How to Deal with My Introvert sister?

20 April, 2017
Q As-salamu`alaykum, I am glad to come across your site. I have a younger sister whom I am greatly concerned about. I am much older(23 yrs old), married and settled. She lives with me and she is very young, 17yrs old. The problem roots from how she was brought up, and I believe I have a very long story. Please bear with me. It is very important that I get help from you, valuing your advice so I may give it to her. My sister unlike the rest of us was brought by my mum up until 2 years ago when she moved to US and is now living with me. The problem stems from her shyness. My sister is too shy to the extent that I think it could be a disease and not a healthy habit. She never mixes with people, she doesn’t have friends and doesn’t go out that much. I try as much as I can to spend time with her. But I think it’s not appropriate or healthy for her to be this shy. When I was her age I was a bit out going. She is the last born and everyone in my family (older brothers and sisters) agrees that she should try going out or even have a boyfriend. All her friends(3 girls) are outgoing and most of them are either married or in a relationship that would end up in marriage. I don’t believe in delaying marriage up until one is older. I got married when I was 21 and I am working, studying and have a child. I was thinking that my sister should try being open-minded but she won't listen, all she says is: “give me a good reason to change”. I think she is hurt because I see her crying all the time, saying that she feels as if a big chunk of her is missing. I would have made it easier for her by introducing her to some men that I know to be decent but I won't because I want her to do it herself. Yet I feel like she needs a good advice which I don’t think I have. Please help me to get my sister out of this rut she is living in. Do not mistake me. When I was her age I was outgoing but decent, just like my other sisters. I remember I would only get into a relationship with a guy if I thought he was a marriage potential. That is how I met my husband. I was decent enough not to cross the line by being promiscuous, yet I would go have a coffee and chat with someone I truly trust and like. My question is how would my sister experience all this if she doesn’t even try? Being in a relationship makes one mature, you get to learn what it really takes to be a tough person so no one would take advantage of you. I always tell her that if she kept this up she would end up a spinster all her life and very naive. I understand there are men out there who are not decent but how would she know this if she keeps on closing herself from the rest of the world? I really care for her, I am the second last born, and she is the last born. All the girls in our family are married al-hamdu lillah. We were all decent yet we also allowed ourselves to interact with other people even guys, in a decent manner of course. Please help me advice her on how she could try being open and out going. She always tells me that she could only try going out with a guy if she thought it was allowed Islamically. I told her that she could go out with a guy in a public place and be decent. She doesn’t have to be all crazy going out to clubs and being indecent. Rather she should give a guy a chance, try chatting, and going out for a drink. It is the only way she could learn being mature, from heartaches and tough relationships. She is a senior and would be going to a university this fall 2006. Truly I am scared for her. She decided to stay with us instead of the campus. I think it's a great idea, yet I feel like she is only doing it because she doesn’t want to face the world. When will she grow up? When will she meet people and a husband potential? Please help me from your respective view and even an Islamic view. Islam allows a man and woman to know each other before marriage, they can have a chaperone. I say they should go out on a public place have coffee and get to know one another. My sister won’t listen and is stuck in this claustrophobic idea that knowing a guy is harram. But how would she even get married if she keeps on being a chicken about meeting a guy? Please help dear advisors, I truly want to help my sister. I know you would say she is young and that she still has time. But trust me, from what I see of her, would certainly last her a lifetime if nobody helps her and she might end up old, unmarried and bitter. Help me Please. I need to help her.


As-salamu `alaykum,


Frankly, sister, I cannot help but focus on you rather than your sister. It sounds to me as if you are the one that needs self-understanding. I respect your love, dedication, and concern for your sister, but it sounds as if you insist simply that she be more like you! Your concern for her is evidently due to her not acting as you did at her age. However, she is not you! Let me give some examples. You said:

-“When I was her age I was a bit out going.”

-“She is the last born and everyone in my family agrees (older brothers and sisters) that she should try going out or even have a boyfriend.”

-“All her friends (3 girls) are outgoing and most of them are either married or in a relationship that would end up in marriage.”

-“I don’t believe in delaying marriage up until one is older. I got married when I was 21 and I am working, studying and have a child.”

-“I was thinking that my sister should try being open-minded but she won’t listen, all she says is give me a good reason for me to change.”

Compare, compare, compare. You are comparing her to you, your sisters, her friends, everyone! Why the need to compare? Do you not love her for who she is? Don’t base your love for your sister on the condition that she does things the way you did, or how you want her to do them. Let her be herself. Stop trying to force her to meet men and get married and do all the things that you did at your age.

The way of Islam is to recognize the unique gifts that each of us bring into this world and to nurture them, for each one of us is a unique manifestation and creation of Allah. Our need to force others to be like ourselves is due to our own insecurities. She is an individual human being, the highest creation of God. Let her be who she was created to be and encourage her to be herself.

Can you not see that you are scared for your sister because she is not like you?  She is only 17 years old, why are you rushing her into being and doing things that she is not comfortable with? Just because you and maybe your sisters all got married young, it does not mean that your sister has to. That may be based on your culture, but culture is not Divine Law. It may be that your sister is simply not ready.

By you forcing your will on her you are obviously making her very uncomfortable, and sending her the message that there is something really wrong with her. To me, you need to be more open-minded, not her. You need to let her be herself. When she is ready for marriage, she’ll pursue it in a way that is comfortable for her. What is so wrong about that?

As she is only 17, for you to insist that she is doomed to being a spinster her whole life, is premature and a bit extreme. The fact that she prefers to be religiously cautious and scrupulous by not engaging in relations with men is nothing to be concerned about. It’s a sign of wara’ (leaving part of halal to avoid falling in haram)and God-fearing. Obviously, she’s just not ready for it. As you have described it, I don’t see it as a religious issue as much as it reflects her personal level of comfort and readiness to seek a husband.

There is nothing wrong with being shy. Haya` (shyness, modesty) in Islam is a noble value and character. This is confirmed by many hadith including:


“Iman (faith) has over seventy branches, and haya’ (self-respect, modesty, bashfulness, pious shyness),is a branch of iman.” (Al-Bukhari 1:8) and (Muslim 1, #0055).


Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: The Prophet passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya and was saying, “You are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you.” On that, Allah’s Apostle said, “Leave him, for Haya is (a part) of Faith.” (Al-Bukhari 8: 73 #139 )


Narrated Abu As-Sawar Al-Adawi: ‘Imran bin Husain said, “The Prophet said, ‘Haya’ does not bring anything except good.” (Al-Bukhari 8 :73  # 138)


Thus, please don’t chastise or be ashamed of your sister for her haya` (shyness). As you can see, in the right context it is a beautiful, praiseworthy character. Only when it impedes one from doing what they are obligated to do does it become a negative quality. For example, if one’s shyness prevents them from fulfilling their obligations firstly to Allah and then to others. However, in the sense of one who does meet their obligations but is naturally modest and shy, such a person should not be looked down upon by any means whatsoever.

Modesty (haya`) and maintaining one’s honor are of primary importance in preserving the moral fiber of any society. This is why modesty has been called the ornament of a woman, which protects her from many sins and which prevents ill-intentioned men from daring to have bad thoughts about her. This haya has been made a part of her nature to safeguard her from being abused by immoral men (from: Zahra Abdul Haseeb).

In light of the above, my advice to you is simply to be patient with your sister and try to understand her. Let her pursue marriage at her own pace. There is no written law that says she has to be married by the time she is 18. There is no written law that says she has to do things the exact same way you did them. She is shy, fine. She is quiet, fine. She is not outgoing like you and your other sisters, fine. Appreciate her for whom and what she is, rather than constantly pressure her into being something that she is not.

It’s the pressure of having to conform to others’ expectations that is probably making her miserable. She is probably convinced that there is really something wrong with her because she doesn’t desire to do things the same way you and your sisters did. I would try to probe this issue with her and find out if it’s true. Use gentle persuasion and invite her to do things that you think would be good for her but if she turns you down accept it and don’t punish her for it.

Try listening to her and understanding her without prejudice and judgment. Try accepting her for who she is and recognizing her unique gifts, which may be different than yours. See how that works. My hunch is that when people start appreciating her for who she is, she will come around, albeit at her own pace.

Finally, it is imperative that you, as her older sister and guardian, really try to talk with her and understand where she is coming from. Lose the need to lecture and convince her to be something that she is not, and seek to understand her. What does she fear about socializing with others? Why does she not want to mix with others? What does she enjoy? What makes her happy? Does she hope to get married someday? etc. Understanding is the first step in healing, so please work toward understanding your sister without judging before trying to correct a problem that may not even exist.


And Allah knows best…


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About Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah
Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Study’s Community Education and Youth Studies Laboratory, Universiti Putra Malaysia. He received his B.A. from the University of Delaware (U.S.), his M.S. from Columbia University (U.S.) and his PhD from the Institute for Community & Peace Studies (PEKKA), Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2005 in the field of Youth Studies. Abd. Lateef is an American who has been living in Malaysia since 2001. He is married and has 2 children.