Monday, September 24, 2012


“And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi.” Ruth 1:14

“You can’t say a word against my mother,” Karim said to his new wife, Sahar. “I believe in God and then my mother. I have one God and one mother,” he stated and making a straight line with his hand he added, “And they are on the same level.” Oh dear, I thought, maybe that was a slip of English. I asked Sahar if he had added “and one wife?” No mention of that. Sumaira, Rahima, Sahar and I were gathered together in Rahima’s apartment drinking tea and chatting. The conversation turned animated when we started sharing about mother-in-laws. Each of the women had lived with their in-laws before coming to the West. Now each is enjoying a new life living alone with her husband and children. Rahima had had a positive experience living with her in-laws while Sumaira said dejectedly, “My mother-in-law was very strict. She gave lots of orders.” I asked her if she ever cried. “Oh yes, I would go into the bathroom and cry.” Rahima and Sahar looked sympathetically at her.

I’ve met a mother-in-law who tried to get rid of her daughter-in-law by having a curse pronounced on her to make her die so her son could marry another woman. Many mother-in-laws teach their new daughter-in-laws how to cook for their sons and clean house. Dunya shocked me when she said, “I will never bless my dead mother-in-law. Never.” There are good mother-in-laws and bad mother-in-laws. One Arab man I met was anticipating a short visit back home. He couldn’t wait to see his mother and wanted to find the best gift possible to give her. “What will you give her, Ahmed?” I asked inquisitively. “I want to give her a diamond ring,” he said proudly. I asked him how his prospective wife would feel about that. He answered, “I have already told her that my mother comes first and if she is not in agreement then we will not get married.” I began seeing everything through my cultural lens of understanding and shuddered.

Who says Muslim women don’t have power? Mother-in-laws, particularly in the Muslim world, possess significant power and influence. The bond between mothers and sons is very strong. Releasing sons is extremely difficult to do; perhaps not even believed possible or permissible. I am a mother-in-law, too. Both our son and daughter lived at home until they were married. Their wedding days for me were a mixture of joy and sadness. To release them was an initial shock to my system even though I was pleased with the spouses they chose. We will discover some tender moments to minister to our Muslim friends who live in fear and under the control of their mother-in-laws.

Dear heavenly Father, help me to know what to say when I hear all this unfamiliar talk about mother-in-laws. I need wisdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.