Columns's Our Families

April 2002

In-Law Relationships in Islam

by Siddiqua Hassan Haswarey

A Muslim family relaxing
A Muslim family relaxing in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. The relationship between the spouse and the in-laws should be one of respect and kindness, not suspicion or oppression.

"Allah commands justice, the doing of good and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds and injustice and rebellion; He instructs you that ye may receive admonition." (Surah An-Nahl: Verse 90)

This topic of the in-law relations is one on which the more I pondered, the more I came to the realization that I wouldn't be able to find any precise textual evidence in the Qur'an or the Authentic Sunnah to base my words on. Whether that will be a problem is left to be seen, but what I can say with all certainty (Insha'Allah), is that the fact that there is no precise textual evidence in either the Qur'an or the Sunnah will clear up plenty of misconceptions that Muslims generally have regarding the in-law relations. I refer here more specifically to the parent in-law and either son or daughter in-law relations.

Definition and Essence

To begin - the definition of the word "in-law" in the western dictionary is, 'a relative by marriage'. (Practically speaking, if there were to be a divorce or khulah that would return the status of the respective relationships to what they were prior to the marriage). In Islam, a marriage essentially means the coming together of two individuals, eventually leading to the coming together of two families or even tribes, followed by the expansion of mutual relationships, namely the respective "in-law" relationships. It's very interesting how we spend our entire lifetimes taking the blessings of Allah for granted, again with specific reference to the relationships or strings that are drawn via the marriage, when intricate threads of love, respect and unity are woven together. And just as intricate as these threads are, they are delicate as well. On an individual level, we choose to either keep them or maintain them through time, or break them and eventually sever them for good, just as easily as they were woven together in the beginning.

Clearing up the Misconceptions

It's quite the norm these days to have the wife unquestionably serve her in-laws. Most men have high expectations of their wives to do so. Factually, there is no textual evidence that states that the daughter in-law (or the son in-law for that matter) is obligated to either physically care or financially provide for her/his in-laws. On the other hand, if the daughter in-law (or son in-law) do decide to serve her/his parents in-law from their free will, out of love or respect, Al-Hamdulilaah then that is indeed most virtuous and a blessing in the sight of Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala), and InshaAllah, they will be rewarded for their kindness and respect. It was narrated by Aisha (radhi Allahu anha): Allah's Apostle (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: Aisha, verily Allah is kind and He loves kindness and confers upon kindness that which he does not confer upon severity, and does not confer upon it anything else besides it (kindness). (Sahih Muslim Hadith 6273). So while it is virtuous to be kind to the parental-in-laws, the husband cannot compel the wife to serve them. It is rightfully the duty and obligation of the child (son or daughter) to provide and care for his/her own parents, emotionally, physically and financially - Period!

It's also quite common for the son in-law to treat the wife's parents with a certain sense of disrespect and resentment or irritation almost as though they are undeserving of his respect. This most certainly is not a part of Islam. The wife's parents deserve (I personally think they should even go to the extent of demanding it) as much respect as do the husband's parents and if either of the parents are treated otherwise by their daughter or son in-law, this would in turn be a sign of disregard and ridicule for the spouse.

Undue Expectations

Neither spouse nor in-laws should have undue expectations of each other because in Islam, they are not obligated to one another. The obligation would be in terms of respect; but when it comes to love, no one can force another to love. As for respect, each and every living soul that Allah has created is deserving of some form of respect, and when it comes to a older person, especially the parent of a spouse, there should be no questions asked. It was narrated by Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As: The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realize the right of our elders are not from us. (Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 4925). Obligations and duties come with regard to blood relations. In a marriage, the only ones more specifically obligated to one another are the husband and wife, towards one another.

Committing Subtle or Open Oppression

It is also not becoming of the wife or husband to attempt to turn her/his spouse against the parents or other in-law relatives, because that would implicate a grave sin in the sight of Allah. Women can be quite notorious when it comes to turning a man against his own family, and to a certain extent, men can be just as guilty. To lure one against his/ her blood relatives is like partaking in the sin itself, where one severs the ties of the blood. It doesn't matter if it is done directly or indirectly, the intention and purpose is what really counts. Besides, just because there is no evidence mentioned as to the obligations toward the in-laws that does not give anyone the right to commit open or subtle oppression. When either one in the couple commits or even suggests oppression, it is the duty of the other to give naseehah (sincere advice), to remind him/her of the last day and the consequences of our seemingly minor actions. This in fact is the sign of a healthy relationship. From Jaabir ibn 'Abdullah (radhi Allahu 'anhu) who said that Allaah's Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: Beware of committing oppression for on the Day of Resurrection oppression will be darkness, and beware of avarice for avarice destroyed those who came before you - it led them into shedding blood and into making lawful that which was forbidden for them. (Muslim)

Resulting Consequences

When injustices are prevalent, there is almost always someone who will notice, even if a single human soul. They may not necessarily voice it for their own personal reasons, but that does not change the fact that over time it results in a build up of resentment and anger. It will be only a matter of time before it will spill over like a volcano, often destroying much in its path. Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) always exposes the ugliness that lies within the insincerities of the heart. This holds true for all the aspects of our lives. In a marital bond, the threads that are interwoven are very delicate initially. Sometimes even though the couple has lived together for years, their bonds may not always be as strong, all simply depending on the extent to which their relationship has mellowed. It is only through time, effort, patience and plenty of supplication, that those very same threads are made stronger, sturdier and long lasting.

A Personal Note

"Blood is thicker than water"- this statement may have no scientific basis to it, but in the world of reality it holds much wisdom. The ties of blood can never be altered, even though some may ardently desire to dissolve them. But the ties of marriage, the bond between husband and wife and even the in-laws, is like water. They can break just as easily as they were brought together in this dunya. The in-law relations may not hold as much importance to a wife or husband, but think about the fact that those very same in-laws will be the grand parents, uncles and aunts of your children, and their children in turn will be related to you.

Besides, if you truly love your spouse and are sincere, you will know exactly how to love all that belongs to your spouse and you will in turn sincerely love all that your spouse loves, in-laws inclusive. InshaAllah. Just like Rasullallah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) whose sincere love for his beloved wife Khadijah (radhi Allahu anha) was proven by the fact that he (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) even after her death would send a generous portion of the sacrifice to her family and friends, long after her demise, even though he (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) was married to other women as well whom he (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) loved just as much. MashaAllah! Also, we shouldn't forget a basic truism, "Do unto others as you have them do unto you". If you sincerely wish to witness your spouse's love and respect for your parents, then you need to be an example first. Check to see how much of a loving and respectful relationship you have with your in-laws and you'll be able to answer a lot of questions that may have been puzzling you. The key to building any healthy relationship is, unconditional love. Pure and Simple! (See article, "Sincerity and Unconditional Love").

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said, "There are three characteristics; whoever has them will find the sweetness of eemaan: That Allah and His Messenger are more beloved to him than all else, that he loves a person and does not love him except for Allah, and that he would hate to revert to unbelief just as he would hate to be thrown into the Fire." [Bukhari & Muslim]

O Allah! I ask thee for faith that over flows my heart till I know that nothing will happen to me except that You have decreed for me, and make me contented with the livelihood that You have apportioned to me. O Allah! Let our last days be the best of our life and the last deeds be the best of our deeds, and let the best day be the Day we meet You. InshaAllahu Ta'ala!

Aameen. Allahumma Aameen.

Subhanaka `Allahumma wa bihamdika, wa `ash-hadu `an laa `Illaaha `illaa `anta, `astaghfiruka wa `atoobu `ilayka. (Glorified are You O' Allah and I am in Your praise, I testify that there is no deity except You, I ask Your forgiveness and repent unto You).

Siddiqua Hassan Haswarey

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