Joint Family in Islam: Challenges and Solutions

Jan 11 - Joint Family in Islam

A joint family system is an extended clan comprising multiple hierarchical tiers of relatives with their respective spouses and children. They live under one roof, eat meals together and try to get along.

It is the elderly, who mostly prefer this system, because it alleviates their insecurities regarding age, loneliness and being excluded from their adult children’s lives.

The question of prime importance is: what does Islam say about the joint family? By the joint family we mean married children and their elderly parents living together in one house, usually with their bedrooms opening on to a common area and a shared kitchen.

Three issues that are of core importance in Islam to the traditional joint family situation, but are severely undermined by them, need to be pointed out along with scholarly views, Insha’Allah.

“The In-Law is Death”

Whilst most women endeavor to cover themselves from visitors, they dress and interact before some non-Mahram residents of the house, such as male servants or brothers-in-law, as they would before Mahrams. This practice is in complete defiance of the commands of Islam, which is evident from the Hadeeth below.

It was reported from Uqbah Ibn Aamir that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Beware of entering upon women.” A man from among the Ansar said: “O Messenger of Allah, what about the brother-in-law?” He said: “The brother-in-law is death.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

From this Hadeeth, it is clear that a married Muslim woman must observe full Hijab in the presence of her husband’s male relatives, except his father, sons from another wife or grandfathers. Included foremost in this Hijab are her husband’s brothers.

Death or its causes are something no one would take lightly. Yet, we carelessly disregard this aspect of Islam.

Etiquette of Privacy from Blood Relations Ordained in the Quran

“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)

In the aforementioned verse of the Quran, Allah (swt) commands even young children of a Muslim couple to be prevented from entering upon them in their bedrooms without prior permission, during three times – before Fajr, after Dhuhr (during siesta) and after Isha.

Contrast this to how most young Muslim couples live in a single bedroom along with their children in most joint family households. Even nocturnal conjugal relations occur in the same room, whilst children are asleep in close proximity. This cultural practice needs to be strongly condemned, because it is in clear disobedience to the Quranic injunctions.

The Right to Private Accommodation

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.

Sheikh Salih Al-Munajjid states: “Whatever meets her needs is sufficient, such as a room in good condition with a kitchen and bathroom – unless the wife has stipulated larger accommodation in her marriage contract. He (her husband) does not have the right to make her eat with any of her in-laws. The kind of accommodation provided must be commensurate with what the husband is able to provide and be suitable according to local custom (urf) and the social level of the wife.”

However, he goes on to explain, “If he is able to provide (his wife) with accommodation that is completely separate from his family, that will be better (for her). But if his parents are elderly and need him, and they have no one else to serve them, and the only way he can serve them is by living with them, then he has to do that.” (

It is better, therefore, to live in separate accommodation that allows the son to be physically near his parents and other relatives. An example of this could be two houses in the same compound or apartments that are one above the other, or at a walking distance from each other. Please note that a wife should practice patience, if she has to give up her right due to her husband’s financial constraints.

Cultural Influence

Our culture strongly supports a joint family. It expects sons to dwell with their elderly parents in their homes and financially support them, even if the latter are well-off. This belief that the elderly should be cared for by a son and his wife is inherently faulty, because it assumes that everyone has sons. What about couples with no children or those with only daughters, or the elderly who are single? Who will take care of them?

In Islam, a son and daughter are equally obliged, both financially and physically, to support aged, needy parents. No discrimination exists on this Fiqh issue, except that a daughter’s husband has more rights on her than her parents. If he allows, she may have her parents dwell in her own home to take care of them. There is nothing wrong with that.

The Ideal Living Scenario

Living as nuclear families at considerable distances from each other, physically and emotionally, is not the ideal picture for Muslim families, unless dire necessity dictates it. Our Prophet (sa) and his companions provided separate living quarters for their wives. In his last days of sickness, the Prophet (sa) was taken care of by his wives and friends, not his offspring.

There are many advantages of living near relatives, e.g., young mothers can have accessible babysitting and the sick elderly have someone nearby to provide care. Company is nearby, and this alleviates loneliness and depression. Children grow up more sociable, if they consistently meet relatives of different ages. The strict discipline of young parents, when balanced with indulgent pampering of grandparents, does wonders for a child’s self-confidence.

On the downside, living together under one roof facilitates considerable control, interference and subtle manipulation of the younger ones by the elders. Grandchildren can challenge their parents’ authority by simply throwing a tantrum before grandparents. In the worst cases, the joint family thwarts practicing Muslims’ application of Deen in their family lives; even regarding Islamic commands that are obligatory.

Dr. Hina, a lecturer and mother of a 6-year-old son has been living in a joint family since her marriage, whilst pursuing her career. She says: “The joint family has numerous advantages, such as having the house clean and the food cooked when you come home; having someone to baby-sit your child if you have to study or work long hours, and no loneliness because people are around. The disadvantages are that you are constantly told what to do and how to do it; you cannot bring up your child without others interfering, or manage your space the way you want to. Despite full efforts at observing Hijab, accidental slips keep occurring before a brother-in-law. Also, sisters-in-law visit their parents too often, causing sour relationships.”

Practical Life

Because of the soaring prices of property and rent nowadays, young newlyweds have to live in a joint family after marriage, even among non-Mahram men, despite the difficulty of maintaining Hijab. Such a scenario requires a high dose Taqwah (Allah consciousness), e.g., lowering the gaze, draping a large chador, knocking before entering rooms, avoiding mixing freely, using door locks when required and abstaining from eavesdropping or asking prying questions.

If parents want all their married sons to live under one roof, they should renovate the house in such a manner that everyone can observe the limits of Allah (swt). It does not cost much to construct two extra rooms with a kitchenette. The problem lies in giving preference to culture and familial tradition over obeying commands of religion.

Sheikh Salih advises a Muslim wife whose in-laws restrict her movement: “You should understand that your husband’s parents may make things difficult for you, because they think that you have taken away the one who is most dear to them. Therefore, you should handle this matter wisely and not be the cause of arguments or division between your husband and his parents. Rather, you should try to help your husband obey and honour his parents, and you will find the effects of that, Insha’Allah, in your own children [i.e., they will honour you in turn].” (

Such wise words need no more explanation.

Good Pickings

Can women find any good in their mothers-in-law, asks Uzma Rizvi

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law share a special bond – a bond that is sometimes difficult to come to terms with. Some have it easy and adjust with one another from day one, while others have differences that are resolved over time. Some keep bickering all their lives, and some just learn to tolerate each other’s shortcomings. So, when I was assigned this article to dig up qualities that women admire about their moms-in-law, I took it up with some reservations – Would I be opening a can of worms? Will I get any positive replies? Well, read on and find out.

When I put the question to Samira, who lives in a joint family, she was quiet for a long time, then said: “Right now I just cannot come up with any thing I admire about my mom-in-law, except that … I can say, she is time-conscious. She does not procrastinate, whether it is visiting people, doing household chores, or just going to the bazar. As for her other commendable qualities I will call you back if I can think of more.” I have not heard from her since!

Rafiqua, remembers her mother-in-law quite fondly and answered readily, “My mother-in-law expired a few years ago, but before that we had thirty years together. The thing I liked most about her was that she did a lot of Ibadah, whereas in my family I had not seen elders praying so much or so regularly. I also appreciated that although I had four daughters she never ever taunted me, like many in-laws do. Though we had our share of misunderstandings, she would always make up some how through her actions. Like she would call me for a chitchat, or would just hug me for seemingly no reason at all.”

Mahnaz gave a meaningful smile, when asked to identify some worthy characteristics of her mother-in-law, “Umm…let me think. It’s a little difficult to come up with something.” Then she admitted, “Yeah, I know one thing, she is very patient with everybody – with her husband, with her son and with me. Even if she does not like something she usually keeps quiet and shows no reaction, no matter how much it bothers her. While I, on the other hand, am impatient. Now, I have learnt that her way of keeping quiet and letting things simmer down is a real asset in maintaining peace around the house.”

Sajida lived as a newly wed bahu with her mother-in-law only for a few months, before the lady expired. “Unforgettable,” is how she describes her mother-in-law, and adds, “She was very loving. The most admirable thing about her was that she would go out of the way to help others. She would pool in money for the needy. And yes, she also had wonderful tips and hints about house-keeping and interacting with people.”

Now, that was not too difficult, was it? It just takes some effort to focus on virtues. Whenever a misunderstanding occurs, let us remind ourselves that each one of us has positive and negative traits. If we focus on the good rather than on the bad traits of others (especially close relatives), we will not only make our lives stress-free, but will also earn Allah’s pleasure.

* (Some names have been changed)