10 Guiding Principles in Establishing Cordial Relations with In-laws

weaves

The word ‘in-laws’, by convention, has a negative connotation, in our part of the world in particular, where society has not broken the shackles of oppressive cultural practices. Our knee-jerk response to a discussion on in-laws, therefore, tends to be restricted to what’s ‘wrong’ with them. In such an atmosphere, it becomes difficult to see beyond the stereotypes and consider our own individual situations in a fair light.

A lot of people seem to know that in Islam there is no obligation on the daughter-in-law to care for her husband’s family. But in considering this, they forget that there are other rights that they still need to fulfil by virtue of the in-laws being, at the very least, their brothers and sisters in Islam.

Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said, “None of you will believe until you love for another what you love for yourself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Would we love for ourselves that people talk negatively about us behind our backs? Would we love that people harbour feelings of hatred towards us? Would we love for our own parents to be constantly criticized and/or shunned by their daughters- or sons-in-law?

Here are some things to focus on, in our relationship with our in-laws:

  1. Start off with good expectations of them. Not everything other people tell us about their in-laws has to be true about ours.
  2. People are not all good or all bad. Everyone has positive and negative qualities. We do, too. In fact, there is some good even in the worst of us. Look for that good. Focus on it instead of on what is not to your liking.
  3. Everyone needs, and thrives on, respect. Respect for the other person cannot be developed if we notice only their negative qualities and keep mentioning them in front of other people. (You think your mother-in-law does that to you? Before you pass a judgement on her, examine your own attitude and ask yourself: are you perhaps doing that to her, too?)
  4. Don’t talk about her behind her back unless it is to mention her good qualities. Backbiting destroys relationships especially because it perpetuates a negative image of a person in everyone’s minds and makes us ignore our own shortcomings.
  5. Misunderstandings arise when we don’t really know the other person well. Limited conversations and interactions related to household chores are not the best breeding ground for establishing meaningful relationships. Really knowing the other person means we know what makes them happy, what makes them special as a person, what they want out of life, what struggles they have faced, and what they have accomplished so far. Taking interest in another person and considering him or her a human being worthy of knowing can make a world of difference in how our relationships can develop.
  6. Be fair. Noticing only what you don’t like about your mother-in-law? Stop. Remind yourself of all the things she does that perhaps help you out. Does she watch the kids, supervise the maid, and do the cooking every now and then? Sometimes we are looking so hard at all the things that annoy us that we forget to notice what is good in the other person. If we notice only the negatives then we are not really being fair.
  7. Feel responsible to bring out the best in other people. Our feelings towards them will translate into our attitude towards them. If we check our feelings constantly, we can correct our attitude, too.
  8. Keep your eyes on your Akhirah. Sometimes we are so busy keeping our sight on how others should be that we forget to evaluate our own selves. Are we on the correct path, towards Jannah? Or are we letting ourselves drift off?
  9. You don’t own anybody. Not yourself. Not your husband. Not your children. They are all an Amanah (trust) from Allah. We have to do our best with that Amanah. Your in-laws have a right over your husband and children, too. Make sure you are not taking away that right.
  10. Make excuses for your in-laws because nobody is perfect. Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, once said: “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” (Narrated by Imam Al-Bayhaqi in his Shuab al-Iman)

The principle being stated here is that no one is free of error, and everyone makes mistakes. If we would like our mistakes to be overlooked then we should want the same for others.

May Allah guide us to be of excellent character in all of our relationships. Ameen.

Image courtesy: Flickr

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.

Role Reversal

Mother in lawBy an appreciative mother-in-law

I must share, how fortunate I am to have a wonderful daughter-in-law. Alhumdullilah! I know that it sounds unbelievable, but it is true. No, she is not retarded. Actually, she is a warm and caring girl, just the way she was, when I chose her for my son.

What is the secret behind this relationship? I can think of many, the obvious being Allah’s (swt) mercy on us, and the wonderful friends around us. They are caring souls, who gently yet immediately point out to me every time I am being insensitive, and they also remind me of my days as a Bahu (daughter-in-law).

I think that this is the common problem we mothers-in-law have. We have forgotten our days, when we were newly married, very sensitive, eager to please, but were not quite sure how! Especially, if we were married into a joint family, we had to be very careful not to tread on anyone’s toes. If we showed concern for our mothers-in-law, our sisters-in-law would brand us as ‘Chamchis’ (flatterers). If we would mind our own business, we would be called ‘cold fish.’ It just seemed like a no win situation! But I want to remind us all of what we pledged to ourselves at that time – that we would never do the same to our daughters-in-law!

We pledged that we would fuss over them, when they would be newly married, for they were coming into a strange home, with people, who have different ways of life. We would help them through their initial awkwardness, encourage them when they would make an effort, over look or gently explain when they would make a ‘faux pas.’

We pledged we would make them feel special, when they would conceive. We swore that we would let them name their babies and invite all their friends and relatives to the Aqeeqah. We said that we would not interfere in the children’s upbringing, especially where discipline was concerned. If they are old enough to be married and have children, then they are old enough to make their own decisions. They will be questioned in the Akhirah about their children – not us!

Narrated by Anas (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “No one of you becomes a true believer, until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

I know, you are probably thinking this is a Bahu (daughter-in-law) writing, pretending to be a Saas (mother-in-law). Let me now turn my attention to the Bahus (daughters-in-law).

Try to visualize yourself as the mother-in-law, which you will, Insha’Allah, be one day. How this beautiful, young girl comes into your son’s life, and all of a sudden, you cease to exist for him. How you endured the pangs of childbirth, the sleepless nights, stress during his exams, kept a stiff upper lip each time he was bullied. Where will you be then? Old age and redundancy is not a very exciting prospect, is it?  I bet all the mothers-in-law are misty-eyed and are nodding their heads.

Seriously girls, are you so insecure that if your husband comes home from work and first goes to meet his mother, you feel he loves you any less? If he doesn’t do so, you should encourage him to start. Remember, we are role models for our kids. Our attitude and behavior will set the trend for theirs. If they have seen their grandparents being given respect, they will do the same for their parents and elders.

Anas Ibn Malik (rta) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “If a young man honours an older person on account of his age, Allah (swt) appoints someone to show reverence to him in his old age.” (Tirmidhi)

We are all humans and make mistakes; no one is perfect. If we want perfection in others, we should examine ourselves first. Are we perfect? Don’t we err? If we expect others to overlook our mistakes and forgive us, then we should do the same. Let’s not have any expectations from anyone, because we will always be disappointed.

How often we make excuses for our mother’s behaviour, where our Bhabis (brothers’ wives) are concerned; let us use that same compassion for our mothers-in-law.

Words of advice: Cultivate friendships with well-meaning, sensible, older women as I have with sincere younger friends. They will, Insha’Allah, help you understand your mothers-in-law. Don’t involve your mum, she will naturally be biased towards you and will then harbor ill feelings towards your ma-in-law, and that, definitely, will not help the situation.

Before signing off, I do not want to do any disservice to my late mother-in-law, may Allah (swt) rest her soul in peace. She was a wonderful mother-in-law as is my mother. I have been very fortunate to have such amazing role models, Alhumdullilah.

Good Pickings

Can women find any good in their mothers-in-law, asks Uzma Rizvi

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law share a special bond – a bond that is sometimes difficult to come to terms with. Some have it easy and adjust with one another from day one, while others have differences that are resolved over time. Some keep bickering all their lives, and some just learn to tolerate each other’s shortcomings. So, when I was assigned this article to dig up qualities that women admire about their moms-in-law, I took it up with some reservations – Would I be opening a can of worms? Will I get any positive replies? Well, read on and find out.

When I put the question to Samira, who lives in a joint family, she was quiet for a long time, then said: “Right now I just cannot come up with any thing I admire about my mom-in-law, except that … I can say, she is time-conscious. She does not procrastinate, whether it is visiting people, doing household chores, or just going to the bazar. As for her other commendable qualities I will call you back if I can think of more.” I have not heard from her since!

Rafiqua, remembers her mother-in-law quite fondly and answered readily, “My mother-in-law expired a few years ago, but before that we had thirty years together. The thing I liked most about her was that she did a lot of Ibadah, whereas in my family I had not seen elders praying so much or so regularly. I also appreciated that although I had four daughters she never ever taunted me, like many in-laws do. Though we had our share of misunderstandings, she would always make up some how through her actions. Like she would call me for a chitchat, or would just hug me for seemingly no reason at all.”

Mahnaz gave a meaningful smile, when asked to identify some worthy characteristics of her mother-in-law, “Umm…let me think. It’s a little difficult to come up with something.” Then she admitted, “Yeah, I know one thing, she is very patient with everybody – with her husband, with her son and with me. Even if she does not like something she usually keeps quiet and shows no reaction, no matter how much it bothers her. While I, on the other hand, am impatient. Now, I have learnt that her way of keeping quiet and letting things simmer down is a real asset in maintaining peace around the house.”

Sajida lived as a newly wed bahu with her mother-in-law only for a few months, before the lady expired. “Unforgettable,” is how she describes her mother-in-law, and adds, “She was very loving. The most admirable thing about her was that she would go out of the way to help others. She would pool in money for the needy. And yes, she also had wonderful tips and hints about house-keeping and interacting with people.”

Now, that was not too difficult, was it? It just takes some effort to focus on virtues. Whenever a misunderstanding occurs, let us remind ourselves that each one of us has positive and negative traits. If we focus on the good rather than on the bad traits of others (especially close relatives), we will not only make our lives stress-free, but will also earn Allah’s pleasure.

* (Some names have been changed)