Dealing with Righteous and Unrighteous Family Members: Examples from the Households of Prophets Ibrâhîm, Mûsâ, Nûḥ.
In Surah Maryam we read that Prophet Ibrâhîm’s own father threatened to kill him because he rejected his father’s tradition of idol-worship:
[His father] said, “Do you reject my gods, O Ibrâhîm? If you do not desist, I will surely stone you to death, so begone from me a good long while.” [Surah Maryam, 19:46]
Ibrâhîm (Abraham) (AS) chose instead Tawḥīd, which is the term for confirming the Oneness and Uniqueness of the Creator, that none has the right to be worshipped except Him. After Ibrâhîm u left his disbelieving father and the land of his people, he asked Allah to grant him righteous children:
And [then] he said, “Indeed, I will go to [where I am ordered by] my Lord; He will guide me. O My Lord, grant me [offspring] from among the righteous.” So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy. [Surah Al-Ṣaffat, 37:99-101]
This boy was Ismâ’îl (AS), Ibrâhîm’s first son, a righteous and forbearing child. Though the relationship between Ibrâhîm (AS) and his disbelieving father was not a good one, Ibrâhîm enjoyed perfect relationships with his two sons, Ismâ’îl (Ishmael) (AS) and Isḥaq (Isaac) (AS). But we will always be tested in this life and Ibrâhîm’s tests were very hard ones— befitting his firm faith:
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And when [Ismâ’îl] had reached [the age of] endeavoring together with him, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” [Surah Al-Ṣaffat, 37:102]
What’s amazing is not just the willingness of Ibrâhîm (AS) to slaughter his son, but the reaction of his son when his father told him that he was to kill him.
Why didn’t he question his father?
Dad, it’s just a dream!
How can you slaughter me, your own son?!
How can you be sure this is the will of Allah?!
Did the angel Jibrîl (Gabriel) appear to you?!
But if this is your final decision, why did you tell me? Why didn’t you just kill me when I was not looking?!
Dad, do you love me?!
But it seems that no such questions were asked. The boy just said, “Dad, do whatever Allah told you to do.”
Ismâ’îl (AS), though young, had great faith. He believed in Allah I, obeyed him and wanted to please Him. He loved his dad and trusted him. They both submitted themselves to Allah’s will. How far are we ready to go in submitting to Allah’s will?
Ibrâhîm (AS) was also an exceptional dad. He spoke to his son frankly and asked him to express his opinion: “My son, I have seen in my dream that I am slaughtering you, so consider and tell me what you think.”
And when they had both submitted themselves [to the will of Allah] and he put him down upon his forehead [to slaughter him], We called to him, “O Ibrâhîm, you have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice [i.e., a ram], and We left for him [favorable mention] among later generations: “Peace be upon Ibrâhîm.” Thus indeed do We reward the doers of good. Indeed, he was of Our believing servants. And We gave him good tidings of Isḥaq (Isaac), a prophet from among the righteous. And We blessed him and Isḥaq. But among their descendants is the doer of good and the one clearly unjust to himself. [Surah Al-Ṣaffat, 37: 103-113]
For sure, they both went through anguish and great anxiety before Allah I sent the ram and with-it relief. But they never faltered. Would you have faltered or hesitated? How can we strengthen our faith to be like them?
Notice that Ibrâhîm (AS) had had another harsh test years before this one when he was ordered by Allah I to leave his son Ismâ’îl (AS) —who was just a little baby at that time with his mother Hajar (Hagar)— in the deserted valley of Bakkah, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from where he lived with his first wife Sarah.
Hajar must have told Ismâ’îl (AS) what had happened to them when he was a little baby and how Allah I saved them miraculously. She too was one who obeyed Allah, trusted Him I and submitted her will to His will. And she—a single parent—was the one who brought Ismâ’îl (AS) up and taught him to submit his will to the will of Allah and to trust Him. She also must have taught him to love and trust his father, though he did not live with them. How can we be like this family that Allah I has blessed and made an example to follow for millions of people throughout the ages? Have you ever wondered why the rituals of Hajj revolve around this family?
I believe the key to successful family relationships is a strong relationship with our Creator I. The more we strengthen this relationship, the more we become less selfish human beings and better family members. It is not first and foremost about how we deal with each other; it is, more than anything else, about how to deal with Allah I and His orders. But it works best when all family members submit themselves to Allah as in the case of Ibrâhîm’s family.
But what to do when some family members choose not to obey their Creator, but to rebel against Him I? Allah did not leave us without guidance; He gave us more than one example in the Qur’an. We saw the behavior of Ibrâhîm’s father—because of his love for idols—who threatened to kill his son; and by the way, “idols” can also be money, power, fame, drugs, illegitimate sex, etc.
We also have the bad example of the wife of Prophet Lûṭ (Lot) (AS) who refused to obey Allah I and His messenger (AS)—her own husband; and the example of Pharaoh who refused to obey Allah I and His messenger, Prophet Mûsâ (Moses) (AS) —though Mûsâ (AS) was his own adopted son. FirCawn (Pharoah) gave him and his own believing wife Assya a very hard time. Both Prophet Lot’s wife and Pharaoh got a very harsh, well-deserved punishment and when we reflect on Allah’s punishment, we need to consider the grave sin of disbelievers and who it is that they sin against.
Another bad example is the son and wife of Prophet Nûḥ (Noah) (AS), who rejected faith and chose to side with the disbelievers.
Allah sets forth an example of those who disbelieve —the wife of Nûḥ and the wife of Lûṭ. They were under two of Our righteous servants but they betrayed them, so that they [their husbands] were of no use to them against Allah. And it was said to them both, “Enter the Fire with those who enter!” [Sûrah Taḥrîm, 66:10]
The disbelieving elite accused Prophet Nûḥ (AS) of telling lies and ridiculed his grandiose building project:
And as he was constructing the ship, whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they ridiculed him. He [Nûḥ] said, “If you ridicule us, then we will ridicule you just as you ridicule. And you are going to know who will get a punishment that will disgrace him [on earth] and upon whom will descend an enduring punishment [in the Hereafter].” [Surah Hûd, 11:38-39]
But Prophet Nûḥ’s son and wife knew him well. They knew that he was not a liar for you cannot hide who you really are from your family. But as I mentioned before, we will always be tested in this life. Nûḥ’s test was harsh. It is not easy to live with family who do not love or trust you. It breaks your heart. But Nûḥ’s son and wife did what’s worse than this: in effect, they sided with the enemies of Allah I and the messenger of Allah (AS), who in this case was their very own husband / father: they chose disbelief over belief in the One True God. When Allah’s punishment came, Prophet Nûḥ (AS) tried to save his son. He loved his son dearly and wanted him to live and repent, but the son refused to listen to his dad and, as a result, he ended up drowning and dying as a disbeliever:
[So it was], until when Our command came and the hearth overflowed [like a fountain], We said, “Load upon the ship two mates of each [creature] along with your family—except those about whom the word [of condemnation/ warning] has already preceded, and [include] whoever has believed.” But none had believed with him, except a few. And [Nûḥ] said, “Embark therein; in the name of Allah is its course and its anchorage. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” And it sailed with them through waves like mountains, and Nûḥ called to his son who was apart [from them], “O my son, come aboard with us and be not with the disbelievers.” [But] he said, “I will take refuge on a mountain to protect me from the water.” [Nûḥ] said, “There is no protector today from the decree of Allah, except for whom He gives mercy.” And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned. [Surah Hûd, 11:40-43]
Both Ibrâhîm (AS) and Nûḥ (AS) loved their sons and wanted them to live. The majority of parents not only want what’s best for their children, they want their children to be even better than them and more successful. But what is the value of worldly success if one fails to secure one’s eternal future after death?
When Allah I ordered the earth to swallow up its waters —and the sky to stop raining, Nûḥ (AS) prayed for his son:
And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, “Away with the wrongdoing people.” And Nûḥ called to his Lord and said, “My Lord, indeed my son is of my family; and indeed, Your promise is true; and You are the most just of judges!” [Surah Hûd, 11:44-45]
Allah’s response was not what Noah expected:
He said, “O Nûḥ, on the contrary he is not of your family; indeed, he is [one whose] work was other than righteous, so ask Me not for that about which you have no knowledge. Indeed, I advise you, lest you be among the ignorant.” [Surah Hûd, 11:46]
Like Ibrâhîm, Nûḥ (Noah) submitted his will to Allah despite his love for his son:
[Nûḥ] said, “My Lord, I seek refuge in You from asking that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have mercy upon me, I will be among the losers.” It was said, “O Nûḥ, disembark in security from Us and blessings upon you and upon nations [who will descend] from those with you. But other nations [of them] We will grant enjoyment; then there will touch them from Us a painful punishment.” That is from the news of the Unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. You knew it not, neither you nor your people, before this. So be patient; indeed, the [best] outcome is for the righteous. [Surah Hûd, 11:47-49]
So be patient. Whether you have family members who are righteous or not, whether they love and trust you or not, remember why you are here and try your best to submit your will to your Creator. You will be tested all the time—for this is the nature of life. Make good decisions and remember that the word Islam means submission to Almighty Allah, so try your best to be one who submits to Him. Be a Muslim.