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Joint Family System and Islam
Joint Family system is practiced on a very large scale especially in the subcontinent. It takes its roots from Hindu society. So this article specifically addresses those societies which take joint family system in the sense of good manners or social norm. Joint family system is a common practice in various countries and it implies that all members of a clan: father, son, brother, sister, uncle, nephew etc., live together. The income of the individual is not treated as his personal property, rather it belongs to the family and the expenses of all members are met by that `family income. On the contrary nuclear family system is separate family system having husband wife and their offspring.
This article discusses three parts: Shari'ah perspective about joint family system, reasons that promote joint family system, confusions about the issue and lastly, off course, some suggestions.
Actually the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet (sws) who lived in a society where joint family system was not in vogue. So unlike several other issues, on the issue of joint family system there was no any distinct or sharp revolutionize and perhaps that make the people take this subject calmly. But despite lack of this feature, Holy Quran and Holy Sunna sufficiently describe this concern. The Shari'ah describes considers the duties of the wife towards her husband. It relates the wife with her husband and not his family. All the rights of the in-laws draw from the rights of the husband. One is thus obliged to respect her mother in law more than common elderly women because she is the mother of her husband who owes greatly to his mother. This however does not mean that legally the wife is obliged to serve the whole family and sacrifice her comforts, liberty and privacy. One thing needs first to be acknowledged that I failed to find any explicit command with purpose to demonstrate joint family system as ‘Haram’ in Islam. Yes it is indecent, inappropriate and opposing to the Holy Sunnah. I think this is enough for a Muslim who wants to lead his life consistent with the replica presented by Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H). The question that how we came to know that joint family system is indecent and inappropriate has its answer here in following:
Firstly this question is answered by the following text from the Holy Quran: There is no blame upon . . . yourselves that ye 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 . . . (Qur'an, 24: 61)
Here, Quran states that it’s allowed to eat at houses of your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts etc. This is clear indication that man, after marriage, in normal circumstances live separately from their father, mother, brother and sisters. The verse (أَن تَأْكُلُوا مِن بُيُوتِكُمْ) means that they have separate house, and when you enter their house (فَإِذَا دَخَلْتُم بُيُوتًا فَسَلِّمُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ) give them greeting of peace, like we say assalamu alaikum.
In Islam, a family can take the following two shapes: a couple and their children, or a couple, their parents and their children. This definition is based on the law which defines the persons whose maintenance is your obligation: your wife, your parents, and your children. These people are your dependents, it is obligatory upon you to provide for them. It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar that he heard the Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H) say: “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler of the people is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and children and is responsible for her flock. The slave is the shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for it. Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Muslim]
Separate family system has been practiced by the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H), his Ahlu 'l-bayt (household) and his companions. We can see numerous examples in their lives which prove that they had lived separately from their extended family-members.
There was a famine in Mecca. Abu Talib, the Prophet's uncle, had many children and his means of livelihood were limited at that time. The Holy Prophet, who himself had been raised by Abu Talib, felt that his uncle was facing financial difficulties. He, therefore, suggested to his other uncle `Abbas (who was wealthy at that time) to help Abu Talib. `Abbas went with the Prophet to Abu Talib. After some discussion, they decided to share the expenses of Abu Talib's sons: ‘Ali should live with the Prophet, Ja`far with `Abbas, and `Aqil was to remain with Abu Talib. This shows that the house of the Prophet was separate from that of Abu Talib. This was so, in spite of the close relationship between Abu Talib and Prophet Muhammad.
Narrated Ibn Umar: Once the Prophet went to the house of Fatima (R.A) but did not enter it. 'Ali (R.A) came and she told him about that. When ‘Ali (R.A) asked the Prophet (P.B.U.H) about it, he said, "I saw a (multi-colored) decorated curtain on her door. I am not interested in worldly things." 'Ali (R.A) went to Fatima (R.A) and told her about it. Fatima (R.A) said, "I am ready to dispense with it in the way he suggests." The Prophet ordered her to send it to such-and-such needy people. This hadith explain us that Ali (R.A) and Fatima (R.A) lived in separate house.
Then as Islam gives hijab (parda) a main concern it cannot pull together the in-laws in the same house. Living in the same house it is more or less impracticable for a woman to observe hijab. When a women lives with in-laws in the same house there's bound to be loose talks between male and female members of the family and Islam doesn't like that. It was narrated from Uqbah Bin Amir [may Allah be pleased with him] that Allah’s Messenger (P.B.U.H) said, “Beware of entering upon women.” A man from the Ansar said, “O Messenger of Allah! What about the in-law?” He said, “The in-law is death.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim]
Husband’s male relatives, except his father, grandfather or sons from another marriage, are being likened to “death” by our Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H). It is not permissible for her to respond to their demands or to go along with their whims and desires for her to mix with them, look at them, shake hands with them and give up hijaab, because if she pleases them in this manner she will incur the wrath of her Lord. According to the explicit list of ‘Mahrams’, as stated in the Holy Quran, the sons of her husband’s brothers and sisters are not Mahrams, rather they are among the people of whom you should be extra cautious, because the Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) likened them to death. The reason behind titling them ‘death’ seems very plain as there is more fear pertaining to them than anyone else because they are able to reach the woman and be alone with her without anyone denouncing that, unlike the case of one who is a stranger.
Shaykh ‘And al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) opines that it is permissible for a woman to sit with her husband’s brothers or cousins, etc., if she is wearing complete shar’i hijaab, which means covering her face, hair and entire body, because she is ‘awrah and fitnah. That is if there is nothing dubious about the gathering. But if the crowd is one in which there is something hesitant, then it is not allowed, such as sitting with them in order to listen to singing and musical instruments, etc. Sharh Muslim, 14/154
Islam even suggests that if a man has more than one wife, then he have to provide separate dwelling to each of his wives. This is manifest from Sunnah of Prophet (P.B.U.H) and practice of his companions.
Now we talk about despite all these clear knowledge what are the reasons that made the joint family system promote in the society. These reasons are several and among these all the most important is that the Joint Family System is taken as a very good example of humanism, benevolence, mutual trust and co-operation. Even if a woman demands for separate house it is taken as morally wrong and indecent in the families.
Moreover, this system ensures that those family members who, for any reason, are incapable to earn their living do not face hardship and thus are spared humiliation.
Then some people think that in Islam it has strongly emphasized on the issue of silatu 'r-rahm (keeping the bond of relationship intact) thus promoting the virtue of helping the relatives which we may have, they say, only living in joint family system and not in nuclear system.
Sometimes the idea of joint family is a result of bad economic conditions, and owing to affordability of separate house.
Seeing all these excuses I would say that it is totally wrong assessment about the issue. We see that the Islam provides such a highway that makes us feel the sweet smell of both the family systems: nuclear and joint, without having us to bear the hardships of either system. For example take the example of Hazrat Ali (R.A) AND Hazrat Fatima (R.A). This example showed two things. Firstly, Ali and Fatima lived in separate house. Secondly, the Parents give naseeha (advise) to their children, and children obey good advice of their parents even living in separate house. Meaning thereby living in separate house by no means proves to be disconnected by blood relations. Same is the case with the people incapable of earning. We can easily financially help them out living in separate houses as in the case of Abu Talib wee see the great example of silatu 'r-rahm.
Man is financially responsible for his dependants that include his wife, or wives in case he has more than one, children, father, and mother. However, he is not financially responsible for other members of his extended family or tribe, including his sibling. Although he can provide financial aid to his siblings or other relatives but it is not obligatory to him.
As far as the affordability of separate houses is concerned, 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 Mataalib Ooli al-Nuha (5/122). Rather she should bear it with patience until Allah gives him the means.
Family is a family. If it has been molded with love, respect, care, obedience, tolerance and compromise, I tell you, your house turns into home and homes turns into heaven.
Now a question arises in the mind about the parents. Say a couple has three sons and after the marriage of all three they are to live in separate houses, then what about the parents? Off course the parents may live with one and not with all. Then with whom they will live? The answer is very simple. The parents have great right upon their children more than anyone else. It is obligatory to all the children to do all, off course within the limits of Islam, what pleases them. I must state the obvious fact that children have ultimate responsibility to be kind and obedient to their parents, and look after them when they are old. So it is upon the parents whether they want to live separately or when and with whom they want to live, must be welcomed by the children. Allah Almighty says: 17:23 And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.
Now supposing that I have made obvious all the points on the matter of joint family system, I want you know the consequences or draw becks of having it. Firstly this creates serious conflict of interest between the new wife and current residents of the house as after the marriage, it is woman's right to run affairs of her husband's house. This is evident from Sunnah of Prophet (P.B.U.H) and practice of Sahaba. Joint family system has embedded with it interferences into each other's matter, and abuse of rights. In such system the wife is at a natural disadvantage because the husband remains with the people who are his family and gets a lot of moral support whereas the wife has to make all the adjustments with too much scrutiny.
Whenever we create even a little distance from the holy teachings of Islam, we beset with the several troubles and hardships. A Muslim is a person who believes, accepts and practices all that is within the parameters of a book starting from Alif-laam-meem and ending at Wanaas. We can’t be the true believers until and unless we consider the Prophet’s advice over and above even our own logic or common sense.