Dear Salma: On sibling boundaries and interfaith relationships

Ask Salma addresses sibling interactions and interfaith relationships.

Question #1

Dear Salma,

I feel as though my older sister bosses me around all the time. Even though we are not far apart in age and are both in college (she stayed near home and I’m out of state), she continues to treat me as though I’m incompetent or even stupid! She bosses me via texts, phone calls and Facebook messages, telling me to call my mom and say hello, or demanding that I bring home a particular shirt so she can wear it. When I do visit home, she’s tries to keep tabs on me, always asking who I’m spending time with, where we’re eating or when I’ll be home. Should I ask my parents to intervene or somehow deal with this on my own? How do I convince my sister to give me space and respect?


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Dear Annoyed:

Many times we can trace the behavior patterns that exist between siblings to their childhood years. These patterns simply extend into adulthood. So sometimes it is necessary for siblings to have to re-negotiate their relationships when they grow up and become peers.

Since you and your sister are both adults, try to resolve this by talking to her directly. She may have no idea that you feel bullied and bossed around, so the first step would be to tell her clearly and directly. You could say something like, “When you ask me what I’m doing or where I’m going, I feel…..” Describe the emotion you feel. Is the problem that your privacy is invaded, or do you feel mistrusted or babied?

Identify the kind of relationship you’d rather have with your sister. When she isn’t calling you to tell you what to do or ask questions about what you’ve been up to, what would you prefer to be talking about? Describe to your sister the relationship you envision. “I’d really love for you to call me up sometimes just to say…..” or “I’d love for us to talk about……” In this way, you can introduce new patterns so your sister won’t feel as though you’re simply criticizing her current behavior but rather that you are wanting to take your relationship with her to a better place.

If your first attempt to talk to her doesn’t go smoothly, that’s alright. People are often resistant to change. Be firm, consistent, but gentle, in letting her know when she behaves in a way that you don’t like, and remind her what you would prefer from her instead. It can take time to change old habits.

If your attempts to talk to her directly don’t seem have an effect, consider having a mutual friend or your parents intervene. Select a mediator who your sister knows and respects who can help her see the ways in which she may be acting disrespectfully, perhaps without realizing it.

At the same time, when she treats you the way you do want to be treated, make sure to let her know she’s on the right track. Positive reinforcement can be very effective.
Good luck!

Question #2:

Dear Salma,

I’m a South Asian in my late 20s who was born and raised in the U.S. I’ve been romantically seeing a non-Muslim man for over a year and I believe I’ve fallen in love with him. Oddly enough, we were initially drawn to each other because of our religious back grounds and shared sets of values—I, of course, am Muslim and my boyfriend is a Seventh Day Adventist. We are currently working overseas together, but as the time to return home approaches, we are forced to face the difficulties of our interfaith relationship. While many Muslims may disagree with me, I believe Islam does not bar me from marrying a Christian man as I haven’t read anything in the Qur’an that directly prohibits women from marrying “people of the book.” Plus, we’re both open-minded, educated individuals with tolerant personalities. We share the same morals and values, have no qualms about each other’s belief systems and believe we are essentially on different paths with the same end goal.

Still, I’m at a loss. Ideally I know an interfaith marriage could work, but the more I research this kind of marriage, the more aware I am of the many bumps we could experience as a Muslim wife and a Christian husband. How do I decide whether or not to pursue this relationship and if I do continue on this path, how do I tell my family about it (who will be completely devastated). If you could recommend any resources for a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim partner, that would also be helpful.


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Dear Stressed:

The questions you are raising are increasingly being asked by many people who feel they have found their match in a partner who is not Muslim. The scholars seem to be in agreement that a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man, however I am not a legal scholar so I encourage you to pursue the legal aspect of your question with someone who is. I will focus my answer on the relational aspects, including your relationship with Allah, which ideally is the context that shapes and guides all of our relationships with others.

In Islam, marriage is a vehicle that should bring us closer to Allah. The marriage itself should begin with a contract that fulfills all of the conditions of an Islamic marriage. I am glad you are researching this issue from an Islamic legal standpoint. It is important that you pursue your research with the intention of finding the answer that is most pleasing to Allah, and that you ask Allah to guide you and help you accept what you find.

It’s also important that the two of you jointly reflect on what you envision your marriage to be. Imagine your daily routine as a Muslim woman, imagine the role you want your husband to play, and imagine yourself in the future as a parent and the role you want your co-parent to play. Imagine how you will handle areas where there are differences in the two religions: theology, worship, rituals, holidays, dietary restrictions, etc. Envision how you want to raise your children, how you would teach your children about your faith(s), and the kind of relationships that may or may not be possible with extended families. You could even consider what a wedding ceremony might look like because planning the wedding itself often brings out the ways in which the individuals and their families can either bridge or harden the cultural, ethnic and religious differences.

Certainly, there are many successful interfaith marriages. And there are many unsuccessful ones. A recent book by Naomi Riley ‘Till Faith Do Us Part, provides some insight into the pitfalls of such unions, as well as what helps these marriages succeed. I would also recommend that the two of you read a few books about marriage in Islam. A couple for you to consider are: Blissful Marriage by Ekram & Mohamed Beshir, and Muslim Marriage Guide by Ruqaiyah Waris Maqsood. And finally, I encourage you to go through Imam Mohamed Magid’s Premarital Questionnaire that can be found at under marriage services. If you are able to schedule an in-person meeting with a trusted leader in your respective faith traditions (like Imam Mohamed Magid), take his or her advice seriously as he has likely counseled many couples who have been in your shoes. Of course, speaking with Muslim-Christian will also give you some additional insights

As far as your parents are concerned, you will simply have to tell them the truth. Try not to react defensively if they are shocked, disappointed, and even furious. Remaining calm will go a long way in contributing to a more productive conversation. Once emotions have settled, engage in an honest discussion. Here, you may need help from a third party (an imam, a counselor, a trusted friend or relative) to help mediate if emotions are running too high.

May Allah guide you to what is best for you and make your path clear for you.

Salma Abugideiri is a licensed professional counselor with almost 20 years of experience. She is also a founding board member for Peaceful Families Project, a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. More information is available at Peaceful Families Project and


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