Q What is a woman’s responsibility when it comes to her in-laws?
A by Sh. Abdool Rahman Khan: The relationship with in-laws is nothing new in Islam. It is perhaps as old as human beings themselves. At the same time the Quran and Sunnah have defined for us our boundaries on human relations; what our responsibilities and duties to each other are, starting with parents and moving on to kith and kin. It should be noted that responsibility is not a one way street. While a child has to fulfill his duties towards his parents, for example, the parents also in return have duties towards their children. Too often we tend to ignore that relationships are two-way and we demand our rights without thinking about our own responsibilities.
Another point to note is that we allow customs and culture to overtake what Islam requires of us. Many of these cultures have their root in other religions and beliefs. In some cultures the in-laws literally make the laws and the woman is often treated no more than a slave. In other or the same cultures the mother-in-law decides everything for her son and daughter-in-law to the point that permission must be sought even for breathing. There are numerous horror stories right here in the U.S. of the ill treatment by mothers-in-law of their daughters-in-law. At the same time, there are wonderful stories of the love and care between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
Let me begin by saying that it is not obligatory for a woman in Islam to obey any one of her in-laws, whether it is her mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law in anything, no matter how small or how big, except if it is a Shari’ah obligation that has to be carried out or a Shari’ah prohibition that should be stopped. As for her husband, obedience to him is necessary providing that his orders do not contain exploitation, injustice and deviation from the Shari’ah.
Allah SWT says, “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard.” (4:34)
It is also not permissible for any of the in-laws to enter the bedroom except by permission, and in case the in-law is a male the presence of a mahram is required so that there is no room for suspicion or fitnah. Rasulullah (S) said: “Beware of entering upon women.” A man from the Ansar said, “O Messenger of Allah! What about Al-Hamu, or the wife’s in-law (the brother of her husband or his nephew, etc.)?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, replied: “The in-law of the wife is death itself.” Commenting on this Hadith, Imam An-Nawawi, may Allah bless him, states:
“Al-Layth Ibn Sa`d holds that the ‘the in-law’ refers to a relative of the husband (other than his father and sons) such as his brother, nephew, and cousin, etc., with whom marriage would be permissible for her, if she were to be divorced or widowed.“ Those who are described of death are the husband’s brother, cousin, uncle, and all those who are not Mahram for the wife. Hijab therefore must be worn in front of male in-laws except for the husband’s father or grandfather or the husband’s son (from another marriage) or grandsons.
It is also not allowed for them (in-laws) to force the woman to cook for them or doing other house chores. It should be from her kindness that she does these things and not expectations and demands of the in-laws. Similarly in-laws should not interfere in husband and wife disputes. This is often is where things get a lot messier.
Similarly a woman does not have to take in-laws permission to visit her relatives; her husband’s permission is sufficient. It is also not their right to know the secrets of what goes on between the husband and the wife. It should be noted here that a man must be kind and obedient to his parents and it is expected that the wife helps him to fulfill his kindness towards them. The woman should be very respectful and kind towards her in-laws.
There is no harm to live with in-laws except that privacy for the wife is provided and again expectations are within the Shari’ah and not culture. If they live separately then visitations and kindness must be done accordingly.
Before I close I wish to say that when it comes to defining relationship let the Shari’ah prevail in our lives. If we allow culture and customs to take precedence over Shari’ah problems will arise from day one, and on the Day of Judgment the questions are severe. On the other hand the wife should exercise patience and kindness towards her husband and his relatives, as she would like the same from him towards her parents and relatives. At weddings I always try to advise that if your son is getting married then think that you are blessed by having a daughter added to your family and if your daughter is getting married think of it that you are blessed with a son added to your family.
May Allah SWT help us all in fulfilling our duties to one another.