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Parents-in-Law Make My Life Hell

22 November, 2016
Q I am an American Muslim married to a Palestinian man. We have been married for 13 years. His parents are telling him to get married overseas to an Arab just because they hate that I am American. I used to bend over backward to do anything they wanted just to be treated as nothing and have them cause problems. Now, I stay away from them, but I still allow my children to see them. I have a new baby whom they want nothing to do with. They give my husband a hard time. He takes care of them and us at the same time; in fact, he takes care of them better. Our marriage was fine until they began interfering. My kids are 10 and 6 and understand Arabic and all they say about me. I feel he takes it out on me, because they take it out on him. I feel I am in a "no win" situation. Islamically, I know they are wrong, but when it comes to that, they say they are right and that he HAS to obey them. My kids and I are the ones who suffer. What can I do to make it better?



Wa `Alaikum As-Salam dear sister, 

It sounds you and your family are in a really tough situation. If what you say is true and you have tried your best to be a good daughter to them, then, to me, your husband should be playing a bigger role in trying to mediate the situation.

People often confuse being kind and respectful to parents with accepting whatever they do without question, which we know from Islam is not necessarily true. If they are committing wrong, then we should take the responsibility to – respectfully and kindly – help them to explain that and make them see things differently. That is the true definition of love. However, often culture dictates otherwise, and, therefore, we think that we can never disagree with our parents in any way whatsoever, even if they are committing manifest wrong in the eyes of Allah (swt).

My advice to you is to find someone who might have some influence on your husband to explain to him the situation and how hard it is on you and your family. Be it a religious leader, scholar, elder, or even just a good friend of his; somebody that might be able to help him see what is happening so that he can work up the courage to say something to his parents. Maybe the same tactic or approach can be used directly with his parents so that they can see the fruits of their actions.

It is strange to me, and I guess I don’t really understand, why this is happening now, after 13 years of being married. I am assuming his parents approved of your marriage in the first place. Why then after so long would they become so hostile to you?

The other thing, sister, and I know that you’re probably not going to like it, is that “bending over backwards” for them should not be done in anticipation of some positive outcome from their part, but should be done solely for the sake of Allah (swt), for that is our filial duty as children. In a situation like this, I know how hard that can be, but nevertheless we need to make sure that our intention for our actions is directed properly. Ultimately, the most important thing is being right with Allah (swt) and when that is the case, our du’aa’ can become very effective.

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The other thing is that in situations like this, people tend to take sides, which is another thing I would warn against. For example, because of the frustration you are feeling, you might mention something about your husband or his parents to your children, or vice versa. This is what really tears families apart from the inside out.

I would urge you just to do your best (and of course your husband as well but I can’t tell him) to be mindful of your behavior for the sake of your kids. When kids are exposed to this kind of behavior, then they learn that it is the proper way to do things and it can become very harmful. Always try to remain positive or neutral around your children and teach them that such incidents occur when people do not follow Allah’s guidance.

Like I said earlier, often culture runs counter to Islamic teachings, and unfortunately, cultural beliefs and practices are extremely difficult to change. You might find at some point that it feels as though you have tried everything and nothing seems to help.

At that point, if it should occur, then you need to speak honestly with your husband about your family’s future and whether it can continue in such a manner. That kind of discussion also might help to wake him up and get him to realize the seriousness of the situation.



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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.