Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: My sister was married to a cousin and had five children. My brother was also married with five children. We discovered, with undoubtable proof, that my sister’s husband and my brother’s wife were having a secret affair. This has torn apart the family and the children. Not only that, my brother has also lost the custody battle and his ex-wife slanders him and does not allow the children to talk to him. She is not religious nor practicing and does not have any desire to learn. My questions are:  How am i supposed to keep family ties with my cousin after such an act?  What do you suggest we do about the children?
Answer: Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
May Allah protect you and us from His displeasure. What you have described is not an easy situation. Although we have only heard as much as you have described, my heart goes out to your brother and sister, and most all, the 10 children caught in between. Family relations can never be reduced to a set of legal rulings; thus, it is difficult to say that there is only one way of dealing with this scenario without understanding much of its nuances. Before we go into your questions however, there are important lessons relating to this situation that should not be overlooked by any of us:
1. The Importance of Choosing a Righteous Spouse
Although a person can marry someone for their beauty, their family status or their wealth, the best basis on which to choose a spouse is for their righteousness. If Islamic good character and religious commitment were the prime factors in people’s minds when selecting a spouse, perhaps many of the issues that practicing Muslims go through with their not-so-practicing spouses would be nipped in the bud. There would be a better understanding of each other’s rights and also, of how to be faithful to one another by controlling the actions and scenarios which lead to infidelity. Moreover, the children of the household would get two religious parents, so that even in the event of a divorce, they could still get an Islamic upbringing from either parent or both, and practicing the Deen would not be portrayed as a flaw in custody disputes. Of course, problems could and do still arise despite both people being religious, but this is why “religious” here would most importantly entail a person’s character and manners being in line with the teachings of Islam, alongside outward manifestations of piety.
2. Interactions Between In-Laws
Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an, “And do not even go close to Zina! Truly, it is a gross obscenity and an evil path (to go down).” [al-Quran, 17:32]
Usually, infidelity in a marriage comes about by excessive familiarity and inappropriate venues of interaction between a man and a woman; often, it begins with very light and casual exchanges which become more personal over time. Thus, one would be advised to limit the amount of contact, and eliminate unnecessary interactions, with members of the opposite gender who are not related to them.
While the workplace, school, social clubs and the neighborhood are spots that most people might keep their modesty-guards up, practicing Muslims often overlook that the traps of adultery could actually be set up in their own homes through the informal coming and going of in-laws. Very often, cultural perceptions or a lack of Islamic knowledge could lead one to say that their brother or sister-in-law is “like my own brother/ sister” or “part of the family”. In reality, because in-laws have fairly easier and more frequent access into one’s home, the opportunities for trouble abound. A rigorously authenticated hadeeth in Bukhari, Muslim and others says that:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Beware of entering upon the ladies [who are non-mahrams, in seclusion]!’ A man of the Ansar said, ‘What do you think about the brother-in-law (being in seclusion with his sister-in-law)? He (the Prophet upon him peace) said, ‘The brother-in-law is death!’ ”
The early scholar Layth ibn Sa’ad said that “in-law” here means all the un-related male relatives of the husband and also the woman’s own non-mahram relatives such as her cousins. Due to the fact that these people are familiar faces in own’s home, it is likelier and easier for inappropriate speech to begin, even when one is confident that it will not happen or has a false sense of security. Ibn Hajr in Fath al-Bari says that seclusion with one’s in-laws is compared to death because any ensuing infidelity that could occur entails destruction of one’s spiritual and personal life. The Arabs, when they hated a thing, would often refer to it as “death”.
It should be noted however, that long before actual adultery occurs, its precursor is most often emotional infidelity: sharing each other’s problems, complaining about their spouses, and confiding in each other’s secrets. A pious and beloved Shaykh of ours says one should not even sit casually and joke around laughingly with one’s in-laws in a group situation, let alone relaxing laws of dress and modesty. This may seem strict in some times and cultures, but when these things happen, no one expects it, and it wreaks havoc on families from within. May Allah save and protect us.
3. The Importance of Raising Children in a Religious and Enriching Home
While giving children a religious upbringing is essential, many parents often do so without a sense of fun, interest or enrichment. The religious requirements may be taught, but quality time and relationship-building activities are usually left out- this is especially true for practicing fathers. What often occurs is that in divorce situations, the practicing parent seems to be boring and rigid and young children may incline towards a less-practicing or irreligious parent because they do not have many memories of good times or friendships with the parent who taught them their Deen.
Now, to answer your questions, after consulting one of my shaykhs who specializes in family matters, it would not be necessary or even recommended to keep up ties with your cousin. Had this been a case of something that occurred outside the family, or it happened only once and there was repentance made for it, or it had no consequences, then that might have been a different story. However, this was a sustained, years-long affair, within another branch of your immediate family, which destroyed multiple marriages and left so many children without united households. Thus, because this person was the agent of this corruption, and bringing him back around the family may cause great distress or even another chance of fitnah, you can forgive him and wish him well, but keeping up relations would not be a duty upon you in this case.
As for the children, for the sake of his own heart, as well as in the interests of winning visitation rights, your brother should try to deal in as civil of a manner as possible with his ex-wife and not descend into bickering and slandering. Often, hostile behavior after a divorce leads a person to act in vengeful or spiteful ways even if they are the wrong party, whereas there is an undeniable need to rise above that and look for avenues of cooperation on how to raise the children. No one is saying to re-form a friendly or cordial relationship; the concern here is that the children will be denied to see their own father and perhaps the only source of religious encouragement in their lives. Your brother should attempt to be jovial and thoughtful in his interactions with his children when he gets the chance, rather than emotional and burdensome, so that it will counter any potential negative things they have been told about him and so that they incline towards speaking and meeting with him.
Eventually, it is hoped that with a good relationship formed, they will look towards your family for religious encouragement if it is not provided for on the other side. Also, your brother should look to resolve any anger and resentment within himself and uphold himself in as chivalrous and magnanimous a manner as such a situation could allow, that perhaps his ex-wife could repent from her ways upon seeing his good Islamic character and possibly lead the children to a more Islamic lifestyle herself. And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani