The role of the family shouldn’t be underestimated in the Islamic world. The family is more than a nest where you land by accident because of your birth and where you, after two or three decades of getting life experience, decide to finally leave. Islamic, and especially Arabic households are more like royal palaces where you, depending on your situation, can be a slave or a king. The hierarchy has, as is suspected more and more these days, less to do with gender, but more with age. Trying to get around this hierarchy is a lot like the last turn at a game of Jenga. If you don’t want to make this tower of culture fall, you better know what the fundaments of it are.
A big part of your Arabic parents’ acts, are in no way based on reason and therefore they are most of the time rather ridiculous. For example, I can’t wait to go to the market with my son or daughter, and stop at a stack of water melons, tap on three or four of them without knowing what on earth I’m doing and at the last melon, I’ll look thoughtfully at the salesman to make it feel as formal as possible.
I know that I’ll probably look stupid, but it’s painful to think that our ancestors have used this cheap trick for centuries. And they fooled hundreds of people by claiming to be an expert, in a non-verbal way. On top of that I can’t live the thought to go through such a humiliation, without taking revenge by doing the exact same with the next generation. That’s what tradition is all about.
Something else which I’m really looking forward to do later, is something everyone knows, no matter how traditional your family is. I’m talking about the use of In Sha Allah. This frustrating but dogmatic answer is something you never want to hear your parents say, because it can mean simple no or ‘just ask me later again’.
“Mom, can you wash my pants before tomorrow?”
“In Sha Allah”
Respect is also one of the main themes in Islamic family life. Having a good character, isn’t enough. Showing respect, in combination with the hierarchy of age, has much to do with knowing the rules. For example, you can’t ask your parents to say yes or no instead of In Sha Allah.
I risk my life by simply suggesting that this may not happen spontaneously, but forewarned is forearmed: you don’t vent your emotions to them verbally (let along physically). You don’t even say ‘but’ after something that clearly was a monologue. But if you do this, make sure that you won’t question the but-when-I-was-your-age-story that will definitely follow. Keep your thoughts to yourself and keep your remarks about how your father struggled with lions or how he brought his father to work on his shoulders or how he slaughtered his first sheep at the age of ten, to yourself. Have you ever wondered if the human body is capable of letting off steam through their ears? Then don’t follow my advice, but be prepared to be disinherited.
Making your parents proud is also a way of showing respect. Because their bar is set very high and your accomplishment has to be at the level of marriage or winning a Nobel Prize, you better focus on not letting your parents down. Luckily, mothers love to help you with this.
A mother will always talk good about you in public. Women are long term thinkers and your mother wants you to marry the perfect child-in-law. As soon as no one is around, your mom will test you and give you the feeling that you can always do better. On the Islamic mothers convention of 1870 in Cairo, they decided that comparing your son or daughter with the children of any random Islamic woman within a radius of 30 km is the most efficient way to do this.
Last but not least: emotion. The smallest announcement or event can provoke an exaggerated reaction from your parents. Complement your mother at dinner with her cooking skills. She’ll beam or even wipe away a tear. Tell your father immediately after you washed his car, and he’ll kiss your forehead and thank Allah. Don’t drop a plate when you clear the table, because your mother will act as if the plate was part of the family and you just killed a brother.
One of the most important benefits of those emotional outbursts is that you’ll never have to ask how much your parents actually care about you or you’ll never have to consider leaving the house early. Because daily, you’re confronted with how much they love you. Praise yourself happy when your parents fit this description, because then you’re raised by the most caring creatures that this world has ever known.