Between Tension and Compassion: Reflections on Family Time During Covid-19
Published: April 13, 2020 • Edited: October 6, 2020
Author: Faatimah Knight
For more on this topic, see Faith in the Time of COVID-19
Sometimes in a relationship, egos prevail over hearts and minds. When this happens, the part of us that desires to be right acts as our mouthpiece and drives our actions. Prophet Yūsuf’s brothers operated out of envy when they cast Yūsuf into the well. Instead of admiring how Allah had showered his blessings on Yūsuf, they overflowed with rage and jealousy. Families are likely to learn more about each other as we shutter indoors during this pandemic. We may learn some unsavory things that need attention and healing, but we may also learn that someone in the family has advanced or excelled in some area of their academic, professional, or personal life.
We live so much of our lives outside of the house that a lot can transpire in a family member’s life before others catch up. When we do catch up, our response may not always be the most reasonable. Siblings, especially, have a habit of devouring each other like wolves, as Prophet Yaʿqūb alluded to in his cryptic warning to his sons. In some cases, it is those closest to us whom we deem undeserving of their blessings. We think, perhaps, that if others knew them as we do, they would not be so quick to praise them and grant them opportunities. And yet, rarely when we are praised, given opportunities, and generally blessed by Allah do we find our own selves undeserving. There is no one in this world whose shortcomings we are more aware of than our own.
Let us remember the principle of reciprocity: if it would pain you for someone to assess you as undeserving of your blessings, don’t inflict the same judgment on others. As well as we might know our loved ones, we do not know them as Allah knows them. It’s best to stay unassuming—trying to understand how God distributes His mercy, to whom, and why is a losing game. Allah’s provisions are vast and His wisdom in distributing them is more refined than ours. Knowing this, we should try to be understanding of Allah’s decree, hopeful in Him, and prayerful at all times.
All bounty is in the hand of Allah. He grants it to whom He wills. And Allah is All-Encompassing, Wise. He selects for His mercy whom He wills. And Allah is the possessor of great bounty. (Qur’an 3:73-74)
Stay connected. Sign up to receive our latest paper updates.
We should be wary of bungling our interactions with family members through lackluster responses. We must also mind the daily annoyances that get under our skin and eat away at the affection we have for each other. We often think someone knows that what they’re doing upsets us—they may not. We think that a certain glance of the eye, a furrow of the brow, or sigh is a subtle clue of someone’s disfavor. We surmise that a small action or lack of action is an intentional dig at us. But these are double standards. For we’ve all felt the sting that burns when someone accuses us of harmful intent though we are innocent. As Rūmī once said, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror ever be polished?” In Rūmī’s statement, mirror is a metaphor for the heart. He’s cautioning us that if we are constantly bothered by what’s happening around us, our hearts will struggle to be purified and pleasing to Allah. Be aware of the improbability of your assumptions about other people. It is unlikely that everything you take offense to has malintent behind it. Whenever possible, give others the benefit of the doubt and have a good opinion before indulging in negative thoughts.
Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the faults of others and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert one another, and do not have enmity for one another. O servants of Allah, be brothers. (Bukhārī)
Someone once said that the greatest of the liberal arts is the art of learning to live together. When you live with someone long enough, you tend to build up between yourselves habits of mutual annoyance. No amount of self-work in the world will make you adore all the habits and quirks of another person. Perhaps that’s a good thing. If you let it, it can act as a reminder that only Allah is perfect. The Prophet ﷺ cautioned us against holding others to the standard of perfection. He gave counsel that if a husband dislikes one of his wife’s characteristics, he should focus on another aspect he finds pleasing.1 And the same advice can be given to wives. Allah wants us to be good to each other, which means that it's imperative to improve our relationships. That might mean having a better opinion so that our hearts can soften toward each other. It may also mean that all parties agree to make small changes for the greater good of achieving tranquility in the home. Since this is a transitional time for everyone, the needs of the whole family, from the children to the adults ought to be taken into consideration.
Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us. (Musnad Aḥmad)
We sometimes have the urge to turn inward, crawl into our caves and disengage so as to not make the wounds in our relationships fester. Knowing that our relationships matter, we might resort to praying for the other as a way of mending the fractures when we find it challenging to be physically together. But prayers for others ought not to become a means for the ego or Shaytan to get their portion. In other words, you might find yourself praying that the object of your frustration overturns a habit that you find bothersome. Reconsider. A prayer like this could reinforce in your mind the things about them that get under your skin and reignite all the negative feelings you harbor. Assess whether the thing you’re praying the person stops engaging in is objectively harmful like smoking, lying, abandonment of responsibilities, etc. If the action is not objectively harmful, you might consider beseeching Allah for a resolution to tension and a resurgence of compassion in the relationship, in whatever way Allah deems it best to achieve that end. Just be careful of praying that they change without recognizing that they may not be the only problem. And don’t forget to pray for the things that may be causing them harm and hardship, like a sickness, heartbreak, financial difficulty, or feeling burdened by their responsibilities.
The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you. (Tirmidhī)
Many of us are not accustomed to spending so much time at home. To some extent, you might even feel like a stranger in your own home. Try to treat your home as you would a guest, show your gratitude for having shelter by honoring your home in how you care for its upkeep and in how you perceive it. For those of us who have busy, bustling homes we might benefit from establishing a cleanliness minimum. Lower your expectations so as to avoid unnecessary frustration but not so low that it makes being home tougher. When it comes to how you perceive your home, try to look at it with the eye of gratitude by focusing on what you have instead of what you don’t. If you have the blessing of a bed, you might consider going to sleep a little earlier. If, through the power of our orientation, we can see beyond the mere materiality of our homes, and instead treat our homes with care and bring them to life with worship, we may breathe life into our space and feel it expand. Arabs have a proverb, “Dayyiq fī al-qalb,” which means that sometimes constriction is a product of your perception, not reality. Perhaps we can all take inventory of the aspects of being at home that make us feel constricted and see if we cannot make them more expansive, either by changing our attitude or adjusting our conditions. Appreciate your space and family by calling to mind, humorously or seriously, how things could be worse. Consider how the house could be smaller, the water could never run warm, the internet could be cut off, and a whole host of other unpalatable but possible alternatives. Then return to your situation, appreciating all that you have and how easily things could be otherwise. Don’t make your circumstances a wedge between yourself and Allah when they could be a bridge to Allah.
1 The Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “A believer must not hate a believing woman [his wife]; if he dislikes one of her characteristics he will be pleased with another characteristic.” Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, bk. 1, hadith 275.