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Shura in the Family: Some thoughts
by Abdul Malik Mujahid
Gender relations in Islam are not based on men-women competition as in the west today but are based on gender cooperation. (Quran: 4:32)
Husband is the leader (Qawwam) of the family as defined by Allah (Quran 4:34)
But this leader, like all other Islamic leaders, are bound on one side by the Quran and Sunnah and on the other side by mutual consultation amruhum shura bainahum (Quran 42:38)
The Muslim family, therefore, like all other Muslim institutions, formal or informal, must be run with mutual consultation.
One major cause of problems in Muslim Ummah today is absence of shura. The shura process if adopted as a personal behavior, nourished by the family as a way of life, will benefit the Ummah as well.
Some Guidelines for Informal Shura:
Informal shura is like talking to each other. It may happen any place and any time.
Listen attentively: No TV shows, games, books or newspaper should be in your way if your spouse or child wants to talk to you.
Shura doesn't have to be about family affairs: Mutual consultation in the family could be about any topic. It was Umme Salma's advice, may Allah be pleased with her, which the Prophet followed when Muslims were reluctant in obeying the Prophet at the end of Hudaibiah. Allah's peace and blessings be upon the Prophet.
A serious topic could be brought up in small doses if shura is not the norm of the family.
Many women are afraid of bothering their husbands with "domestic" stuff. But take some time to think about how you'd like your husband to contribute and then talk with him about it.
Spouses should brief each other about work, neighborhood, masjid, and each other's activities. Mutual information is necessary for mutual consultation.
A family calendar will help tremendously for family time and shura. In the family meeting go over next month's dates (teacher conferences, games, next family meetings etc.). A large month by month calendar in the kitchen, next to the phone may work well.
A family leader must encourage shura by being positive. If your wife or children are afraid of your reaction, they will not participate in shura.
Shura in a restaurant: Spouses may meet each other everyday without ever actually discussing issues. Set a time to go out and talk.
Walking Shura: What about an evening walk to discuss a topic?
Some Points for formal Shura:
It is a process to reach an agreement on an issue of mutual interest
Every one should participate in shura with an open mind
Allah's hamd, sana and salawat on our prophet should precede a shura
Participation in shura means willingness to sacrifice your opinion if it is not accepted even if you are sure of its soundness.
Learn the details of the topic under consultation before you speak.
Listen attentively to what others are saying
Be respectful in discussing other's point of view.
Process of Shura involves abiding by what is agreed upon.
Involve all children in the formal shura of the family. They come up with brilliant ideas.
Avoid being defensive or sarcastic. Be rational and reasonable.
Make dua for barakah in your decisions at the end.
(Our children suggest that "Family Meeting" or "Family Circle" is a better title for family shura since "shura" feels too serious. They suggest that this forum should include discussion of any topic from the Quran, Sunnah or current affairs.
Frank and clear conversation with Taqwa is the key for success (Quran 33:70)
Non-verbal criticism (gestures, silent treatment etc.) can cause more problems then we normally realize.
Clearly communicate what you mean. Don't expect your spouse to magically read your mind, then be disappointed when he or she doesn't.
Non-verbal communication, however, works well in a show of love, thanks, or appreciation. Nevertheless, verbalizing it when you really mean it is better.
Criticism is Shura as well:
Adab of giving criticism: (i.e. input and feedback)
Check your motives (niyyah) first before opening your mouth. You should be doing it only to help someone, not to make yourself feel better than others.
Make dua for yourself and the person you are approaching before you actually do it.
Think beforehand and choose appropriate words.
Don't sound critical, condescending, or judgmental.
Timing is important: Don't do it when the fight is on.
Criticism is best received when done one to one.
Remember the Prophet said "A momin is a mirror to another momin." So just state what you see. Don't exaggerate.
keep in mind that your information or even your conclusions may be wrong.
Listen to the explanation attentively and accept it even if it is partially correct in your view.
Avoid debating the point.
Know where to stop. Don't drag on the discussion if it's not going anywhere.
Adab of receiving criticism:
Thank the person who considers your improvement important enough to help you with his/her thoughts.
Welcome the feedback. Ask advice about how it could be improved.
Explain if there is any misunderstanding.
Bad timing should not deter you from listening and benefiting.
The person criticizing should not be stopped because of location, language, or manners.
Do not turn the table and start criticizing that person in the same sitting.
Make dua for the person who is criticizing you.
Involving Children in Shura:
Loving your children is not enough, communication is the key for successful development.
Start early on with your kids to get them into the habit of talking with you about their day and their feelings.
Shura is among the choice characteristic of Momin. (Quran 42:38) Inculcate it early on. (Our youngest sits down in shura with pen and paper and takes notes although he doesn't know how to write)
They should be full participants of any formal or informal shura in the family unless it has to be between father and mother exclusively.
Children open up informally more than formally. Two minute sound bites from them in a car may be more important insight into what they feel .
Children love to ask questions. Answer their questions with one of your questions: "what do you think?" Think of their questions as the start of a two way conversation (mutual shura may pop in any time).
Let children come up with solutions. Instead of giving advice, ask "so what would you like to do about this?" or "How do you think this should be handled?"
Delegate an area of responsibility to your child instead of adopting a " do this, do that" style.
Avoid electronic overload: TV, Stereos, Computers etc. are a convenient way for kids to close off from their parents. Set rules for TV. (see a 22 TV Tips sheet by the author at www.soundvision.com)
Keep your sense of humor. Laughing won't undermine your authority or sabotage the lessons, rather, it will enhance your capacity to communicate.
Respect children's opinion
Carefully listen to what your kids say without being judgmental or critical.
Reward a good idea.
More Resources on relateed topics:
To discuss Muslim family issues on the internet visit forums.soundvision.com. You can anonymously participate in this discussion contributing your experience and advice. Let's call it an anonymous shura for the benefit of the Ummah.
There are several articles and essays on Sound Vision's website about parenting, husband and wife relationship, and education. A detailed version of this paper will also be put there.
Br. Kamal will kill me (without shura) if I don't tell you that Sound Vision has a set of three video documentaries about the Muslim Family on sale. The set includes: The Ideal Muslim Husband (the Prophet), Hijab, and Holiday Myths.
Khurram Murad's lecture: Saving Children in America has excellent advice for parents.
Related themes to study from the Quran and Sunnah are: Maroof, Munkar, Sabr, Tawakkul, Anger, Brotherhood, Gheebah, Zann, Tongue.
Related Quranic verses to study: 49:9-13; 41:34; 49:6; 20:43-44; 2:44; 61:2-3; 5:2; 3:110; 9:71; 9:67; 16:125; 31:17-19; 7:199.
© Abdul Malik Mujahid
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