How do you deal with difficult family members?

How do you deal with difficult family members?

Jubayr ibn Mut’im (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) says:

The one who severs the ties of kinship will not enter into jannah. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Severing ties of kinship is a very serious matter. You are not admitted to jannah if you cut off relations with family.

The one who severs the ties of kinship will not enter into jannah.

Cutting off family members is a major, punishable sin

One of the worst sins (al kabair) is to sever ties with relatives. Though it is a major sin, it is not classified as kufr disbelief. As it is a sin, it carries punishment.

Being barred from jannah

Cutting off relations with relatives is very serious. When the Prophet (peace be on him) said such a person will not be admitted to jannah, did he mean that person would be barred from jannah forever, or for the duration of his punishment? It can have both meanings. Disbelievers will never enter jannah, but sinners will enter jannah after they have been punished for their sins.

Reward for maintaining contact

In another hadith, the Prophet (peace be on him) related the generous rewards for maintaining good relations (silaturahim) with relatives.

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated from the Prophet (peace be upon him):

He who wishes to have his earnings grow and his term of life or his lifespan is prolonged; he should keep ties with his kin. (Bukhari)

These were incentives for doing the right thing- which are huge. Now we are given a deterrent for not acting on this command.

Punishment for severing ties

For those who are not interested in incentives, the law deters them using penalties, such as parking fines. They might not bother parking in a bay if there is a reward, but they would be more likely to refrain from parking on a double yellow line, if they know there is a penalty. This is part of human psychology.

Thus Allah approaches us from different directions so that we act on the things which bring goodness to us, our families and society. He wants to promote goodness whether it is through smiling at others, being good in your words and your actions, or establishing good relationships with those around you. The priority is definitely your parents, and then family members in order of their proximity to you.

Two sides to each story

Abu Huraira reported that a person said:

Allah’s Messenger, I have relatives with whom I try, to have close relationship, but they sever (this relation). I treat them well, but they treat me ill. I am sweet to them but they are harsh towards me.

Upon this he (the Prophet peace be upon him) said: If it is so as you say, then you in fact throw hot ashes (upon their faces) and there would always remain with you on behalf of Allah (an Angel to support you) who would keep you dominant over them so long as you adhere to this (path of righteousness). (Muslim)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) listened to that man and in his reply we see that he was aware that he was only listening to one side of the story, as he qualified his answer by saying ‘if it is as you say…’ if it was not the case, his answer would not apply.

Often people give a completely false impression of the reality. They portray themselves as oppressed, so you feel sorry for them. But when you hear the other side of the story, you are shocked that they completely distorted the real situation.

Feeding hot ashes

‘Feeding hot ashes’ is an expression in Arabic. It means that because of your goodness towards those who were mean to you, they will not be able to raise their face or look you in the eyes. They will feel ashamed and humiliated. It also means they will be sinful and as eating ashes is painful, it implies that they will feel the pain of their actions. And the one who they treated badly will have the upper hand.

Repel evil with goodness

They may be nasty, but if you continuously show them goodness in return, they may refrain from it later, and Allah will support you as long as you are good and tolerant towards them.

However, if you repel evil with evil, then Allah will not support you. Allah is encouraging you to deliver what is good, and to refrain from what is bad.

In the hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is encouraging us to show goodness regardless what we experience from our relatives.

One wonders whether one should keep tolerating bad behaviour, and visiting relatives who have bullied and attacked them many times. I know this. I have came across this many times. I’m not denying the severity of the difficulties posed, but at the same time, there is a huge amount on offer for not cutting off relations.

What is the alternative?

Put your point across clearly and politely

First you have to try and resolve the issue. Speak to the one who is causing you problems. Explain to them that they have treated you badly or the way they dealt with you was not appropriate or the tone of their voice was harsh.

Choose the right moment to speak to them. Not during the heat of emotion or during an argument. Explain how their behaviour made you feel, or impacted you.

Do not be oversensitive

Sometimes we can be oversensitive and assume that someone has intentionally hurt us, when in fact this is our perception, not their intent. Do not allow shaytan to prey on your sense of hurt and exaggerate it.

Be mindful during arguments

Language is as important in an argument. In our recent course on How to Keep your Heart Healthy, our guest speaker, Sister Rahma Abdulatif, an experienced psychotherapist and family practitioner said:

In an argument, pause. Stop speaking. Then focus on mindful listening. Notice your tendency to react to what the other person says. When your mind gets triggered, bring your attention to listening. When you are listening mindfully focus on what they are saying and listen deeper. So you can understand the heart of their message.

What are they really saying?

Change begins with you

You cannot change the other persons behaviour, but you can change yours. During the episode of the Treaty of Hudabiyah, the companions were so bitterly disappointed that they could not perform umrah that year, they refused to shave their heads. It was only when the wife of the Prophet (peace be on him) Umm Salamah, advised him to shave his own head, that they then followed suit and shaved their heads. Though they did not respond to the words of his command, his action had a domino effect. The lesson is: Be the change you want to see.

There is a domino effect in change. When you do something it creates change. It is reciprocal, like a dance.

When you start to listen to the other person, you can address the fact they don’t listen to you.

Listen deeply

Sister Rahma went on to say, that when you are being mindful, you will listen fairly and respond in fairness.

Mindfulness is our clock, as Muslims.

Yet, we are losing the art of listening and being heard. We need to think about how we do family life. Between couples and in families, the idea of being listened to is being lost.

Allow yourself to listen and give yourself permission to listen.

When the family see you listen to them, you can address the fact that you don’t feel heard.

Listen before you react

In a family situation, usually when one person says, ‘You are not listening to me’, instead of hearing that and taking that on board, the other person often reacts by saying ‘But you don’t listen to me either’. We are trying to win the argument, not listen, not apologise. We do not hear the other side.

It is hard to listen when you feel you are not being listened to. However, when you listen at a deeper level, you can challenge them.

It is a challenge and it is difficult and it is even harder in a parent-child relationship.

Rights and responsibilities

If you are fighting for your rights, remember you have responsibilities not just rights. When you fulfil your responsibility your rights will be fulfilled.

The society we live in is focused disproportionately on rights rather than responsibilities.

Instead of being argumentative, focus on your responsibilities. When you spend all your time fighting for your rights, as society keeps pushing us to, it gets in the way of your fulfilling your responsibility. Islam teaches us focus on our responsibilities. When we fulfil these, our rights will come to us.

Minimise connection without breaking contact

If you are still unable to resolve your issue, and you keep experiencing harm, what do you do next?

What the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying, you shouldn’t sever relations with your family. However when you have troublesome family members, instead of having full speed connection with them, you can minimise it to the minimum connection and just visit them at Eid and ask about them every now and then. Be aware of their news on social media. This keeps you safe and immune against any attacks or toxicity from them.

You do not jump to this option without trying to resolve your issue first. Don’t minimise communication without trying to fix the situation with sincerity.

Do not blank family members

Do not let a connection die. If you pass by somebody you used to speak to, and blank him, it feels wrong inside. You don’t want to function like this. You don’t want to be the one who is mean to others, even though you might have received bad treatment from them.

Islamically we do not retaliate with harm. As Allah stated in the Quran:

Idfa’ billatee hiya ahsan

Repel with what is best. [41:34]

Envy and personality clashes

Sometimes the issues stem from family politics, such as envy, or personality clashes, and miscommunication. They also stem from relatives who are obsessive controllers, and they like to control everything. It may be they try to control the one who is new in the family, or it may be the one who is new who wants to control them.

In such situations do your best to maintain minimum contact, without exposing yourself to bullying or untoward behaviour. Everyone can decide what is the minimum but at the very least it means saying salam, Eid Mubarak, visiting them if they are sick, or get engaged or married.

You can’t say you don’t say ‘salam’ to me, when you don’t say ‘salam’ to them.

If they cause harm to your family, avoid spending too long in their company. Avoid staying in their house otherwise the abuse will continue. This should not be the case.

Ensure safety

Sometimes a father might be alcoholic or into drugs and the mother does not feel safe leaving their children with him, but at the same time he is their father. What should she do? Maintain a minimum connection, if it is safe. Otherwise keep the relationship over the phone. This will be enough. She might have tried to help him, keep him safe and rehabilitate him, but it should not be at the expense of the safety of her family and her well-being. This is a very extreme example.

Intermarriages complicate relationships

Many people have bad experiences with some relatives, who may also be in laws through intermarriage. Islamically it is permitted for cousins to marry each other, but it is not recommended. Though Western society finds the idea unpalatable and taboo, Islamically it is not haram. However, it should not be the common practice or the only option, as it is in some communities. It can lead to problems when your in-laws are your relatives, as disagreements can end up breaking the family. Issues become magnified.

Salman bin ‘Amir narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

“Giving charity to a poor person is charity, and (giving) to a relative is two rewards: charity and upholding the ties of kinship.” (Tirmidhi and Nasa’i)

We ask Allah Almighty to enable us to always deliver what is good and do what is best. Ameen

Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Delivered to the Sunday Hadith Class based on Ibn Hajar al Asqalani’s collection of Hadith Bulugh al Maram.

Transcribed by Rose Roslan

For more inspiration on how to navigate life through the Quran and Sunnah:

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The narrator of the hadith

Who is the narrator? Jubayr ibn Mut’im (may Allah be pleased with him) was the son of Mut’im ibn ‘Adi, one of the leaders of the Quraysh. Bin ‘Adi was noble, well respected, and had a strong personality. He was a disbeliever, who never accepted Islam but led the campaign against the boycott, which Quraysh started against the Prophet (peace be upon him) for 3 years and he succeeded in stopping the boycott after this.

After 10 years of preaching to an unreceptive community in Makkah, when the boycott ended the Prophet (peace be on him) was looking for alternatives to the Quraysh to deliver the message. So he went to Taif, with Zayd ibn Haritha. The Prophet (peace be upon him) introduced himself to the leaders of Taif but they were mean to him and they sent their thugs to pelt him with stones until he was bleeding. On his way back, when he was bleeding, the Prophet (peace be upon him) made the supplication to Allah Almighty, and he met Abbas etc. He couldn’t enter Makkah without the support of somebody. And then he sent for Mut’im ibn Adi and he said, ‘I do seek your jiwar’ which is protection. This is an Arabic concept.  

With this protection, the Prophet (peace be on him) could enter even though the other tribes did not want to allow it. Mut’im ibn Adi could have easily said to the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he could not go against his tribe or his people, but he was prepared to put his life on the line. Giving jiwar meant that he would be ready to fight for him. It is like giving immunity to somebody who is a refugee, escaping his country and arriving to your country due to persecution in his country. You could save yourself the trouble and shut the door in their face, or you could say you will defend and protect them, and they are welcome.

Mut’im ibn Adi gave protection to the Prophet (peace be upon him), and told his family to put on their armour and prepare their weapons to enable Muhammad (peace be upon him) enter Makkah. He informed the leaders of Makkah, the Quraysh that he had done this, and they asked him if he had become a follower or was just a protector. He said, he was just a protector and so they allowed Muhammad (peace be on him) to enter.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) never forgot this. He was so loyal to anyone who did him a good favour. But unfortunately Mut’im ibn Adi passed away in disbelief; he did not accept Islam although he was a good person and showed many good qualities.

After the Battle of Badr, the Prophet (peace be upon him) captured many of Quraysh. The Prophet (peace be upon him) made a statement which reflected his loyalty to Mut’im ibn Adi. He said, had Mut’im ibn Adi been alive and asked me to release these captives, I would have released them for him. However he was not there.

His son, Jubayr ibn Mut’im was also one of the well-respected leaders in Makkah, known for being tolerant and patient and as an expert in lineage, which he learned from Abu Bakr, who was the master of the Arabic lineage at that time. He was a companion and narrated this hadith from the Prophet (peace be upon him.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.