Islam recognises the ties of kinship in a way that is unparalleled in other religions; it enjoins Muslims to uphold the ties of kinship and condemns the one who breaks them. The Prophet (SAW) said: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship.”(Bukhari).
Also, Allah (SWT) says:
“Then, is it to be expected of you, if you were put in authority, that you will do mischief in the land, and break your ties of kith and kin? Such are the men whom Allah has cursed for He has made them deaf and blinded their sight.” (Muhammad:22-23)
Apart from the physical needs of food, clothing and shelter, every human being has basic emotional needs. In a cordial family system, the members provide one another with emotional comfort, safety and security and instil feelings of self-esteem and self-worth while allowing room for autonomy and self-discovery. Warm family relationships act as cushions during times of distress and contribute to social cohesion.
Many of us, especially converts, have a lot of non-Muslim relatives and the reality for most people is that their relationships with them turn sour after they accept Islam. I was also faced with this phenomenon when I started practising Islam and because most of my relatives – who were mostly non-Muslims along with a few not-so-conscious Muslims – did not understand my newly found love for the deen; we gradually began to drift apart.
I realised the enormity of my actions when I learnt that “There is no worse sin for which Allah (SWT) will hasten the punishment of one who commits it in this world in addition to what awaits him in the Hereafter than oppressing others and breaking the ties of kinship.” (Ahmad and Ibn Majah)
I realised that I should still be kind to them irrespective of our religious differences or understanding, for the spring of human emotion does not dry up when a person pronounces the Shahadah; rather, our hearts should overflow with love and good treatment towards our relatives, even if they are not Muslims. It then became incumbent upon me to mend the broken ties between me and my relatives – Muslim or non-Muslim – in tandem with Islamic teachings and in order not to misrepresent Islam.
To my sisters who are in similar situations, here are few tips to help you cement your relationship with your relatives and earn the pleasure of Allah (SWT):
1 – Be sincere
When you decide to strengthen the shaky bond between you and your relatives, ensure that your ultimate goal is to please Allah (SWT) and do not have expectations of kindness or support from your family. Sometimes, even as you try to get nearer to them, they continue to repel you or do not act well with you; if your intention is solely to please Allah (SWT), it will be easier for you to accept their bad manners in good faith and you will be rewarded, insha Allah!
A man came to the Prophet (SAW) and said, “O Messenger of Allah (SAW), I have relatives with whom I try to keep in touch, but they cut me off. I treat them well, but they abuse me; I am patient and kind towards them, but they insult me.” The Prophet (SAW) said, “If you are as you say, then it is as if you are putting hot dust in their mouths. Allah will continue to support you as long as you continue to do that.” (Sahih Muslim)
Set the boundaries – in a lovely manner:
There is no obedience to the creation in disobedience to the Creator. Considering your religious differences, there would likely be some areas of disagreement with your relatives. For example, you do not eat pork or drink alcohol while they might serve it for dinner. Therefore, you have to let your non-Muslim relatives know that you would not be able to compromise on some things due to the dictates of your religion – but in a loving manner. Remember “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching…” ( An-Nahl:125)
2 – Identify common links
Despite your religious differences, there are bound to be values, ideas, family traditions and hobbies which you have in common with your non-Muslim relatives. Try to identify those commonalities and utilise them as points of connection, then transform them into activities that you can engage in together. For example, if you share the hobby of cooking with a relative, you can sample the same recipes, then exchange photos and cooking tips. Do you both love gardening? Then, you can share new gardening knowledge or send her a box of seeds of a species of flower which is uncommon in their locality. Whatever it is, just let them know that you thought of them and care about their interests.
3 – Exchange gifts
The Prophet (SAW) said, “Exchange gifts, for it increases love amongst people” and “Charity given to a poor person is charity, and charity given to a relative earns two rewards: one for giving charity and one for upholding the ties of kinship”. (Tirmidhi)
Therefore, endeavour to send gifts to your relatives occasionally even if you are unable to pay them a visit. This would soften their hearts towards you and increase warmth and affection among you.
4 – Pray for them – in their absence
Always pray for your relatives, even in their absence, for “the quickest prayer to be answered is a man’s supplication for his brother in his absence” (Bukhari). Remember the case of Abu Hurayra t who went to the Prophet (SAW) to ask him to supplicate that his mother become a Muslim and by the time he got home she had already accepted Islam. Therefore, do not give up on your relatives but constantly pray for them.
5 – Utilise digital means of communication
Advancements in technology have caused a revolution in the way people interact and communicate, with numerous creative and quick ways for keeping in touch. Depending on your schedule, you can send an email or an SMS. You could also join an online social network such as Facebook to keep your relatives updated on your life activities using videos, notes, photos and more. And where distance makes it difficult for you to visit them regularly, you can make a video call using software like Skype. Whichever means is convenient for you, just make sure to keep in touch!
6 – Promote Islam
As a Muslim, you are a vicegerent of Allah (SWT) on Earth and therefore the duty of calling to good and forbidding evil falls on you. You can integrate da’wah (inviting others to Islam) with upholding the ties of kinship. Allah the Majestic said:
“And who is better in speech than he who invites to Allah and does righteous deeds and says: ‘I am one of the Muslims’.” (Fussilat:33)
Perhaps you are ‘the Qur’an that they read’ and ‘the Sunnah that they see’; thus you should strive to be a sterling example. There are numerous ways by which you can be a shining example of the beauty of Islam – perhaps the only example in the life of a beloved one. However, whichever means you adopt, be careful not to impose Islam on your relatives for “there is no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqarah:256) Show respect for their faith by listening to their views, do not insult or make mockery of their religion or their god lest they do the same to Allah (SWT) or Islam and speak politely even when challenged.
Thus, let us all embark on this rewarding and fulfilling venture of strengthening the ties of kinship, masha Allah!
Haleemah Oladamade Ahmad is a Muslimah, a computer scientist and a writer. She takes delight in assembling letters in order to benefit others and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.