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Quran and Sunnah

Lessons From Surah Yusuf – Part 1: Sibling Rivalry

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lessons from surah yusuf

Bismillah

Part I| Part II| Part III

The unique quality about the story of Prophet Yusuf [علیہ السلام] is that it has been narrated in one go in the Quran, and it has been described by Allah as “Ahsan Al-Qasas” –  the most beautiful of stories. This is because it has a beautiful example of human nature that can guarantee us success should we choose to adopt and follow it in our personal lives.

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The way it has been narrated, providing dialogue and details of what happened to Prophet Yusuf at the different phases of his life, throws light on the ways people dealt with him throughout his young years, and how his consistently good reactions to their actions ultimately worked in his favor and led to his success.

Yusuf was one of twelve sons of Prophet Yaqoub [علیہ السلام]. His ten older brothers felt envious of the love and affection felt for him and his younger brother by their father.

إِذْ قَالُواْ لَيُوسُفُ وَأَخُوهُ أَحَبُّ إِلَى أَبِينَا مِنَّا وَنَحْنُ عُصْبَةٌ إِنَّ أَبَانَا لَفِي ضَلاَلٍ مُّبِينٍ

Now [Yusuf’s brothers] spoke [thus to one another:] “Truly, Yusuf and his brother [Ben Yamin] are dearer to our father than we, even though we are so many. Behold, our father is surely suffering from a clear misguidance!” [12:8]

A few points to consider when evaluating the cause of this situation: It could be that Prophet Yaqoub actually did express more love and affection for his youngest two sons. However, given that he was a Prophet of Allah, this is highly unlikely. First, he already had 8 older sons – so why would he feel especially inclined towards the youngest 2? Second, why would he display open affection for Yusuf and Bin Yamin, when he was well aware of his older sons’ nature? This knowledge of his is obvious when he replies to Yusuf about the latter’s dream of future success and high worldly status (including becoming a Prophet):

 قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ لاَ تَقْصُصْ رُؤْيَاكَ عَلَى إِخْوَتِكَ فَيَكِيدُواْ لَكَ كَيْدًا إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لِلإِنسَانِ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

[Yaqoub] replied: “O my dear son! Do not relate your dream to your brothers lest [out of envy] they devise an evil scheme against you; verily, Satan is man’s open foe! [12:5]

The sons of Prophet Yaqoub were in the habit of thinking negatively, and prone to envy. It is clearly observed among people that some may possess stronger emotions than others, or a negative trait that another may not have at all. For example, some people are more short-tempered – easily flying into a rage at trivial matters. Others are impatient; they cannot stand waiting for what they want; they desire immediate gratification. Still others are extremely emotional – they jump to conclusions about things and get depressed, euphoric, despondent, or grief-stricken at the drop of a hat. It is highly likely that, having raised his older sons, Prophet Yaqoub had identified their envious nature.

Not only that, but as Yusuf flowered into a handsome, talented youth, Prophet Yaqoub recognized his imminent prospects of success: wisdom, knowledge, lofty manners, gracious conduct when dealing with others, and last but not least, physical beauty. It is also probable that, even before hearing the account of Yusuf’s dream, he had a strong inkling that Yusuf would be chosen as a Prophet. His intuition was confirmed when his beautiful son confided his dream to him.

As a parent to young children, I can testify to the fact that a person’s future  personality, comprising positive as well as negative traits, which they will display as an adult, is apparent to his or her parent from a very young age. For example, qualities such as neatness and organization, pro-activeness in accepting and discharging responsibilities, eloquence and effectiveness of verbal expression, empathy and compassion for the lesser privileged, whole-hearted, unprompted sharing and giving, and eagerness to obey elders – these and other positive traits are apparent as early as age 2.

Therefore, we can conclude that it was not that Yusuf tried to outshine his older brothers. He just did, because he had been blessed with numerous positive qualities from his Creator. This was something that his father recognized very early on.

Lastly, sibling envy/rivalry is an innate human emotion and weakness, especially when it involves competing for the attention, love or approval of a parent. Throughout my teen years, I have had friends who had issues with siblings. Being one of two children myself, there were times when I too, flew into a rage when my brother got something that I did not have. Even if I knew that he had taken our mother out for errands and they had lunch at some fancy place, I felt a pang of envy. I’d also half-jokingly tell Mum that she owed me a lunch at the same place with her, too. :)

Sisters might  sometimes secretly rival each other over good looks, clothes, accessories and popularity in school. Sadly, I have also had the very painful experience of watching two sisters, who had been otherwise extremely close (akin to bosom buddies), grow apart to the point of not speaking a word to each other, over a guy in their college. I also personally know of two other sisters belonging to the previous generation, the younger and prettier one of whom got involved with, and eventually married, the fiancé of the older one. They did not speak for years.

Therefore, everyone can vouch for the fact that when siblings fight, they mostly do because one is covetous/envious of the other’s possessions – this starts from a very young age. It is the reason why, a 2-year-old will try to pinch, hit, or bite the newborn sibling that has just arrived, because he or she has never seen his or her mother loving, feeding and carrying around anyone younger than himself. Similarly, that is why a girl in her early twenties will forbid her prettier younger sister from appearing before a family visiting their house to negotiate a prospective marriage proposal. And, that is why, a young guy will sulk in a corner when his older brother graduates summa cum laude from the prestigious institution of his dreams, into which he did not qualify enough to gain admission.

Envy blinded Yusuf’s brothers’ sense and judgment, until they devised a plan to eliminate – yes, eliminate – him from their lives. It is obvious throughout the narration of Surah Yusuf that they had not inherited their father’s intrinsically pure, good Prophetic nature, relentless fortitude and positive thinking. How could anyone plot to kill off another, no matter how much envy he feels? However, a little reflection reveals that the first ever murder of mankind was also committed by one of two blood brothers, and its basis was one’s envy at the acceptance of his brother’s sacrifice by Allah, combined with rage at having his own sacrifice rejected [reference- 5:27].

Therefore, the potential harm of sibling envy or rivalry cannot be undermined. The motive Yusuf’s brothers hoped to achieve by his murder was having their father’s exclusive attention and love (“wajh”), which they felt was more inclined towards Yusuf than them:

 اقْتُلُواْ يُوسُفَ أَوِ اطْرَحُوهُ أَرْضًا يَخْلُ لَكُمْ وَجْهُ أَبِيكُمْ وَتَكُونُواْ مِن بَعْدِهِ قَوْمًا صَالِحِينَ  

[Said one of them:] “Kill Yusuf, or else drive him away to some [faraway] land, so that your father’s regard may be for you alone: and after this is done, you will be [free to repent and to live once again as] righteous people!” [12:9]

However, as most negative thoughts deplete a person of rationality or wisdom, they did not pause to think that adopting the beautiful character, manners and conduct that Yusuf embodied would have been the recommended and praiseworthy route to achieving the same objective. Rather, Satan suggested the negative and destructive route to them, and they fell into his trap:

مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي

[Yusuf said]… “after Satan had sown discord between me and my brothers.” [12:100]

The lesson for us in this incident is that envy – particularly that which is felt towards a sibling who is more talented, morally upright and physically beautiful – is a negative and destructive trait that can cause us to commit a major sin if not curbed in time.

The most effective way of curbing envy and repelling the negative thoughts that it causes, is to (i) focus on our own strengths, instead of comparing ourselves with our sibling/object of envy, and (ii) proactively work hard to polish our talents to achieve success in the niche that Allah made us to naturally excel in. Allah’s help descended for Yusuf when one of the plotting brothers themselves, who was an active part of their murderous scheming, suggested that Yusuf not be killed, but thrown into a well and picked up by passing caravans.

The important lessons we can glean from the initial portion of Surah Yusuf are thus:

Envy is an extremely destructive emotion, which can rip apart even close, familial relationships within a home. The worst harm it inflicts is on the envier himself, who is prevented from personal improvement and professional advancement because of constantly monitoring, observing, and plotting and planning against the object of his envy.

Parents need to be very careful when expressing their love towards their children. If they praise one, they should express some form of love or praise for the other children present, within the same time-frame and physical setting, in order to prevent envy from being born in their hearts.

The same can be said about favoring some children over others whilst giving gifts. Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] forbade giving a gift to one child/adult offspring without giving the same to the others:

Nu’maan ibn Basheer said: “My father gave me a gift of some of his wealth, but my mother, ‘Amrah bint Rawaahah, said, ‘I will not approve of it until you ask the Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] to bear witness to it.’ So my father went to the Prophet to ask him to bear witness to the gift. The Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said to him, ‘Have you done the same for all of your children?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Fear Allah and treat your children justly.’ So my father came back and took back that gift.”

[Sahih Al Bukhari, Muslim]

How often we see parents deliberately choose to give the best clothes and jewelry (usually the precious family heirlooms) to their eldest (or most beloved) daughter, if they have only girls (of course it is anybody’s guess who will get the family heirloom if they have a son!). Or, when they choose the most well-qualified, well-placed, highest-earning son to bequeath their house to after all their children are married off, so that they can dwell therein with him in their old age, as his job has the best medical plan for dependents? Or the most common scenario (at least here in the Asian and IndoPak region:) when parents choose their son to get the family business as a bequest, while the daughters get just a few appliances, jewelry, clothes and furniture at their weddings as compensation/consolation? In some Muslim families, its common to see the son get the more pricey education (as an investment), whilst daughters are made to sit at home beyond high school or Intermediate, waiting to get married, even if they are more talented or if they want to pursue higher education.

How often parents ‘pick and choose’ which of their children to give which blessing/asset to, solely out of selfish motives geared towards safeguarding their own future interest? Is it not a grave error, one which they should fear Allah about? Will they not stand before Him one day, answerable about why they chose to give one child something better than the other children?

Parents should, therefore, fear Allah regarding their children, in order to not just obey Prophet Muhammad’s command, but also to prevent any deep-rooted, psychological impact on their children’s psyche caused by envy and malice, and not give preference or more love to any offspring more than his or her siblings, as a personal “future investment”.

If you are talented, religiously practicing, gifted, physically very good-looking, charismatic in nature, and enigmatic in persona, you are bound to be the object of others’ envy throughout your life. Very few people can tolerate someone who “has it all” – the love of people, worldly success, all-around popularity, a picture-perfect family, a charming and attractive personality, multi-faceted talents, superfluous wealth, spotless character and reputation, unflinching guidance towards the Haqq, and Islamic deeds that are at par with the scholars of the era. For such people, facing the sometimes illogical and unexpected antagonism of close relatives and old “friends” gives a great blow to their psyche and confidence, because they do not expect their own kith and kin to turn against them. However, it happens.

Whenever it does, the example of the young Yusuf should be brought to mind, who was mercilessly tossed into a well by ten of his own blood brothers! Nay, before that they even considered murdering him, proceeding to plot how to go about it. In front of his calamity, our own circumstances automatically pale in comparison.

Further, Yusuf’s case should strengthen our trust in Allah, that even if a group plots against us, Allah can inspire any one of them to avert a bad end for us, just the way one of the ten brothers himself suggested that instead of murder, kidnapping should be carried out. Allah says in the Quran:

قَالَ قَآئِلٌ مَّنْهُمْ لاَ تَقْتُلُواْ يُوسُفَ وَأَلْقُوهُ فِي غَيَابَةِ الْجُبِّ يَلْتَقِطْهُ بَعْضُ السَّيَّارَةِ إِن كُنتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ

Another of them said: “Do not slay Yusuf, but  rather – if you must do something – cast him into the dark depths of this well, [whence] some caravan may pick him up.” [12:10]

Last but not least, this portion of Surah Yusuf teaches us about staunch, unending positivism – the strategy of turning your ardent enemy into a best friend. This strategy is seen in the reactionary demeanor of Prophet Yaqoub, when his sons did what he had feared – they eliminated Yusuf from their lives. He said:

قَالَ بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْرًا فَصَبْرٌجَمِيلٌ وَاللّهُ الْمُسْتَعَانُ عَلَى مَا تَصِفُونَ

[But Yaqoub] exclaimed: “Nay, but it is your [own] minds that have made [so terrible] a happening seem a matter of little account to you! But [as for myself] patience in adversity is most goodly [in the sight of Allah]; and it is to Allah [alone] that I pray to give me strength to bear the misfortune which you have described to me.” [12:18]

He did not stoop to their level of deception and crime. Instead, He turned to ask Allah for help, whom he knew to be the real caretaker of Yusuf’s and his affairs.

In the next post, in particular, we will see how Yusuf was further tested and how Allah planned for him to be rescued from the well, insha’Allah.

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Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan. 11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette. Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'. For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Farzana

    January 4, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Brilliant article!! I’m glad you touched on the issue of favoritism and sibling rivalry that is so common amongst the Indo/ Pak subcontinent people. And more often parents don’t even realise they’re doing it. But psychologically it is destroying, especially the favoring of sons over daughters.

  2. Umm-e-Shozub

    January 4, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Mashallah , great article covered this topic of sibling rivalry , very well which plagues our society. Jazakallah Khair sister.

  3. Juli

    January 4, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    assalamualaikum

    jazakillah khair sadaf! as usual, love your posts! I love the ending..positivism. Subhanallah…turning to Alllah and being consoled by Him is unlike any other consolation you can get from any human beings.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 5, 2010 at 10:13 PM

      Jazakillahu khairan, Juli!
      Prophet Yaqoub [علیہ السلام] was just amazing. How he could have known what his sons did with Yusuf and still gone on living with them normally, despite being blinded by his tears of grief, but turning only to Allah for consolation….? Is that even humanly possible? Just think about it!
      Truly, from the Prophets lives, we learn the amazing lesson of relentless fortitude and positivism! Perhaps that is why Allah discusses their actions and life events so much in the Quran.

  4. xyz

    January 4, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    I have a brother who’s 2 yrs younger than me & we were just 1 grade behind in school. We were the best of friends and there times when we got into some serious fights too. We were extremely competitive when it came to sports, it was best if we were on the same team, opposite teams meant trouble :P

    i always thought he got the best of gifts & that everyone loved him but only later on I learned that he felt that i got the best gifts & was the favourite. The fact was that we were treated & loved equally but the sibling rivalry blinded us to the reality.

    We don’t get jealous of gifts any more but put us on the basketball court & the rivalry’s back :)

    The strangest part for me is that despite the sibling rivalry between us, we are the best of friends and only times I cried was when saying goodbye to him for a long period of times and it happens to this day despite being married & having kids. Sibling rivalry mite not necessarily mean lack of love for each other.

    Regarding favourites, my youngest sister in the favourite. She’s 15 yrs younger than me & 2nd youngest sister is 5 yrs older than her. She was everyone’s favourite, every sibling wanted to be with her and defended her when she made mistakes, that made my parents less strict with her :) Favouritism or not, again depends of each household & family structure. If my youngest sister had a rival then favouritism wouldn’t not have been rite but it was the siblings that encouraged it on my family.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 5, 2010 at 9:38 PM

      Yes you are right – every family structure is different, and it is that in addition to the nature and taqwa of everyone which determines the quality of its mutual relationships.
      Jazakillahu khairan for your comment; it has added to the points made in the article.

      • vasifa Ibrahim

        November 14, 2015 at 8:41 AM

        Jazakillah khair sister. It was beautiful reading and a lot of insight. it really broadened my way of looking.

  5. fatima

    January 4, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    Thanks for enlivening the best of stories in our hearts. Great reminder!

  6. UA

    January 4, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    MashaAllah, love the article. the story is one I’ve read and listened to the recitation of so many times…subhanAllah it never gets old. i’ll be checking back for your continuing parts…keep ’em coming!

  7. MA

    January 5, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    Sibling rivalry is awful and as a poster above said, blinding. My younger sister is known as the prettier one and all eyes are on her in family gatherings, while I’m left to the sidelines, ignored completely! I guess my compensating factor would be my academic ability. I only learned later in life that she was jealous of my grades, while I was jealous of the fact that she got more attention due to looks. A lot of arguments between us may have even been fueled by a subconcious envy at the time. Just awful.

    Thanks for the interesting article! This is certainly a topic that needs to be addressed.

    • amad

      January 5, 2010 at 7:43 AM

      You bring up an interesting situation that is probably much more applicable between sisters than brothers (usually guys aren’t that bothered about their looks). I think this is where good parenting may also come into play. And as human base instincts go, looks get more attention than intellect, which is quite unfortunate considering the fact that intellect or other “inner-beauty” will get a person much further in life (and hereafter), in relationships, etc. than looks.

      Question is how does one react in the situations you describe (social gatherings) and what would the role of parents or other confidante be in helping alleviate those situations? Can witty talk bring the attention back (or at least spread it out more fairly)?

      • MA

        January 5, 2010 at 8:46 AM

        In my experience, parents and other confidantes can play a huge role in alleviating this sort of rivalry between sisters especially. I remembered my mom telling me that although my sister had fairer skin (typical desi equation for beauty), I had better features. I also remember after I got praised for “inner beauty” stuff, my sister called me ugly in front of a social gathering to which my uncle responded with: “She is not ugly at all, I think she has been blessed with beauty.” These sort of things reassure the child that they aren’t completely out of the picture.

        Witty talk usually does not spread out the attention more fairly or bring it back. Usually, it back fires and everyone accuses you of being jealous or seeking attention. A pretty person always gets attention without trying, but when you open your mouth for attention, everyone knows you’re begging for it.

        In the end, I think the best thing would be to have good manners, respect elders and everyone else, smile and be positive – because everyone likes friendly and positive people :) Parents can help by not exacerbating the whole attention scenario (such as giving one child more attention in front of the other child), especially when it comes to family or social gatherings.

        Forgive me if I’ve talked too much.

        • Sadaf Farooqi

          January 5, 2010 at 9:46 PM

          No, your input has been extremely relevant! Jazakillahu khairan for being so honest and candid. This was the response I was hoping for – honest, real-life experiences of sibling discord or dissension.
          By your comment, I was reminded of a few friends of mine during my teens who had similar issues with sisters. And though we like to think that it all fades away and everything becomes alright, the fact of the matter is that sometimes, it doesn’t. The deep-rooted psychological impact of this young rivalry, especially if parents perpetrate it by careless remarks throughout their children’s youth, lasts throughout the siblings’ lives, and causes even greater dissensions later on.
          I wrote an online article on jealousy and the most feedback I have received on it was from adult women who had problems with their sisters’ jealousy – even at ages where their own children were now adults.
          As this above article points out, it is not something small for siblings to continue to harbor negative feelings for each other even after becoming adults, and those who escape this are very fortunate to have had good parents. :)

  8. Umm Reem

    January 5, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Me and my elder sister used to fight A LOT when we where young to the point that we wouldn’t even talk to each other…
    But, our fights were superficial because our fights ended when we got married and were separated…now we are very close!

    to be honest, I don’t even remember why we fought, I just remember that we fought over any and everything..but I never liked anyone else getting mad at her (my parents or brothers). My mother was very sick of our fights…one day she got very angry at both of us and said, “I’m gonna marry off one of u in India and the other one in Pakistan!” LOL

    and subhanAllah coincidentally my sister got married to an Indian and I am married to a Paki!! (warning: mothers should watch out what they say in anger, because their du’a is accepted for their children)

    Now, my elder two fight…and they fight a lot, but I don’t’ see any serious jealousy between them, alhamdulliah…I think sometimes siblings rivalry is there just because they never get a break from each other! :)

    • Amatullah

      January 5, 2010 at 11:12 AM

      I know what you mean Umm Reem! My older sister and I used to disagree on just about everything, and still sometimes do.

      Our personalities are complete opposites subhanAllah (literally, next to nothing is similar between us) I think that’s why.

      Jazaaki Allahu khayran once again Sadaf for the great article!

      • Sadaf Farooqi

        January 5, 2010 at 9:50 PM

        Yes siblings fighting during youth is completely natural. I have noticed that the closer siblings are in age, the more they fight, but the more emotionally close they are eventually in adult life.
        Same with my brother and I. Alhamdulillah now the fighting has decreased a lot, but the old jibes still come out sometimes, including the ‘harmless’ name-calling (childhood nicknames derived from vegetables and animals)….aah, astaghfirullah!

    • ayesha

      January 8, 2010 at 8:32 AM

      “mothers should watch out what they say in anger”
      this reminds me of what my teacher said of Sheikh AbduRahman Sudai’s interview…where he said he was quite naughty in his childhood days…recalling what his mother would say when she went mad at him he said,((she would say “May Allah make you the Imam of Masjid-Al-Haram” ))….

  9. Arifa Hassan

    January 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    well written, an eye opener for us.

  10. fatima

    January 6, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    Assalamu alikum
    My oldder sisiter is the one who gets attention due to her sweet talk..
    i cant say that i m jealous of my sister…i love her and i m very proud to b her sis but my problem is with my mother..as a kid i always felt that she gave her all the attention and her confidence. Now that she is married and my mother needs me to give her time as my older sis used to give her… I find myself sometimes not giving her time as if i m taking revenge of her not giving me time….astaghfirullah …i m scared of this feeling but i know its there
    I would love your advice in this matter ..jazakallah khair

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 6, 2010 at 1:22 AM

      Wa Alaikumus Salam Fatima,

      The “first child syndrome” or the “older child affection tendency” should be documented by psychologists – I have personally seen people get irrversibly affected by it so much so that they literally change as people. I myself had to consciously make sure my second born got the same love and care as did my first, because its human nature – usually its the first child, but it can also be the first daughter, or the first son, or the youngest child that came after a long gap – parents CAN get fixated on one child, because that child arrived at a special time in their lives or because he or she has special qualities which they always admired, thus they fall totally in love with him or her to the extent of undermining the other children.

      Parents mostly do not even realize that they are doing it. They need to be subtly told by someone at par with them in age. However, if another one of their own children tells them about it, its prone to backfire and be labelled as “jealous cribbing”.

      You can practice what the “high road” is – to be patient and take immense care of your mother/enjoy her company. This is a test for both you and she. Allah wants to see if you do ihsan with your mother or not, as He has exhorted us in the Quran. Ihsan means giving to others more than what is due.

      Please try to overlook what she did to you and just be good to her – I know this is very difficult. In fact, you should cash in on this exclusive one-on-one time with her that you probably never got because of your sister’s presence. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll also get married and move away from her, and regret not benefiting from this time you once had to be good to her.

      What happened with you is not at all uncommon. I pray that Allah guides you to the best of actions.

    • Ameera

      January 6, 2010 at 8:33 AM

      I think I know what you mean. In my home, I’m the eldest and I’ve got two sisters, three and six years younger than me, respectively. I’ve always noted that there is a special, undeniable bond between a mother and her first child. Perhaps it happens so because the mother usually turns to her eldest child for advice and discussions in important decisions. My mother and I have spent a lot of time talking on all kinds of subjects. She’s confided in me things she doesn’t even bring up in front of my younger siblings. After all these years, I’ve started realizing the fact that it’s not related to the child’s age either, it’s just about being the eldest.

      From my perspective, mothers don’t do it intentionally. In fact, many times, they do not want to discuss sensitive matters and family issues with the younger siblings, for several reasons. Plus, the younger children are always “children” to mothers, they don’t really “see” how each child has grown up. It’s very natural… my youngest sister is soon to be 18 but my mother doesn’t like to insist upon her to wash up after dinner, etc. It’s somehow a mother’s nature that she sees her younger children as eternally “young”.

      With your mother, perhaps the same thing came to happen? With the elder child in the house, the role of senior confidante and advisor couldn’t really be taken up by the younger one. Now, you do have a chance to step into your sister’s shoes and “enjoy” your new-found role. Your mother would probably enjoy a change of views and ideas. Really, I’m the eldest and I discuss things with my mother a lot, but I’m sure she’d benefit from hearing more than one point of view! :) Show your mother how you’ve matured too, you can be a close friend just as much her younger child. (Let me tell you though, it ain’t all peaches all the time, even if it may seem so!)

      On retrospect, a lot of what passes as “sibling rivalry” can be easily explained and you realize how trivial those issues were, seen in the right context. If only we knew those as kids! :)

      • Fatima

        January 6, 2010 at 4:24 PM

        Jazakallah Khair Sr. Sadaf and Ameera for your sincere and beautiful advice. I know that I have a lot of positive to think about my mother than negative. But sometimes we just need sincere advice to get on track :)

        • Ameera

          January 6, 2010 at 7:04 PM

          Wa-iyyaki! :) You are so right, we really do need to hear it from someone else! The mother-daughter relationship is quite, um, “multi-faceted” (don’t want to use the word “complex”). I’ve got my own issues too and reading up on this issue makes it easier to judge the right course of action, Insha’Allah.

  11. Sh

    January 6, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    This doesn’t happen in my family but i have seen where mothers treat their sons better than their daughters (especially in the desi culture). My friend had this problem. I always saw how her mother would tell everyone her faults and hide the faults of her son…even though her son did many bad things. I think this partly contributed to my friend rebeling away and marrying whom she wanted against her parents’ wishes Allahu Alim.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:37 PM

      I always saw how her mother would tell everyone her faults and hide the faults of her son

      Innaa lillahi wa inna ilahyi raji’oon.
      Girl or boy, whenever a parent exposes their child’s faults in public – without any just cause – it is a situation bound to cause harmful effect on the child in question. Its the most hurtful experience a child an go through. I have myself been inadvertently guilty of this, but alhamdulillah, one of my sincere friends pointed it out to me, when I did this to my 2 year old daughter. I was telling my friend about the sibling rivalry my daughter was going through after my son’s birth. She said to me, “Never say negative things about her when she is there, listening; if you need to discuss an issue about her to seek advice for it, discuss it when she cannot hear.”

      Wise words that have helped me check myself since then! I guess I hadn’t realized that my 2 year old could understand my conversations by then and was no longer a baby. :)

  12. sulemanc

    January 7, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Dr. Hesham al-Awadi produced a highly insightful series on this, entitled “Yusuf (AS) – Exploring the Chapter of Joseph in the Holy Quran”.
    In one of the CDs he focuses on sibling rivalry and its all consuming nature at times. Highly recommended.

  13. usman

    January 7, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Salaam, great article. I just had one question. You translated Ahsan Al-Qasas as a beautiful story. I always understood that as the best of stories. Is their a difference, and which one is more precise. jazakhallah khair

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:18 PM

      You are right; that was an error. I have corrected it. Jazak Allahu khair. “Ahsan” is a word that is based on the superlative degree in Arabic grammar, which implies “more or most beautiful”. But “best of stories” is also correct.
      Allah knows best.

  14. mary

    January 7, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    my husband is one of four but the only son. In his (pakistani) family the daughters were favoured more thanthe son. He didnt do well academically but his siters did.

    I hav given up on reminding him of the importance of keeping ties as he dosent keep in touch with them as he should. I hav come to realise that his family dont giv him much importance/ authority and thats why he dosent make the effort.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:26 PM

      Actually I know such a son too. He had many sisters and one brother older than him. His parents sent him off abroad at a young age to live with an aunt and study, and he subsequently faced many hardships alone. Today he has very little emotional attachment with his family.
      Each family is different, but parents should fear Allah when raising their children. As the article points out, the harmful effects of sibling rivalry can manifest themselves later on in life.

    • Amad

      January 8, 2010 at 1:25 AM

      Odd… usually it’s the opposite… esp. being the only son!

  15. umi

    January 7, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    i am the second child in my family. i hear many people call the second child the rebellious child. i objcted to my mothers favouring my brothers over us sisters but my sisters never objected.
    I stopped objecting many years ago not that things have changed but i have changed . i now understand that my mother comands respect and that i should avoid objecting to any of her actions. That she may do as she pleases. it still hurts though!

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:27 PM

      it still hurts though!

      Yes, it does.

    • Safia K R

      January 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM

      I am glad someone mentioned the 2nd child. Sadaf Baji mentioned the 1st child syndrome, but a middle child syndrome also exists. This is what leads to the 2nd child becoming rebellious. Parents spend more time with (and on most occasion not deliberately) the oldest (studies, events etc) and then the 3rd who is the youngest of the family especially when there is less age difference amongst them. The middle child is left ignored or tagging along.

      We as parents need to be well aware that we have been given the privilege by Allah to do tarbiyah of our children. Children are an amanah on us. Our deen talks about justice and we think justice/equality/fairness is only a court scene, but justice is in our everyday lives. We live it but need to be aware of it. Surah Maidah talks about justice and says that if we are to judge then we should decide with a balance. This is definitely applicable when dealing with children and when a parent gives one child more attention than the other, we are doing khianat in our amanat by dealing improperly with them. We are accountable for it. How we deal with our young children today has deep rooted long term impact so we need to it with hikmah and sensitivity. This also involves helping our children rid of the jealous or envious nature if they are like that as was the case of Yousuf (AS)’s brothers. We as parents know our children.

  16. aarij

    January 7, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    As Salamo alaikum

    Masha Allah very nice article, as usual. You bring valid points – as usual – about parents picking and choosing who to give gifts to out of their own interest, but what is wrong with that, as long as the other siblings are not dealt with unjustly?

    Why is it unjust – for example – for a father of 4 daughters and 1 son to give each daughter appliances and the family business to the son? He has not been unjust to the daughters (he would have been if he gave them nothing or next to nothing).

    The sons inherit more because – and Allah knows the complete wisdom – they are financially responsible for the females of the family. Keeping that in mind, why is it such a crime if a daughter is only educated till high school and the son is educated till university, keeping in mind that the son will eventually provide for the entire family and the daughter won’t?

    BTW, Do you know that some of the scholars have said in the commentary of the verse “لِلذَّكَرِ مِثۡلُ حَظِّ ٱلۡأُنثَيَيۡنِ” “for the male there is twice the share of the female” (surah nisaa) that the same thing applies to gifts as well? My teacher told me this when explaining the ahadith from Adabul Mufrad and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it the first time. But he said that this was not the majority opinion. Yet, this opinion classically exists?

    Another point that can further be used to strengthen the case for “biased” spending towards boys is that the aqiqah for the boy is twice that of the girl. And this is the first “gift” that the parent gives for the child.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating an extreme bias or injustice towards girls, but it is something understandable, especially for families that are not so well off. To write it all off – like you have done unfortunately – as bias and injustice is not correct. WAllahu alam.

    Another thing regarding Yaqub’s [AS] love towards Yusuf [AS]: there is nothing wrong even if he loved Yusuf more. It doesn’t make him any less of a person in any way nor does it take away anything from him. This is because love is an action of the heart and something that is sometimes beyond human control.

    Case in point: 1) the Prophet صلى الله عليه Ùˆ سلم loved Fatima [RA] more than others and is reported to have said “She is part of me”, whereas he is not reported to have said that about the other daughters. 2) the love of Aisha [RA] was far more intense in the heart of the Prophet صلى الله عليه Ùˆ سلم than the other wives and that was well-known. As long as the love doesn’t lead to any actions that are unjust, its all good. WAllahu alam.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 11:29 PM

      Bismillah
      Wa Alaikumus Salam

      You bring up some interesting points. Well, each parent is different and what I wrote about the spending on sons was based on my own opinion plus the blatant injustices that are done to girls in the geographical region where I live, in the name of “investing” in the sons’ future as a provider.

      However, what can I say to what your teacher said about the same rule applying to gift-giving as the law of Islamic inheritance that gives the son a double portion? The hadith is clearly there – Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] prohibits giving one thing to an offspring without giving the same to the others – in type or value. He cautioned us to fear Allah in giving to our children; we can either do that, or find cases for bias from the Quran and Sunnah. Either way, Allah will be our judge for our actions.

      Keeping that in mind, why is it such a crime if a daughter is only educated till high school and the son is educated till university, keeping in mind that the son will eventually provide for the entire family and the daughter won’t?

      Her choice should be the decider of the issue. If she wants a good education, and has the intellect and desire for it, then not letting her get educated to the same level as the son would be an injustice. The parents do not know the future – many a son who were expensively educated go on to not fare well in their careers, whereas some daughters who were not educated, go on to study after marriage and do well – at business, teaching, or community work. The point is that when parents do not consult their children before deciding what to give to each, negative feelings develop in the latter and get nurtured over time.

      I personally know some elderly couples who either have no children, or have only one or several daughters, and masha’Allah, Allah is providing for them so well through their own halal incomes and long-term investments that they are still providing for their children – even after the latter’s marriages. I know of a family that has 4 sons and one daughter – they are still supporting 2 of their sons themselves, whereas the other two sons spend their whole income on their own wives and children. Yes, a son has to provide for his wife and children in the future – but the daughters cannot be denided a good education which they want just for the sake of gaining knowledge, just because they will not need to financially provide for anyone in the future.

      In Islam, if two goats are slaughtered when a son is born, then there is also an apparent “bias” at the time of marriage, when the wife has to get some wealth from the husband, whilst she is not obliged to give him anything. Also, she can spend her own wealth as she chooses, without it being bindingly obligatory upon her to spend on her family (excepting old parents who need support), not even on her children, whilst the Muslim man is committing a haram action by not spending on his wife and children. So the differences are there – Allah in His infinite wisdom chose the laws, and we submit to them. In some cases, he preferred women, especially whenever I compare myself to my husband in financial spending matters. 99% of what he earns gets spent on family and dependents, whereas whatever Allah gives me, in any form (gifts, inheritance, or my own earning), is – unless I choose to spend it – for myself to keep. I feel that Allah has given me, as an adult, married Muslim woman, preference over my husband – an adult, married Muslim man – in this regard.

      However, if our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] advised us to do something, we should try to obey him as much as we can. A few electronic appliances, fancy clothes, jewelry and furniture can not equal a thriving business and its value. Nowadays, and even since the time of Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid, women have been good at owning and operating businesses. Perhaps the parents can consult their children before bequeathing different types of wealth to each of them on their own. They can ask a son or daughter whether he or she would prefer jewelry or a share in the business, instead of making their own decisions unanimously and making their children feel like some unfair prejudice or discrimination took place. Consultation can work wonders for children’s morale.

      I personally know of a sister who told her parents that, on her wedding, she’d prefer to receive a laptop instead of a couple of the many sets of jewelry they were bent on giving her (which is mostly for show-off purposes anyway, to satisfy the family’s aunties, when they ask the girls’ parents pointed questions such as “How much gold did she get? What did she bring?” at the wedding); her parents, however, didnot buy her the laptop. That’s the kind of issue I was talking about when I mentioned the “dowry” that daughters recieve; its mostly not a gift for them, but more for showing to the world, so that no one says anything. But we should leave dowry for a separate post. :)

      The love a person feels in his heart for their different children – yes, I suppose there is nothing wrong with loving one child/wife more than another, as long as outwardly no injustice is done to both – as you say – especially if that child is more pious and obedient, and the other is rebellious and disobedient. However, I think that when Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said about Fatimah [radi’Allahu anha] that “She is part of me”, it was in a particular context – regarding a decision Ali [radi’Allahu anhu] was considering. Fatimah was his youngest daughter who outlived the others. Were his older daughters alive when he made this statement? I wonder. Some seerah expert please help me with this!

      As for the aqiqah, is it really the first “gift” the parents give to their child/baby? Its rather an expression of gratitude to Allah for the blessing and a sadaqah for the family and needy. I don’t think any baby has ever had any of the meat on its own aqiqah! *That was a joke!* The reason 2 goats are slaughtered could be that a son is a future financial supporter of his parents (however, daughters are too; they have to spend their money on their parents in old age if the latter need the money) but mostly because he carries forth the blood line i.e. through him the family name carries on and the next generation comes. Why do you think none of Prophet Muhammad’s sons survived? What would have happened if they had?

      Its anybody’s guess. Allah’s wisdom reigns supreme.

      And only Allah knows best.

  17. Abu Ayyoob

    January 24, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    SubhanAllah. I only wish this had been posted about half a decade earlier when I had had some major issues in dealing with my sibling.

    Also it is interesting to note how perspectives can change how you view something. In this post, the brothers of Yusuf alayhis salaam seem to be menacing and evil(and that is usually how we were taught in the sub-continent as well). Yet Dr. Reda Bedeir(who has actually done one of his Ph.Ds in Surah Yusuf) when he was explaning the story to us, told us of how the brothers were actually good people who in a state of jealousy got blinded momentarily. He points to a number of examples such as them deciding to kill Yusuf alayhis salaam, yet upon further discussion, decide to abandon him in a well(thereby losing the resolve to commit such an heinous crime as killing someone unjustly).

    InshAllah I will also listen to the Surah Yusuf lecture series by Hesham al Awady(I loved his other cd sets)

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  21. zarina ahsan quadeer

    February 22, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    Alhamdullilah!
    Beautiful insight!
    Why does a parent feel more inclined towards one child?
    The simple answer that comes to my mind is sometimes we have no control over our heart. Our Holy Prophet S.W.S pbuh, treated all his wives equally, but did say, O’ Allah Tallah Forive me, I have no control over my heart! sometimes a particular child, one like Hazrat Yusuf A.S, wins this just by being more pious and obedient. So the key words here are ‘piety’ and ‘obedience’ aren’t they?
    Sadaf, your solution of focussing on one’s strengths is really effective. Patience in adversity, easier said! May Allah SWT Grant this ‘Sabr’ to all of us ameen. Yes, it takes tremendous effort but Hazrat Yaqoob A.S. did change his foes to friends, no doubt it needs a prophet’s fortitude but then these are our role models! May we learn to make them so. May Allah SWT Give us strength to try this effectively in our own lives too ameen.
    I enjoyed Ayesha’s comment on how Sheikh Abdur Rahman Sudias Sahib’s mom, even when angry scolded him with a dua, how often mothers in a fit of anger, tend to use such harsh words, I do so believe we should be careful with our words, who knows an ameen from a farishta could well make it come true! Also sometimes, even when pleased with a child it is a ‘rivaj’ to say, “bada Shaitan ho gaya hai”, are we aware of what we are saying for the dearest person in our life?
    Sadaf, your valuable advice to Fatima, on cashing in on the exclusive time with her mom, one-on-one! is beautiful, Mashallah, May Allah Tallah Reward you for it! nodoubt in addition to ajar from Allah Tallah, her mother will discover her mistake and children, the ever silent observers will follow the same Inshallah.
    Jazakallah not only to Sadaf, but to all those whose comments and responses, I enjoyed reading. Alhamdullilah.

    • Sadaf Farooqi

      March 6, 2010 at 1:06 PM

      Jazakillahu khairan to you too, for your valuable input. :) It added to the ongoing discussion and provided us with food for thought, alhamdulillah!

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  24. Hayat Yusufzai

    September 11, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    This can’t be right.
    Why would Allah create such an injustice?
    Really? The better looking sibling, the more talented, etc. only threat in this dunya is being the subject of envy?
    You know what makes this era a lot worse?
    In the past decade, especially now more than ever, narcissism is the new cool.
    Living in a big city I can see how despite which economic background one is in, poor or rich, there is always that sense of narcissism
    The one who is not as good looking ( MEN or FEMALE, it actually matters just as much for guys now due to social media and celebrities and sexual freedom which allows women to openly ridicule men who don’t look like super models), not as talented, not as social, etc. is considered a “loser”. I’ve had to go through that since I was a kid all the way to my teen years, that’s 25 years of torture, does that not warrant a sense of justice? They gloat it, and they’re vain about it, do they not deserve punishment?

    Just because I don’t have as many friends, just because I’m not as good looking, I’ll always be a shadow of my younger brother. Even the woman I was going to marry, the woman I’ve been engaged with for a year, had suddenly changed her mind a week after meeting my family and younger brother for the first time. Fast forward a couple of months later, and now she’s engaged with my younger brother! They were talking the whole time. She saw a picture of him and that’s all it took, she contacted him through social media, and has been dm’ing him back and forth, obsessed with him. For something SO superficial. Where have the good women gone? Could you believe that? Now he has her too! He’s taken everything from me! And he wants to make me the best man for his marriage?! The audacity!!

    Now he chooses to reach out, pretending like I’m someone worth having in his life because I have a career and I make money. That’s when people really care huh?
    Allah is the most just, he taught us justice. People like that deserve to be punished. Insha’Allah he will get one punishment, worth 10 times more than the 25 years of torture I had go through. Because of this piece of shit, I’ve made a life-long commitment of getting those 25 years of torture back. I’m 27 years old now, without a single wrinkle, or gray hair, and I’m very fit, with a successful career, yet I am still unhappy, because he’s lived a youth I have not, for the bullying I’ve gone through. I pray he ages bad, and I hope his soon-to-be-wife leaves him one day. Thanks to these days and the coming decade, research is already on in its clinical trials for anti-aging, eye color change, bone to cartilage conversion to open epithyseal growth plates for further height growth/stem cell method of height growth. Him being 6’3″ with green-blue eyes while me being 5’10” and brown eyes, in this age of superficiality we live in, what an injustice. I will win, and he will lose, Insha’Allah. He’s not even religious, he never prays, he drinks alcohol, a secret I’ve kept for him, not telling my parents, the latter and the whole world think he’s the perfect handsome, religious, talented man, well he no longer will Insha’Allah. The truth will come out and I will be better. I empathize for Prophet Yusuf’s brothers. Imagine, because of Yusuf’s existence, nobody loved them. They were essentially lonely, they were just objects to envy Yusuf for the grand story that is being told today. Then they are told NOT to envy? They don’t want to BE him, they want a sense of equality and acknowledgement. Of course they weren’t, Yusuf had to take everything from them, even their worth as people. Now they’re being used as an example for negative traits? What do you expect them to do? Bend over to Yusuf, be comfortable with knowing Yusuf is more loved by Allah ( because he was chosen as a Prophet and blessed with all of these traits), be comfortable with knowing their wives don’t love them and secretly dream of being with Yusuf? Be comfortable with being next to nothing compared to Yusuf in front of their father?

    Allah taught us justice.
    Siblings like that deserve the equivalent psychological torture we had to go through so they can process an understanding. Understanding bridges to a solution, and to a level of peace.

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