Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: Our family has a Whatsapp thread in which we all keep in touch with each other. There are male cousins on both sides, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws etc. How can one keep participating in conversations where male cousins often jab, provoke, flirt with the female cousins/sister-in-laws on the thread?
Answer: assalamu alaykum
The Basic Ruling
In terms of having a Whatsapp group of this kind, the basic ruling is that it is not prohibited to have such a group in essence as it neither involves actual physical seclusion (khalwa) nor virtual seclusion that may lead to the impermissible.
Rather, the group you describe is composed of a number of family members, some of whom are of marriageable kin (non-mahram), such as cousins and in-laws, and others of unmarriageable kin (mahram), such as brothers, sisters, wives, husbands.
Yet, the manner of communication mentioned in the question is contrary to religious dictates. Flirtatious behavior is unacceptable. The same is the case with things like the “heart emoticons” (between other than siblings, spouses, etc.).
While our religion does not prevent people from being courteous and friendly with family members, it does prescribe guidelines regarding how gender interaction should occur, particularly when it relates to those of marriageable kin (non-mahram).
For more details on these guidelines, please see: A Reader On Gender Interaction
How to Respond
Regarding how you should respond, simply disengage when such conversations are taking place. If they do occur in the course of a conversation and you are unable to control it, simply pull back and do not be a part of it.
This does not necessarily mean that you have to leave the group entirely especially if it will cause problems between family members, but the least you should do is disengage when the conversations shifts in this direction.
It is also important here to take note of the principles governing promoting good and prohibiting that which is unacceptable. This would only be necessary if you feel that people will listen to you and your advice will not lead to a more negative consequences.
If you are reasonably sure that it will have a negative and harmful impact on others, then it is probably best to avoid advising these people.
You may, of course, try to discuss the issue in private with other family members who share the same concerns with you and then try your best to uphold a manner of conversation that is respectful, courteous, friendly, and within the limits of the religion.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani