Coming to Terms with Familial Issues

And Allah has made for you in your homes an abode (An-Nahl 16:80).

Are we playing our part in making our home a peaceful, serene abode? Is our sense of responsibility towards other family members still substantial enough to make our family an institution within itself?

We’re living in times when shamelessness, rebellion, corruption and self-obsession are at their peak. A righteous, practicing Muslim has to be all ears of the social dilemmas that surround him/her. In this day and age, one of the biggest shields that can protect us from falling trap in the social issues is being united with our family and home.

Most of us quickly jump to expectations first. We tend forget the transient nature of this Dunya and the perpetual, yet to come Akhirah. The temporariness of this world implies that nothing here would be perfect or ideal, because perfection is the attribute of Jannah. Nouman Ali Khan in his talk highlighted that an ideal Muslim does not exist rather there are ‘ideal ways’ to deal with one’s family.

One of the biggest realities of life is that we have to deal with that tough member(s) of our family, who we get hurt by occasionally. Family issues, within the home have become really common and we all need a way out of them. However, like all other problems, there are no shortcuts to this. After having considered the basics of parental psychology and relationship psychology, I have realized that we have to encounter the tough relative to our best capabilities rather than wanting them to change.

I observed around, within my family, friends and my work place, I looked for the common error that most of the families were making. That sibling who comes home late, that parent who argues with you on wearing Hijab or not, that uncle who calls you a Mawlana, or the in laws who are always sarcastic about you, all have to be faced at some point in life. The indifference, the carelessness or rudeness within a family can rust the ties until one of us realizes that improvement can be made. Instead of hopelessly closing the file and locking that cabinet, we need to reconsider that relationship in a number of ways. The best of people in Islam have had the toughest of family members, even sometimes non-Muslims. Aasia had Islam’s enemy as her husband and she prayed for a house in Jannah; Yaqoob (as) had disobedient sons except Yusuf (as) despite of his hard work into parenting. We can take numerous examples by reviewing the Ahadeeth and boost our morales.

We need to reconsider this reality; no matter how hard we try, we can’t change the person if he or she is not willing to change. We can only work on ourselves as the biggest room is the room for self-improvement. Nuh (as) did not change his wife neither did Ibrahim (as) change his father. They kept their duty to Allah (swt) and are the blessed legends of Islam today.

In dealing with an apathetic family member, we often make the mistake of repeatedly quoting Ahadith and Ayats, in the hope that they will realize. This can work at times but not always, because we are not working on the root cause; each family member has a need to be heard, to be understood and respected. We need to first identify what they are responsive to and then give our sound advice.

Yusuf Estes, in his talk Family Development, highly discourages the blame games we play at home with our family or even our relatives. After a particular situation, we start talking in ‘if’ terms. ‘If you had listened to me, you could’ve . . .’. Such statements only ruin the Islamic atmosphere of the home. Today’s parents and even youth have developed the habit of cursing each other. If a 13 year old doesn’t listen to the mother, the mother yells ‘Allah will deal with you.’ If the brother doesn’t switch off the music while the sister is praying, she yells right after finishing her Salah, ‘Allah will ask you’. We should really stop and ponder over our choice of words and the temperaments at our homes today. Is the love for our family so less that we can think of Allah (swt) questioning them on the Day of Judgement?

It was narrated from Abu Hurairah (rta) that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “The strong man is not the one who wrestles others; rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself at times of anger. (Muslim)

A strange heated friction exists between siblings, parents and even grandparents. We have become so aggressive verbally and non-verbally that it ruins the very roots of our relationships. This friction prevents the youth from coming home early or the parents to get up and have discussions with their kids. The interpersonal relationships are deeply affected shaking the grounds of trust, sincerity and love. We need to choose our battles wisely, we need to prioritize the unwelcomed advices we give. Before taunting a young boy to keep a beard to become a true Muslim, we need to find Khushoo in our own Salah and ensure its regularity.

Unfortunately, what has become of us? The intrinsic values that the Sunnah of our Prophet (sa) imbibed in us are gradually sinking somewhere. A significant issue that exists between families and within a family is the different opinions they have about Islamic aspects; the elder brother follows the Hanafi school of Fiqh while the younger sister follows the Sha’afi school of Fiqh. Moreover, there are other minute differences such as the sister ridiculing the younger brother for listening to the lectures of Shaykh or an Ustadh regularly instead of respecting her. One method of dealing with such a scenario when one faces opposition through opinion is to motivate the relative or the family member to seek further knowledge and also humbly accept the imperfection that one’s knowledge might possess. Over and above, the Sahabah (ra) and the Salaf (ra) spent their entire lives as students of the Deen and never complained. Similarly, the Shaykhs we tend to criticize harshly have spent much of their life studying Deen and serving people. How can we question the sanctity of their knowledge in a second?

I genuinely feel for the current familial crisis that we are in. I see in my home and other families that we have reduced the home to a place of eating, sleeping and resting or worse, using it as a place of entertainment. We should strive forth and amend our modes, tone and even our non-verbal gestures. Each act of kindness and piety should begin from within the home.

When making changes to our behaviour towards our family, we should keep in mind that each step that we take for improvement is for Allah’s (swt) pleasure. Ibn-e-Taimiyyah rahimullah has magnificently summed up an advice regarding relationships:

“Anyone whose heart is attached to the creation, hoping for someone from the creation to help him or provide for him or guide him, then his heart submits to them and to the degree that his heart submits to them, he becomes their slave. This holds true, even if he is outwardly a ruler or a guardian over those whom he treats as masters. The wise one looks at realities and not appearances. So if a man’s heart is attached to his wife, even though it is permissible, his heart remains a prisoner to her, and she may rule over him as she pleases-though outwardly he is her master and her husband. In reality, he is her prisoner and her slave, who cannot escape or go free. Indeed for the heart to be taken as prisoner is a much greater matter than for the body to be taken as a slave or prisoner. Even a body that is slave can have in it a serene heart, peaceful and happy heart. As for the heart, that is a slave to other than Allah (swt), then that is true humiliation, imprisonment and slavery.”

Originally published by Hiba Magazine.
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Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) from A Muslim’s Standpoint


The Muslim counselor, the student and a client fortunately have been given comprehensive teachings in Islam to deal with tribulations and erroneous thoughts. Beliefs are indeed the most significant unit for a Muslim. Imam ibn Al-Qayyim al Jawziyyah elaborates on the roots of good and evil.  The origin of all good and evil, rational and irrational begins in a believer’s thoughts. Thoughts and beliefs are the grounds of seeking piety and pleasure. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is quintessentially similar to a lot of Islamic teachings; the therapy techniques of REBT are complemented by quite a few verses of the Holy Quran. These verses reveal an important feature for the Muslim involved in psychology as a therapist or as a student i.e. the Hereafter’s benefit-seeking therapeutic feature of Islam.

Albert Ellis is the mastermind behind one of the most applicable cognitive-behavioral therapies (REBT). Ellis laid the fundamentals of REBT in 1955. The basic concept underlying this therapy is that our beliefs and attitudes are most important when it comes to consequences rather than the circumstances. Ellis identified two types of beliefs that can make or mar one’s mental health. Rational beliefs are those which have roots in self-acceptance, logical-reasoning, and realism. Irrational beliefs are rooted in inflexibility, musts, shoulds, self-criticism or self-damnation. Ellis set forth to describe his ABC model; Activating Event, Belief and Consequence. Ellis argues that it is the belief that causes the consequence not for the most part the activating event.

The therapist who operates in accordance with REBT is supposed to encourage the client to build a rational and valuable belief system. The three focus areas of the therapist should be enhancing the interactive structure between thinking, feeling and behaving. Ellis and his followers have worked thoroughly on anxiety, depression, and guilt, shame and hurt under the category of unhealthy negative emotions. The main aim of the REBT therapist is to follow a holistic framework to facilitate the client to solve his past and future disturbances. REBT combines the forces of all major psychology therapies from Skinner’s homework tasks and reinforcement to Freud’s defense mechanisms. Ellis proposed that psychoanalysis provides an insight into the client’s problem but does not assist the client in transforming his lifestyle. An REBT therapist promotes forgiveness and persuades the client’s to move on in life after discovering childhood conflicts. When Ellis began leafing through the philosophies of happiness, he agreed with Epictetus’s view that humans are constructivists. Moreover, Ellis also focused on a client’s low frustration tolerance. Ellis also believed in humor, gratitude, proselytizing and positivity.

Homework tasks are often given to REBT clients to evaluate the manifestation of their irrational beliefs. The Muslim therapist hence can positively remind the client now and then to ensure a smooth progress. Allah swt says in the Holy Quran,

And remind (by preaching the Qur’an, O Muhammad ) for verily, the reminding profits the believers” (51:55).

One vital element of faith of a Muslim is tawakul i.e. putting one’s trust in Allah swt. In the light of the Holy Quran, the C of Ellis’s REBT model is left upon Allah while the believing client works hard to alter his irrational beliefs. Allah swt says,

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Maula (Lord, Helper and Protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust” (9:51).

This verse can also prove to a really effective coping statement, another module of REBT.

Depending on the intensity of client’s self-sabotaging actions, the Muslim psychologist administering REBT can utilize the Holy Quran as a manual to see which particular verse the condition of the client can relate to. For instance, for people who feel abandoned or lonely can be encouraged by these words of Prophet Musa a.s in the Quran,

Nay, verily! With me is my Lord, He will guide me” (26:62).

The magnificence of Islam, as the code of life, lies in the solutions it provides to daily life obstacles from stress to bereavement by explaining the riddles of life with the rule of opposites. Allah swt says,

The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend” (41:34).

A fruitful lesson is contained in this mighty verse especially for the therapist. The intentions of the client while undergoing therapy can be transformed into that of piety and spirituality. This verse also explains that it is incumbent of each individual to maintain positive perceptions about the world and him. Immense rewards lie in the process of disputing irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. The magnanimity of a revolution in perception is explained with the picturesque example of an enemy converting into a close friend. In REBT, the ultimate aim of the therapist is also to change the narrow perceptions of a client into holistic and open ones.

Ellis described low frustration tolerance in terms of the client believing that something or someone he does not like should not exist. In REBT, the counselor is set to remove the barriers that limit an individual’s tolerance for various predicaments and people. In the light of the Quran, this is explained as developing patience with a guarantee of rewards in the Hereafter as well. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran,

“…So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allah (Alone) Whose help can be sought against that which you assert” (12:18).

Rational Emotive Behavioral therapists are also of the view that people are responsible for their reactions. Allah swt in the Holy Quran says,

Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned (by Allah)” (17:36).

The senses form our cognition, emotions, memory and behavior; hence we are responsible for how we use our eyes and ears to ultimately form core beliefs in our brain.

Often times, the client feels that he or she does not have control over their life. Some clients are utterly sorrowful because of the irrational framework they view things in. Hence, Ellis believed that happiness is not a destination; it also comes as a result of the attitude we have. The Quran instructs the Muslim therapist to help the client believe

And that it is He (Allah) Who makes (whom He wills) laugh, and makes (whom He wills) weep” (53:43).

Thus, the Quran mandates for the therapist and the client to look ahead to recovery and rejuvenation as it comes with firm belief in Allah swt.

Ellis also endorsed the idea of insight i.e. reflection on one’s core beliefs by carrying out a cost and benefit analysis. In the Quran, Allah swt says,

We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their ownselves, until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth. Is it not sufficient in regard to your Lord that He is a Witness over all things?” (41:53).

Negative views of self accompanied by low self esteem often leads to the development of eating disorders and somatoform disorders, especially in women. According to Ellis, the problem lies in the belief of the client or attitude towards self that leads to such chronic mental illnesses. The Muslim therapist should ponder upon the following verses and then make the client practice self-acceptance by affirming himself with the following words,

Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould)” (95:4).

The therapist should soothe the irrational beliefs of self-critical client by focusing on the fact that Allah swt is also Al-Musawirr, the Fashioner, Shaper and Bestower of forms. In the Skinnerian tasks given to the client, an assignment can also be given to contemplate on such refreshing verses of the Quran. This can be done in the light of reading tasks, yet again a unit of REBT.

In a nutshell, Albert Ellis believed that negative and uncontrollable emotions and impulses can be controlled with REBT but it requires consistent struggle by the client. After attaining an insight into problems, alteration can only take place if the client is willing and able to work hard to not only to feel better but to get better holistically. Allah swt reminds in the Holy Quran,

Verily, We have created man in toil” (90:4).