Our Non-Muslim Relatives: Their Rights Upon us

Our Non-Muslim Relatives: Their Rights Upon us
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By Kimberly Ben

When I reverted to Islam over 10 years ago, I received mixed reactions from my friends and family. While attending my first family gathering wearing Hijab, I was eyed very curiously at first, but with time they have come to accept my choice.

Now, no one even seems to notice much except for the occasional complement on my choice of scarf. Most of my relatives accepted my new faith kindly with respect and made efforts to accommodate me, and my family. When holidays rolled around, my relatives would sometimes find it difficult to purchase gifts for other children in the family while "leaving mine out." When I patiently explained why it was important to me that they respect my decision, they did just that. There were a couple of times where my new faith was "challenged" (luring intense discussions about religion, or world events, but we have all learned to respect one another's choices and continue to love and support one another as a family. In many ways, Islam helped me improve my family relationships since I began taking seriously the instruction to maintain family ties. Alhamdu Lillaah (praise be to Allah), it has been a pretty easy transition.

Establishing boundaries

Even the most pleasant visit with non-family members can present challenges and tests. Some things are easy to navigate, like avoiding alcohol or dishes with non-halal meat at a family event. Others are more difficult. One area that can be challenging is family gossip. Many relatives delight in sharing family secrets when they come together. It can be difficult to resist the urge to listen, participate and comment about the juicy details of another's life, but this is considered backbiting, and participating in it, is likewise forbidden and should be avoided.

Spreading malicious gossip about others is condemned in the Quran; Allah Says (what means): {… And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.} [Quran 49:12] If you are part of a family whose favorite pastime is dishing on one another, you may have to get creative when attempting to avoid this kind of activity. When you notice that the conversation is taking a turn to gossip, try gently steering the conversation to another topic instead.

Another challenge specific to women is the issue of Hijab. Some non-Muslim family members do not understand the purpose of Hijab and may try to discourage a Muslim relative from wearing it. Some Muslim women recall being pressured to remove their scarves when running simple errands, or while attending a large event with family and friends because it was considered "embarrassing". This could be a real conundrum for a revert who has her own struggle with the issue of wearing Hijab. This could be an opportunity to educate your family about the benefits of Hijab. Enlighten them to the fact that covering has been an integral part of maintaining modesty in other religions as well –including Christianity and Judaism. Ultimately, we seek to please Allah and have to make decisions that complement that goal.

Balancing religious obligations and family

Muslims can maintain their identity and religious obligations while keeping family ties by being patient, compassionate and kind to non-Muslim relatives even when they are critical, or negative:

Remain humble. Don't treat others as if you are superior to them. Be polite. Accept invitations from family that are within religious principles. This is an opportunity to strengthen family ties. Refuse to be a part of bad behavior, or create dissention.

Be cheerful and pleasant to everyone. We all prefer the company of someone pleasant and happy. A positive attitude is infectious. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was known for being cheerful, smiling pleasantly to everyone. Anyone who spent time with him felt as though he liked him or her best. Our families deserve to know that feeling.

Show mercy to others. Allah Says (what means): {So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad sallallaahu ‘'alayhi wa sallam], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].} [Quran 3:159]

Many Muslims with non-Muslim family members may be confronted with challenges but they should be considered as opportunities to grow, increase in faith and ultimately earn the pleasure and rewards of Allah Almighty. When you are attempting to establish good habits and find yourself surrounded by those whose principles are different from yours, you must establish a delicate balance between monitoring your own behavior, and allowing others the freedom to choose their behavior and way of life. As long as their decisions do not directly affect you, it may be best to let things go in the interest of maintaining peace and harmony.

Allah Almighty Says (what means): {Say: O disbelievers, I worship not what you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping. Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your religion, and to me my religion.} [Quran 109:1-6]

For reverts, accepting Islam can be an exciting experience filled with lots of change. Many new Muslims often place lots of pressure on themselves to do everything "right," and may make drastic changes in their lives. Some of these decisions may be necessary, but it is a good idea to remember that Islam calls for moderation in all things. Islam has turned many wayward lives around, bringing an end to lifestyles that included drinking, drugs, promiscuity and even criminal activity. Even though you may never hear it directly, some non-Muslim families may be so impressed by the positive behavior of a Muslim family member, that they may start holding a much higher regard for Islam. We should always strive to exemplify the positive characteristics of our faith. We have an opportunity to show our non-Muslim family members the true, compassionate representation of a Muslim. So give others the freedom to see the benefit of Islam for themselves. Make time to visit and keep in touch with relatives. They are the people closest to us in this life, and can be our greatest allies and support.

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