A few decades ago the Muslim world used to pride itself on its healthy family institution, with strong family ties, and an extended family that provided moral, emotional as well as financial support. It was very common for a married couple to have over a dozen children, and the male offspring used to marry and reside in the family’s large quarters. This of course gave rise to complications such as the lack of privacy, the inability to adapt to the modern times’ evolving values and interests, as well as parents’ meddling in the young couples’ affairs. However, most people believe that the benefits of these arrangements did outweigh the costs, with children being taken care of around the clock even when mothers worked, which was typically in farming. Additionally this arrangement helped the young generations to avoid many pitfalls thanks to the wisdom of their seniors who lived within a stone’s throw.
Fast forward to the Twenty First Century where this is no longer the case, in many Muslim countries the extended family unit has disintegrated, a fact which is being blamed upon urban sprawl and a high rate of migration to foreign countries in order to escape the hardship caused by problems such as unemployment, insecurity, political instability and all types of inequity and discrimination.
In Lebanon for instance, it is very rare to meet a family whose members live in the same country; the consecutive civil wars and hostilities in the region have turned Lebanon into an exporter of human capital, with university graduates eyeing positions in the Arab Gulf from day one in their college years, and with whole families choosing to leave to the USA or Canada in order to benefit from more stable economies, as well as better social security systems. These days parents remember the efforts they made in raising their families mainly through the Internet, Viber, or WhatsApp, which is a novel way of communicating cheaply via smart phones. The high cost of airline tickets and the long travel time means that many parents do not see their children more than once every five years, if they are lucky.
It is very common nowadays for family reunions to occur at a funeral, when children who reside in foreign countries get a sudden phone call informing them of the unexpected death of a parent; they end up booking a flight in a haste to take a last look at the individual(s) who spent their lifetime raising them.
Muslims who have studied and or worked in the West are usually critical of the West’s ‘dysfunctional family’ system, with high divorce rates, neglected ‘latch key’ children, and senior citizens who live alone and perish during severe heat or cold weather spells.
‘Thanks’ to globalization the Muslim world has caught up with that trend, it now suffers from a high number of unmarried women due to the migration of those young men who survived the wars; young children are being raised by the imported house-helpers whose hiring has become a status symbol, and senior citizens are increasingly being found alone and dead in their homes, partly because it is a taboo to put one’s parent in a senior citizens’ home.