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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Family Ties

The Role of Youth in Keeping the Family Together
By Altaf Husain**
Apr. 29, 2006

Scenario 1:
Abdullah was only nine years old when his mother and father divorced. He had no idea what that word meant when his mom first told him, "Your father and I are getting a divorce." He knew his parents fought a lot and sometimes, he found his mother crying in the kitchen. Once his father raised his hand to strike his mother, but stopped short of it. Abdullah thought divorce meant getting help and trying to solve problems facing the family.
He was in shock when he found his father packing boxes, filling them up with only what belonged to his father. "What are you doing, Dad?" he asked. His father told him that because of the divorce, he was not allowed to live in the same house anymore and that he was moving to another town close by. His father continued, "Your mother and I have decided this is the best thing to do."
Move out? What does that mean? When was anyone going to tell? What about what I want to happen? What about what's best for me? Alas, the decision was made and there was little Abdullah could do to change it. His father moved out, and Abdullah grew up with his mother. He only had very little involvement with his father. Angry with his father for abandoning him, Abdullah kept company with other boys who were prone to committing sins. Abdullah wanted so much to get his father's attention. Unfortunately, his father kept away, and Abdullah fell deeper and deeper into sin. His mother was overwhelmed but continued to make du`aa' (supplication) to Allah to guide Abdullah and to set him back on the straight path.

Scenario 2:
Khadijah, Nusaybah, and Ahmed were 15, 13, and 10 years old when their father passed away and their mother remarried. They clearly remember how upset their grandparents on both sides were because of their mother's decision to remarry. Their grandparents, uncles and aunts all vowed never to speak to their mother again and severed ties with her family.
Their step-father was a nice man and they understood very well that although their mother loved their father very much, she remarried for her own well-being as well as that of them. Now, with their step-father living with them, the children could not bear to be cut-off from their extended family. Khadijah and Nusaybah decided something had to be done.
They called their paternal grandfather one day and told him how much they missed their father. Their grandfather comforted them. They told their grandfather that, al-hamdu lillah, they were fortunate that their step-father was so much like their father and that they were very happy with him. Their grandfather's heart inclined towards meeting this man who was so much like his own son. After only a few minutes with the step-father, the grandfather felt relieved that indeed the children had a father in their lives and that his daughter-in-law felt secure and happy. In no time at all, the grandfather spoke with all the elders of the family and convinced them that the family ties should be restored.
Can you relate to either of the scenarios above? Do you have friends whose parents are divorced? What about friends who have a step-father or a step-mother? What would you have done if you were Abdullah? What if you were Khadijah, Nusaybah, or Ahmed?
In Islam, great emphasis is placed on the importance of the family unit, family relations, and family well-being. While parents are in charge of family affairs, Islam does not teach that youth like you should not have any input into what is happening with the family. How you give input is critical, because no matter how right you think you are, there is never any excuse for disrespecting one's parents or being unmerciful towards them. Among the many areas of family life where youth can become involved in, helping to maintain family relations is important. Sometimes, if family relations are left unattended and neglected, this area alone can destroy the peace and tranquility of the entire family.
Allah Most High alone knows whether or not a husband and wife will be able to get along with one another and to care for and provide for their children. While most families live peacefully, more often than not, we hear about newlyweds who end their marriages, about couples who have separated, and about distraught families due to divorce and remarriage.
All of this must sound familiar to you and it might even be depressing news. It is sad when families break apart, but the critical question is, what are youth — the affected children — doing when this happens? Are they taking advantage of the situation as an excuse to behave irresponsibly, like Abdullah in scenario 1, when he does everything under the sun to get his father's attention? Are these children exerting efforts to help the family stay together or to help the parents reconcile?
The resounding message today should be that youth can no longer afford to be silent and passive observers while the family is breaking apart. It is important for the youth to be actively involved, but how? While many youth want to serve Allah, to serve humanity, and to change the world, sometimes the biggest project that needs attention is in our own homes.

Maintaining Family Ties
First, be attentive. Almost no family breaks apart overnight. There are clear signals and warning signs that something is terribly wrong. Being attentive does not mean reacting; it means being aware, alert, and making mental (and if needed, written) notes of the nature of family relations. Be as objective as possible when you observe. Do not take sides with your mom or dad, just observe and try to understand each of their points of view.
Second, be there. The moment you notice that something is wrong in the family, make it a point to adjust your schedule so that you spend as much free time at home as you can. Staying away from home and running away from the problems does not make them go away. As a teenager, you may be able to leave home and go spend time with your friends, but what about your siblings who are too young to leave the house on their own? Who will comfort them when your mom and dad fight? Who will help the younger ones feel safe and secure if you are not there?
Being at home also gives your parents a chance to talk to you if they feel inclined to do so. If you are in the family room and your mom is reading a book, it is possible that she might put down the book to just talk to you about how she is feeling. Being there is critical to helping your parents realize that whatever decisions they will make about the marriage will affect you. Your presence helps put a human face on the terrible consequences of separation and divorce.
Third, be proactive. When you know that there is something wrong between your mom and dad, make it a point to talk to each of them separately. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes, you could just get them involved in helping you with a school project, or with whipping up your favorite recipe (without hinting at any problems or fights).
As you work alongside them, tell them that you are feeling sad about how they are treating one another. Suggest that perhaps they could seek out professional counseling or even talk to the local imam about whatever problems they are facing. Most importantly, pose the question, "How can I help?" to your parents. Then just listen to what they have to say and see if you can, in fact, help.
Fourth, make du`aa'. The most powerful assistance you can offer your family members is to make du`aa' to Allah to prevent the family from breaking apart. Remember, however, that only Allah knows best as to whether it is better for the family to remain together or whether it is better for the family to be apart. Perhaps one or the other of the family members is unwilling to correct his or her destructive behavior or attitudes.
If, by the will of Allah your family does break apart, how should you deal with it?

Project Reconciliation
First, make du`aa'. Many times, young people forget that Allah Most High is in charge and parents cannot break off a marriage except by the will of Allah. So if it is in Allah's plan that your family is to be tested by separation or divorce, then your first instinct should be to make du`aa' to Allah to grant everyone concerned what is best for their faith, their family, and their future. People are often amazed at how certain family members in whom everyone had lost hope suddenly have a change of heart and are able to reconcile with others (sometimes years after the initial dispute).
In the most hopeless of times, Allah Most High can bind hearts together and rekindle the bonds of kinship, brotherhood, and sisterhood. Allah Most High reminds us in the Qur'an,
[And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided?] (Surat Aal `Imran, 3:103)
Second, be there. One of the easiest courses of actions to take during disputes is to cut off all ties and contact with the disputing party. While this course of action is easy and seemingly practical, it is reflective of un-Islamic behavior and is abhorred according to Islamic teachings. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and prayers be upon him) said, "Do not break off ties with one another, do not turn away from one another, do not hate one another, do not envy one another. Be brothers, as Allah (glory be to Him) has commanded you" (Sahih Muslim, 16:120).
This reminder from the Prophet is concise and powerful and ends with the directive to "be brothers" because that is what Allah Most High has commanded us to be. Indeed, that directive is derived from the Qur'anic outlook, which states that "the believers are nothing else than brothers and sisters (in Islam). So, make reconciliation between your brothers.'' (Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:10).
As a young person, you have so much to gain from being the source of the reconciliation between your parents or other family members. When the parents or other adults have a lot of history between them that keeps them second guessing each other and judging the other's intentions, you are a new face and a refreshing sight when you say to one of them, "What is wrong and how can I help?" Khadijah and Nusaybah took matters into their own hands in Scenario 2 above, and Allah Most High guided them towards successfully restoring family ties.

Closing Thoughts
As a young person, there are many challenges you face in daily life. This essay helps you to envision an active role for yourself in helping maintain strong family ties and relations. With so many more families facing difficult times staying together, young people do not have the option of running away and hiding or disappearing into a world of irresponsibility.
You need to stop and realize that rather than being a passive observer who is being acted upon by family members and other adults, you can and should take an active role in reconciling the hearts of people who have fallen into disputes. You should do this only to seek the pleasure of Allah, and, in sha' Allah, with His guidance, you will be able to help not only your immediate family but also your extended family members.


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