I was asked recently by a friend about Mahram’s: who counts as one and how we behave with family members who are non-mahram. This got me thinking about the issue of Mahram’s and living arrangements.
Recently my mum- and dad-in-law were staying with me, which is not a problem because dad-in-law is Mahram (he’s gone back to Pakistan today anyway). However, two of my brother-in-law’s are also staying with me, and they are not Mahram.
My youngest brother-in-law is 20 and I have been friends with him since he was about 10 and there is a lot of affection and respect between us. Now he sees me as a big sister and is very comfortable around me (in traditional Pakistani-Punjabi culture, the oldest son’s wife is like a second mother to the family and I am treated accordingly by my brother-in-laws and their wives – even though I am younger and dopier than about half of them). What is new for me is that he is now ghair-mahram. Although I still feel comfortable around him, I have to cover in front of him and really shouldn’t be alone with him, although he still feels like a kid brother. He’ll be going back to Pakistan with his mum soon, but till then it’s still a strange situation for me – this transition from little brother to stranger. I am experiencing it again, on a more intense level with my favourite cousin, the lovely Dan, who has grown up under my gaze and is now 15. We can talk about most things and he will always be my fave little bro, but he can’t come to my Eid parties or sit close to me like when he was little anymore.
My other brother-in-law lives with us permanently and is the same age as me. Here I feel that the dynamic is totally different. We don’t speak or even make eye-contact unless entirely necessary and are never ever alone together. I think this is partly because he is a very quiet person and quiet people make me nervous and partly because I have grown up without any young men around me (like male cousins) I have always been more reserved around men. His presence means that I have to dress modestly and cover my hair with a shawl at home as well as outside. The only thing that makes this easy for me is his decency and hayah (modesty). His long working hours keep him out of the house anyway, but if he finds that I am alone in the house, he will go back out to a friend’s or for a long walk until my husband or his mum are back home. Hopefully he’ll be getting married soon inshallah, so it won’t be a problem any longer as his wife will be around (I think we just have to find him one…).
Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab that the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Devil makes a third." - Ahmad and Al-Tirmidhi 3118
Sayyiduna Uqbah ibn Aamir (Radhiallaahu Anhu) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, “Beware of mixing with women” An Ansari Sahaabi enquired, “Oh Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam), what about the brother-in-law” At this, Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) replied, “The brother-in-law is death!” - Bukhari Hadith 5232; Sahih Muslim Hadith 5638.