Chapter 6: The Muslim Woman and Her Sons and Daughters-In-Law
A- Her daughter-in-law
Her attitude towards her daughter-in-law
The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion and who is of a high character, regards her daughter-in-law as she regards her own daughters. Fate has made this woman the wife of her son, and she has joined the family and become one of its members. Similarly, when the young Muslim woman who has been brought up with Islamic values and attitudes leaves her parents' home and goes to live with her new husband, she regards her mother-in-law as she does her own mother.
She knows how to make a good choice
in selecting a daughter-in-law
Thus before any marriage takes place, it is very important for both parties (both potential mothers-in-law and potential daughters-in-law) to be very careful in making the right choice. When seeking spouses for her sons and daughters, a mother must examine each candidate's religious commitment and character, and look for a sound upbringing and good reputation.
When the wise Muslim woman looks for a wife for her son, she always bears in mind the fact that this will be a new daughter joining her family, one who should enjoy the same respect and love as her own daughters, and who will share their duties within the framework of the greater family. She should want for her new daughter-in-law nothing but success, happiness and stability in marriage. So the wise mother will not be attracted by those girls who appear pretty and cheerful on the outside only; she will also require her future daughter-in-law first and foremost to be strong in her commitment to Islam, and to be of a good and balanced character. This is in accordance with the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH):
She knows her place
On the basis of this correct understanding of the daughter-in-law's position in marriage and her position in her new family, the mother-in-law treats her daughter-in-law properly and fairly in all circumstances and at all times.
It never crosses the mind of the Muslim mother-in-law who is filled with Islamic values, that this woman has stolen the son whom she spent long years bringing up only to be taken away, when he reached the age of manhood and became able to work and make sacrifices, by a wife who would lead him into a happy home where he would forget everything that his mother had ever done for him. Such evil thoughts never occur to the righteous Muslim woman, because she understands the laws of Allah (SWT) that apply in this life, and she knews that her son, to whom she taught Islamic values from early childhood, cannot be made to forget his mother by his beautiful wife, just as the daughter-in-law whom she chose for her son from among the good, believing young women, would never accept for her husband to forget his mother in this way, which is precisely that disobedience which has been forbidden by Islam.
If she feels any stirrings of jealousy at some moment of human weakness, she seeks refuge in her faith and fear of Allah (SWT), and so she sheds these hateful feelings and returns to a proper opinion of her daughter-in-law. This is the attitude of the righteous believers, men and women alike, when they are struck by some evil thought they turn to Allah (SWT):
Hence a balance is struck between the daughter-in-law, the mother-in-law and the husband, and matters may run their natural, peaceful course unaffected by misguided whims and desires and governed instead by religion, reason and wisdom.
She gives advice but does not interfere
in their private life
From the moment her daughter-in-law is brought as a bride to her son, the wise Muslim woman remembers that her daughter-in-law has the right to live her married life in all aspects - so long as it remains within the limits of Islamic teaching - and that no-one has the right to interfere in the private life of the spouses except in cases where it is essential to do so, as every Muslim is required to give sincere advice in accordance with the Prophet's words: "Religion is sincere advice (nasihah) . . ."2
The Muslim mother-in-law's standard in her behaviour towards her daughter-in-law is her behaviour towards her own daughter: just as she wants her daughter to have a happy, successful and independent marriage, undisturbed by any interference in her private life, so she wishes the same for her daughter-in-law, with no exceptions.
She respects her and treats her well
The good Muslim mother-in-law respects her daughter-in-law and treats her well; she makes her feel that she is loved and appreciated; she listens to her thoughts and opinions, approving and encouraging those that are good, and gently correcting those that are mistaken. In all of this, the mother-in-law's aim is to be fair and just, so she judges her daughter-in-law exactly as she would judge her daughter if she were in her place giving her opinion to her mother, in accordance with the words of the Qur'an:
She does not omit to express the joy that she feels from time to time, when she sees that her son is happy with his wife, and this adds to the best feelings that her son and daughter-in-law feel. Similarly, she does not forget to include her daughter-in-law on various occasions, just as she thinks of her daughters, so she lets her accompany them, and makes her feel that she is one of them, and that she is a beloved member of the family since she is married to her beloved son.
In this way the mother-in-law becomes dear to her daughter-in-law, because she shows that her daughter-in-law is dear to her. This is in direct contrast to the practice in those backward, jahili societies that have deviated from the guidance of Allah (SWT), where hatred and despicable plots between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are the norm, to such an extent that this enmity has become a traditional, inevitable phenomenon, about which there are many folk sayings and popular songs. None of this could have happened if both mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law had really respected one another's rights as outlined by Islam, and had stayed within the limits prescribed by Allah (SWT). This is why the traditional enmity between the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law disappeared in those societies that truly embraced Islam and adhered to its teachings and values.
She is wise and fair in her judgement
of her daughter-in-law
A mother-in-law may find herself being tested by a daughter-in-law who is not of good character, one who does not treat others well. Here we see the need for the mother-in-law to exercise wisdom and sophistication by repelling evil with something better, as stated in the Qur'an:
One way in which a mother-in-law may repel evil with something better is by concealing her daughter-in-law's negative qualities and mistakes from her son as much as possible, advising her daughter-in-law on her own and explaining how keen she is for the marriage to continue on the basis of love and good works. The mother-in-law should continue to advise her daughter-in-law until she rids herself of those negative qualities, or at least minimizes them. Thus the daughter-in-law will feel that she has a sincere, loving mother-in-law, not a fearsome enemy who is just waiting for her to stumble.
The wise Muslim mother-in-law remains fair and just when she judges between her daughter-in-law and her son, if she sees her son mistreating her daughter-in-law. Her awarenessand fear of Allah (SWT) prevent her frowith her son at the expense of the truth, so she does not support him in oppressing his wife or in doing wrong. This is in accordance with the words of the Qur'an:
( . . . And when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice . . .) (Qur'an 4:58)
The Muslim woman who is truly following this guidance will never commit the sin of oppression, and will never be content to give any judgement except that which is fair, even if this means judging in favour of her daughter-in-law and against her son.
B - Her son-in-law
Her attitude towards her son-in-law
The attitude of the truly-guided Muslim woman towards her sons-in-law is no different than her attitude towards her daughters-in-law. She treats her daughter-in-law as if she were one of her own daughters, and similarly she treats her son-in-law as if he were one of her own sons. Just as she wants her own son to be one of the best of people, so she also wants her son-in-law to be one of the best of people too.
She knows how to make a good choice
in selecting a son-in-law
So she makes a good choice when selecting a son-in-law, accepting none but one who is religious, well-mannered and has a good reputation, as the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged Muslims to do in the hadith:
In seeking a spouse for her daughter, she is not attracted only by a smart appearance, high status or plentiful wealth, because she knows that by marrying her daughter to this man she is going to gain a son, to whom she will entrust her daughter's honour, life and happiness, none of which may be protected or properly taken care of except by a man who is well-mannered, religious, noble, chivalrous and moral.
She respects and honours him
Not surprisingly, her son-in-law is on the receiving end of her honour, respect and appreciation. At every opportunity she makes him feel that he has become a member of the family by marrying her daughter, so she wishes him and her daughter happiness and success in their life together. She lets him know that he is the one to whom she has entrusted the precious honour of her daughter, and in whom she places her hopes for the achievement of her daughter's fondest wishes. She makes him feel that she is a second mother to him, so she does not withhold any advice, or spare any effort to do whatever will bring happiness to him, his wife and his children.
She helps her daughter to be
a good wife to her husband
The wise Muslim woman never ceases to offer advice to her daughter in ways that will be of benefit to her in running her household and taking care of her husband and children. She always points out to her daughter anything that will please her husband and make him happy, and encourages her to undertake the duties of a wife and mother in the best way possible. If she notices any shortcoming, negligence or carelessness on the part of her daughter, she hastens to correct and advise her, and helps her to make up for the shortcoming, so that there will be no reason for her son-in-law to look down on her daughter. She does not neglect to mention her son-in-law's good characteristics from time to time, so that her daughter will become more fond of him, and more content with what Allah (SWT) has given her. In this way, a mother becomes the greatest help to her daughter in consolidating her marriage and making it happy.
She is fair, and is never biased in favour of her daughter
The Muslim mother-in-law is always fair in her opinions and judgements if any misunderstanding arises between her daughter and son-in-law, or if she notices any failure on her daughter's part to be a good wife or to perform her domestic duties or to take care of her husband's legitimate desires. She does not stand by her daughter, rather she speaks words of fairness and truth, as commanded by Allah (SWT) in the Qur'an:
( . . . And when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice . . .) (Qur'an 4:58)
If she notices that her daughter tends to take a lot of money from her husband or spends extravagantly, and that her words of advice to her daughter are not heeded, then she speaks out, explaining to her daughter the error of her ways and pointing out how she has transgressed the limits laid down by Islam with regard to spending, as has been outlined in the Qur'anic description of the honoured, truly-guided servants of Allah (SWT):
If what she notices on her daughter's part is excessive power and a tendency to undermine her husband's honour and qawwamah, she hastens to explain to her daughter in the clearest terms that men are qawwamun over women, as the Qur'an says:
and that men have been given this role of protecting and maintaining women for two essential reasons which women should never forget: the precedence given to men, and the wealth that they spend on women:
The mother-in-law who is adhering to Islam and who is wise and fair does not differentiate between her son and her son-in-law. Just as she wants her son to fulfil his role as qawwam over his wife and to conduct his marriage wisely, seriously and in a manly fashion, so she wants the same thing for her son-in-law too, even if that means that her daughter has to face some strictness, because justice demands that of every woman who believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day.
Just as the Muslim mother-in-law will criticize her daughter-in-law if necessary for any extravagance that she may notice, out of compassion towards her son, she will also criticize her own daughter if she oversteps the limits, in order to be fair and just, and in obedience to the words of the Qur'an:
She deals with problems wisely
A son-in-law may be of a certain mentality with which his wife and mother-in-law do not feel at ease, which may result in mutual dislike and arguments. In such cases, the duty of the mother-in-law who understands the teachings of Islam is to approach her son-in-law in a sensitive manner, taking into account his particular mentality and nature, to deal with him wisely, and never to despair of reaching her goal with a measure of patience and persistence.
She is always very careful never to exaggerate her son-in-law's negative points to her daughter; rather, so long as those negative aspects do not affect his religion or moral character and do not warrant the end of the marriage, she tries to make them look as small as possible, whilst striving to deal with them by legitimate means and wise methods.
Thus the mother-in-law who is truly guided by Islam becomes a blessing and a source of goodness for her daughter and her husband, offering solid support to their marriage and proving by her fairness and piety that she is indeed a second mother to the husband, not the traditional enemy of the couple, as she is often described in backward, jahili societies where comedians tell funny stories of that everlasting enmity which in fact is the result of the Muslims' failure to properly apply the laws and values of their religion.
We may well imagine the great happiness felt by both families - her son's family and her daughter's family - towards this wise, sensitive, pious mother-in-law, when she is sincere and loved by both her son-in-law and her daughter-in-law, and this love is reflected in the happiness oboth families.
By virtue of her taqwa, fairness and good to her son- and daughter-in-law, she increases the happiness of her daughter and son, and contributes to the comfort and tranquillity of their families.
How beautiful are the deeds of the intelligent, believing mother-in-law, and how great is the need of her sons' and daughters' families for her!
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 9/8, Kitab al-nikah, bab ikhtiyar dhat al-din.
- Sahih Muslim, 2/37, Kitab al-iman, bab bayan an al-din al-nasihah.
- A hasan hadith narrated by Tirmidhi, 2/274, Abwab al-nikah, 3; Ibn Majah, 1/633, Kitab al-nikah, bab al-akfa'.