Somaya Abdullah recently completed her doctoral degree titled “Developmental Social Welfare and Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Kinship Care of Muslim Older Persons in South Africa” under the supervision of Prof Leila Patel.
She researched the kinship care of Muslim older persons as an indigenous practice in South Africa in relation to developmental social welfare in the country.
In her research older persons and their caregivers from ten intergenerational Muslim families in Cape Town were interviewed about their experiences of kinship care. She notes that kinship care is a preferred model of care as it reinforces intergenerational solidarity over generations, while institutional care is viewed negatively as it challenges the Islamic worldview of the care of older persons.
The mutual benefits of intergenerational living are articulated by one of the participants from a middle-income household, who explains how grandparents are able to support working adult children and care of grandchildren: “There’s a lot of benefits [referring to intergenerational living], because, I mean, you know, there is always someone at home. My dad and my parents they are both very independent. They drive, both of them. So they are always fetching and carrying. And they have no difficulty with, you know, going and shopping and doing all of those type of things. And so they are hugely [beneficial] for us. And just generally there is a whole range of things that they take care of. Enables me to come to work. [That is] hugely beneficial. You know, I think there is a lot of value in it.”
Some responses suggested that institutional care is a betrayal of the parent–child reciprocity which Islam emphasizes, that it is disregard of God’s commands, and that it is abandonment and neglect. An older person expressed her view thus: “If my children will put me in the old age home, I will smack them, because I did carry you for nine months, and now you put me away. No! And whoever is there, I feel sorry for that children of that parents. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) [may Allah be praised] is going to ask them, “Why did you put your parents there? Why don’t you look yourself after them? When you was born, who was looking after you? Who wiped your nose? Who?” No, that is not on.”
Religion and the country’s poor socioeconomic conditions were found to be central drivers in reinforcing these care arrangements in the home and in the community. On the basis of religion, the participants embraced their role seeing it as fulfilling a religiously ordained duty. But these conditions also impacted on caregivers and the older persons themselves, who functioned without adequate support services to ameliorate care burdens, especially for women who are the main providers of unpaid care work.
The findings of the research revealed that among Muslim families, kinship care functions as mutual intergenerational relationships that serve survival and adaptive functions. Family preservation and survival based on reciprocity, mutual support and the authoritative role of older persons in the family characterises this environment. In these arrangements, older persons play a vital role in upholding the well-being of the family rather than being recipients of care alone. Kinship care is a preferred model of care as it reinforces intergenerational solidarity over generations, while institutional care is viewed negatively as it challenges the Islamic worldview of the care of older persons. Religion and the country’s poor socioeconomic conditions were found to be central drivers in reinforcing these care arrangements in the home and in the community.
For developmental social welfare to be successful in respect of the Muslim community, the state will have to make concerted efforts to integrate appropriate indigenous care models and support services into its policies and practice. The study concludes with identifying a model of kinship care with practice principles to facilitate this outcome. Intergenerational households and extended families are the main family type in South Africa. Accordingly, the study provides insights that could inform formal social and welfare policies related to indigenous and cultural systems in general, and indigenous models of kinship care in South Africa that is poorly understood. Its relevance extends further to Africa, to Muslim communities globally and the Global South due to the high prevalence of religious and culturally endorsed kinship care systems of older persons in these contexts.