Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Extended Family

There is a Nigerian proverb that says "it takes a whole village to raise a child". Clearly pre-globalized traditional societies emphasized the role of the extended family in society. Unfortunately this role has diminished greatly, so much so that today the extended family members are strangers. Your child may not even ever meet your first cousins and their families in their whole lives -- something that was unthinkable not too long ago.

Even in the West, the extended family had a large role to play as evidenced by historical evidence. Just look at the way of life depicted in "The Waltons" or "The Little House on the Prairie". After the Second World War, focus shifted from the extended family to the nuclear family and after the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, it shifted from nuclear family to single mother households. In the 80s, the concept of the family started to changed to accept homosexual couples. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, since the 90s, there is a deliberate effort to export these values to the whole world in George Bush Senior's "New World Order". This is the culmination of ideal family structure that the West is offering the world.

I was walking with a local Pashtun guide by the dirt road after visiting the Buddhist ruins of Takht Bahi near Mardan, when from other side of the road we saw an old man approach us in rags. I asked the guide about such people in Pashtun villages and he told me that these are the people who do not have relatives. Indeed the Prophet of Allah (SWAS) has advised us to upkeep our ties of kinship to increase blessings in our provision. That day I saw this wisdom in action first hand.

There is tremendous blessings in the extended family system. You get to interact with those who have similar (yet different) background to yours and see them develop throughout their lives, in different situation and circumstances. This makes you think and understand your society better and increases you in emaan as you see the principles of life act on subjects who you understand well. It gives you a better insight where your came from and who you are. It is said that one who does not understand himself, can not truly understand the world. Thus upholding ties of kinship provides you further opportunities to contextualize your existence. The best thing is that all this happens without much effort as our hearts are naturally inclined to associate with our extended family members.

In the past important decisions always were taken after consultation with the extended family, whether it was a marriage proposal, a job offer, a career choice or a choice of name for a newborn. It was important to seek every one's opinion and consider it seriously. People used to have more tolerance and acceptance of each other, even when they had to sometimes tolerate bad behavior from each others.

Nature is made up of graduated spheres of privacy, so much so that the object-oriented computer programming paradigm that is used to model it has different scopes for different objects depending on their privacy settings. Some object classes are strictly "private". No other class can access their members. This is like the privacy one has with one's nuclear family. Some objects classes are "protected". Certain other classes (those inherited from it) can have access to its members. This is like the privacy one has with one's extended family. While some are "public" and allow full access to everyone, i.e. all of society. In reality for a Muslim, there are so many more levels -- that with one's Lord, one's spouse, one's nuclear family, one's milk siblings, one's extended family, one's tribe, one's community, one's neighborhood, one's colleagues, one's city, one's province, one's nation, other Muslims and the whole of humanity. There is an important role in every social sphere and one should not neglect any. Thus we are bound to fulfill the rights of our extended family members. Not doing so creates a unbridgeable void in one's life and personality.

Do not cut off relations with your extended family if you wish to live a balanced and wholesome life.

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