“Those who don’t have a family will look for a family.”

“Those who don’t have a family will look for a family.”- Arabic proverb

That doesn’t necessarily only apply to orphans or those who have been abandoned by their families. You can still have a family and yet still feel lonely. Or be married and yet still feel lonely. This proverb also applies to those youth who have families, but aren’t receiving the warmth, the love, or any kind of emotional needs from them. This isn’t an issue that’s talked about a lot at all. So bear some patience whilst this issue is being surfaced. Many people will be unfamiliar, but many others will be covertly familiar.

Your family is meant to be a source of emotional support and fulfillment. A unit who you can always go to for a hug when you’re feeling down, loving words when you need the encouragement and a place where your burdens are halved. Your family completes you.

Tough love

But not everyone is fortunate to have this. Especially for many young Muslimahs. An existing issue among families in general (not only Muslim families) is that some families are not addressing the emotional needs of their children or other family members. Among Muslim families there is this archaic parenting style, and it is mistaken as ‘tough love’.

As an example, if the teenager wants to confide in their parents about something taboo, they get a strict and harsh lecture about how their feeling is ‘wrong’ and they should not even think about such a topic ever again. Or that they should ‘toughen up’ and ‘deal with it’.

Personally I have heard from sisters that they couldn’t remember the last time their dad hugged them. Or that their mother is constantly wrecking their self esteem through harsh criticism never being praised for their efforts, and even making du’a for their failure.

More common scenarios are that parents do attempt to connect with their children but they do this the wrong way. Unfortunately these teenagers and young adults are expected to ‘toughen up’ and move on when faced with an issue. A stone cold approach. As if their emotional needs are little or nothing at all. It’s more about discipline & authority rather than about love. But like all human beings- these young Muslimahs need their emotional needs fulfilled. Hence, they look outside the home for that fulfillment.

It’s not something that will affect the person for a short period in their life, it can affect them for a lifetime.

When emotions get neglected

This is the seriousness of the problem: from psychological studies this type of emotional deprivation can lead to anger problems, restlessness, social problems, and can even affect grades in school [1. Goldfarb, W. 1947. Variations of Adolescent Adjustment of institutionally reared children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 17, 449-457].

Some extreme cases among teenage girls have involved them being driven them to the brink of having suicidal thoughts. Although it’s not talked about, there are Muslimahs who are crying themselves to sleep at night because they feel unloved, ugly, unappreciated and lonely. Reason for that being, if they’re not receiving any affection from anywhere, then they don’t see much point in living.

In the case of young Muslimahs, this search for emotional fulfillment can take many forms. Some girls choose to distract themselves from this need, but it usually becomes a failed attempt to which they will break down when reality hits them. They harden their hearts so they don’t have to feel it. But one can only keep up this act for so long.

Other girls look to find intimate relationships outside the home. Some young Muslimahs join clubs, activist groups and societies to feel that sense of belonging. Substituting their blood family for the network of like-minded individuals in this group.

These girls have high hopes that the people within that group will hopefully be the ones who can give them emotional support. They channel their hardest efforts into these clubs seeking approval and acceptance. Not to show off, but rather they just want someone to show appreciation. Someone to believe in them. They’re especially sensitive to criticism and they fear being excommunicated.

Sadly, a bigger proportion of girls fall into unhealthy relationships- tending to involve men older than them. Muslimahs in this position feel like they are emotionally complete when in fact (as a result of their emotional deprivation) they show extreme dependency, clinginess, jealousy, insecurity and in constant need for reassurance from their partner.

Their heart becomes restless. Because this relationship is the only place where this Muslimah is getting the long awaited fulfillment she needs, she finds it impossible to let go even if this relationship is detrimental to her. He becomes her life support. Her means of living. Making her prone to manipulation. Making her a slave to passion. She would give up her whole family and friends for this passion. Worst case scenario, she ends up eloping with him wrongly thinking it will be her ‘happily ever after’.

How perfectly this sign of Al-Qiyamah fits to this context:

“…People will establish ties with strangers and sever relations with their near and dear ones…” [2. Narrated by Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood (R.A.)]

So much emphasis is being put on the external needs and rights of the child i.e. clothing, food- and rightly so. But not enough attention is being paid at all to the emotional and psychological needs of the child. Psychology as a subject is very much neglected by Muslims carrying the misconception that it is something ‘insignificant’. A grave misconception indeed.

The perfect example to learn from

Listening & understanding based approaches are somewhat ‘unfamiliar’ to parents who enforce an authoritarian style of parenting and were raised by that. But it’s something that their understanding needs to expand to accept. The prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was extremely compassionate to his children as well as his grandchildren Hassan and Hussein:

Allah’s Messenger kissed Al-Hasan ibn `Ali while Al-Aqra` ibn Habis At-Tamim was sitting with him . Al-Aqra` said, “I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.” The Prophet cast a look at him and said, “Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully.” [3. Sahih Bukhari]

The Prophet lifted one of his children and placed the child on his lap. He kissed the child out of the kindness and softness of his heart towards the child. Al-Aqra said,

“I have 10 other children and I have not kissed a single one of them.”

This was a point of pride, manhood – that one is not soft, that one is tough.The Prophet said to him,

“Can I help it if Allah has removed mercy from your heart?” He went on to say, “And whoever isn’t merciful will not receive mercy.” [4. Sahih Bukhari]

Narrated Umm Khalid:

“I (the daughter of Khalid ibn Said) went to Allah’s Messenger with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger said, “Sanah, Sanah!” (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that sanah meant “good” in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of prophet hood (between the Prophet’s shoulders) and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger said, “Leave her.” The Prophet, then, invoked Allah to grant her a long life thrice.” [5. Sahih Bukhari]

We should be looking to his example so we can emulate his model of compassionate parenting.

This negligence of emotional fulfillment needs to be addressed,because there are scores of young adults and teenagers in this position as a result but are too ashamed to speak out about it. Evidently the consequences are heavy. Let us be the voice for the voiceless. I hoped for this article to be the start of an inspired trend that will shed light on the issue.

The Author

Farah El-jarad is a psychology student at University West of England. Student activist. A realist when it comes to the present, but an optimist when visualizing the future. Immensely passionate about making a change in society. A philosophy she lives by: “Instead of cursing the darkness, why not fix the light.”

This blog is updated and maintained by the editor and her team with exclusive articles and all that's going on at 'I am Alima'. To contact us, email blog@iamalima.org.

6 Responses

  1. Janet Kozak July 31, 2013 / 2:07 pm

    Assalmu alkeoum,

    It’s like you live in my head! Excellent article. Now that I have children of my own I am trying hard ot understad what I do and why I do it, and most importanly doing more of what I need to do and less of that which is rough on them. My Allah help all the parents brek the cycles of hurt and allienation. Ameen!

  2. Humaira July 31, 2013 / 2:50 pm

    MaashaAllaah, insightful read :) These are issues so rampant and really need to be addressed. Jazaakillahu khayrun.

  3. Anika Shams July 31, 2013 / 3:05 pm

    Assalamualaikum. Thank you very much for writing this.

  4. San August 4, 2013 / 1:27 am

    mashallah sister i can totally relate to this and your completely right i wish parents would understand that they children need this emotional security and if they can provide this then children are safe from being exploited by negative or wrong people. thank you!

  5. Musaafirah August 15, 2013 / 10:20 pm

    An excellent article masha’allah.

  6. bintaasiyah August 18, 2014 / 11:31 am

    Allaahumma baarik for this beautiful article. I can relate to it quite deeply. May Allaah soften our hearts and fix our affairs, aameen. :)

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