons mentioned above or any others, to live in a joint family, the elders must bear the responsibility to renovate the house in a manner to provide the privacy to a daughter in law so that it becomes easy for her to observe the limits of Allah. No doubt, it requires a great deal of courage and patience and, if the intention is to obeying commands of religion, verily Al-mighty will help in finding a way out. “And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him; He will make way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah; He will suffice him.” [Surah Al-Talaaq: 2-3]

There are many families that can easily afford to build a separate portion for newly-weds. However, many willingly do not allow it to happen. There are many factors involved for not letting them do so. For some, it is lack of knowledge and others, unwillingness to follow the directives of Islam ordained for Muslim families concerning privacy and hijab among non-mahrams. Traditional influence is so profound over many that they are simply not willing to accept the fact that the husband’s brother is not a mahram.

The commonly held view among the people that it is only women who are primarily ordained to maintain Hijab is wrong. What men fail to understand is that in Islam, it is not just women who are asked to abstain from interacting with non-mahrams, rather Muslim men too are equally ordained to observe rules of hijab around women. They are not allowed to look at a non-mahram woman, nor talk to her unless necessary. They are not allowed to get along with women or even pass them without seeking permission.

Jareer ibn ‘Abdullah [may Allah be pleased with him] said: “I asked the Messenger of Allah [صلیاللہعلیہ وسلم] about an accidental glance at a woman. He commanded me to turn my gaze away.” [Al-Tirmidhi]

The Messenger of Allah [صلیاللہعلیہ وسلم] said: “O Ali [his cousin], do not follow a glance with another, for you will be forgiven for the first, but not for the second.”[Al-Tirmidhi: 2701]

Conclusion

A joint family system, in spite of possessing a set of good aspects, has offended many important aspects of Islamic society. Islam emphasizes separate domestic arrangements. Islam has given every wife the right to have a home of her own according to the standards of her own social background. All Islamic scholars are in unanimous agreement that married Muslim women are entitled to private accommodation in Islam, which preserves their privacy from their husbands’ relatives.

Shaikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid went to explain it, “Separate accommodation is the wife’s right, even if she did not stipulate it in the marriage contract, and she has the right to ask for it now, and she is not regarded as being willfully defiant because of that. The commonly held view among some people, that this is creating division among siblings, is not true, because this is a shared right of the wife, and it serves the interests of both spouses because it prevents free mixing and guards them against looking at things that are not permissible. It is unfortunate that in many shared family homes, a man may look at his brother’s wife, and they may shake hands or be alone together, which may lead to jealousy, envy, disputes, and separation. There may also be arguments because of the children. Undoubtedly a man is a stranger (non-mahram) to his brother’s wife, so it is not permissible for him to shake hands with her or be alone with her or look at her, unless he is a mahram to her through some other means, such as breastfeeding.” (Q.A.) 

It is better, therefore, to live in separate accommodation that allows the son to be physically near his parents and other relatives. However, if the parents are elderly and need care; then it is imperative for the sons to live with their parents. The spouses, in this scenario, are required to handle this matter wittily and not be the cause of division between their husband and parents. It must be borne into the mind of Muslim husband that if his wife helps to look after his parents, her action is voluntary and very commendable.

Similarly,if husband’s financial status prevents him to provide a separate accommodation, in such instances, a wife should practice patience due to her husband’s financial constraints. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah favoured the view that if the husband is poor or unable to provide separate accommodation for his wife, she does not have the right to ask for something he is unable to give. This was narrated from him in MataalibOoli al-Nuha (5/122). Rather she should bear it with patience until Allaah gives him the means

It is also to be borne into the mind, that in the event a married Muslim couple is compelled to live in a joint family for some reasons as stipulated earlier, it is mandatory for all the members in the family to learn their roles and responsibilities in order to help run the family smoothly. All family members must strive to fulfill their obligations and contribute to the fullest extent of their capacity,to the good beings of the family. There has to be no room for any member to depend entirely on the incomes of others in the family and consequently become the cause of conflict.

It is also vital for the husband to realize that his relatives do not have exclusive and commanding rights on his wife. If his parents or other relatives exercise their domination towards her to the extent that her independence is threatened, or she gets harassed emotionally, it is his duty to protect his wife’s given rights, and try every mean to restore her peace of mind, by granting her, her due.

Although it’s not that easy to row your boat in the opposite direction to which the society is moving, it’s worth going against the tides that are against the command of  Allah and the teachings of the Prophet (a). We should try our utmost to follow the footsteps of Prophet (a) rather than blindly following the traditions. It is, therefore, imperative to understand that only by observing the limits of Allah and giving the rights of all individuals in a way it is ordained in Islam, a Muslim family can live in peace, tranquility, and harmony.

References 

The Joint Family System in Islam: Challenges and Solutions

https://islamhouse.com/en/books/2824522/

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