In this counseling answer:
• Dictatorial behavior flies in the face of the “consultation” ordered in Islam in the surah called “Consultation” and Surat an-Nisaa where Allah (swt) states that you are equal (in marriage), but the man is one degree above. (Quran 2:228)
• But don’t judge him harshly either; he is sincerely doing what he thinks is right. Prove to him that he is making a mistake according to Islam and then see where that leads, in sha’ Allah.
• If your husband is worried about his step-daughter’s religion, the way to approach her is with mercy which means talking to her in a kind way.
• Be patient; change comes gradually, biznillah.
As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum dear sister,
You are not alone in your struggle as today’s world is full of divorces. Despite its commonness, managing step-children/parent relations is never easy. In fact, it is often very difficult, as you expressed!
From what you have told us, your problem is particularly challenging because your husband is doing some stuff which is not in line with problem-solving strategies, if not downright un-Islamic. His behavior reflects a lack of understanding of the management skills needed to be the effective leader in a marriage which Islam tells him to be. He is being closed-minded by refusing to allow anyone else’s ideas to be a part of his decision-making process (“He does not want me to bring up the issue of her coming back home or ‘something will happen’, and “he told the friend not to be involved”).
Dictatorial behavior flies in the face of the “consultation” ordered in Islam in the surah called “Consultation” and Surat an-Nisaa where Allah (swt) states that you are equal (in marriage), but the man is one degree above. (Quran 2:228) These citations prove that Islam and a Muslim marriage is a process of partnership characterized by mutual input up to the point that it becomes evident that agreement is impossible. Then the opinion of the husband or the imam has the right to reign, assuming it is an Islamic position. However, in your case, I am not sure if he has even that right because your daughter is not his (please ask onislam.net’s scholars or your local imam about that).
Dictatorial behavior blocks the possibility of reaching a win-win situation. Therefore, you have two choices: avoid that “something” which “will happen” by figuring out how to live with his edict(s) – by the Help of Allah (swt) – or challenge him.
Allah (swt) guided us about how to live with problems/pain without them making us miserable. For example, how to have Sakina (peace of mind) in the face of pain/problems by being at peace with Allah (swt), by trying to do what is right (according to Islam). This state-of-mind can be pursued by examining the Islamic criteria relevant to the case. If you find that you are in the wrong, correct your behavior. If you find that the other person(s) is in the wrong, then, be at peace within yourself and with Allah (swt) because you are trying to do the right thing, in sha’ Allah. That is not as easy as saying it, I know.
To challenge him, you need some tools. To give you these, I need to explain a few psychological phenomena related to your husband’s behavior.
Splitting: Splitting is the opposite of problem-solving because it is all or nothing. All or nothing thinking is unrealistic because most people are not all-good or all-bad, all-right or all wrong.
What is not splitting – what is productive towards problem-solving – is to sort things out with the assumption that no person is all right or all wrong, but a conglomeration of things. We all are wrong in some ways, because we all have limited knowledge since only Allah (swt) is All-Knowing/Omniscient. Furthermore, the way our minds work is gradual, i.e., we have to process things and knowledge comes upon us in stages/layers of depth.
A wife is a blessing because, if he allows her, she brings to the table her experience and perspective, thus more info. Dictators rob themselves of this benefit, and, of course, their wives, too, when they block them from contributing to the marriage process in this way.
Internalization: Internalization is to take into our own belief and value system of another person or society. Internalization is impossible to avoid because it is how we process the world around us – we try it on for size. If it fits, we keep it, if not; we throw it out – sometimes. The problem lies when we interact with people whom we love and/or need and/or respect (parents/guardians, teachers, best friends, lovers…). Because we love/trust these people, we accept their behavior as role-modeling for us.
Internalization is healthy when the behavior imprinting on us is positive/good (Islamically). However, when the behavior is bad or wrong, internalization becomes problematic, if not damaging, psychologically. We become miserable, full of self-hatred when what we have internalized is something with which we are at odds according to our own internal, God-Given, sense of right and wrong. When that happens, our relationship with Allah (swt) is threatened internally. However, if we can figure out what is true to ourselves, as compared to buying into something that is not, then, we can return to sakina, our peace of mind.
If it were that simple, we could all be good; however, it gets complicated when the disagreement is voiced to the person doing the role-modeling. In fact, it often backfires, i.e., they say that we are the cause of the problem because we do not agree with them. Often, this confuses us because there was not a problem until we disagreed, so we think the source of the problem is our self. Then the negative way of internalizing idea(s) takes place, with the help of Satan.
By agreeing with them because the first manifestation of the disharmony came as a result of our saying that something does not work for us, we end up blaming ourselves for a problem which is actually their problem and we were doing the right thing. By making this mistake, we, subconsciously, adopt the value system of our role-model – who is often an oppressor. This is how oppressed people become oppressors, even though logic would indicate that they should not.
All that to say, don’t let Satan trick you into thinking that you are the one in the wrong! And don’t internalize your husband’s value system; he is in the wrong (according to the info you gave us, in sha’ Allah).
With the above understanding of human behavior as the backdrop, it is my assessment that your husband is doing the following wrong things (according to Islam):
- He is dictating his grown step-daughter’s life (parents should be her “advising friends” at this age and not her dictators).
- He is saying, “my way or the highway” (wrong, because it is force and dictatorship.)
- He is threatening her with abandonment (wrong, because he is trying to force down her throat his (faulty) idea of Islam and how human relations work, i.e., if you don’t follow my idea of things, you will suffer the deprivation of my parental support/familial ties).
- He is trying to force Islam down her throat (in contradiction to the ayah: “there is no compulsion in religion.” [Qur’an 2:256])
These are mistakes in his understanding of his parental right(s) in Islam, let alone his right(s) as a step-parent, his understanding of how to coordinate with other adults who are of differing opinions than oneself, and his understanding of Islam. You can prove to him that these are mistakes in his understanding by showing him the quotes I mentioned. I suggest that when you show him the citations, you ask him to do the same thing that he is demanding of his step-daughter – comply with Allah’s (swt) religion.
But don’t judge him harshly either; he is sincerely doing what he thinks is right. Prove to him that he is making a mistake according to Islam and then see where that leads, in sha’ Allah.
Lastly, if your husband is worried about his step-daughter’s religion, the way to approach her is with mercy which means talking to her in a kind way. Find out what is going on with her. Maybe she is struggling with her hijab? He should be trying to help her meet that challenge if that is her problem. Find out if something is making her question hijab so that her choice to wear it will be a sincere one and not just a temporary one to get him off her back.
If he does not approach the problem this way, he runs the risk of becoming a party to hypocrisy. For example, she wears it in front of him so that he won’t get mad at her, but in her heart, she does not agree with it! If he talks to her and finds out that she no longer believes in hijab, what he can do about that. The only things he can do are that he prays for her and keeps inviting her to explore the question and keep an open mind; maybe she has not given up on that idea, too!
Thus, show your husband the proofs from Quran and Sunnah, and the rest is up to Allah (swt). Be patient – things develop gradually. I always give the example of the refrigerator: first, it was a hole in the ground, then a wooden box with a block of ice in it, and now it is a high-tech Freon machine that makes ice. The rest is up to Allah (swt). This is the same lesson he needs to learn about his step-daughter. In fact, to protect yourself from disappointment, expect him not to change. Nonetheless, as the following verse points out, you still have a duty to correct him:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (Qur’an 4:135)
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