By Abid Mohammed
Part I | Part II
“…‘O my son, do not relate your vision to your brothers or they will contrive against you a plan. Indeed, Satan, to man, is a manifest enemy.'” (Qur’an 12:5)
Rather than talk about how younger siblings should “treat their elders with respect” (which they have no doubt been told a million times by their parents and their older siblings), in this essay I thought it would be more practical to highlight some specific action points for them, just as Ya`qub `alayhis-salaam (upon him be peace) did with Yusuf (as).
So younger siblings, brace yourselves – you are about to receive the ultimate cheat sheet to turning your archenemy (otherwise known as your older brother/sister) into your closest ally.
- Don’t borrow their clothes without asking them first.
”Take this, my shirt, and cast it over the face of my father; he will become seeing. And bring me your family, all together.” (Qur’an 12:93)
Don’t get me wrong. You may have a perfectly understandable reason as to why you borrow their brand new Armani shirt or Prada jacket without asking, but just because it’s understandable does not mean it’s right. Whether you are trying to dress exactly like your older siblings because you look up to them (don’t worry – your secret is safe with me) or borrowing their clothes sans their permission as payback for having failed you as an older brother or sister, the ends very rarely justify the means in Islam.
Ideally, you should try to solve the root cause of the issue, which could be achieved by something as simple as your older sibling taking you out shopping now and then. If the underlying issue cannot immediately be resolved, however; know that taking their clothes without asking them is a form of injustice (dhulm, the Arabic word for injustice, literally means “putting something where it does not belong”).
The Prophet ﷺ took borrowing etiquette one step further in his farewell message when he said, “Nothing of his brother is lawful for a Muslim except what he himself allows willingly. So you should not oppress one another.”1 Mufti Taqi Usmani pointed out that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not use the word “permission” but said “willingly” – mere permission is not enough. By this logic, if someone says it is okay to borrow their clothes but you can tell that they do not really want you to, it is not acceptable for you to do so. By sticking to this principle, not only will you nourish the relationship and bring tranquility to your heart, but more importantly, it is the right thing to do and in keeping with having taqwa (consciousness of God, His commandments and prohibitions).
- Forgive them.
“He said, ‘No blame will there be upon you today. Allah will forgive you; and He is the most merciful of the merciful.’” (Qur’an 12:92)
Whatever shortcomings your older siblings may have, whatever rights you have over them that you believe they have failed to fulfill, whatever “beef” you have with them, let it go.
Remind yourself of any good that they have done to you, how it brought a smile to you and how when no one else was there for you, they were. If you find that difficult, then recall the special happiness and love that you have experienced from your older siblings, even if the moments were fleeting. If you really cannot find any such moments, then think about the importance of sticking together as a family.
If this intrinsic concept is difficult to muster, then remember the extraordinary emphasis that God and His Messenger ﷺ have placed on the relations of the womb in countless verses and narrations, including the following: “The Prophet ﷺ said that God said, ‘I am the Merciful (Al Rahman). I have created ties of kinship (raheem) and derived a name for it from My name. Whoever maintains ties of kinship, I maintain ties with him, and I shall cut off from Me whoever cuts them off.'” Also, “The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘There is no sin that God is swifter to punish in this world—in addition to the punishment that He has in store for the wrong-doer in the Hereafter—than cutting off ties of kinship and transgression.'”
If you are still struggling to truly forgive your older sibling then know that if you are seeking to draw near to God and if you are striving to adhere to His commands, whilst distancing yourself from your older siblings, (or even worse, harming them in any way), then your seeking and striving will both end in sorrow, sadness and severe punishment in the Hereafter. Faith and animosity towards one older sibling cannot coexist in the heart of one who believes in Him. It is vital for one who wishes to attain His pleasure and His reward, to abandon any ill will towards their older sibling and to truly forgive them, if not for the sake of their older sibling, then for their own sake.
Remember, to refuse to forgive someone would be to hold on to the crumbs of this dunya (world) in exchange for a palace in the Hereafter. Inject yourself with the tranquility that comes with forgiving others. As Hilal ibn al-`Alaa’ al-Raqqi said, “When I forgave all and harbored no rancor toward any, I relieved myself of the worry of enmity.”
- Have no expectations from them.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Two things I fear for you above all else: the pursuit of desire and lengthy hopes. For the pursuit of desire bars one from the Truth, while lengthy hopes are the very love of this world.”
Younger siblings have a lot of expectations from their older counterparts. And while that is important for the latter to note so that they can appreciate the responsibilities they have towards the former, the former must realize that so long as they have such high expectations, they will only end up being disappointed at best and resentful at worst. This is not because older siblings are uniquely unable to fulfill the needs of their younger brothers and sisters, but because older siblings – like everyone else – are human beings, and human beings, while being noble and elevated amongst God’s creations, are still limited. They will let you down from time to time, intentionally or unintentionally. To tie your heart to something that unstable is to only invite instability into your own life. But whoever places their expectations solely in God, the One without limits, has “grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it” (Qur’an, 2:256), and ironically they will find that their older siblings are suddenly more helpful and more loving towards them. (What else should we expect after turning to the One who controls our hearts and minds?)
- If harm is done to you, repel evil with good.
“They said, ‘If he steals – a brother of his has stolen before.’ But Joseph kept it within himself and did not reveal it to them. He said, ‘You are worse in position, and Allah is most knowing of what you describe.’” (Qur’an 12:77)
At the very core of every relationship is the eternal principle with which the Prophet ﷺ entrusted us: that “there is to be no causing harm nor returning harm.” And yet, if you have followed the above mentioned points, you should find your heart yearning to not just tolerate your older siblings, but to be sincerely and passionately good to them – to fill that divine bond with love, solely for His sake.
Practically speaking, that means if you have money, buy gifts for them! `Umar radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) once gifted a silk robe that he himself had been given as a gift (setting a precedent for re-gifters everywhere!) to one of his maternal half-brothers, who was still a non-Muslim at the time. If your older siblings have kids, look after them as if they were your own. If your older brothers and sisters need help, see to their needs, regardless of what they have done for you and never mention of it again—not to them, not to their children, not even to your wife. By helping others, we are not doing them a favor; we are doing ourselves one by fulfilling the responsibilities that God will hold us to account for on “the Day a man will flee from his brother” (Qur’an 80:34).
As the Prophet ﷺ said, “The one who maintains ties of kinship is not the one who simply reciprocates. The one who truly maintains ties of kinship is the one who, even when his relatives cut him off, still maintains ties of kinship.”
- Don’t stand in their shadow. Stand on their shoulders (with love).
“And he said, ‘O my sons, do not enter from one gate but enter from different gates; and I cannot avail you against [the decree of] Allah at all. The decision is only for Allah; upon Him have I relied, and upon Him let those who would rely [indeed] rely.’” (Qur’an 12:67)
I do not mean literally of course – unless you are teaming up with your older brothers and sisters to reach the cookies your mom hid on top of the fridge (in which case, be my guest). Here, I am referring to the tendency of younger siblings to feel as if their older counterparts have achieved all that there is to in life and that, as a younger sibling, their contribution is nether important, nor beneficial or even possible. This could not be further from the truth.
As a younger brother or sister, you have the blessing of having someone who has walked a similar path to yours. It may not be identical, but it is close enough for you to not only ask them for advice that is relevant to your own life, but also to use their actions and character as a personal guide. Anything that you are not particularly fond of, you can leave behind and any mistakes they have made, you can actively avoid. It was reported that Jesus (as) was once asked, “Who taught you?” “I was taught by no one,” he replied. “I perceived the ignorance of the ignorant man and I avoided it.” Likewise, you have the opportunity to pick up anything positive that your siblings have – be it their personality or skills – and adopt it yourself, or take it one step further!
Couple this with the fact that every younger brother and sister has their own unique contribution to offer to the ummah (Muslim community) using their own specific God-given talents and skills, and you have a younger sibling who is able to tread their own path, through their own gate, toward “The Gardens of Everlasting Bliss” (Qur’an 9:72) while always being aware and grateful for the people God has placed in their lives who have helped make their journey possible.
- Be there for your parents.
“And when they entered upon Joseph, he took his parents to himself and said, “Enter Egypt, Allah willing, safe [and secure].” (Qur’an 2:99)
Last but not least, recognize the opportunity you have to win your parents’ love and affection. Compared to your older siblings, you may have more free time and fewer responsibilities. You are also probably more aware of their likes and dislikes, courtesy of your older siblings being the guinea pigs. Thus you may actually have an advantage in being able to please your parents. They also likely need more help from you now than they did when your older brother or sister was your age, as they have grown older. So whether it means helping around the house more, massaging their feet or simply coming home on time so they don’t have to call you a million times, do not pass up the opportunity to capture their pleasure. As Abdullah bin `Umar (ra) said, by doing so you obtain the pleasure of your Lord: “The pleasure of the Lord lies in the pleasure of the parent. The anger of the Lord lies in the anger of the parent.”
Remember, as Ya`qub (as) said, Satan (not your older sibling!) is your sworn enemy, and so you must always be on your guard to protect the relationships with which God has entrusted you. The advice above is not exhaustive, but I pray that it enriches your bond with your siblings and that, in your lifetime, you are able to make a similar du`a’, under similar circumstances, to the one Yusuf (as) made with his family:
“O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from Bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise. My Lord, You have given me [something] of sovereignty and taught me of the interpretation of dreams. Creator of the heavens and earth, You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Cause me to die a Muslim and join me with the righteous.” (Qur’an 12:100-101)
- Imam Al Tabari’s Tarikh [↩]