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The Role of a Step-Parent

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By Olivia Mounet

 

How do you define yourself?

A Muslim? A student? A brother or sister? Daughter or son? Mother or father? Typically how we define ourselves is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we rarely take the time to think about who we are and what defines us. However, if you were to take a few moments to really think about what roles are important to you and where you fit in within these relationships, you’ll realize just how important they are to you. If we dig a little deeper within ourselves we’ll also realize that each of these relationships and definitions have key factors. For example, if you are an older sibling like myself, you might think of being an older sibling as being protective and caring of your younger brother or sister and your role in that relationship is clearly defined. The same goes for if you are a husband or a wife. Not every marriage is the same but we are aware of what we do within each of these relationships and what our responsibilities are.

 

The role of a mother

In the Hadith of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) we are taught: “Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother” (Ahmad, Nasai). We are also taught that we should obey and respect our mothers and take care of them as they age: “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood'” (17:23-24).

If you are a mother, then you know how much you would give up just to see your child grow to be happy and healthy and to be a loyal servant of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If you are not a mother, you can surely think of something your mother did to help you, regardless of how close you are to her or the type of relationship you have with her. This mother-child relationship is clearly defined both in our own minds and in the beauty of the Qur’an.

 

The role of a step-parent

However, what about step-parents? How can one define this role? After much thought and internal struggle the only way I can define my personal role as a step-parent is: CHALLENGING. Now this isn’t to say that being a biological parent is easy by any means, but the challenges are different. As a step-parent the hardest thing to accept is that, no matter how much you love your spouse’s child, they aren’t your own and therefore the rules are different for you whether you like it or not.

First let me take the most “ideal” situation for step-parents: you’ve married your spouse who has an infant child from a previous marriage and his or her ex-spouse is 100% out of the picture and your spouse views you as his or her child’s mother. The child grows up viewing you as his or her rightful mother with all powers and responsibilities bestowed upon you as a mother and everyone lives happily ever after. This situation almost never happens.

Here’s what really happens: you fall in love with your spouse for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and you convince yourself that it can’t be that hard to take care of his or her child since at some point in life you want children of your own, (and you’ve taken care of your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.) so how hard can it be? Oh and that ex-spouse? Well he or she will move on and we’ll all be friends and everything will be wonderful. Then, you and your spouse get married and you’ve spent lots of time with the child or children and inshaAllah they have accepted you into their family either because they are too young to understand what’s happening or you’ve spent painstaking hours explaining to them that you could never replace their mother/father, even though very deep down within yourself, that’s exactly what you want to do but you refuse to admit that to yourself.

Typically, at least within the western world, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation every other week or so. That means, that as a step-parent, one week it’s just you and your spouse living as a couple, and then the next week you’re a mother or father… kind of. And then the next week you’re not. And so on for the next 18 years of your life.

 

The different relationships that a step-parent is face with

Now while mothers have that 1 relationship with their child, a stepmother or stepfather has 3 relationships to worry about: their relationship with the child, their relationship with their spouse regarding the child, and their relationship with their spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife.

  1. Relationship with the child

I’ll start with the relationship with the child, which for me was the easiest. My husband’s child was only 1 year old when we got married (he’s almost 3 now alhamdulilah). This relationship was the easiest because I learned to love him quite quickly and he was too young to really understand why suddenly he has “2 mommies.” The key word here is I “LEARNED” to love him. As much as I wish I could say “and then I looked in his eyes and that unconditional love took over me,” I can’t. I did not create this baby with my husband, I did not carry him for 9 months, I did not give birth to him, and I had not been around to see his first year of life. Furthermore, as much as I hated myself for thinking it, I really did not like having him around at first because he was a constant reminder that my husband had wanted to have him with someone else. These feelings continued for quite some time until the child began calling for me. Suddenly I was the only one who could put him to bed, make his food, or give him a bath. He didn’t want his daddy to do it, he wanted me… his stepmother to do it. That’s when I fell in love. When he needed me like a mother, I felt like a mother and suddenly things weren’t as difficult. I knew my role with him and I could define it to myself and I stopped introducing him to people as “my husband’s son” and started introducing him as “my stepson.”

  1. Relationship with your spouse

The second relationship you have as a step-parent is the one you have with your spouse regarding the child. This is very different to the relationship you have with your spouse as a husband or a wife. The hardest aspect of this relationship is trying to figure out how your spouse wants you to act toward their child. Alhamdulillah my husband was more than willing to step aside and let me handle bed time, meal time, and bath time, and let me take the child out by myself, or stay alone in the house with him. In time he even let me discipline his son when he was having a tantrum, as most 2 year olds do. However, this is not the case for many stepmommies or stepdaddies. A type of power struggle typically evolves as a result of this complicated relationship. Some parents don’t want their spouse to discipline their child or take over certain roles because they feel they are being pushed out. A normal human response to losing control is to fight back and try to take control of everything. It is not unusual for spouses to fight over their roles in the child’s life and for the biological mother or father to tell the step-parent that it’s “not their job to do that” when it comes to a responsibility they feel is rightfully theirs as the biological parent. In this situation typically the step-parent will withdraw completely and want nothing to do with the child because they don’t want to upset their spouse. In addition, it’s mentally exhausting and emotionally draining to check yourself at every step and have to wonder “is this my responsibility or my husband’s/wife’s?” There is no outlined way in any psychology book or therapy manual to tell you how to resolve this issue. It normally takes an inordinate amount of patience from both sides and strong communication skills in order to overcome this challenge.

  1. Relationship with spouse’s ex

The third and final relationship you have as a step-parent is your relationship with your spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. This can either be the most frustrating, enraging, and downright painful relationship you’ll ever have, or it’ll be the easiest. If, on the rare occasion, the divorce was amicable and both parties accepted that the relationship between them did not work and have both moved on and accepted that each will most likely remarry and their child will have two mothers and two fathers, then this relationship for the step-parents is relatively simple. However, more likely than not, the divorce was not pleasant for either party and some hostile feelings remain. Since both parties are normally told by family and friends to ignore each other and just move on with their lives, those hostile feelings need to come down on someone. So why not the person that your ex-spouse marries and is trying to “move in on your child?” It’s easy to understand the logic behind it: they’re resentful of the fact that they will always be tied to the one person they don’t want to remember, they’re angry that their ex has moved on which makes them feel replaced, they don’t have the typical nuclear family and often get uncomfortable or even rude comments from others in the community, and their child is calling someone else mama or dada. I can’t say that I would feel or act any differently if the roles were reversed.

However, that justification gives little solace to step-parents. Typically in our lives if there is someone we don’t particularly care for, we can keep him or her at a distance and limit communication with them. This doesn’t work in this scenario. The person that is taking their frustrations out on you is the mother or father of your stepchild for whom you care very deeply. In turn, you have to accept that the child loves this individual and you cannot let your own personal feelings for their mom or dad show in front of them. Furthermore, this ex-spouse is a constant, never-ending reminder that the man or woman you married and love did not choose you first. You are second. You might be the “right one” but you will never be the “first one.” You’ll never be his or her first spouse or first mother or father of their child. Never. And their ex-spouse will always be there, either through that 6am angry text message or at pick-ups and drop-offs or when your spouse has to make that direct deposit into their ex’s bank account for child support. They will never go away and you just have to accept it.

 

Other challenges

Besides these 3 relationships you’ll have as a step-parent, there’s a whole host of other challenges. What do your parents say about you marrying someone who already has children? What does the community think? How do you comfort your spouse when they have to drop-off their child every other week to their ex-wife or ex-husband and they don’t realize that it hurts you just as much? What do you say when someone asks you if you have children? What do you do when you disagree with something that the child’s parents have decided to do? How do you reconcile having absolutely no legal authority over a child that you consider to be your own? How do you define being a step-parent?

The hardest part for me about being a step-parent is that no matter how much I love my stepson, no matter how supportive my husband is, and no matter how well I control my feelings towards his ex-wife, I will always have to put “step” before “parent” and that will never get any easier. I make dua for all the step-parents out there that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes it easier for you and that you achieve Jannah for everything you go through and everything you sacrifice as a step-parent. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) bless all the stepmoms and stepdads out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Take solace in pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and turn to Him when it get’s too hard.

If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust. (Quran, Surah Aal-e-Imran, 3:160)

 

Olivia Mounet spent her early childhood in Scotland and then London before moving to the United States. Upon graduating high school she moved to Germany where she completed her Bachelors degree in Integrated Social and Cognitive Psychology. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology for Children and Adolescence as well as her Certification in School Psychology. Upon graduating she is planning to work as a School Psychologist to assist students with learning disabilities. She currently works with The Building Blocks of NJ, a non-profit agency, to provide one-on-one counseling with sisters in the area.

 

 

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Daagh

    October 14, 2014 at 1:36 AM

    Lovely mashaallah

    • Avatar

      AmaturRahman

      February 26, 2016 at 1:17 PM

      May Allah reward you for any good that you said, and forgive you for any wrong ameen.
      A few things: I am the ex-spouse. I do not desire my childrens father at all. We have both moved on.
      You said some nice things but other things you’ve said are the very reasons why I am on guard with the new wife.
      1) I as a mother cringe at the idea that you or any other woman would want to be the mother of a child that isnt yours. You can help the father out and you can love a child as you should love any little Muslim. But to say you deep down want to be the mother of a child that is not orphaned, will have a lot of women say “Take a few steps back from my babies, take a deep breath, and have your own children” Kids only have 1 MOTHER. And her right upon her children are 3x’s as great as the fathers. So how much less is yours? With that said.
      2) Discipline? What kind of discipline? And how frequently. Because forget about your husband. You would have to worry about Mommy, in that respect. If a woman is like me, then A. Dont you ever put your hands on my child and B. Make sure you exercise some patience with my kids. We all know that normally, the patience you can have with a child, is nowhere near the patience of the biological mother. A biological mother knows her child in ways you cant. And she knows how to deal with them to get the results you want. So,maybe you should consult with the real mommy when you feel you need to discipline sometimes.
      3) Call you mommy? Are you serious? Do you know in American courts that would cause problems for your husbands visitation? If I found out the step mom was having my kids call her mommy, we would have to have a serious talk. And if it isn’t resolved, it could result in action being taken.
      By the end of this post, we are probably saying the same thing “Glad you’re not the Woman that I have to deal with. Alhumdulilah!” Nevertheless ,May Allah continue to guide and bless us in this life and the hereafter, ameen.

  2. Avatar

    Ghazi

    October 14, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    A well written article delving into most aspects of being a step parent. It is challenging for sure. I’m not sure how different it is between genders for someone elses kids. As a step father myself, I do struggle but often wonder how is the struggle for a step mother in comparison. At the end of the day, I look at the Prophet (pbuh) as a role model since he was a step father to Zaid. Hard to mirror but its worth every blood, sweat and tear when you do it as close to as he did it. So as long as I’ve followed the sunnah, I’ve been ok but the moment my ego or feelings of they are someone elses kids get in the way, thats when it gets hairy.

  3. Avatar

    The Salafi Feminist

    October 15, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    I found this article quite interesting, mashaAllah.
    Does anyone have any insight in situations where one biological parent is completely out of the picture and the other step-parent fully serves in that missing role? I’m curious as to others’ experiences, if they’ve been through this.

    • Avatar

      LearningArabic

      October 15, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      I’ve heard of situations where one parent passes away, then the other parent remarries after some time.

    • Avatar

      MuslimahUK

      December 1, 2016 at 6:13 AM

      Alhamdulillah i have been raising my daughter now for two years, with my husband. Her biological mother had another child with a different partner before my daughter, and she abandoned both her children when they were just 4 & 2 years old. She left them in a shop and decided not to come back. My husband tried to bring her back to her senses and went through court, however she did not want her children at all. Eventually the boy went to his biological father and we have our daughter. Despite her knowing that she had a real mum, she does not want to talk of her at all. She is now 5 years old, and she respects me as her own mum and loves me equally as much as i love her.
      I was previously married and ive had miscarriages. I feel that Allah has granted me a priceless gift and i need to preserve that gift of having her as my own.
      Your children are not yours, just because you gave birth to them doesnt mean you have the gift of raising them. Everything in this world is there for a test and for you to use, NOT to abuse!

  4. Avatar

    Amuslimah

    October 19, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    MashaAllah this is a great article. There should be more conversation in the muslim community about step parents in a positive light as the bother Ghazi stated it’s a good starting point to take example in the prophet Muhammad saws and his family and leave out any ego and personal feelings. I have so many questions as a step mother myself. May Allah make it easy for all of us. Ameen

  5. Avatar

    Laudi

    July 17, 2015 at 2:02 PM

    Very good article. I became step mom myself. The situation is complicated and different than yours. My step daughter is 15. I came to her life year ago. And we connected quicker than I thought. I was really happy that we share interests and can respect each other so easily. Problem is that she lives with my husband’s sister. Few houses down. And calls my sister in law – mother. It’s very upsetting for my husband and it affects our relations between my step child and me. My husband snd his ex wife divorced when the child was 9 months old and my husband got full custody over her , since her mother is a pathological liar and has psychological issues. After few years and many hours of counseling later, he allowed her mother occasional visits. And funny enough, she’s not a problem in this whole thing. She sees my daughter once every two months and I’m happy about it. Even tho she’s not the best person in the world I would never deny the fact that she’s her mother. Problem is my sister in law. My husband was a single father for 14 years. He spend this time to raise her in Islam and did everything he could to be the best father. But he had to work and had his own business that he just started. He bought a house close to his sister, because she offered every help. He trusted her with his child. He would drop her off in the morning at his sister’s and pick her up straight after work. Every weekend he would take her somewhere special and made sure she understood as she was growing up, that he’s doing all that work for her. He’s an excellent father. And I can’t wait till we have children together. Problems started when his sister would say : oh she’s sleeping , let her stay here for the night. It started to happen more often. She could not have children. She took over his child. Her husband and her started to call themselves mom and dad. And that’s why child referred to them. My husband obviously was really upset and more family got involved in this. They tried to explain that the couple can’t do that. But they just started doing it behind every ones backs. My husband got really depressed and tried to solve it. But they just lied and lied. Daughter was told all her life that : daddy doesn’t love you, daddy doesn’t have time for you. Well, daddy worked hard to secure her future. He set up the account for her, so in case something happens she had college fund, first rate for the house etc. she is convinced it’s from her aunt. Not him. He also never received child support from his ex wife. And never told her daughter that. She stays at her aunts house most of the week. Because otherwise her aunt is upset and psychologicly torments her. I mean even on days when child is with us and we have family time and k try to bond with her more, her aunt would call 57536 times because she needs her back for some reason. Because of all that we started to distance from each other. She started being disrespectful to me, she would not talk to me , she would ignore me. Especially in front of her aunt. My husband tried solving this but what say those he have anymore. I mean his child was stolen 14 years ago. She would not call her aunt -mom in front of him. But would do it with me around. She would show her aunt lots of affection if I’m in the room. We have been on family trip for past few days. And I have had it. She speaks Urdu 24/7 knowing that I don’t understand it. Well all of them do. But she’s my friend as much as she’s my step kid. I thought she would translate. Because we spoke about it before the trip. But since her aunt is present she just won’t speak English. They all know English well. It’s just to show me that I’m not welcomed. I never said ‘no’ to any of her aunts requests. Whenever she needs my help she will get it. Whole year I have been showing both of them most respect and do whatever I could for them. I would cover for my step kid, never repeat her secrets, try to explain to get that her dad loves her so much and we spend hours talking about her before marriage. She was his main concern and we did a lot of talking about her needs etc. just so I had a little heads up before we become family. He did the same with her. And me and her spoke on the phone and really liked each other. Things changed when she started going back to her aunts house. Because few moths after nikkah she spend most of the time with us. And it was great. Today she disrespected me so much that I decided to stay at a family member house instead of spending eid on traveling to next state where we were all invited and I could meet part of family that I don’t know yet. Her aunt seemed pretty happy about me not going. I cry every day of this trip. I feel so lonely. Because of her aunt and her behavior towards me. It’s so mean and disrespectful. I hold it all in. I don’t want to argue, make scenes or act up in front of whole family. But I have had it. Enough is enough. Honest to Allah swt, I did all I could to have great relations with her and her aunt. I sacrificed a lot. And was always there for both of them. I wish someone explained with sources how we are suppose to deal with things like that. There have to be rules about family involvement and limits towards kids. And rules about step parent – step child relations. I don’t want to just explode one day and bring up all that to nobody. But without clear vision of duties and rights in this situation I really don’t know how much longer I can keep it in me.

    • Avatar

      Noor

      August 15, 2015 at 9:12 AM

      I have the same problem… but with my step-mom. She hides my stuff, talks about me, and disrespects me. Honestly, I try to be respectful or ignore what she does. I’m 17 years old, so I try not to act up or do anything about it because I’ll be leaving the house soon do to University. But, I can’t take it. Everytime I make a mistake, even a tiny mistake she complains to my dad. She’s even rude to my dad, and asks money from him 24/7. I don’t know what I did to her to make her so mad about me. One time I accidently hit her biological son and she told my dad in front of me if I did it again, she’d knock my teeth out. Really? It’s an empty threat, and It didn’t phase me. It moreso just made me confused on whether I was accepted in her family or not. Almost everyday I make du’a for my family and I also include her. And I ask Allah to make things between us better. I also forgive her. I just continue to work hard and I mind my own business in the house. I avoid her and anything that’d make her complain again. I would imagine because she’s Muslim she’d treat me better, because if I had step-kids I’d treat them like my own just like the Prophet (SAW) did. But, alas, not all Muslims have good character. There’s bad in everyone. As a stepmom like yourself, how do I deal with mine? I’m confused. I hope you can guide me in sha Allah.

      • Avatar

        AmaturRahman

        February 26, 2016 at 1:27 PM

        And your example, my dear, Is the reason why Step Moms should know their place. And why Real Moms like me, are protective over their children. And why your father, should be in tune with you, his daughter, because he is your protector in that household and her Mahram. Please take some time away with your father. Father daughter time, and very maturely control your emotions and have a talk with him about the situation so that he can have the opportunity to rectify the household. May Allah help you ameen. But be a good girl and have patience and say Allahu Musta’aan alot

  6. Avatar

    aisha noor

    September 6, 2016 at 4:20 AM

    I am a step mother too and I face slot of challenges with the child of my husband but , it’s for the sake of Allah, and if I can make something out of the child, I will do it for the rewards alone.

  7. Avatar

    Ros

    November 2, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Salam Sis.

    Wow some nasty comments here..from Real Moms. Insecurity much? Clearly shows, the issues imbedded within that results in divorce!

  8. Pingback: my-iddah

  9. Avatar

    Faria

    December 28, 2016 at 3:50 AM

    The article is more than awesome and outstanding. I have also two kids spend their day with me (stepmom) sunday. But unfortunately we have met at their age of 5 and 7. So that they love confusionly. And sometimes its great challenge to deal with agressivness. But you advice to pray. Thats the only key. Thanks alot

  10. Avatar

    Ndeye Ndiaye

    December 29, 2016 at 10:48 PM

    Now i have seen some very positive energy about the stepmoms here which i really loved. I am a step daughter an i have gone through some rough things in my life with my stepmom which that affected all my life and still does…i just handle it better now and wish every step mom loved their stepchild as their own and stop faking to love them when daddy or other people are around because allah sees everything…it is really difficult i swear specilly i have siblings but my stepmom teachs them how to compete with me and to disrespect me but any way i always pray for them may allah make us get along ?

  11. Avatar

    Muhammad

    December 15, 2017 at 9:53 AM

    Mashallah Sister beautifully written.Im a step Dad and I understand how difficult it is with all the challenges that we face on daily basis. May Allah make it easy for you.

  12. Avatar

    Khadija

    December 28, 2017 at 10:56 AM

    Very nice article mashallah but my problem is a bit different and I would love to hear some views on it, I get along with my step kids and don’t have much interaction with their mothers, my issue is my mother in law and sister in law who despite knowing how much I love the kids don’t want us to function as a family, my step son is 18 so he doesn’t come very often but my step daughter who is 10 both women just keep her to themselves, they don’t want me to cook for her (I have seen a message from them to my husband asking him not to let me cook for her) what they have started doing is that to keep her away from me, they keep her away from her father and I feel so bad because she only comes for her father and they are taking that away from her as well. I have now started distancing myself from my step daughter but it makes me feel really bad that we could have been a family and they are taking it away from us and another thing I feel which might sound bad but due to some health problems I might not be able to have kids which is why I wanted to love his kids like mine but I really wish if I ever (inshallah) have kids I am not letting them near them, maybe it will make them understand how I feel.

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr

Make sure you maximize your sadaqah

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By Ismael Abdela

My life, just like yours, is sooo busy. So naturally, as the tech nerd I am, I turn to tech to help me manage my regular routine including project management apps to manage my daily tasks. I even have a sleeping app that wakes me up at the optimum time (whatever that means!). But even though tech has changed everything in all sectors and helped make efficiencies in my daily life, it had had little impact on my religious activities.

A few years ago, whilst I was preparing for the last 10 nights of Ramadan, it hit me – why doesn’t something exist that automates my donations during these blessed nights to catch Laylatul Qadr. Rather than putting a reminder on my phone to bring out my bank card every night and inputting it into a website – why doesn’t something exist that does it for me, solving the problem of me forgetting to donate. After all we are human and it’s interesting that the Arabic word for human being is ‘insan’ which is derived from the word ‘nasiya’ which means ‘to forget.’ It is human nature to forget.

So the techie in me came out and I built the first scrappy version of MyTenNights, a platform to automate donations in the last 10 nights of Ramadan (took two weeks) because I wanted to use it myself! I thought it would be cool and my friends and family could use it too. That same year, nearly 2000 other people used it – servers crashed, tech broke and I had to get all my friends and Oreo (my cat) to respond to email complaints about our temperamental site!

I quickly realised I wasn’t alone in my need  – everyone wanted a way to never miss Laylatul Qadr! Two years down the line we’ve called it MyTenNights, and our team has grown to 10, including Oreo, senior developers, QA specialists, brand strategists, creative directors and more. It fast became a fierce operation – an operation to help people all over the world catch Laylatul Qadr!

Last year alone we raised almost $2 million in just 10 days – and that was just in the UK. We’ve now opened MyTenNights to our American, Canadian. South African and Australian brothers and sisters and we’re so excited to see how they use it! We’ve made it available through all the biggest house name charities – Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Helping Hand, Penny Appeal, you name it! All donations go directly to the charity donors choose – all 100% of it.

Looking back at the last couple of years – it feels surreal: The biggest charities in the world and tens of thousands of users who share my need to be certain they’ve caught Laylatul Qadr. Although I hear many impressed with the sheer amount MyTenNights has raised for charity (and that excites me too!), it’s not what motives me to go on. What excites me most is the growing number of people who catch Laylatul Qadr because we made it easier.

I often tell my team that the number of people that use MyTenNights is the only metric we care about, and the only metric we celebrate. It makes no difference to us whether you donate $1 or a million – we just want you to catch Laylatul Qadr and for you to transform your Akhirah, because (after Allah) we helped you do it.

To catch Laylatul Qadr with MyTenNights, visit their website MyTenNights.com

Ismael Abdela is a Law & Anthropology graduate from the London School of Economics. He spent some years studying Islamic Sciences in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He is now a keen social entrepreneur. Ismael likes to write about spiritual reflections, social commentary, and tafsīr. He is particularly interested in putting religion in conversation with the social sciences.

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How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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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 Problem

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.  

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

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.

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