Answered by Shaykh Umer Mian
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Are there any guidelines to how we should behave with the in-laws of our children or siblings?
Answer: Wa alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
A “cousin” is defined as follows: “a relative descended from one’s grandparent or more remote ancestor by two or more steps and in a different line” (Webster’s Dictionary). Hence, if your childrens’ in-laws are second or third cousins, then they share a common ancestor with you. This means they would be considered your kin (أَرْحَام, arhaam). See the explanation below regarding maintaining kinship bonds (صلة الرَّحِم).
In addition, remember that just because they are your kin, does not necessarily mean that they are unmarriageable kin (محارم, mahrams). Hence, the rules of hijab should be carefully observed when meeting in-laws.
`Uqba b. `Amir reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “Beware of entering upon and meeting women (in seclusion).” A person from the Ansar said: “Allah’s Messenger, what about the brother in-law?” He (ﷺ) replied: “The brother in-law is like death” (recorded by Bukhari and Muslim).
In this hadith the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has strongly cautioned against mixed gender interactions with in-laws. Often times people consider in-laws to be “like family” and they are less careful about observing rules of hijab with them. However, in this hadith we are reminded that in-laws who are not unmarriageable kin (محارم, mahrams) must be dealt with according to the rules of hijab. In fact, because they are treated “like family,” there is more opportunity for fitnah (i.e. impermissible relations) to occur with them than with complete strangers. Hence, we should be even more careful in gender relations with in-laws than we are with total strangers.
Maintaining kinship bonds
The word used for “kin” in Arabic is رَحِم (rahim) and its plural is أَرْحَام (arhaam). The same word in Arabic is used for the womb—that part of the female body where the fetus develops and from which we all have come. Notably, from the same root we get the words for mercy (رَحْمَة) and two of Allah’s Divine Names, الرحمن (Al-Rahman) and الرحيم (Al-Raheem). One of the wisdoms in this is that kinship bonds established by the womb are one of the greatest causes of mercy on this earth, e.g. the love of parents for their children and vice versa.
Maintaining kinship bonds is an obligation upon every Muslim, and this is established by the Qur’an, Sunnah, and consensus (‘ijma) of Islamic scholars throughout the ages. Allah Most High says in the Qur’an: “But kindred by blood have prior rights against each other in the Book of Allah. Verily Allah is well-acquainted with all things” (Qur’an 8:75). The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu alaihi wa sallam) is reported to have said:
“The womb is connected to the ‘Arsh (a magnificent creation of Allah that is above the seven heavens). The womb says: ‘Whoever connects my bonds will be connected by Allah, and whoever cuts off my bonds will be cut off by Allah.’” (agreed upon by Bukhari and Muslim).
The linguistic origin of the word رَحِم (rahim) helps shed light upon the obligation of keeping up kinship bonds in Islam. One’s kin (arhaam in Arabic) with whom it is obligatory to maintain bonds include all of one’s blood relations who are Muslim. This includes ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.); descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.); siblings (including half siblings); aunts, uncles, and cousins (both paternal and maternal); and descendants of all of the above. The following groups of people are not considered kin for the purposes of this ruling (even though they may be owed rights due to other rulings): in-laws (i.e. the family of one’s spouse), stepparents and stepchildren, non-Muslim relatives (however, regarding parents, the obligation remains even if they are non-Muslims), relations through suckling (الرضاع), neighbors, etc.
Maintaining bonds with one’s kin includes keeping in touch with them (whether by phone, email, or other modern communication means), being kind and gentle with them, helping them as needed, never refusing their requests, and visiting them and giving them gifts when one is able. If one’s kin are already doing these things, one’s reciprocating the behavior is not technically considered “maintaining kinship bonds” (صلة الرحم) in Islam. Rather, it is just reciprocation. “Maintaining kinship bonds” (صلة الرحم) in Islam means to behave this way towards one’s kin when they themselves are not. Also note that maintaining of kinship bonds should be prioritized based on the closeness of the relation, starting with parents, then close blood relations, then more distant blood relations, and so on. Achieving excellence (إحسان) in this would be to carry out all of the behaviors above towards all of one’s kin and do so with sincerity and consistency. This is a lofty goal, and the degrees of righteousness in Islam are endless.
[Shaykh] Umer Mian