It is a very multifaceted concept. People from different backgrounds, and especially generations, see relationships in so many different lights, it's unbelievable! Our immigrant parents can see a simple (well, simple to us anyway) relationship with a friend at school as something Godforsaken and unacceptable.
They are all around us, whether we like it or not. Some of us love having a lot, and some of us can't stand having any. Many are scared and don't know how to handle, balance, or even keep them. Ahh…the wonderful world of relationships!
It is a very multifaceted concept. People from different backgrounds, and especially generations, see relationships in so many different lights, it's unbelievable! Our immigrant parents can see a simple (well, simple to us anyway) relationship with a friend at school as something Godforsaken and unacceptable. Growing up in the public school environment, I can recall many times when my parents would tell me time and again, "Jennifer is not your friend, she is just a classmate," as I would just look back with a confused expression thinking to myself, "That is impossible, we are wearing matching friendship bracelets – we're not just friends, we’re best friends!" And of course, the relationship, or lack thereof, with the girl or boy who doesn't talk much at the masjid, who was usually the Sunday school class nerd, grew up to be the good girl or boy who, as your parents probably would point out everyday, "Masha'Allah, sits in every speech and his dad doesn't even have to turn around to see where he is!" (Just kidding). As much as we want to hide or not deal with the numerous relationships around us, we cannot. Like they say, you can run, but you cannot hide.
So, here we go. I hope y'all didn't think I would write about relationships and not talk about…dating! Case 1: Muhammad or Mariam is a really cool Muslim guy/girl friend of mine, we're both Paki/Arab/Iranian/Afghani/White/Black…and we like the same movies, sports team, we totally hit it off, but he/she is just a friend, it's awesome. Living in the West is a challenge, no doubt – especially when it comes to dealing with relations with the other gender, pressure from school relations, as well as cultural, but most influential, societal pressure.
[Tangent 1: the pressure, justification, confusion, call it what you want, increases in Western societies as well, when young women and men are not encouraged to marry young, but to "explore options", "learn to be independent", and my favorite, "experience life!"]
Islam has given us perfect solutions and advice on how to deal with relationships, whether they are concerning marriage, or just simple daily relationships we deal with at work, school, in the family, or at masjid. Just recently there has been a huge boom in "youth groups" activities. Don't get me wrong – it is a wonderful thing, but there is a little something going on if you look a little closer. Sadly, within our youth groups we find more separation, the "more religious" from the "progressives".
I have heard countless complaints from various people about youth group issues that happen, number one being the mixed-gender interactions. We find sisters or brothers who are, Alhamdulillah, practicing and very Sharia-abiding, but when it comes to talking or dealing with a non-mahram, it's as if they were brother and sister, literally. Now, of course I do not mean in the physical sense, but casual conversation, maybe a sports discussion. Most popular these days are sports arguments between "brothers" and "sisters". I am in no way declaring right from wrong; this is simply my observation, as well as what I've been hearing through the grapevine.
In the book Lantern of the Path, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) states, "Do not cross the limits of the Law for the sake of eminence and fame: they will not profit you at all, and you will miss the next world without gaining any benefit." Let's not beat around the bush here; we are all very capable of knowing our limits. Islam encourages permissible means of having relationships with the opposite gender. If you like a person, and you feel that it could be a fruitful relationship, in the name of Allah, go for it. Many people say that it is very hard to counter the issues with parents due to culture and societal taboos, but the beauty of Islam is that none of that means anything. We should care only what our actions mean in the eyes of Allah if we are behaving according to his Law, as stated in the hadith, and we should move forward with our lives.
The other major relationship we find in our life is brotherhood. The not-so talkative sister or brother at the masjid, maybe the know-it-all, is still your brother or sister in Islam, like it or not. When dealing with our fellow Muslims, there is a new trend that we put up this front and image that we are something we really aren't. I don’t care how many times you say "Insha'Allah" or "Masha'Allah", that in no means makes you better than another. As Muslims, our claim is that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) is our leader and role model for all of humanity, women and men. His qualities were those that induced kindness, love, and simple acts of caring which strengthened relationships. In Hayatul Qulub, Allama Majlisi mentions general qualities of the Prophet that describe his character. It's ironic if you think about it, because when we think of our holy leaders and how devout they are to Islam, we automatically begin to think of how much Salat they pray, or maybe even how big their beard is. The qualities mentioned in the hadith are things like: he valued small favors, he never quarreled, he bore patiently the rude manners of others, he would not advance an argument unless it was decisive, he never spoke unnecessary, when two things came to him, he would see which was more emotionally desirable, and then he did the contrary, and of course the list goes on.
But I want to concentrate on a few of these qualities, because they truly show traits which help to facilitate healthy, strong, successful, and real brotherhood. For example, bearing patiently the rude manners of others – how many times can we say our friends have acted like jerks? Were we quick to be a jerk back, or were we patient and looked at the bigger picture and the importance of overlooking petty issues? When we get in arguments, how often do we buck on and on, even though stubbornness will not allow a conclusion? Shouldn't we really let go of minor details sometimes? I think one of the most important thing to keep in mind is choosing to do something which is opposite of the thing most emotionally desirable. Many times in relationships, whether they are friendships or marriages, colleagues or teachers, or even children, we use our hearts instead of the Aql, intellect and logic, that Allah has blessed us with. There are plenty of stories where a person chooses what makes him happy or sad instead of what is right.
In order to have successful relationships, it is very important that we look to how our role models dealt with people. If we spend our time dealing with people in formal manners and not allowing natural brotherhood to take course, we are preventing a huge progress in our Ummah, for that is the one thing which we lack the most. If we all began to see the bigger picture and did not hold grudges, pass judgments, or have really big egos, we could be doing many great things for the world. When we begin to think of our Ummah as a team, we will begin to be team players. Once we realize that we are a team working towards progress with our religion and spreading the truth, we can focus on that. When we each begin to worry about improving ourselves and striving to be please Allah, we will all start to see that each of us shares similar struggles, situations, and thoughts, allowing us to lend each other advice, or just a helping hand.