Question: My daughter is religious. She is God-fearing, dutiful towards her parents and committed to her salah and fasting. However, she gets real mad when someone in the family makes a mistake. Instead of fixing the problem calmly and diplomatically, she screams, utters insults and accuses us of hypocrisy and licentiousness.
If, for example, she sees one of her sisters turn on the TV, she switches it off violently while swearing. My daughter’s behavior has caused our family members to loath her and her version of religiosity. Any advice?
Being religious does not mean dominating others, dictating their behavior or choices, or criticizing them with harshness or arrogance. Here are some Islamic guidelines, which, if your daughter genuinely wants to act according to Islam, she will take to heart and use to modify her behavior. In fact, if she honestly reflects upon the following, she will, inshâ’Allah, find some relief and comfort in realizing that the way she has been acting is not only repulsive and alienating to her family members, but also a drain on her own being.
- The necessity of advising in private. According to Imam Shâfiʿi, if you advise a person in front of others, you shame him. So it must be done in private—or else remain silent.
- If a Muslim advises another, he must do so in a kind, humble, and non-blaming way. Ali said about the Prophet,There are three things the Prophet stayed away from with regard to others: he did not find fault, lay blame, or seek to expose anyone’s weak points. (Shamâ’il Al-Tirmidhi)
- The one who advises in a blunt, unkind, and bullying way is without virtue. The Prophet said,Whoever is deprived of rifq (kindness, gentleness, friendliness) is deprived of all virtues. (Muslim)
- One must not be dogmatic and self-righteous about matters on which scholarly opinions have differed. With regard to issues about which there is differing scholarly opinion, such as the eating of meat of the People of the Book, no Muslim has the right to offend another Muslim who accepts a scholarly opinion different than that which he accepts. The most he or she can do is to gently and politely and humbly advise and try to persuade as to why they have chosen to follow the opinion that they do.
- We are not meant to police one another, or bully one another, or try to control one another with religion. The Prophet ﷺ said,This religion is of an easy nature. Anyone who pulls hard against it shall be the loser. (Bukhâri)He also said,Make things easy, not difficult for others. (Bukhari and Muslim)ʿÂishah said,The Messenger of Allah ﷺ whenever he is given the opportunity to choose between two affairs, he always chooses the easiest and most convenient. But if he is certain that it is sinful, he would be as far as he could from it. (Bukhâri)
- It is not the Islamic way to humiliate or belittle another person. There is a ḥadîth in which ʿÂishah relates to the Prophet ﷺ about a woman (Umm Zarʿ) who praises her husband, saying, When I am with him, whatever I say I am not made to feel humiliated or embarrassed…. my faults are always covered by him… At the end of the narration the Prophet said to ʿÂishah, I am to you like Abu Zarʿwas to his wife Umm Zarʿ. (Muslim)The Prophet also said,The proud one is dissatisfied with the truth and belittles people. (Muslim)
- Guarding one’s relationship with another Muslim is more important in degree than salah, fasting, and charity—therefore, to offend while advising –which damages the relationship– is a betrayal of the religion. The Prophet ﷺ said,Listen, may I tell you something more important in degree than salah, fasting, and charity? The people requested him to do so. He said, To keep the mutual relationship on the right footing, because defect in the relationship shaves a thing clean; and I do not mean that it shaves the hair, but it shaves the religion. (Tirmidhi)
We must, of course, understand that this ḥadîth is not in any way lessening the degree of importance of salah, fasting, and charity. We know the imperative importance of these pillars of Islam. We are rather being advised of just how important it is to guard the relationships we have with others. Dysfunctional, miserable, and/or adversarial relationships can bring bitterness, mistrust, hostility, and hopelessness. All these are damaging to the core of one’s spiritual being.
It is very important that your daughter realize that harsh, disrespectful, judgmental behavior used as a means to force others to comply with her understanding of religion, is actually a means of alienating those very people from the religion she professes to love. Since her own behavior is categorically un-Islamic, she discredits herself and her religion in the eyes of those she wishes to guide to Islam. Her intention is most likely a good one, but her style and manner in trying to persuade others needs to be re-examined and modified to honor the principles of the religion and to more effectively bring about the result that she wants.
Does Religiosity Mean Scruffiness?
Question: Does religiosity mean scruffiness? My wife does not take care of her appearance (shape, clothes, neatness) under the pretext that she is busy being religious. What is your advice to her and me?
Being religious certainly does not mean ignoring one’s shape, clothing, and neatness. With regard to shape, that actually is relevant only as it relates to one’s overall health and fitness. The actual “shape” or physical form is God-given, based upon genetics, and it not a person’s choice. But how well a person –male or female– maintains that form is learned behavior. And ultimately it is a choice whether to strive for optimal well-being through good diet and exercise, or whether to ignore the lifestyle requirements necessary to be healthy.
Taking care of the appearance is an integral aspect of striving for excellence (iḥsân), and it is naturally part and parcel of the overall aspiration of a true believer. Of course, the principle of the middle way, avoiding the extreme on either side, is the way of Islam.
So the idea of dressing in beautiful clothing that enhances the dignity and the honor of a human being is perfectly “religious.” The Prophet ﷺ said,
Indeed, Allah loves to see the effect of His bounties on His servant. (Tirmidhi)
Of course one has gone too far if the intention is to show off or to indulge one’s sense of vanity. The other extreme is to neglect one’s cleanliness, neatness, and appearance as if one “does not care what he or she looks like.” Further, it is integral to a healthy marriage relationship to care about one’s appearance in relation to one’s spouse. Ibn ʿAbbâs said,
…Indeed, I adorn myself as I love my wife to adorn herself for me…. (Tafsîr Al-Qurṭubi)
In general, one should care about one’s cleanliness, neatness, and appearance insofar as these constitute the outer layer of the inner being. If I take satisfaction in my intellect being organized, my emotions being stable and secure, and my soul striving for purity and sincerity, would I not also take satisfaction in my appearance being neat and well groomed?
Islam guides us to integrate the various aspects of our lives, of our beings. Leading a disciplined life applies to body, mind, heart, and soul. Eating right, exercising, developing the intellect, practicing patience and perseverance, disciplining the inner dialogue, striving for taqwa, strengthening and deepening the bonds of friendship and kinship—all of these endeavors are interfacing parts of one’s life goals to worship Allah, to strive for taqwa, to purify the heart, and to aim for excellence in every action, activity, and aspiration.
Editor’s Note: Readers are kindly requested to send their questions, if any, to the following email address: [email protected] and not to the authors.