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Family Life

The Extended Family

Then our family, and this is my eighth point, our Muslim family is an extended family, it is not a nuclear family though the nuclear family is quite fashionable . We said that the nuclear family, forgive me for using this term and playing on the term nuclear and fission, the nuclear family consisting only of husband, wife and children does not have the resources, the human resources, the wisdom resources, the friendly resources that the extended family brings to the scene. This tendency, unfortunately is gripping the whole Muslim world and I would not be surprised to see it gripping the Muslim population of England, Europe and America as well, that every person who gets married wants to go and live in a flat of his own, avoiding his relatives, immediate or distant.

This is a terrible development, this is the Westernisation and the corruption that we are subjected to, that we are undergoing in our lives in the West, and we should resist it. We should resist it for several reasons. The Shari'ah has prescribed for us who is our dependent and who is not our dependant, who is our heir and who is not our heir and therefore, to the extent that the Shari'ah has done this, then those people who inherit from us and who are our dependants must live together. We must eat together from the same kitchen and live as far as possible in the same home.

We, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our grandparents, our cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces and so forth, because these constitute the extended family of Islam. Now the extended family of Islam is the noblest, the greatest, the most valuable social institution that the world has ever seen. By going nuclear, that is to say by going individualistic, Western society has lost all these values and they are suffering terribly.

Let me point out to you a few of those consequences. Because we live with our parents and our elders, we love them, they have brought us up, they have played with us when we were young, they have told us stories, they were patient with us and they have educated us, guided us, advised us, so we love them because we are in constant communion with them. However, in the Western case, there is alienation and a strangeness because as soon as the youth period is past, the children strike out on their own and the result is that when the parents become old, there is no respect for them; they end their days pining for their children in old folks' homes or the nursing homes for old people.

There could not be a more cruel death for anyone than that of being taken to the old folks' home to die slowly, away from his own progeny, from his own dependants and there could not be a worse fate for any man or woman than to be deprived of the relationship and affection of their own children. But you see, respect for elders has to be cultivated and it will not be cultivated by separation, hence this is the great benefit of the Muslim extended family. Secondly, the extended family permits no generation gap among Muslims. In the same family there are babies, teenagers, adults and elders, maybe elders of the first level and elders even of the second level and, since they live together, they are in constant communion with one another; this is precisely the socialisation, the acculturation that the sociologists are talking about and are pleading for, and yet the nuclear family makes it impossible.

This is why acculturation and socialisation have to be obtained in the drug store, through the television screen or through one's peers in the schools, but then this is not acculturation, this is not socialisation. This is demagogisation, if the term can be used. Acculturation and socialisation means the passing on from one generation to another of norms, of social norms, of social values. It does not mean a group of people coming together Ad hoc in order to have fun. That is not socialisation, that is not acculturation, and where in the Western society can this process take place anyway?

This is why Western society today is so radically different from Western society of yesterday, and this is why the old values of Western society do not obtain today and why there is no continuity. On the Islamic side, because of the extended family, there is no such generation gap. Thirdly, a great consequence of the extended family is the fact that considering that human beings are social animals, as the philosophers used to say, they need company, they need solace. I need somebody with whom to love sometime and I need somebody with whom to play sometime. I need somebody with whom to complain sometime and I need somebody with whom to cry sometime. Now where else but in the extended family can I find that somebody? Now if I do not have the extended family, if I do not give vent to these pent-up emotions, these emotions will build up in me and make me insane, make me crazy, they will make me take to drugs, to alcohol, to running after other women outside the home.

A nuclear family endangers that sanity and opens the door to all kinds of maladjustments. Another consequence of the extended family is that we learn to be loyal to a group, we learn to be altruistic, we learn to give our emotions, our love, loyalty and fidelity to a group that is, of course, the microcosm of the Ummah, in other words, to defeatour individualism. All of us are individualists, this is something inside us, it is an instinct. We are all advocates, everybody wants to promote himself and fill his own tummy and so on and so forth. This is natural, Allah has put that inside us, but Allah has also planted us in an extended family in order to curb those instincts, to discipline them. In fact, to make something good come out of them instead of the egotistic pursuit which brings ruin. Without the extended family there can be no Ummah because there can be no Ummatic feeling bred in themembers and the result would be dissolution, and this is exactly what we are seeing in the Western family and in Western society.

Western society today is built upon individuals and upon egotism, everybody wants his own thing, his own pleasure, to pursue his own interests, and nobody is willing to adjust and sacrifice and co-operate with another and this is why the society is falling apart. And to bring a Western person into an extended family and to let him experience what we experience in the extended family situation is undoubtedly, if he or she has any measure of sensitivity, to convert them to Islam, to make them one to that kind of relaxation, that kind of thirst that is enjoyed by the Muslim who is living in an extended family.