We have a 25-year-old son who lives 3000 miles away from us. We went to see him a couple of weeks ago and he informed us that he was no longer Muslim, that he does not believe in any religion. He believes that religions are one of the main reasons why there are so many problems around the world. He also told us that he has a girlfriend who is atheist. My wife was furious, and she demanded that he convert back to Islam and marry his girlfriend. His response was a clear, ‘No’. We are very upset with his decisions, and we have not talked to him since. We don’t want to have any relationship with him. Would you have any advice for us as to what should be our next steps, and how we can convince him to come back to the right path?
It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed and distressed by the news your son has shared with you and that you are feeling helpless as parents and are finding difficulty in accepting his choices. Unfortunately, the struggle you are facing has become a common stressor in many Muslim families. The process to assert an identity is a normal stage of human development, and in your son’s effort to develop his own identity, he has chosen to leave the faith. According to psychological theory, young adults go through the formation of their religious identity between the ages of 18-24 when they seek to understand their personal identity separate from family and friends. When the identity is contrary to family beliefs, it becomes a huge stressor as the family adapts to the new reality. Many Muslim families cannot cope with this decision, and because they feel so helpless, they show disapproval of the choice by severing the relationship with their child.
The Qur’an reminds Muslims that there is no compulsion in religion. As the parents of a young adult, the next difficult step is for you to accept your son’s right to believe (or not believe). This is extremely difficult because it shatters your expectations and desires for your child. Accept that you cannot change your child, and let go of the mistaken belief that you are responsible for your child’s actions and beliefs. Remember that your adult child is responsible for his own deeds and behaviors. As the Qur’an reminds, “No soul is beholden for the sins of another,” (6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38). Understanding that you cannot control your child and removing any personal responsibility you may feel will help you establish a new relationship with your son.
You and your wife can establish boundaries with your son around the things that are most important to you, issues that you can control and that impact your own life. For example, you can establish a boundary with your son that he cannot speak disrespectfully about Islam in your presence. Another example could be that he cannot drink or eat pork in your presence out of respect for you. Establishing these boundaries will show your son that even though you disapprove of his lifestyle and cannot control what he does, you still value a relationship with him and you seek mutual respect. The goal of changing him or controlling him then is removed, and if he seeks to maintain a relationship with you, he will do so out of respect for you as his parents. You must not sever the relationship with your son regardless of his beliefs and practices as this will permanently close the door to dialogue and compassion. Maintaining this new relationship with your son is essential as he continues to grow and develop in his life. If he chooses one day to return to Islam you will have left a door open for him to be able to return because you remained compassionate and were always parents who maintained a relationship with their son.
VMCounselors was a collaborative advice column produced by two previous website authors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings.
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