When Maggie became a Muslim, her Christian relatives tried to make her leave Islam. They kept giving her guilt trips for leaving their family’s “identity” and tradition, and in the end when nothing worked, they began abusing her emotionally. They’d taunt her at every opportunity. Family gatherings had become nothing less than torture.
Then she moved to another state for her studies, and the distance made things better. After many years, everyone kind of came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to change her religion. The taunting stopped. The past was forgotten. Everyone treated her well.
Now, the problem wasn’t the relative’s attitude towards Maggie, it was Maggie’s own scars from the past.
Maggie just couldn’t forget how they had behaved towards her back then. Every time she saw one of them smiling sweetly at her, she’d get flashbacks from old times of their scornful faces and hurtful words, and her mood would instantly sour. She tried a lot to control her emotions, as maintaining ties of kinship is regarded so important in Islam.
But she just kept failing. She would try to avoid seeing them, but when she had to, harsh words would pass her mouth before she could stop herself. She felt guilty for not inviting them enough to her house, but when she did invite them and couldn’t show normal behavior in front of them, she’d feel even more guilty, especially when she saw their hurt looks. Now she felt like she’s the abuser and they’re the abused.
The problem increased when she shared her feelings with her practicing friends. They reminded her that it was obligatory to do ihsan to her parents and relatives. They reminded her of verses of the Quran and hadiths talking about the importance of maintaining ties of kinship.
1- And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], ‘Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good [ihsan] and to relatives, orphans, and the needy….’ (2:83)
2- The person who perfectly maintains the ties of kinship is not the one who does it because he gets recompensed by his relatives (for being kind and good to them), but the one who truly maintains the bonds of kinship is the one who persists in doing so even though the latter has severed the ties of kinship with him. (Al-Bukhari, qtd. in Riyad al-Salihin 1:322)
3- There is no sin more deserving that Allah hasten the punishment in this world, in addition to what is stored up for him in the Hereafter – than injustice and severing the ties of kinship. (Ibn Majah 4211)
4- He who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him show hospitality to his guest; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent. (Agreed upon)
The Other Side of the Coin – Injustice and Retribution
What Maggie’s practicing friends didn’t tell her was that Islam is a religion of balance – balance between love and fear of Allah, between giving the rights of Allah and giving the rights of His creation, and between forgiveness and retribution. There’s a suitable place for each. Islam encourages tolerance and forgiveness, but it never encourages injustice.
Look at hadith numbered “3” above. Two things are mentioned: injustice and severing the ties of kinship. These two things hasten punishment in this world, and injustice is mentioned first.
In a passage in chapter Ash-Shura, Allah lists people who deserve the great reward that is with Him. One of them is:
Those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves. (42:39)
Then He goes on to say:
And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers. And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged – those have not upon them any cause [for blame]. (42:40-41)
This is the first thing I would tell Maggie if I met her:
Stop Feeling Guilty for Not Forgiving
When you get hurt, you have the right to feel pain, even after many years. It’s okay to feel anger towards someone who oppressed you in the past.
Remember that psychological and emotional abuse is as real as physical abuse, and sometimes worse. What would you do if a relative broke your leg, leaving you mutilated for life? And on top of that, if they never said sorry or even show any signs of guilt for what they’d done?
How do you forgive a person who doesn’t even want forgiveness, doesn’t think they need it, and would repeat their behavior if the opportunity rose again?
Forgiveness is not like saying “I do” to the judge getting you married, so that once the word passes your mouth your relationship status changes.
Forgiveness is like love. It has to come from the heart, otherwise saying “I love you” or “I forgive you” is meaningless.
Of course, you can grow love towards someone, and you can also grow forgiveness.
The verse I quoted above mentions doing the best (ihsan) to your parents and relatives. But what does “doing the best” mean?
“The word ‘ihsan’ means ‘the very best that you can do.” (Nouman Ali Khan)
Allah doesn’t want you to break your back. He won’t burden you beyond your capacity.
“If you can turn to Allah and say ‘Ya Allah, this is the best that I can do,’ then it’s fine.” (ibid)
See the hadith in point number 4 above. It says you should either speak good or remain silent. What we don’t realize is that sometimes keeping silence is the best we can do.
“Ihsan is relative to each situation.” (ibid)
The best isn’t about putting on a fake smile and letting people walk all over you. Sometimes the best we can do is stand up to them and demand justice, because the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us to help the oppressed and the oppressor. How do we help the oppressor?
By preventing him from oppressing. (Al-Bukhari 6952)
Maggie has a wounded heart, an old wound that has never healed. If we push her to invite the one who gave her the wound to her house and serve her freshly cooked food along with a broad smile, then we’re oppressing her.
Let Maggie’s wound heal first.
How does Maggie heal her wounded heart? That will take another article to get into.