Converts and Relations with Non-Muslim Relatives

The relationship between a new convert and his non-Muslim family and associates can be a difficult one. Many times there is open opposition from the non-Muslims. This is a great trial for the convert. He will obviously still have love for those people who were so close and good to him for many years. An example for the convert under such circumstances is the early converts to Islam in Makkah. These Muslims faced great opposition and many of them were even tortured due to their new faith. Eventually, the small Muslim community was forced to emigrate to different lands to protect their faith. However, they were patient and persevered, thereby pleasing their Lord. They understood that their new found relationship with God must take precedence over ties with anyone in this world.

When a human meets Allah in the Hereafter, he will meet him as an individual, responsible for his own actions and decisions. The fact that others close to him disliked the truth is obviously not an acceptable excuse to abandon God's religion or even to compromise with respect to God's religion. If such were acceptable to Allah, He certainly would have made that an option for those early Muslims who endured torture and banishment from their lands. However, such an option was not given to them. Actually, such an option implies none other than the destruction of God's religion as there will always be numerous people who oppose the truth and God's way.

For most converts nowadays, by Allah's grace, the situation is not as strenuous as that described above. There is usually a mixed reaction to a person's conversion: The others respect his choice but may not be completely pleased with the choice that he has made. Under these circumstances in particular it is important for the individual to understand the limits of his relationships with those who do not belong to his faith, even though they do not openly oppose his new faith.

Blood relatives, in particular, still have rights over the new Muslim convert.
Al-Bukhari and Muslim record that Asmaa bint Abi Bakr came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, “My mother is coming [from Makkah] and wishes to see me although she is a polytheist. Shall I keep ties with her?” He replied, “Yes, keep ties with your mother.” Allah says in the Quran, “Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity” (60:8).268 Allah also says about non-believing parents in particular, “But if they (the parents both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do” (31:15). Of course, the individual needs to protect his faith and if the parents are exerting undo pressure on their child, then the son/daughter may have to severe some of his ties with them. However, even then, he should try to do so in the most gracious manner.

A Muslim, by his very nature, is supposed to be grateful. The Prophet said, “The one who does not thank the people does not truly thank Allah.”269 Thus, a Muslim will always remain grateful and filled with a “natural love” for his non-Muslim parents due to all the kindness and love they showed for him over the years. However, he cannot possess a “religious love” for their actions. That is, from a religious perspective, he can neither condone nor approve of their following a way other than the way of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Thus, he cannot have love for them for the way of life that they have chosen. Whenever there is a conflict between this natural love and religious love, the religious love must take precedence. As Allah has said, “O you who believe! Take not for supporters and helpers your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the wrongdoers. Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your kindred, the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline, and the dwellings in which you delight are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, and striving hard and fighting in His Cause, then wait until Allah brings about His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are the rebellious, disobedient to Allah” (9:23-24).270

Thus, it is not the right of any Muslim to show any approval for their false forms of worship. Allah has guided the convert to the one and only truth and it should be his earnest desire that those close to him would also embrace the truth. While keeping cordial relations with all of those around him, the convert must be clear to himself and to others around him that he can neither approve of nor participate in any form of worship that he must now recognize as being false. A Muslim then is not allowed to celebrate Christmas, for example.271 Their belief that this is a celebration of the birth of the son of God and the savior strikes at the very root of the Muslim's monotheism. A Muslim could not possibly participate in such a celebration. He also cannot wish that others enjoy such a celebration nor exchange gifts in joy for such an occasion. Instead, he leaves the others to their forms of worship and celebration while making it very clear that participating in such practices would be nothing short of a compromise and contradiction of his new faith. With a calm and clear explanation, it would be hoped that those around him would respect and accept his decision to remain away from such religious practices that are not consistent with his new faith.

Part of keeping ties with one's relatives would include visiting them. Especially if part of the intention behind the visit is to allow one's relatives to see a Muslim and learn true information about Islam, there is no question that such visiting is sanctioned. The Prophet visited his polytheist uncle Abu Taalib while he was ill272 as well as a young Jewish boy who was on his deathbed.273 He would accept their invitations for meals. In fact, it is even confirmed that the Prophet visited Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salool on his deathbed, even though the Prophet knew that Abdullah was the leader of the hypocrites and an opponent of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).274

There are obviously some limits to what types of visits and what activities a Muslim can participate in. Among the common issues that arises for new converts is that of attending the funerals of deceased relatives. Based on reports from early Muslim scholars, the Muslim does pay his condolences to the family and is present during that time but remains distant from the specific acts of the funeral process, especially anything of a religious overtone. The obvious goal is to remain away from any act that may contradict the Islamic faith in any way. When Ali's father Abu Taalib died as a non-Muslim, the Prophet told him to go and burry his father. Ali then did so.275 There is also a report that ibn Abbaas, the Companion of the Prophet, was asked about a Muslim whose Christian father had died and he replied, “He should attend and bury him.”276

When offering condolences to non-Muslims, one may wish them well, hoping that nothing but good reaches them and encouraging them to be patient. It is not allowed to seek forgiveness for those who, it is known, died while outside of the fold of Islam. Such has been prohibited in the Quran. Allah says, “It is not (proper) for the Prophet and those who believe to ask Allah's Forgiveness for the polytheists and idolaters, even though they be of kin, after it has become clear to them that they are the dwellers of the Fire (because they died in a state of disbelief)” (9:113)

268 Al-Adawi notes that some people may object to the above conclusions, arguing that the following Quranic verses abrogate the verses used as arguments above: “You will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, making friendship with those who oppose Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred (people). For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with true guidance from Himself. And He will admit them to Gardens (Paradise) under which rivers flow, to dwell therein (forever). Allah is pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the Party of Allah. Verily, it is the Party of Allah that will be the successful” (58:22); and, “O you who believe! Take not for supporters and helpers your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the wrongdoers” (9:23) Al-Adawi states that one must distinguish between al-birr (“righteous conduct”), al-silah (“keeping of the ties of kinship”) and alihsaan (“goodness toward others”) and al-tahaabub (“love”) and al-tawaadud (“devotion”). The first three are commendable. Also, he says that “natural love and devotion” is different from “religious love and devotion.” Thus, a Muslim may love his Christian wife with a strong love while he hates her religion with the strongest hate and aversion. His love for her will lead him to treat her well, feed her with the best food, spend money on her clothing and so on, while at the same time not having any love or approval for her faith. Thus, his love and goodness toward her is one thing and his hate for her religion is something completely different. In fact, at the same time, for example, a Muslim may hate another Muslim for the wrong he has done while still loving him for his faith. Al-Shafi'ee is quoted as saying that keeping in good contact by al-birr (righteous conduct), justice, kind words and so forth is not what has been prohibited. Ibn Hajar in al-Fath also says that righteous conduct, keeping of ties of kinship and goodness do not imply the kind of love and devoon that is prohibited. He says that verse 58:22 is general for those who are being fought or not being fought. He goes on to refute the claim that there is any abrogation involved between verses 9:5 and 58:22. Mustafa ibn al-Adawi, Fiqh al-Ta’amul ma al-Waalidain (Riyadh: Daar Balansiyah, 2002), pp. 61-64.

269 Recorded by Ahmad and al-Tirmidhi.

270 Many people today do not know Islam or what they think they know about Islam is false. Hence, the convert should take the time to explain to them the truth about Islam.

271 Many non-Muslims do not have any form of “religious honor or dignity.” That is, they see no harm in participating in practices that strike at the very root of their own beliefs. Thus, when Western Christians visit India, for example, they find no problem in paying homage at Hindu temples as part of their visit or vacation. Since many of them have such attitudes toward their own faith, they find it difficult to see why the Muslim convert is not still willing to participate in Christmas and other practices. In essence, this is related to how seriously one takes one’s religion. A Muslim must take his religion seriously, even if many people of other faiths today do not. Hence, a Muslim can never partake in any practice that he knows is blasphemous or not sanctioned by Islamic Law.

272 Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

273 Recorded by al-Bukhari.

274 Recorded by Abu Dawood, al-Haakim and others. See al-Bakri and al-Aaroori, footnotes to ibn al-Qayyim, Ahkaam Ahl al-Dhimmah, vol. 1, pp. 430-431.

275 The Hadith of Ali and Abu Taalib is recorded by Abu Dawood, al-Nasaa`ee, Ahmad and others. It is an acceptable narration according to al-Bakri and al-Aaroori. See their footnotes to ibn al- Qayyim, vol. 1,p. 435-436.

276 See ibn al-Qayyim, vol. 1, p. 437. There is a report recorded by ibn Abi Shaibah that Umm al- Haarith died while a Christian and the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) attended her funeral. However, this report is weak. See fns to ibn al-Qayyim, vol. 1, p.432-433. For numerous other reports concerning this issue, of varying degrees of authen city, see ibn al-Qayyim, vol. 1, pp. 432-437.