“For some, this period [of religious development] was characterized by increased insularity, intolerance, and estrangement, sometimes from family…At the time, this felt right…But a curious thing happened to many of us as we aged…We began to see ourselves as individuals rather than members of homogenous ‘whole’. And, of course, this led to friction as others saw us change, evolve and grow in ways they had not expected. Or, in more painful examples, the trauma had a negative impact on our practice of Islam which, in turn, led to even greater friction and estrangement from those we had once felt so close to. These are the sisters I term the ‘walking wounded’.”
—Na’ima B. Robert, “Editor’s Space,” SISTERS Magazine (March 2013)
UZ: What went wrong? That’s the question I ask when I look around me and see so many wounded brothers and sisters struggling to hold on to their Islam, some who’ve simply let go. It’s a question I even ask myself when I’m deeply pained by my own experiences with Muslims and our never-ending quest to champion ‘pure Islam’ in the world.
Na’ima, when I read your editor’s note in the March issue of SISTERS, it brought tears to my eyes; maashaAllah, may Allah bless you for writing it. I think so many of us, whether we were born into Muslim homes or accepted Islam later in life, can understand the profound implications of ‘walking wounded’—sometimes on a very personal level, within our own lives or the lives of those we love.
Can you explain this term ‘walking wounded’ and what inspired you to use this vivid analogy?
NB: JazakAllahu khairan for your kind words about the editorial. I was inspired to write it after learning of some severe trials that some sisters I knew were facing. Now, the thing with trials is this: if you encounter them when your iman is relatively strong, they can actually serve to make it stronger. Greater reliance on Allah , increased supplication, a reminder of the true nature of this world; these are some of the positive side-effects of experiencing trials when your iman is in fairly good shape. On the flip side, if your iman is already weakened, these trials may wear it down even further, leading us to question our beliefs and doubt in Allah’s wisdom. Often, in these cases, there are feelings of disappointment or anger and these are directed at the Muslims who have either not helped the person who is suffering, or made the situation worse in some way. This translates into a generalised feeling of disillusionment and distrust of Muslims.
UZ: How common is this ‘walking wounded’ experience for Muslims today?
NB: I think there are a lot of Muslims hurting, a lot of Muslims suffering in their own quiet ways. And I am not referring here to suffering brought on by political upheaval. I’m talking about ordinary Muslims, in everyday life, suffering. And for me, what makes their pain all the more poignant and unsettling, is that, as far as we were concerned, it was never meant to be this way. You mentioned ‘pure Islam’ earlier and I read that with a wry smile. We thought that, once we accepted Islam, and did our very best to practice it according to the Sunnah etc, life would be better. Not perfect, because a perfect, happy life is reserved for Jannah – may we all meet there, ameen. But sisters were prepared to sacrifice, to ‘downsize’, especially within marriages. We were prepared to give up work, to obey, to concentrate on the home, on childrearing and, for quite a few, accept polygamy and all that that entails. But, in return, I think we hoped for a good, honest life, a life of dignity, yes, we expected that, as sisters. And, from what I see today, it is the gap between those hopes and expectations and the reality that many sisters have had to face, that has led to the ‘walking wounded’ phenomenon. I think a lot of married sisters are hurting, I think a lot of divorced sisters are hurting, but there is no way for them to address these feelings in our communities. There is no way for them to demand justice from within the community. And this is not confined to sisters. Brothers have faced it, too, with other brothers who they came to rely on or with their families. I am thinking in particular of brothers who have not been allowed access to their children after divorce. A recent Facebook post brought this matter to my attention and, subhanAllah, so often we think that the brothers can’t be hurt, that they have the upper hand in all situations. This discussion on custody opened my eyes to the fact that this is not always the case and that sisters can also be vindictive and manipulative, when it suits them.
UZ: What do you believe is leading to such a dramatic shift from a spiritual high to spiritual trauma? Is there something we as individuals or communities are doing wrong? Was there something wrong in how or what we learned about Islam in our formative years of seeking knowledge?
NB: There are a few things to consider here: firstly, I think our expectations were perhaps too high. But then again, if you can’t expect a lot from the Muslims, ‘the best nation’, who can you expect it from? But maybe what we wanted ‘the community’ to deliver, especially in communities with a high convert/ returnee population, was unrealistic. I think that, in an ordinary Islamic context, much of the support that we feel we need from the masjid is supposed to come from the family. And if that support isn’t there, we feel the failings of the masjid all the more keenly. I also think that, in some communities, there is too much emphasis on outward conformity to Islamic rules, and not enough on building a sincere and rich relationship with Allah and cleansing ourselves, looking inward. The two sides are needed for a balanced Islamic identity. For many, it is easier to cloak oneself in the garb of piety than to strive to truly embody it. The only trouble with that is, when your conviction is tested for one reason or another, you often don’t have the spiritual fortitude to withstand the trial, and Allah knows best.
UZ: When I talk to some sisters who are on the verge of leaving Islam, I notice that for the vast majority of them, they are so deeply hurt by what they’ve experienced that there is strong aversion to being around Muslims or hearing Islamic lectures or talks. Have you noticed anything similar? What is your perspective on why this happens?
NB: I have definitely noticed this and, again, I put it down to the disillusionment and disappointment felt by such sisters. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I heard all that talk before but I know the reality now.’ For instance, if you feel that the Muslims have failed you as a woman, the last thing you want to hear is someone talking about how Islam honours women. If you have been denied your rights, the last thing you want to hear is a lecture on women’s rights in Islam. I feel that there comes a time for realness. And that realness is acknowledging the gap between the ideals that Islam holds and the reality that Muslims face. By all means, call to Islamic ideals, teach them, remind the Muslims about them. But you can’t stop there. If you do not deal with the reality on the ground, the truth that people are living and tasting every day, you are doing the community a disservice and mocking the idea of ‘living Islam’. Because it’s much harder to deal with those truths, much harder to come to terms with those uncomfortable realities. But we must or those wounds will continue to fester and start to infect other parts of the community. This is me talking about translating Islamic ideals into practical solutions that will impact people’s lived realities.
UZ: So often when there are spiritual crises amongst Muslims, a lot of blame is placed on masjids and communities as a whole. But on an individual level, how can brothers and sisters help stop or lessen spiritual trauma amongst fellow Muslims?
NB: As far as I am concerned, it is upon those of us who have been blessed with the ability to practise Islam to develop empathy. We are so cold, so unfeeling, so aloof. This allows us to distance ourselves from the wounded ones, to point fingers and sit in judgement. It is one thing to see or hear of someone’s sin and, privately, seek refuge in Allah from falling into it, or thank Allah that He has not tested us with that. We make a private judgement about that action: do we hold it to be halal or haram for ourselves? Every Muslim must do this so that we can remain unequivocal about Allah’s laws. However, when it comes to the person who has committed that sin, our judgement should become empathy, seeking to understand, to support, to help them through it, guiding and advising them through word and deed. We give ‘naseehah’ – reminders, ayat of Qur’an or ahadith – because it’s easier. To me, I have come to see this as shorthand for ‘It’s easier for me to remind you of a hadith than get involved in the mess of your life or actually be there for you in any meaningful, practical way.’ That may sound harsh but, often, this is the way it comes across to the person being ‘advised’ in this way.
UZ: I agree. I too have noticed this. I think those who are blessed with the ability to practice Islam but do not have empathy for others are neither practicing Islam nor understanding it. So perhaps, the vast majority of us are in one way or another ‘walking wounded’—some of us through imagining that we’re practicing Islam when we’re not, and others through consciously giving up on “doing right” due to spiritual exhaustion and confusion.
And Allah knows best.
May Allah purify our hearts and return us to true faith such that our belief in Him heals any wounds we may experience on this difficult journey toward meeting Him.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost. She is now writing juvenile fiction stories under the name Ruby Moore. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.
Na’ima B. Robert was born in the UK and grew up in Zimbabwe. She embraced Islam in the UK and now lives in Cairo. She is the author of ‘From my sisters’ lips’ and several books for children and young adults. She is also founding editor of SISTERS, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women and Discover, the new magazine for curious Muslim kids.
WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG
How Do Muslims Plan for Disability
Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings. Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.
Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.” It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives. The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.
How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children? What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?
Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood. This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.
The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all. Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.
Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor). But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children. It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.
Please Stand By
Example: Salma has three daughters and two sons. One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome. At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings. What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.
In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance. However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.
Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will. I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.
If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right. If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.
This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.
The Shape of Special Needs Trusts
A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.
When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust. This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.
In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits. But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.
The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.
Example: Care for Zayna
Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care. Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.
Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity. So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.
Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.
If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.
When disability planning is not about Public Benefits
Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance. They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.
Example: Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things. For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.
The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her. If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life. There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.
In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem. They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.
Considering your own needs
There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself. While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.
There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues. It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process. They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.
One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.
Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms
Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner. In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren. The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.
Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this. It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment. What was worse is that the business failed immediately.
Three months later, Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again. She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away. His wife Julie was pretty upset.
How living trusts helps
As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust. It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this: The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity. This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.
If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him. He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.
Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake. The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money. If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.
The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth. Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust. Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.
Planning for everyone
Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives. As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately. However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.
MuslimARC Releases Guide for White Muslims By White Muslims
The author of the MuslimARC Guide writes an introduction
“As people who are both white and Muslim, we straddle two identities -one privileged in society and the other, not. We experience Islamophobia to varying degrees, sometimes more overtly depending on how we physically present, and at the same time we have been socialized as white people in a society where white people hold more social power than People of Color (POC). The focus of the toolkit is to provide resources and information that will help guide us toward good practices and behaviours, and away from harmful ones, as we challenge racism within the Muslim community (ummah) and in society at large.” MuslimARC Guide
As part of our mission to provide education and resources to advance racial justice within the Muslim community, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is producing a series of community-specific guides to be a resource for those who want to engage in anti-racism work within Muslim communities.
The first in this series, the Anti-Racism Guide for White Muslims, has been written specifically for white Muslims, by white Muslims under the guidance of the anti-racist principles of MuslimARC. While white Muslims know that Islamically we are required to stand for justice, growing up in a society that is so racially unequal has meant that unless we seek to actively educate ourselves, we typically have not been provided the tools to effectively talk about and address racism.
The Anti-Racism Guide for White Muslims is a tool and resource that speaks to specific needs of white Muslims who are navigating the process of deepening their understanding of racism and looking for concrete examples of how, from their specific social location, they can contribute to advancing anti-racism in Muslim communities. The Guide also addresses views and practices that inadvertently maintain the status quo of racial injustice or can actually reproduce harm, which we must tackle in ourselves and in our community in order to effectively contribute to uprooting racism.
The Guide was developed by two white Muslim members of MuslimARC, myself (Bill Chambers) and Lindsay Angelow. The experiences, approaches, recommendations, and resources are based upon our own experiences, those of other white Muslims we have encountered or spoken to, and research and analysis by others who have been cited in the Guide.
As white people, we are not always aware when we say or write something that reflects our often narrow analysis of racism and need to be open to feedback from Muslims of Color. My own personal process of helping to develop this Guide made me aware of the many times I was in discussions with Muslims of Color, especially women, when I had reflect better upon the privilege I experience as a white person and also the white male privilege that comes with it. It is difficult not to feel defensive when you realize you may have said too much and listened too little on a topic that is really not about you.
Talking about racism is a hard topic and we anticipate that for many white Muslims reading the Guide, there may be a feeling of defensiveness and having difficulty learning from the examples given because you feel that the examples don’t apply to you. You may feel the need to call to attention the various forms of injustice you feel you have experienced in your life, for example where you felt like an outsider as a convert in Muslim community. Our advice is to recognize that those reactions are related to living in a society where we are very much shielded from having to deeply understand racism and examining our role in it. In the spirit of knowledge seeking, critical thinking, and the call to justice communicated to us in the Qur’an as expectations that Allah has of Muslims, we must push past those reactions and approach the subject matter in the spirit of knowledge, skill-seeking, and growth.
“People, We have created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should get to know one another (49:13).” One of our most important purposes is to really “get to know” one another, build just and loving communities together, all the time knowing we all come from the same source and will return together. If this Guide does anything, let it inspire a deeper understanding of our unique identity as white Muslims and how to use it to advance a more just society.
You can find the #AntiRacismGuide for White Muslims at http://www.muslimarc.org/
Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?
High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.
Salma and Yousef:
Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.
Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.
This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.
Sarah and Hasan:
Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.
The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.
Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:
The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.
This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:
- The Family Unit In Islam
- Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
- The Nuclear Family
- The Extended Family
Hamza and Tamika
Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad .
The Family Unit in Islam
We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.
The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.
Layla and Ibrahim
Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived. Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.
As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.
Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?
The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.
How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.
Each person in the family has a role which Allah has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.
What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.
Razan and Farhaan
Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.
Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?
Mawaddah and Rahma
The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.
Aliyaah and Irwan
Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.
Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reminds us,
“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).
Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.
Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah). Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide. An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.
Lesson 11 From Surah Al-Kahf
Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr
Heart Soothers: Shaykh Noreen Mohamed Sideeq
Lesson 10 From Surah Al-Kahf
How Do Muslims Plan for Disability
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith
Ben Shapiro Gets Wrecked on the BBC for Racism Against Palestinians and American Jews
#Current Affairs4 weeks ago
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
#Society4 weeks ago
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
#Current Affairs1 week ago
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
#Islam3 weeks ago
How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith