A Look into our Islamic Ethics among Relatives

Family is not an important thing. It’s Everything!

Outline

Introduction

Alhamdulillah infinitely, all praise is due to Allah. All thanks are for Allah. All good is in the Good Hands of Allah. All affairs shall be returned to Allah. No god but Allah. We seek His Forgiveness at all time; and to Him alone we repent. May His Peace and Blessings be upon Habibi Muhammad, His family members, his companions and all those who follow his guided path.

My article today comes to discuss social etiquettes that should be observed among relatives, regardless of how close they may be to us, or how far our relationship may be determined to be.

First, let’s look at the role of religion and culture, and their impacts on bonding among relatives.

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Role of Religion and Culture in Bonding Among Relatives

Islam as a religion, it has always reserved high regards to cultures among Muslims from different backgrounds, provided the costumes of such cultures do not contradict with the fundamentals of the religion. Thus, when Sayyiduna Muhammad was chosen and sent as Prophet to mankind and to the Jinn alike, he endorsed some cultural practices in the society he lived in, by allowing the people to continue practising them. However, some cultural practices were replaced, especially when they contradicted with fundamentals. Some of the known reasons why some cultural practices were replaced, to mention two, are:

  • The practice contradicts with fundamental belief in Islam, i.e., slaughtering for gods and prostrating for other creatures.
  • The practice may lead to social problems, in the long term, i.e., a man marrying two sisters at the same time, or marrying a lady and her aunty at a time.

It’s known in many societies and cultures, including that of Africa, where I come from, that relatives such as cousins, nephews and nieces are considered and treated at the same par as our biological siblings or children. This happens, although most of the time, we are aware of the right positions of our (above mentioned) relatives, when it comes to religion.

As we acknowledge the rulings of the Islam with this regard, we tend to use “culture” as an excuse to break clear religious rules, when it comes to interacting with relatives.

As far as Islamic social ethics (adab) when interacting with relatives is concerned, Islam has taught us to put people, relatives especially, according to their respective positions and we should respect them accordingly. For example, our treatment towards our parents differs from our treatment to our spouses. In fact, our treatment to spouses has to be different from our treatment to our children. Our treatment to our children shouldn’t be the same as that to our friends and colleagues. If rules of interactions among immediate family members can differ as such, what more when it comes to relatives? The common ground for each of the above mentioned are respect and love, but the procedures and protocols still vary.

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Who Are Our Relatives?

Man’s family relations start with his parents, at time of birth, and it then automatically extends to his grandparents, aunties and uncles. It will then connect with his cousins, nephews and nieces who were born before he was. Later in future, he expands his territory of family to invite in his spouse, and subsequently make children. The latter family members become his closed related members as time goes on.

This means, anyone, with whom we share biological blood or to whom we relate to by marriage, is our relative. In addition to those, anyone we shared the same breastfeeding with, is also our relative. But some relatives can be closer to us, more than others can be. Some although they are relatives they can be married to, such as cousins. Others, once they are relatives, they can’t be married, such as siblings, aunties, and mothers in-law. The latter is called ‘Mahram’ when they are of opposite gender.

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Who Are Our Mahram?

Mahram is the one, who Islam forbids one from getting marriage to, due to blood relation or due to being mother, brother or sister of lactation. Anyone who falls under the following relatives from the opposite gender is a Mahram:

  • Parent (father to daughter or mother to son).
  • Child (son to mother or daughter to father).
  • Sibling (brother to sister or vice versa).
  • Aunty or Uncle (but not cousins)
  • Grandparent (grandfather to granddaughter or grandmother to grandson).
  • Grandchild (grandson to grandmother or granddaughter to grandfather).
  • Mother of lactation (including father of lactation, brother or sister of lactation).

Bottom line: Mahram is a God-given family member whom we need to cherish. Mahram can’t be obtained with money or by charity.

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Etiquettes of Dealing with Relatives

No matter how close we are to someone, there must be mutual respect between us. When the respect comes from one side, this indicates that the two parties will not get along for long.

Rasulullah, s.a.w. is our role model in this. Everyone loved and respected him so much; in return, he, s.a.w. exchanged everyone with love and respect, regardless of their age or social ranking.

Therefore, it’s important that we are conscious and respectful to our relatives, even if they are the most informal (closed) to us. Informality reflects on how much you love and trust the person, and it shouldn’t drop the respect we have for them.

A parent is required to separate their children who are 10 years or older, when they go to bed. They may share the same bedroom, but let them realize the ethics of sharing bedrooms. If they are of opposite gender, it’s better to separate them in rooms.

Rasulullah s.a.w. said in a Hadeeth narrated by Imam Abu Dawud, authenticated by Shaikh Al-Albany, which says:

مُرُوا أَوْلادَكُمْ بِالصَّلاةِ وَهُمْ أَبْنَاءُ سَبْعِ سِنِينَ، وَاضْرِبُوهُمْ عَلَيْهَا وَهُمْ أَبْنَاءُ عَشْرٍ، وَفَرِّقُوا بَيْنَهُمْ فِي المَضَاجِعِ

It means, “Instruct your children to establish Solat, when they are seven years old, and discipline them for it, when they are ten years old, and separate them in bed.”

This is if they are siblings. What more if they just relatives?

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The Muslim’s Dress Code!

Here, I won’t discuss how one should dress when they are alone. Although the one who is constant conscious of being in the company of Allah (at all time) would be mindful of how they dress even when they are alone, it’s still flexible to dress the way you deem fit, when you are alone. But this flexibility is only applicable when one is alone, to emphasise!

Other than that, a Muslim is expected to be mindful of their dress code once they are with any family member, except with spouses. This is emphasized as such among relatives. What more with non-relatives or friends, or when in public?

Now, comes the question; “How does one behave among his relatives?” How we dress determine how we behave, regardless of where we are. If one chooses to wear shorts (boxer, for instance) in front of his family members, the chances are; they are likely to be shouting and jumping around. When we give consideration to the ‘aurah’ and ensure that our ‘aurah’ is covered at all times, this consciousness will lead us to behave, respect, to be sensitive when we are with our family members.

A good behaviour when with relatives reflects when we are in public, too.

A male is required to cover his ‘aurah’ even in front of his relatives, except his spouse. The ‘aurah’ of a male in Islam is between the navel and the knees inclusive of both parts (navel and knees).

A female is required to cover all her body except her face and hands (palms), when she is in the presence of outsiders. (An outsider to a female in Islam is anyone who can marry her; this includes cousins, but not nieces and nephews). She is allowed to put off her head scarf in the presence of any of her ‘Mahram’ (A ‘Mahram’ to a female in Islam, is anyone who can’t marry her, i.e. a father (or grandfather), a son (or grandson), a brother (or nephew), an uncle or a brother by lactation. This ruling (the ruling of putting off the head scarf) applies only when there is no ‘fitnah’ is suspected among relatives.

A Muslim’s (male or female) dress should be modest, not tight nor transparent. It shouldn’t shape the body parts nor should it attract sexual desire.

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What if a Mahram is a Potential Cause of Fitnah?

If a Mahram is seen to pose some ‘fitnah’ (sexual harassment) towards their own family member, it will be wise to monitor the person as possible, and to ensure that they are not left alone with the potential victim without the presence of relevant family members, in any circumstance. People of such behaviour need psychological help, because they have the tendency of creating more social problems.

This being said, it’s important that we note, that sexual harassment doesn’t necessarily come from one specific gender. It can be initiated by any gender, and the victim could be any gender. This is because both genders are equipped with mutual feelings.

There are several cases, in various societies, from different continents where babies were born to fathers who are also the biological grandfathers of those babies. Similarly, some babies were born to fathers, who were supposed to be uncles to those babies.

They say, “Prevention is better than cure”. I agree!

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The Elderly Woman in Islam

An elderly lady is exempted from putting on her outer clothing, provided she does not reveal her adornments. However, it’s still better for her to protect herself with the standard modest outfit. This been said, the privilege and the flexibility granted to her don’t make her a Mahram to anyone other than her own God-given Mahrams.

وَالْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ اللَّاتِي لَا يَرْجُونَ نِكَاحًا فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن يَضَعْنَ ثِيَابَهُنَّ غَيْرَ مُتَبَرِّجَاتٍ بِزِينَةٍ، وَأَن يَسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُنَّ، وَاللَّـهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

It means, “There is no blame on elderly women who are past the age of marriage, if they take off their outer clothing, without revealing their adornments. But it would be better for them to guard themselves. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” [Surah Al-Nour, 24:60].

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Treating an Old Lady as One’s Mum

In Islamic context, one may be blessed with two types of mums, with whom they become Mahram to each other, and the relationship between them become informal. These two types of mums are:

  • Our biological mums; and
  • Our mums of lactation

A mum of lactation is the one who breastfed a child who is not her biological child. A breastfeed that can make a child a Mahram to a woman is the breastfeed that a child needs in order to survive. This is mostly in the first two years of the child’s age. In other words, a child who no longer needs breastfeed, and can depend on solid food can’t be a Mahram to a lady even if she breastfeeds him for as long as a year, because, the objective of breastfeeding is not met.

Thus, one may come across a lady whom he may treat and call mum, but that never break the barriers which are set by Islam, under any circumstances, unless she had breastfed him in his childhood when he was less than two years old. Or unless she is applying the flexibility given to elderly women who have passed marriage age, as outlined in the verse above.

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Shaking Hands With Our Relatives From the Opposite Gender

Shaking hands is done to show respect to the person with whom we shake hands, or to create bond with the person. As far as Islam is concerned, unless the relative we are shaking hands with, is a Mahram, we are not advised to shake hands with them. This is similar to the rule of shaking hands with a stranger from the opposite gender.

Refraining from shaking hands with people from the opposite gender doesn’t equal to being disrespectful towards them. In fact, warm handshake doesn’t necessarily mean been respectful. In between the two scenarios, one can choose to be respectful, sincere, honest or a person with double standards (hypocrisy) or a hidden agenda.

A quick reflection in Bollywood movies tells us that the Indians (in their cultural movies or in movies that portray the Indian tradition) don’t shake hands with the opposite gender, unless they are relatives. Young relatives hug older and respected relatives instead of handshake. People from the opposite gender greet each other by bringing together their hands, up to their face (with fingers up) to show their respect.

The moral of the story is that, handshake may not be a fundamental gesture of showing respect.

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Are Engaged Couples Relatives?

A Muslim relates to people of the opposite gender from outside their family through legal marriage. Marriage takes place when the right Islamic rituals are done and the couple is announced as married couple. Engagement is not an official announcement for marriage. It rather a mere sign of reservation.

Therefore, engaged couples (who have reserved one another for legal marriage) are not family yet. They are likewise not siblings, they are not relatives. So, hugs, kisses, physical body touch, dating, outing and the unknowns can are only allowed after they are officially (Islamically) married, and not before.

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What About Emergency Cases?

Emergency cases are the most unwanted situations in every human’s life. During emergency, greater loss may occur and lives become more precious. In situations like that, incidents and scenarios are dealt with according to their respective circumstances.

For instance, when a pregnant Muslim lady needs to deliver, and there are no female doctors to attend to her, but males, in this case, considering the emergency situation, not only a Muslim male doctor can help, even a non-Muslim male doctor can be of assistance.

Another scenario is where a Muslim female looses her consciousness and needs to be held and carried, in a situation where there are no physically abled females to help. In cases like this, a male (preferably Muslim) is allowed to come in and help.

Emergency situations are when we handle “life or death” matters. Emergency case is not when we think of convenience, and nothing more than conveniences.

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Conclusion

No matter how man is used to dealing with women, he never loses his sexual desire, unless he’s not a man. No matter how woman is used to dealing with men, she never loses her sexual desire, unless she’s not fit. This is human nature.

The fact that one has desire for food from the moment they are born, till the moment their soul parts their body, they also have the desire for sexual affection (not necessarily sexual intercourse) from the moment they are matured, till the moment they pass marriage period (for ladies), and men are forever in need of that.

Let’s not laugh at ourselves, by blindly adopting the values that other cultures or religions are trying their best to find solutions for, due to its negative implications that have separated families, and have caused immorality among growing individuals.

Man without religion is at loss. Religion was introduced to us, to guide us and nurture us. This is simply because the fundamental teachings of the religion come from the One Who knows our private and open.

Family members and relatives are God-give. None of us chose the other, so we should celebrate one other, but with religious guidelines in mind.

May Allah guide us, preserve our Deen and religion. Ameen.

In my next article, we’ll learn how to quit from the ‘secret habit’. Stay tuned!

If you find this article useful, kindly share it with your Muslim brothers and sisters, for someone may be guided, because of your sharing. And you’ll be rewarded equally to their righteousness.

Allah knows best.
Allahu Hafiz 🙂

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