Main Principles in Islam – Maintaining family relationships and the status of In-laws
Islam is not theoretical, it’s practical.
Our obligations are towards Allah Almighty and towards the people with whom we inhabit the world. Our relationships with people begin with our immediate families.
Our immediate families are composed of those with whom we are related by blood. There are many verses in the Quran and hadith about the importance of connecting blood ties (maintaining family relationships). This is silat-ar-rahim or silat- al-arhaam.
Allah Almighty mentions the womb (rahim) in the opening of Surah Nisa, which is concerned to a great extent with how we form balanced and fruitful relationships. Our relationships are formed from the womb:
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer. (4:1)
Maintaining family relationships is not a choice. It’s an obligation.
It is not just a recommendation to connect blood ties, it is obligatory. How do you know that it is an obligation? Because if you neglect this command, you are sinful and punishable for doing so. Cutting off blood relations is haram – it is prohibited.
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said that Allah Almighty says:
The bond of family is suspended from the Throne and it says: Whoever upholds me, Allah will uphold him. Whoever severs me, Allah will sever him. (Bukhari and Muslim)
The word ‘Ar Rahim’ (womb) derives its name from ‘Ar Rahman’ (i.e. Allah). So whosoever keeps good relations with it (womb i.e. Kith and kin), Allah will keep good relations with him, and whosoever will sever it (i.e. severs his bonds of Kith and kin) Allah too will sever His relations with him. (Bukhari)
In another narration it says the womb is from Me, ‘Ar rahimu mini’ the womb derives from My name, Ar Rahman. In these narrations we find the same command coming through, exhorting us to be good to our families.
Strengthen your relationships at home
Goodness begins with your kin. There is no point being nice outside the home, if you are not nice at home. Kindness and caring should be the default with your family. Otherwise it is hypocrisy to put on a smiley face outside and an angry face inside the home.
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
The best among you is the best to his family. (Tirmidhi)
The family is where goodness begins. This is why we have the proverb ‘charity begins at home’. If you want to be good, show your goodness to your family. It is worth noting that the father’s side of the family and mother’s side of the family are equally important. ￼￼
Sadly there are people who are great philanthropists towards others but stingy with their own blood relatives. This is completely wrong.
Allah Almighty wants us to have strong families. The family is strong when the relationships within it are based on love, trust and respect.
The pillars of society
When we have strong families we have a strong community. In his opening speech to the whole community in Madinah, which included believers and the non-believers) the prophet (peace be upon him) said:
O people! Spread salam (peace), feed the needy, and connect blood ties, pray during the night whilst people are sleeping you will be admitted to Jannah of your lord peacefully. (Tirmidhi).
With these words, he laid the foundations of a successful, well-functioning community which depends on the strength of the family. The pillars which hold up this society include spreading peace – by greeting one another throughout society, and connecting with people, and keeping healthy family relationships.
Fixing family relations
What if you don’t like some of your relatives, or you don’t get on with them?
No one said having good relationships with your family would be easy. But who said that Jannah comes free of charge? Yes, sometimes we have to suffer embarrassment, difficulties, bite our tongue, not answer back to our elders. It is not at all a smooth ride. But keep trying to mend broken relationships. Do not block the way.
Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that a person said:
O 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 Holy Prophet) 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).
Troublesome family members
We all have some family members that are harder to get on with – those we can’t see eye to eye, or those who are intrusive and nosey, and worse, those who are interfering. You might argue that keeping away from them is better for your sanity and gives you peace. However if every single one of us severed ties with difficult relations, or let relationships lapse, what would happen to the community? We would have a broken community, as we do, to a certain extent, at the moment.
Do not allow emotions to break down relationships
Allah Almighty wants us to live with each other. He wants us to tolerate each other, not avoid each other; and to help and support each other. The overall thrust of the Divine Message throughout the Quran is to overcome difficulties in relationships rather than letting difficulties destroy them.
Difficulties always generate floods of emotions and problems are intensified when we let emotions be the sole driver of relationships.
When we say we don’t like someone, or that they are difficult or intolerable – these are all emotions. Don’t allow your emotions to play you.
Certainly there are often real issues underlying these emotions, but nevertheless the majority of our relationships are governed by our emotions, as well as the interest and benefit that we derive from the connection.
There is no place for hatred in Islam
The theme we see across the board is to spread love, not hate. Not just with our blood relatives but with all our relationships, including our in-laws. We are not permitted to behave badly with anyone, even our enemies. Allah Almighty says:
Do not let the hatred of some people drive you to deal unjustly. Be just this is closer to taqwa. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do. (5:8)
This is a very important rule in Islam. There is no room to oppress or to be unfair to anyone. Do not allow your hatred to let you bully those you despise. Fairness is always paramount.
What is in it for you?
When you make an effort to be good to your family and build relationships, the rewards are not just in Jannah, but tangible in dunya – they are a clear means of increasing your rizq. Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
He who desires ample provisions and his life be prolonged, should maintain good ties with his blood relations. (Bukhari and Muslim)
It is not just the extra hours you put in your job, that earn more for you, but the extra effort you put in in fixing your relationships with your family. When you do this, Allah Almighty makes your home mubarak (blessed). He puts barakah in your rizq and life.
How can your life span be extended when it was written for you before your birth?
The Prophet (peace be on him) told us that your rizq, lifespan, and if you are destined for heaven or hell is written while you are in the womb.
Then how can it be that your life span is extended due to your deeds? Scholars say your life span is written with a condition and if you fulfil the condition of connecting your blood ties, you get the extension on your life. Allah Almighty knows whether you will or not, but this is for the angels.
‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
The creation of you (humans) is gathered in the form of semen in the womb of your mother for forty days, then it becomes a clinging thing in similar (period), then it becomes a lump of flesh like that, then Allah sends an angel who breathes the life into it; and (the angel) is commanded to record four things about it: Its provision, its term of life (in this world), its conduct; and whether it will be happy or miserable. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Managing difficult relatives
In life you have difficult colleagues, neighbours or bosses. You have to get along with them and do your best to keep good relations with them. Similarly, you have difficult relatives.
If they are troublesome, instead of visiting them every week, visit them every other week. Though you can’t change them, you can minimise their side-effects. Instead of staying four hours, stay for one hour. But don’t let the connection drop.
A man said to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), ‘I have relatives with whom I try to keep in touch, but they cut me off. I treat them well, but they abuse me. I am patient and kind towards them, but they insult me.’
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘If you are as you say, then it is as if you are putting hot dust in their mouths. Allah will continue to support you as long as you continue to do that.’ (Muslim)
Do not for a second think if you are being good and the other person is being bad, that the good is wasted. No. It will be counted for you. Allah is the Most Just. One of his name’s is Al Adl.
Do not tolerate abuse
Being good to relatives does not mean being a doormat, or letting yourself be abused or exploited. Under the banner of connecting blood ties, you must not allow yourself to be victimised. You have the right to protect yourself with politeness and wisdom. We need to keep the boundaries and limits. If someone is bad to you, you can’t be bad to them, then you are no different. You have to be obedient servants of Allah Almighty when you deal with anyone in general, but especially with your families.
Show kindness, care and love to in laws
We can see that Allah Almighty commanded us to behave with excellence towards our fellow human beings. Our relationship with our neighbours alone is of huge importance. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
Jibril kept recommending me to treat my neighbour well until I thought that he would tell me to make him one of my heirs (Bukhari)
The general consensus in Islam concerning neighbours, (and they are not even our blood relatives) is that they have rights upon us. It makes common sense therefore that we have to look after our in laws, who are even closer to us, as they are connected to us by marriage. They are the parents who raised our spouses, who have a special bond with them, and by extension with us.
And He is the One who created man from water, then made of him relations created by lineage and relations created by marriage. Your Lord is All-Powerful. (25:54)
In laws do not replace parents
Without doubt you have to be good to in laws. However does this mean that you have to look after them to the same extent as your parents?
Culturally we have a common problem that women are expected to look after their in laws to an even greater extent than their own parents. There is no conflict in Islam between one’s duty towards one’s parents and ones duty to one’s in laws. Islam is clear – it is a man’s responsibility to look after his parents and a woman’s to look after hers. Except that the son carries the financial responsibility of looking after his parents if they are in need, but the social responsibility to care for parents is shared equally by their sons and daughters.
The conflict arises due to culture, which makes people confused and can generate a huge, unwarranted strain on marriages.
In terms of your obligations, your own parents are number one. Your in laws are probably number three. It is 100 percent wrong to replace your parents with your in laws.
Unreasonable cultural expectations
In the South Asian culture, there is often an expectation that wives become subservient to their in laws, and a sense that they are there exclusively to serve their needs, to the extent that husbands hand over responsibility of looking after their parents to their wives the day they get married. There are families where daughters in law are expected to visit her in laws every day, but not ‘permitted’ to their own parents. This is wrong. The husband has no right to prevent his wife visiting her parents or being obedient to her parents, as long as they are not commanding haram or being unreasonable.
Why does the man obey his mother but not allow his wife to obey her mother, why is it halal for him and haram for her? We all have to obey our mothers and fathers within limits. And if parents command you to commit a sin or shirk, then you cannot obey them.
Allah the Almighty says:
But if they strive to have you associate with Me something of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. But keep them company in this life, in kindness. (31:15)
We need to retrain our communities
It is time for us to overcome the oppressive cultural practices that have been passed down for centuries. What should be a bond based on mercy and love between two families becomes more often than not, a thorny, prickly one.
When we raise sons they should have the understanding that looking after their parents is their responsibility. We should encourage our children to love and respect and honour their in laws. And parents and in laws should allow their children the space to nurture their marriages. If they don’t, marriages will hit the rocks before they have been given a chance.
We ask Allah to enable us to be good and kind and wise and patient.
Abdullah bin ‘Amr narrated that the Messenger of Allah said:
The merciful are shown mercy by Ar-Rahman. Be merciful on the earth, and you will be shown mercy from Who is above the heavens. The womb is named after Ar-Rahman, so whoever connects it, Allah connects him, and whoever severs it, Allah severs him. (Tirmidhi)
Talk delivered to City Circle 31st Jan 2020 in London. (Talk No. 4)
Shaykh Haytham Tamim’s Islamic MOT defines the essentials of being Muslim.
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