The Prophet (SAW) said “Whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship.” (Bukhari)
Cordial family relationships act as support systems during times of hardship, contribute to social cohesion, improve health status, and perpetuate a positive image of Islam and its teachings. But for those of us with non-Muslim parents, siblings, children, or in-laws, developing meaningful relationships despite stark differences in lifestyle and worldview may be easier said than done. The challenge lies not in returning favours, but in taking the initiative to instigate regular contact, strengthen weak bonds, and mend broken relationships.
Begin the process of upholding family ties with pure intentions by eliminating expectations of kindness or support in return and by focusing your efforts on seeking the pleasure of Allah (SWT). Once you have made the personal commitment, create a shortlist of family members. Include those with whom you communicate infrequently as well as those with whom you have a troubled relationship. Keep a ‘Calendar of Kinship’ and mark which relatives you connect with and the date and mode of contact.
Technology has changed the face of social dynamics with numerous quick and creative techniques for keeping in touch. Depending on your schedule and level of comfort with computers, you can try one or more of the following approaches.
Prepare monthly updates on your life and share with family members around the world via a mass email or an online blog (try blogger.com); describe your latest project, what the kids are learning about in school, how you spent the last few weekends, or your new favourite pastime.
Join an online social network such as Facebook to keep your family members updated using photos, videos, notes, and more. Remember to frequently check your privacy settings to restrict access to your personal information. There are also many online photo and video sharing websites that enable you to organize and share your multimedia (try picasa.com and vimeo.com). If you do not like the idea of posting personal information, photos, and videos to the web, you can use sendthisfile.com to transfer large files that email carriers typically reject. Another option is to utilize the flexibility and security of “The Traveling USB.” Fill your USB drive with photos, videos, artwork, and documents of interest, seal in a bubble-lined envelope along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and mail it. Request that your family member(s) add to the drive before sending it back. You can agree to share the drive monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually.
Finally, if it has been more than a year since your last visit, consider purchasing a webcam and using free online software (like Skype) to “video call” your family members. There is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation or the opportunity to show- and-tell your new haircut, your child’s oratorical or artistic skills, or your latest cooking creation.
With the immediacy of the internet and the intrigue of social networking sites, hand-written letters are slowly becoming obsolete. Fortunately, this also means that a carefully selected card and familiar penmanship are priceless gestures. Buy a box of stationary, blank cards, or postcards featuring your home city, and keep them on the kitchen counter or bookshelf where you will see them on a daily basis. It only takes a few minutes and a stamp to send love and warm wishes to a relative.
Do not be afraid to get creative with snail mail; make a bookmark inscribed with a meaningful quote or memory you share with the recipient, enclose your favourite chocolate or soap with your next letter, or send a sample of your homemade jam or cake mix.
Although you do not share religious beliefs, there are bound to be values, ideas, and hobbies that you have in common with the non-Muslim members of your family. Try to identify those common threads through memory, discussions with others, or a direct conversation with the relative you have in mind. Then transform them into activities you can do together. It can be as simple as watching the same documentary or reading the same book, and chatting about it afterwards. Do you both love to cook? Sample the same recipes, then share photos and cooking tips. Are you both passionate about geography, social issues, sports, writing, scrapbooking, teaching, politics, or fashion? All of these passions and pastimes can become shared activities using the “digital links” and “snail mail” options outlined above. At the very least, once you are aware of how your family members spend their free time, you can take the initiative
to forward them event details, articles, movies, books, or other items that show you have thought of and understood their unique interests.
Make it Da’wah
You can integrate da’wah (inviting others to Islam) with silat ur-rahm. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an, “And who is better in speech than he who invites to Allah (SWT) and does righteous deeds, and says: ‘I am one of the Muslims.’” (41:33)
Invite your non-Muslim relatives to spend Eid with you. If a visit is not possible, make a home-made Eid card with a fun fact about the holiday and its importance to Muslims. Send photos or a home video of your children participating in their weekend or full-time Islamic school showcase. Discuss or share artifacts from your experiences volunteering while explaining that charity and altruism are cornerstones of Islam. Pull quotes from the Qur’an to share in letters, emails, and home-made gifts, when relevant.
There are numerous ways that you can be a positive example of Islam – possibly the only one – in the life of a loved one. However, be careful not to impose Islam on your family; show respect for their faith by listening to their views, speaking politely even when challenged, and wishing them happy holidays during the times of year that mean the most to them.
From the Heart
Whether you reach out to your Muslim and non-Muslim family members through digital media, snail mail, common threads, or da’wah, remember that it is the act, not the outcome that is of importance. In fact, you can even work towards silat ur-rahm while prostrating, after prayer, or during those precious hours of the night – by making du’a. Pray for the health, wellbeing and guidance of your family members; it is the best way to express your love, it is the greatest gift.