Unlocking Horns – Conflict Resolution

conflict

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.

Joint Family in Islam: Challenges and Solutions

Jan 11 - Joint Family in Islam

A joint family system is an extended clan comprising multiple hierarchical tiers of relatives with their respective spouses and children. They live under one roof, eat meals together and try to get along.

It is the elderly, who mostly prefer this system, because it alleviates their insecurities regarding age, loneliness and being excluded from their adult children’s lives.

The question of prime importance is: what does Islam say about the joint family? By the joint family we mean married children and their elderly parents living together in one house, usually with their bedrooms opening on to a common area and a shared kitchen.

Three issues that are of core importance in Islam to the traditional joint family situation, but are severely undermined by them, need to be pointed out along with scholarly views, Insha’Allah.

“The In-Law is Death”

Whilst most women endeavor to cover themselves from visitors, they dress and interact before some non-Mahram residents of the house, such as male servants or brothers-in-law, as they would before Mahrams. This practice is in complete defiance of the commands of Islam, which is evident from the Hadeeth below.

It was reported from Uqbah Ibn Aamir that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Beware of entering upon women.” A man from among the Ansar said: “O Messenger of Allah, what about the brother-in-law?” He said: “The brother-in-law is death.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

From this Hadeeth, it is clear that a married Muslim woman must observe full Hijab in the presence of her husband’s male relatives, except his father, sons from another wife or grandfathers. Included foremost in this Hijab are her husband’s brothers.

Death or its causes are something no one would take lightly. Yet, we carelessly disregard this aspect of Islam.

Etiquette of Privacy from Blood Relations Ordained in the Quran

“O you who believe! Let your legal slaves and slave-girls, and those among you who have not come to the age of puberty ask your permission (before they come to your presence) on three occasions; (i) before Fajr (morning) prayer, and (ii) while you put off your clothes for the noonday (rest), and (iii) after the Isha (late-night) prayer. (These) three times are of privacy for you, other than these times there is no sin on you or on them to move about, attending (helping) you each other. Thus Allah makes clear the Ayat (the Verses of this Quran, showing proofs for the legal aspects of permission for visits, etc.) to you. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (An-Nur 24:58)

In the aforementioned verse of the Quran, Allah (swt) commands even young children of a Muslim couple to be prevented from entering upon them in their bedrooms without prior permission, during three times – before Fajr, after Dhuhr (during siesta) and after Isha.

Contrast this to how most young Muslim couples live in a single bedroom along with their children in most joint family households. Even nocturnal conjugal relations occur in the same room, whilst children are asleep in close proximity. This cultural practice needs to be strongly condemned, because it is in clear disobedience to the Quranic injunctions.

The Right to Private Accommodation

All Islamic scholars are in unanimous agreement that married Muslim women are entitled to private accommodation in Islam, which preserves their privacy from their husbands’ relatives.

Sheikh Salih Al-Munajjid states: “Whatever meets her needs is sufficient, such as a room in good condition with a kitchen and bathroom – unless the wife has stipulated larger accommodation in her marriage contract. He (her husband) does not have the right to make her eat with any of her in-laws. The kind of accommodation provided must be commensurate with what the husband is able to provide and be suitable according to local custom (urf) and the social level of the wife.”

However, he goes on to explain, “If he is able to provide (his wife) with accommodation that is completely separate from his family, that will be better (for her). But if his parents are elderly and need him, and they have no one else to serve them, and the only way he can serve them is by living with them, then he has to do that.” (Islam-QA.com)

It is better, therefore, to live in separate accommodation that allows the son to be physically near his parents and other relatives. An example of this could be two houses in the same compound or apartments that are one above the other, or at a walking distance from each other. Please note that a wife should practice patience, if she has to give up her right due to her husband’s financial constraints.

Cultural Influence

Our culture strongly supports a joint family. It expects sons to dwell with their elderly parents in their homes and financially support them, even if the latter are well-off. This belief that the elderly should be cared for by a son and his wife is inherently faulty, because it assumes that everyone has sons. What about couples with no children or those with only daughters, or the elderly who are single? Who will take care of them?

In Islam, a son and daughter are equally obliged, both financially and physically, to support aged, needy parents. No discrimination exists on this Fiqh issue, except that a daughter’s husband has more rights on her than her parents. If he allows, she may have her parents dwell in her own home to take care of them. There is nothing wrong with that.

The Ideal Living Scenario

Living as nuclear families at considerable distances from each other, physically and emotionally, is not the ideal picture for Muslim families, unless dire necessity dictates it. Our Prophet (sa) and his companions provided separate living quarters for their wives. In his last days of sickness, the Prophet (sa) was taken care of by his wives and friends, not his offspring.

There are many advantages of living near relatives, e.g., young mothers can have accessible babysitting and the sick elderly have someone nearby to provide care. Company is nearby, and this alleviates loneliness and depression. Children grow up more sociable, if they consistently meet relatives of different ages. The strict discipline of young parents, when balanced with indulgent pampering of grandparents, does wonders for a child’s self-confidence.

On the downside, living together under one roof facilitates considerable control, interference and subtle manipulation of the younger ones by the elders. Grandchildren can challenge their parents’ authority by simply throwing a tantrum before grandparents. In the worst cases, the joint family thwarts practicing Muslims’ application of Deen in their family lives; even regarding Islamic commands that are obligatory.

Dr. Hina, a lecturer and mother of a 6-year-old son has been living in a joint family since her marriage, whilst pursuing her career. She says: “The joint family has numerous advantages, such as having the house clean and the food cooked when you come home; having someone to baby-sit your child if you have to study or work long hours, and no loneliness because people are around. The disadvantages are that you are constantly told what to do and how to do it; you cannot bring up your child without others interfering, or manage your space the way you want to. Despite full efforts at observing Hijab, accidental slips keep occurring before a brother-in-law. Also, sisters-in-law visit their parents too often, causing sour relationships.”

Practical Life

Because of the soaring prices of property and rent nowadays, young newlyweds have to live in a joint family after marriage, even among non-Mahram men, despite the difficulty of maintaining Hijab. Such a scenario requires a high dose Taqwah (Allah consciousness), e.g., lowering the gaze, draping a large chador, knocking before entering rooms, avoiding mixing freely, using door locks when required and abstaining from eavesdropping or asking prying questions.

If parents want all their married sons to live under one roof, they should renovate the house in such a manner that everyone can observe the limits of Allah (swt). It does not cost much to construct two extra rooms with a kitchenette. The problem lies in giving preference to culture and familial tradition over obeying commands of religion.

Sheikh Salih advises a Muslim wife whose in-laws restrict her movement: “You should understand that your husband’s parents may make things difficult for you, because they think that you have taken away the one who is most dear to them. Therefore, you should handle this matter wisely and not be the cause of arguments or division between your husband and his parents. Rather, you should try to help your husband obey and honour his parents, and you will find the effects of that, Insha’Allah, in your own children [i.e., they will honour you in turn].” (Islam-QA.com)

Such wise words need no more explanation.