Unlocking Horns – Conflict Resolution


Are you a member of the younger or middle generation, struggling to handle family and/or marriage-related problems resulting from familial ‘interference’ in your life?

The first thing to remember is that no matter what your elderly parents do, you have to honour them as much as possible and be patient with them. Never rebuke or snap at them. It is equally important to remember that, as Muslims, pointing out and stopping their injustices is also an obligation. Here are some tips to help you towards effective conflict resolution:

(1) If your parents or other family elders do something that causes chronic anger, hurt feelings or discord between you and your spouse, follow the method of arbitration, as outlined by the Quran (4:35), and request a trustworthy, Allah-fearing and sincere mutual relative to intercede on your behalf and convey to them your points of concern and complain. The most common issues, based on my limited experience, because of which the need for such arbitration might arise are: elderly parents giving blatant preference to daughters over daughters-in-law in terms of love, attention and treatment meted out to grandchildren; interference, manipulation and control that exceeds the boundaries of privacy and independence, especially in how and where the sons’ money is spent; coercing one married son to live with them in their house, but allowing the other sons to live as nuclear families; dictating the Tarbiyah of grandchildren, and so on.

(2) Contact a religious scholar and ask them to advise your elders. This might backfire, as your parents or parents-in-law might feel insulted or humiliated before a religious authority. As an alternative, write a letter to your elders, and/or print out relevant Fatawa by scholars to let them know how their actions are wrong in the eyes of Allah (swt). This method should be used especially for those elders, who unapologetically commit actions that are Haram (such as lying, Gheebah (backbiting) and slander), and who become very defensive in person, continuing to argue and answer back, until their adult child is silenced into grudging submission.

(3) If arbitration and writing doesn’t work, and your parents or parents-in-law continue injustice or any other action that is a sin in Islam, use the rights, freedoms and independence that Allah (swt) has afforded you through His Deen to incorporate a temporary distancing from them or a moderation of visits or interaction that will prevent further discord. Please note: this solution should be employed only in cases of necessity, when the level of marital discord between a husband and wife due to family interference has reached a ‘red-flag’ level (i.e., divorce or separation is imminent), or when a person starts to suffer extreme mental distress or depression because of the actions of their parents or parents-in-law.

(4) If nothing else seems to work, pray to Allah (swt) for guidance and relief. Acknowledge that this is a test from Allah (swt) and be patient. For the men, who find themselves sandwiched between their parents and wives/children – take this as your training to ‘become a man’ and learn to juggle/balance both sides of your family with tact and diplomacy.

Often bring to mind the tremendous debt you owe your parents for raising you. Never forget the Ihsan they have done towards you, which you will never be able to repay.

Recalling the way they tolerated your mischief throughout your childhood will soften your heart towards them and help you overlook their injustice, Insha’Allah!

Beautiful Weaves – Relations with In-Laws

Beautiful Weaves

The Man Who Marries – The Most Critical Player

In a Muslim household, the man of the house is the Ameer (leader). He is the shepherd, who will be held accountable for his flock. He is their leader; he knows them, nurtures them and trains them to become effective members of the Ummah socially, physically, emotionally, mentally and, most significantly, spiritually.

Consider a household in which a set of parents just got their son married. The entire family lives together under one roof. Who will be the Ameer of this family: the father or the son? Until now, it was the father, of course, but now, after their son has wedded, he needs to become the Ameer for his own family as per Islam’s demand. His wife and his offspring to be born will be his responsibility all the way.

The greatest problem that joint family setups and over-protective parenting of today poses is that the man, who is married, hasn’t grown up to be a man. He is clueless about his role, obviously untrained, living in the shadows of his parents and sometimes even financially dependent. This automatically spells disaster. If he has no vision for himself, his wife or the family to come, he will not be granted any freedom to take his decisions either.

He will be an easy prey to manipulation from either side, be it his wife or his parents. Since he will have little courage to stand up for anyone’s rights, he will be controlled. This man will never be able to do justice with any of his relations, because he will eventually tilt towards the oppressor. The oppressed may be the parents or his wife and family.

If boys can go through vigorous and multiple years of academic education and career counselling, why aren’t they prepared for such a pivotal role of their life that will determine their eternity: hell or heaven? And if this sounds too dramatic for you, read on:

“And those who break the Covenant of Allah, after its ratification, and sever that which Allah has commanded to be joined (i.e. they sever the bond of kinship and are not good to their relatives), and work mischief in the land, on them is the curse (i.e. they will be far away from Allah’s mercy), and for them is the unhappy evil home (i.e. Hell).” (Ar-Rad 13:25)

It is the effectiveness of this role as an Ameer that defines a man’s success and place in his family. If he is able to provide financially, decide wisely, love empathetically, forgive patiently and, above all, treat everyone justly, he will command everybody’s respect and earn Allah’s (swt) mercy, too.

The best means to train yourself is to seek guidance from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (sa). Parents of boys should offer to them opportunities for taking decisions; it doesn’t matter whether they are wrong or right. They should be encouraged to learn conflict resolution skills. Parents can discuss varied scenarios from home, school, workplace, market and elsewhere and invite them to analyze situations and resolve issues. Shura (advise) should be sought from them, concerning important family matters, so these boys groom into competent Muslim men.

All these means are stepping stones to empowering them for their future role as Ameers of their own families. If they are old enough to marry and be accountable before Allah (swt), why do parents think that their sons are not mature enough to lead their own flock?

Father – The Navigator

With the passage of time, the role of a father has been diminished merely to that of a bread winner. Once he stops putting food on the table for his family, he is not remembered much. This may be due to the fact that while he was striving hard to finance the needs of his family, he was hardly around for bonding with them.

In Ibrahim (as), we see a dynamic father whose genes, sacrifice for Islam and prayers to Allah (swt) prove the obedience we all know Ismail (as) for. Sahih Bukhari narrates that after the death of Hajrah (as), Ibrahim (as) came to visit Ismail (as) and his family; however, Ismail (as) had left Makkah before his arrival. He met Ismail’s (as) wife instead and inquired about him. She replied that he had gone to search for livelihood. Then, Ibrahim (as) asked her about their condition and way of living. She said, complaining to him: “We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution.” Ibrahim (as) replied: “When your husband returns, convey my salutation and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).” When Ismail (as) returned home, he felt something unusual. He asked his wife, if anyone had come in his absence and she narrated the whole message to him. Ismail (as) told his wife: “It was my father, who visited you, and he has told me to divorce you. Go back to your family.”

Ismail (as) married another woman from the tribe of Jurham. Ibrahim (as) stayed away for some time, as long as Allah (swt) wished; he again visited his son but did not find him. He came to Ismail’s (as) wife and asked her about him. She replied: “He has gone to search for his livelihood.” Ibrahim (as) then inquired: “How are you getting on?” asking about their sustenance and living. She replied: “We are prosperous and well-off (i.e., we have everything in abundance). Then she thanked Allah (swt). Ibrahim (as) asked: “What kind of food do you eat?” she answered: “Meat.” “What do you drink?” “Water.”

Ibrahim (as) said to his daughter-in-law: “When your husband comes, give my regards to him and tell him that he should keep firm the threshold of his gate.” When Ismail (as) returned, he asked his wife, if anyone had called on her. She replied: “Yes, a good-looking old man came to me.” She praised him and conveyed his message to Ismail (as). Ismail (as) replied: “He was my father, and he has ordered me to keep you with me.”

This is the true concern a father has for his son – to be married to a virtuous and God-fearing girl, who safeguards the progeny and serves as a content, loyal and loving companion. Ibrahim (as) ensured that his son builds a strong Muslim home, not the sustenance he was earning, the kind of camel he was riding or the amount of savings his bank account held.

Ismail (as), in turn, was a devout son, who understood what his father meant and immediately paid heed to his command, as he realized Allah’s (swt) pleasure lied in it.

Mother – The Door to Jannah

Often parents end up spending more than 70% of their earnings (and sometimes all their savings) on the well-being of their children. They don’t keep accounts of it, of course, but it is understood that the very best that comes to the family directly goes to kids.

It is natural for these parents to feel insecure, lonely and at times, abandoned, when their kids (especially married sons) begin their own family lives. The situation is worse, if they have not taught the Islamic values and responsibilities the son has to fulfil towards his parents in terms of kindness, care and time spent together. Adding fuel to fire, a stranger in the form of a daughter-in-law steps in. She is viewed with great suspicion and mistrust. She is perceived as a competitor to the mother-in-law, especially when the son forgets to balance his roles and set his priorities.

Often out of envy and possessiveness, mothers do not want to let their sons go, thinking that they will be loved less and altogether forgotten one day. This may assume extreme measures in cases of single mothers, who are either widowed or divorced. Seeing their children settling in their marital lives gives them fear of losing them.

Parents should ensure that their married children assume the new challenges of life independently and patiently. It is recommended to spend on their children, but it is imperative to invest in one’s retirement and for old age comforts. In case the kids are unable to support them, these parents must have financial independence for themselves. It is a great relief to be able to sustain oneself at an age, when one has no income and many medical expenses.

In terms of expectations, married sons (and not their wives) should be held accountable for the parents. If the sons themselves are not available, they have to hire help or arrange any other required means to take care of their old parents. However, if parents do not teach their children the value of this care, it is very unlikely that the sons will ever serve them. It is the custom of disbelievers to consider daughters-in-law to be slaves, servants or caregivers for their husbands’ elderly parents. In Islam, it is the duty of the son or the daughter equally, married or not.

If the daughter-in-law is a God-fearing soul, she will proactively participate in whatever she can contribute. However, it should be considered that if she has children and her own parents to look after, she might be pressed for time. Sadly, parents seldom marry their sons to such practicing Muslimahs, as recommended by our Prophet (sa). Today, many brides are selected purely on the scale of materialism. When homes break up or men surrender before their headstrong wives, parents are the first ones to be thrown out of the family photograph.

When mothers-in-law are the dominant force, another gloomy question lurks – whose house is it? If the daughters-in-law actively participate in the kitchen, they are considered to be interfering, their management skills are incompetent or they are too concerned about impressing their husbands. If they stay aloof, they are considered to be indifferent, lazy or useless.

Management skills of two ladies can be poles apart yet good in their own ways. There is no perfect recipe for running a house. Management styles are as diverse as the people involved. However, in joint family setups, this is a very common stumbling stone. A mother-in-law, who has been managing the home turf for the past twenty-five or so years, is naturally the ‘queen bee’. She can’t be stripped of her title and honour. The daughter-in-law, who has just joined the family, has her own dreams, ideas and priorities; she might find all of these are being trampled upon. The kitchen is a woman’s dominion, which may easily turn into a battleground. For maintaining peace in home, kitchens must be separately owned and managed.

Muttaqi (pious and God-fearing) mothers are a gift of Allah (swt). They are the binding force of the family. With their invaluable experience, they have a great opportunity to transfer priceless traits to the next generation and leave behind Sadaqah-e-Jariya for themselves.

Daughter-in-law – The Peacemaker

Not long ago, mothers taught their daughters the valuable skills of becoming good wives. Nowadays, this mental preparation and training is increasingly skipped. Since no university offers such courses, for many girls, life after marriage may somewhat resemble a bomb exploding in their face. What? I can’t sleep until noon? I can’t chat on my mobile for hours? I have to cook breakfast for my husband that early? I need to clean up my room? I have to mingle socially with my in-laws? That’s it! I am filing for divorce!

You might think this is an exaggeration. However, tragically, it is true. Young girls of today sometimes want to break up simply because they cannot cope with their roles as wives and mothers. For maintaining the perfect figure, they never ate well; thus, their bodies lack the nourishment required for physical challenges of house chores and child bearing. They were raised to go to school, attend college and take up a job – not for being a part of home management. In other words, they were expected to behave like men. Thus, it is only natural that they revolt, when they are expected to do anything else. They feel as if someone else’s role is being imposed on them.

In some cases, married couples, who live with the parents-in-law, enjoy privileges without participating in responsibilities. In other extreme stories, daughters-in-law are treated like servants. With no love for the parents-in-law in her heart, anger and disdain for her husband, because he wouldn’t stand up for her, and frustrated to the core, she sizzles until she can’t take it anymore. The results are easy to predict: the couple gets a divorce, the couple moves out to a new dwelling after an ugly brawl with the parents, or lives on ‘unhappily ever after’.

What does Allah (swt) say about this? After commanding us not to sever ties of kinship, He also advises us to fear Him and be patient. It is impossible to love, honour and care for people, if we think selfishly – Allah (swt) always has to be in the centre. A girl has no blood ties with either her husband or his family. These relationships require nurturing and tending to on a daily basis. It is like a group of strangers coming together and making an effort to like and live with each other. Some will take more initiative, while others might just sit back and do nothing about it.

As a true agent of change and devout Muslimah, every young married girl must grab the opportunity to make that effort. If there is a misunderstanding, do not prove it right by behaving just like that; prove it wrong by behaving otherwise. It takes a while for strangers to become friends – it requires time and hard work. Also, positive thinking and sincere prayers are like a rescue boat sailing high on the stormy seas, whereas self pity, jealousy and lack of empathy for others is like the “Titanic”, running into the iceberg that sunk it.

For solving problems, we should first understand the parties involved and address their obvious and hidden intents by asking: Why do they behave in a certain way? Once the root cause is unearthed, it is easier for us to devise our own strategies in handling the situation. Also, always separate the problem from the person. Just because someone behaves a certain way doesn’t mean that this person is malicious or downright wicked to the core.

Husband and wife are like garments for each other; they are meant to protect, beautify and confide in each other. A wife is the source of solace, comfort and enjoyment for her husband. Honouring the parents of husband is like honouring him. If a husband treats his wife well, it is because of the upbringing he has received at the hands of his parents. Later, when the young wife becomes a mother, she realizes the pains his parents must have gone through in raising him. It is the right of every parent to be respected. Our in-laws are not our blood relations. Yet, they are no less in significance, as our ties with them will influence the happiness of our own marriage.

May Allah (swt) grant us the forbearance and wisdom to build strong Muslim homes. Ameen.

Privileges for Elderly Parents

Elderly Parents

Right after mentioning His right of worship, Allah (swt) mentions the rights of parents. In a single verse, He has specified the guidelines for the treatment of parents and has particularly stated that additional care should be given to them, when they become old. Allah (swt) says:

“And your Lord had decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.” (Al-Isra 17:23) 

Aging is accompanied with many physical, mental and emotional changes. For this reason, elderly parents need to be taken care of in a more considerate manner. Unfortunately, the growing materialism and influence of the West is depriving parents from their essential rights. However, according to the Quran and the Sunnah, this is a grave sin, as the Prophet (sa) has said: “They are (or your relation with them will determine) your Paradise and your Hell.” (Tirmidhi) At times, it does become difficult to deal with elderly parents, but with little patience, love and effort, elderly parents can be given the respect they deserve.

Adult children tend to be less grateful because of their independence. Often, resentments are held for parents’ inattentive attitude during childhood. However, this cannot be used as an excuse to justify any mistreatment on behalf of the children. This is because the pains borne by parents to bring a life in this world and nurture it outweigh everything. Parents tend to become kind as they become old; therefore, if someone has had a distant relationship with parents due to their strictness, it’s time to break the ice and start anew. Cleanse the heart from all kinds of bitterness and try to fill it with acknowledgement for them. If gratitude prevails in the heart, all physical actions tend to follow it.

Aged parents are either extremely concerned about their health or are completely casual about it. Irrespective of their attitude, their health and medical needs should be managed properly. This should include regular check-ups, monitoring of medicines and diet control. Diet often becomes a disputed issue in such situations. Talk to your parents politely about the disease and explain to them the consequences of over-indulgence.

Spending upon parents is compulsory for every Muslim. Allah (swt) says: “They ask you (O Muhammad), what they should spend. Say: Whatever you spend of good must be for parents…” (Al-Baqarah 2:215) Consideration should be shown while spending on them, in order to avoid hurting their self-esteem. Due to dignity, some parents don’t even demand anything for themselves. Hence, their needs should be attended amiably. It has been narrated from Jabir ibn Abdullah (rtam) that a man said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have wealth and children, but my father wants to take all my wealth.” He said: “You and your wealth are for your father.” (Ibn Majah)

A bizarre custom of our society is that aged people are expected to keep a very low profile and lead a simple life. They are not expected to show any kind of interest in worldly affairs. However, they are the same humans as any of us – feelings and desires do exist in them. So if an old mother wants to buy a bright dress or a father wants to be a kid for a while, cheerfully let them have their way, as long as they do not fall into the forbidden (Haram).

Once, a man said to the Prophet (sa): “Shall I participate in Jihad?” The Prophet (sa) asked: “Are your parents living?” The man replied: “Yes.” The Prophet (sa) said: “Do Jihad for their benefit.” (Bukhari) Imam Bukhari brings this Hadeeth under the topic of “Seeking permission from parents for Jihad.”

In our routine life, our parents need to be well-informed about our activities. For youngsters it is a must, and for adults it should be done as an act of courtesy and good manners. This will also save parents from the anxiety they go through in the absence of their children.

Change is something disliked, when one grows old. When any kind of change is expected, like buying new furniture or painting the house, talk to the elderly parents beforehand, involve them and ask them for their opinions. Even when going out for family outings, always ensure their comfort.

Retried parents often fall in frustration and even depression because of idleness. Look for productive activities they can engage in. Assign responsibilities to them that they can easily manage. Make them feel important, ask for their advice, include them in all kinds of family discussions and decisions, and spend quality time with them. Also, encourage your spouse to have an affectionate relationship with your parents.

The Prophet (sa) said: “The pious offspring, who casts a single look of affection at his parents, receives a reward from Allah (swt) equal to the reward of an accepted Hajj.” The people enquired: “O Prophet of Allah (sa), if someone casts a hundred such glances of love and affection at his parents, what then?” The Prophet (sa) said: “Yes, indeed, even if one does so a hundred times a day, he will get a hundred-fold reward. Allah (swt) is far greater than you can imagine and is completely free from petty narrow-mindedness.” (Muslim) Adults rarely express love for their parents. A natural shyness and distance develops as we grow older, but this Hadeeth should break all such barriers. Express your emotions! Occasional hugs and kisses and surprise gifts would uplift their spirits and bring extreme delight to them.

After giving the guidelines in Surah Al-Isra verse 23, Allah (swt) further orders: “And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.’” (Al-Isra 17:24) This verse makes us realize how indebted we are to our parents. For those of us who, at times, fall short to adhere to the decree, there is hope in the next verse, commanding us to keep trying.

“Your Lord knows best what is in your inner-selves. If you are righteous, then, verily, He is Ever Most Forgiving to those who turn unto Him again and again in obedience, and in repentance.” (Al-Isra 17:25)

May Allah (swt) enable us to realize and attend to the physical and emotional needs of our elderly parents. Ameen!

An Open Letter to the Family’s Elders

Open Letter to Family Elders

In Pakistan, discussions in social gatherings often turn towards the ‘pathetic’ economic and political situation of the country, with elders at the fore in criticizing the leaders and masses for their misdeeds. It is now fashionable not only to disparage Pakistan’s leaders, but to also consider one’s self justified in doing it.

A reminder: criticizing and lampooning figures of authority behind their backs is Gheebah. Just because our leaders are corrupt doesn’t mean we are allowed to sling mud upon their honour.

That being said, Islam has not stopped the common masses from correcting their leader directly, preferably in private, when he makes a mistake. For this reason, even if the Imam makes a mistake in obligatory Salah, his followers in the congregation are obliged to point it out to him by saying, “Subhan’Allah.”

There are levels of leadership in an Islamic society, and they all involve authority and accountability. For example, families have leaders, too, who are accountable before Allah (swt) for their mistakes. Advancement in age doesn’t change the seriousness of this accountability before Allah (swt).

What happens as family leaders age, however, is that they eventually have no one older than them alive, who can scold and correct them, which might give them a false sense of absolute authority over their younger subordinates. This can make it easier for them to go on making mistakes, until the younger ones in the family muster up the courage to try and correct them.

Result? Often, denial.

Undercurrents of tension in joint families

The scores of emails and comments I receive on my blog from the ‘middle generation’ – married Muslims with young children – point towards a reality that no one today likes to talk about: family problems that exist in almost every outwardly smoothly running joint family household.

Rights in Islam that elderly parents do not possess

Most of us are well-aware of the extremely high rights to obedience and good treatment that Allah (swt) has afforded to parents in Islam. Even if they are oppressive, cruel, sinful, outright misguided or non-Muslims, their children, young or old, cannot rebuke, insult or mistreat them in any way. I will not detail these rights here, because most of us are aware of them.

What I would like to do, instead, is address our society elders and remind them of the rights that they, as parents, do not have, especially if they are financially self-sufficient and physically healthy:

(1) Elderly parents do not have the right to control their adult, married offspring in the realm of permissible things in Islam, such as what style, colour, or brand of clothes they wear, which car they buy, or whether they eat cereal or eggs for breakfast. They can give consultation and wisely-worded, appropriately-timed advice, but in the end, the adult son or daughter cannot be manipulated or coerced to do exactly as they please.

(2) Parents do not have the right to insult, deride, ridicule or humiliate their married son or daughter in front of others, especially before the latter’s spouse, children or in-laws. Maligning another’s honour is a sin in Islam, and parental authority is not a ticket to absolution from other sins. So, what can be said about scolding a daughter-in-law or son-in-law for falling short in tasks that are not even their obligatory Islamic duties, such as accidentally burning the rice or wearing their own choice of clothes to a dinner party?

(3) Parents do not have the right to walk into their married son’s or daughter’s private bedroom area without prior permission. Any area, in which a husband and wife enjoy exclusive privacy, is off-limits by default, until permission is given, even for their parents. On the same token, the parents of adult children should not go through the cupboards, wallets, handbags, bank account statements, attaché cases or dressers of their married son or daughter without permission.

(4) Just as elderly parents have exclusive rights upon their adult children, they too, have exclusive rights upon theirs. Grandparents do not have the final say about decisions related to grandchildren; the children’s own parents, especially their mothers, do. Yes, this means that a daughter-in-law has greater rights over her children than her parents-in-law do. If there is ever any worldly matter, in which she wants her child to do one thing, and a grandparent wants him or her to do another (such as what food to eat and what television programme to watch), then according to Allah’s (swt) laws, she deserves to be obeyed by her child three times more than not just the grandparent, but also their son (i.e., her husband).

(5) Elderly people should fear Allah (swt) regarding their children. An elder above the age of sixty or seventy is like a valuable gem for their family. They are indeed fortunate, if all of their children are well-settled, happily married and enjoying loving marital relationships. Elders should not let their authority, advanced age or personal insecurities initiate problems in their children’s homes.

(6) Age is nothing but a number. When a parent crosses the age of sixty, if they are financially self-sufficient and free from physical domestic duties (especially of raising children), they should try to keep themselves occupied in positive work and beneficial hobbies. They can attend new courses, teach/mentor others, volunteer at welfare organizations, and revitalize their worship of Allah (swt). For example, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the head of the 1000-year-old Al-Azhar University, was eighty-one, when he died in Madinah, where he had travelled to attend an award ceremony. Japanese doctor, Shigeaki Hinohara, is still working as a physician and professor at age of one hundred. Wahiduddin Khan is still writing Islamic books at the age of eighty-seven.

(7) If elders have any surviving elderly relatives of their own besides their parents, such as an ailing aunt, uncle or distant cousin, they should visit them and help them. It will take their mind off from worries of when their son or daughter last visited and prevent them constantly missing their out-of-town grandchildren.

The more mental and physical independence, space and respect elders will give to their adult, married offspring (and their spouses), the more love and joy they will enjoy in their homes, Insha’Allah.