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:
- Start off with good expectations of them. Not everything other people tell us about their in-laws has to be true about ours.
- 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.
- 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?)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
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