Extended Family System In Pakistani Society

Extended Family System In Pakistani Society

A past drawn from the Indian subcontinent has affected our present mindsets and lifestyles in incalculable ways. Merging of customs and traditions is not something undesired, but when it goes beyond the line drawn by religion, it gets exploited. Out of such traditions, still alive in the Muslim community of Pakistan is the extended or joint family system. Surprisingly, most people take it as a good manner and norm that strengthens family bonds. But on the grounds of reality, it rather weakens relations and is in denial of Islamic law (shari’ah).

As an extended or joint family is one in which all members of a clan i.e. parents, brothers, sisters, their spouses and their children live together under one roof, it derives its roots from Hindu mythology and culture. Islam has neither encouraged a joint family system nor has the joint family system been practiced by any of its cohorts during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet (pbuh) did not have his parents around during his adulthood nor did he have any son who would marry and raise a family, so most of the examples reagrding the matter have been extracted from the lives of Ahl’ul bay’t and Companions. However, the Holy Quran is quite certain about married family members having separate households, as in Surah Al- Nur, Verse 61 Allah (SWT) says:

“And there is no restriction on the sick nor on any one of you, that you eat in the houses of your children or the houses of your fathers, or the houses of your mothers or the houses of your brothers, or the houses of your sisters or the houses of your uncles or the houses of your paternal aunts, or the houses of your maternal uncles, or the houses of your maternal aunts, or from those places of which the keys are in your possession or , from the house of your friend. There is no blame upon you whether you eat together or separately.”

These words depict that the Quran emphasizes on having separate houses and budget systems for all family members once they are married. Hence, Islam points towards two family structures: either living as a married couple with unmarried children or as a married couple with their parents and children. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also lived separately from his uncles. Thirty-five years after the Prophet’s birth, Makkah faced a serious famine and it became hard for Abu Talib to raise children properly. The Prophet (pbuh) realized his problem and discussed it with his second uncle, Abbas who was more affluent and living more comfortably at that time. After conversing with Abu Talib, they decided that one of the sons would live with his uncle, Abbas, another with the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the third would remain with his father Abu Talib. This is an evidence of living in separate houses from the life of Prophet (pbuh) and his uncles.

According to the Islamic law, a woman may be expected to do good to her husband to whom she is directly linked but she is not supposed to sacrifice her comfort for the sake of her in-laws. It is neither demanded by Allah (SWT) nor by the Holy Prophet (pbuh). If she is reluctant to live with her husband’s family (including his parents or unmarried siblings), it is forbidden for the husband to keep her with them. One of the basic necessities that a Muslim husband is bound to fulfil is a separate home for his wife and children.

The element of pardah is also a consideration here as it is illegal for a woman to live with male in-laws. A joint family system makes it quite difficult to maintain privacy as it facilitates the mixed gatherings of male and female family members. In this context, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said to men,

“Beware of entering upon women.” A man from the Ansar said, “O Messenger of Allah! What about Al-Hamu the in-laws of the wife (the brothers of her husband or his nephews etc.)?” He replied, “The in-laws of wife are death itself.”
(Sahih Al- Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62 (Kitaab ul Nikah, Wedlock), Hadith no. 159, Narration of Uqba bin Amir).

Living with the married siblings of the husband is also out of question, however, living with the parents of the husband is allowed as Islam suggests that women treat the husband’s parents as her own. But if the wife is not willing to live with them, time to be given to them and their finances must be provided by the son at their separate doorstep or setup which may be a step away but is still apart. A point to be kept in mind here is that living in separate houses does not imply the negation of love and respect. Rather, it becomes a means to deal with them fairly and peacefully.

A joint family system and disputes with in-laws constitute as major causes of a high divorce rate in Pakistan. Women, already oppressed in this male-dominated society, rarely dare to talk about a nuclear family system, since “the norm of joint family system is more common”[1] in Pakistan even at the cost of peace and welfare of the family itself. The worst part is that this norm is given religious cover, which most people are unaware of.



[1] Muslim Backward Classes: A sociological perspective; By Azra Khanum


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Waiza Rafique

Author: Waiza Rafique

The writer is a practicing Lawyer and can be reached at [email protected]