Each 'Īd, families get together and have dinner, or individually go to meet relatives both close and distant. There is socializing on a communal level, especially in Muslim majority areas, as people rekindle old ties, call up those of their kin they haven't spoken to in a while, mail greeting cards, and attend corporate 'Īd gala's and banquets. Sometimes, however, not all Muslims are able to successfully obliterate old grudges from their hearts and they find it difficult to visit someone who once wronged them or who's certain habits they find decisively off-putting. At times like this, they are faced with few options about what to do.
For the unmarried girl in her late twenties or early thirties (and perhaps more so for her mother), the greatest dread awaits her on 'Īd in the form of ladies' incessant questions about proposals and whether she has snagged any eligible bachelor yet – and if not, why. Then ensue the endless suggestions, from threading her eyebrows right to fixing her weight and gait in order to fulfill this monumental goal as soon as possible.
For the young man who has recently changed jobs or has not been promoted yet, he must deal with questions about his career and why he is not moving abroad or pursuing a job at a larger company.
“There is nothing left in this country, young man! Get out as soon as you get the chance.”
For the young mother, it is her children's “screen test” that must be passed at each gathering; from their hair, to their complexion, to their outfit, to their manners – everything is under observation on 'Īd by the onlookers.
“Why is her hair thinning? Do you give her a balanced diet?”
“She's darker this year, for some reason. She used to be so fair.”
“Why is he not eating rice? Do you not give him any?”
Her parenting skills could be instantly judged if something is lacking; and if all is perfect i.e. her children are judged to be downright adorable, then she is asked when the next baby is on the way, and advised how necessary it is for mothers to have them all at once.
Mostly, therefore, its all about the kind of questions that are asked, and the comments that are made during small talk and casual conversations on 'Īd, and the way they are put forward, that cause the greatest offense or pleasure, whichever way they are presented.
I ponder a lot on what exactly it is that makes relationships with others successful, given that we all – without exception – possess weaknesses and bad habits that turn others off. How can all the parts of a motor come together despite their individual shapes and sizes to function smoothly towards a common objective?
Whatever the enormity of our desire to do so be, we can definitely never change others' behavior towards us – at least not directly and immediately so – because that is just not possible. There is no way we can change their actions, or some of their offensive and disturbing personal habits. In fact, the more we try to change someone else, the more frustrated we get, because our tries our bound to be futile.
Maybe we do have the option to politely request a person not to act in a certain way around us, or to not say certain things to us that hurt our feelings. However, in my personal experience, if that action of theirs is a habit or an innate weakness (in particular, if they are grown adults, not younglings “passing through a phase”), it is bound to crop up again after a few weeks, months or years. Then we'll be back to square one, will we not?! Examples? A colleague with a 'sense of humor' makes a loud jibe at your bald spot or paunch before everyone else twice or thrice during every gathering; a lady with a penchant for others' family matters asks young wives outright whether they are using birth control or not; older cousins still extend their hands for a handshake and do not hesitate to jokingly slap you buddy-style on the back as they did in bygone childhood days, despite it being a few years since you started your demure hijab etc. What about that person who possesses a tendency for nameemah, and your squeaky protests of “Please, let's talk about something else!” are ignored by a “Are you saying that I am doing gheebah?! But everyone must know what they did to that poor girl!” followed by a detailed, nitty-gritty account of the said divorce, peppered with suspicion-laced conjectures that could put a saucy soap opera script to shame!
It was narrated from Ibn Mas'ood (may Allāh be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Shall I not tell you what is falsehood? It is nameemah (gossip), transmitting what people say.” [Muslim]
Let's not forget that sometimes it is the antics of visiting children and their manners that could easily tick off the host family. Leaving a trail of you-know-which-liquid on the floor when they go use the washroom; touching pastel cloth sofas with chocolate-cream covered hands (despite being offered plastic spoons to eat the gooey cake, they didn't take up the offer!); entering the adults-only study or home library, turning on the host “Uncle's” computer to play games, or rummaging through “Aunty's” dresser without even asking, let alone feeling an iota of guilt! Children can become one of the prime reasons for some families no longer being eagerly invited to an 'Īd party.
Whilst we have been endorsed to forgive and forget, overlook and ignore, and repel negative emotions with positive ones, we should keep in mind the instructions of the Qurʾān regarding making one's enemies one's close friends. The secret to changing someone's hurtful behavior towards us is suggested in the Qurʾān:
وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
“The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! He, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.” [Surah Fussilat 41:34]
Therefore, the best way to succeed at relationships in general i.e. to be well-liked and respected, and to have many friends and devotees, with few or no enemies, is to always ignore or counteract anything that is negative or disliked with positive and good behavior or action. Even if we correct someone or stop them in the act when they are doing wrong, it should be done in a beautiful (ahsan) way. One way of repelling bad behavior with good, is to embody the kind of actions you wish others to emulate. If done consistently, eventually everyone takes notice of this and, human nature being inclined towards what is divinely endorsed, they try to adopt the same in their own lifestyle.
Below are a few tips to help achieve respect and acceptance when visiting people, and to avoid conflicts or offence. More importantly, these tips will, inshā'Allāh, help avoid those situations that facilitate major sins of the tongue, such as gheebah, nameemah, slander, gossip, rumor-mongering and fun-making.
Watch and learn:
Whenever you meet someone at their home, or get initially acquainted with them, observe their habits and personal preferences keenly. Do they place coasters for their glasses on the table? Are shoes taken off in their home at the front door? Do they dislike being visited at home without a prior phone call? Are there times during the day at which they dislike receiving phone calls and visitors? Does the lady of the house appreciate or dislike others sauntering into her kitchen, keen to help her, opening up her cabinets and fridge to comment on the contents?
Some families love to have “open house” type of social get-togethers – in which their entire house is a free-for-all for their guests, with the children running amuck and the guests thronging all indoor rooms and the backyard; others have strict boundaries in their house which they prefer their guests to respect. Usually, bedrooms, private attached baths, the study and kitchen might be strictly off limits. Find out by observation before assuming anything about your host.
Being empathetic of other's preferences goes a long way in ensuring mutual cordiality and long-term friendship and respect. You do not want to be the irritating person/family on their contact list, do you? Empathy is the best way to ensure that that does not happen.
Keep it “short and sweet”:
Joining relationships i.e. “Silah Al Rahm” can be done over the phone too, nowadays, if visiting is not possible, or by keeping the meeting short and sweet. When the guests overstay their welcome, tension is bound to arise. It follows the cycle of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, thus:
- The Good: Small talk before dinner or refreshments, followed by a delicious dinner or snacks, and the rounding-off dessert that everyone enjoys.
- The Bad: Some unnecessary joking, backbiting and gossip starts over post-dinner kahva or coffee. The hosts' bedtime approaches and they start feeling uncomfortable, glancing at the clock often. The children start yawning and asking their parents when they will go home., or to bed
- The Ugly: The guests literally lie back on the couches, putting their feet up and their hair down, settling in for a “good”, heart-to-heart repartee. A couple of hours pass with the conversation venturing into the no-no zone: all-out ill humor, gossip, drudging up bygone embarrassing incidents, and exchanging dirty jokes amid loud guffaws that make the wives exit the room in shame. The children have dozed off on the carpet or on sofa cushions. [Note: this can happen even in the homes of practicing Muslim families, if they allow some of their not-so-practicing guests to have their way therein. I have personally experienced that after some time goes by, or after dinner is over, some guests wander into the sitting area designated for the opposite gender, on the pretext of talking to someone there, and then settle down for a tête-à-tête after the preliminary exchange of greetings. There go the host family's carefully planned arrangements for gender segregation!]
Keeping it 'short and sweet' means that the meeting ends after the first [“good”] stage, with everyone praying `isha in their own homes, if possible.
Practice what you preach: “Do not do unto others what you do not like being done unto you.”
What is most important is to never stoop to someone's level if they strike you 'under the belt', so to speak. This is what the Qurʾān's verse implies by advising us to “repel evil with that which is good”. Do not allow someone's jokes or vile comments to affect your mood – in such situations, I usually try to remember the wise phrase: “the one who angers you, controls you”. Eventually, your tight-lipped but tenacious politeness in return for insults, probing questions and/or insensitive comments will make the oppressor (and even the others in the gathering witnessing the conversation) realize that he or she is not getting anywhere with you, and they will leave you alone.
Make excuses for others:
Last but not least, if someone does something that you do not like, try to make excuses for their behavior seventy times before jumping to any conclusion or even discussing the matter with someone else. Usually, if someone is in a bad mood, they might not be very cordial with you. Being patient will ensure that the relationship does not turn sour, and your patience will entice them to feel guilty about brushing you off and they will try to make amends.
However, if over a few years, their behavior does not change (and your excuses for them have long crossed well over the seventy mark), you should re-evaluate how you can stay in touch with them without jeopardizing your peace of mind and/or personal privacy. You can switch to just intermittent phone calls or virtual messaging (emails etc.) to join relations with such people.
As long as we, as Muslims, practice mutual respect for others and be empathetic enough to take well-dropped hints and wisely understand others' gestures, our relationships can remain at the level at which we can be on each other's “wanted for company” list of social contacts, instead of “run the other way if spotted” list.
We should ask ourselves some key questions to see where we stand: do pious people like to meet us, or not? When they see us, do they look the other way, or do they enthusiastically rush forward with their hand outstretched, their faces lighting up with glee? Do we receive more invitations than we send out? If, as an individual or as a family, you answer “yes” to these questions, then rejoice; because you are on the sunnah of the Prophet Muḥammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم]. If not, try to follow the tips above to ensure long-term relationship success and, inshā'Allāh, you'll be there in no time at all.