Islam encourages us to make friends with other believers, to love, and to forgive. It’s extremely rewarding to be able to forgive our brothers and sisters and to be humble so that Allah (swt) in turn deals with us leniently.
But there comes a time when it’s a choice between forgiveness and self-defense, when we need to differentiate between humility and humiliation. This happens when one person in the relationship begins to dominate it and the other person feels suffocated and humiliated, or when one person starts to gain illegal satisfaction from the relationship at the expense of the other. There are many types and forms of abuse:
- Physical abuse: More common in marital and parent-child relations, physical violence can even be found in friendships between unrelated Muslims. Even if it’s an occasional slap in the face or a sharp, angry push, count it as abuse.
- Mental abuse: This is more common in friendships than physical abuse and can take many forms, such as belittling your opinions, unjust accusations, and setting relationship rules without your consent.
- Spiritual abuse:
- Not accepting a person’s personal preferences of how they want to worship Allah
- Trying to manipulate a person through emotional blackmail, using religion as a weapon
- Economic and social abuse:
- Withholding money from a dependent person
- Trying to disconnect the person from their other friends
What makes a person abuse someone he calls a friend and a brother? It could be because abuse comes naturally to this person, probably because he or she learned it from others, especially as a child. Or it could be due to a lack of empathy, too much stress, or a hunger for control and power. It could be that the person feels an insecurity within and is jealous of his or her friend. Or it could be because the person has a drug or alcohol addiction.
How do we know when it’s time to pause the “forgive and forget” button?
- When abuse becomes a habit: Being habitually impossible is a clear indication that the person is in denial and doesn’t want to understand the level of harm and sins they’re committing.
- Think carefully about the effect the abuse is having on you spiritually. Have you become too tired mentally to carry out your religious duties as you should? Are you often so sad that you just don’t have the energy to memorize the daily Quran you had planned? Is Shaytan trying to incite anger upon Allah in your heart because of your suffering? If your answer is yes to any of these or similar questions, then that’s enough reason to take this seriously.
The Prophet (sa) taught us a dua in which you seek refuge in Allah from a bad companion (Sahib as-Sū’). (Tabarani, authenticated by Albani) What could be worse than a friendship that’s deteriorating your spiritual health?
How to deal with abusive friendships
- First and foremost, ask Allah to give you the strength to deal with the situation in a way pleasing to Him. It’s a confusing circumstance, and it takes up a lot of emotional energy. So make dua for patience.
- Transmit to the other person the message, very clearly and strongly: Stop! I’ve had enough. And I’m not going to take anymore.
By putting a stop to abuse, you’re not only saving (sometimes literally) your own skin. You’re also helping the abuser, all their prospective victims, and all those who might pick up the trait from them. It’s incredible how easily people pick up habits from other people, and children are especially vulnerable to this because they learn how to do things in life by modelling their elders.
By bringing a single abuser to their senses you’re putting a stop to the propagation of an evil practice and saving the society at large.
The Prophet (sa) said, “Help your brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed,” A man said, “O Allah’s Messenger (sa)! I will help him if he is oppressed, but if he is an oppressor, how shall I help him?” The Prophet (sa) said, “By preventing him from oppressing (others), for that is how to help him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
- Help the person solve his issue.
Notice that in the above hadith the Prophet (sa) called the abuser your brother. No matter how badly they have treated you, they’re still Muslim and worthy of your compassion. Look at it this way – they are afflicted by a serious disease, and you must guide them to its cure. It’s also crucial that you try and forgive them, otherwise you won’t be able to heal completely.
But don’t forget the lesson so bitterly learned.
- Build a safe boundary from that person as a precaution. Even after the abuse stops, you still need to be careful around that person, because as we saw above, abuse can become a serious character trait difficult to eradicate. Remember what the Prophet (sa) said:
“A believer is not stung twice from the same hole.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
- Be ready for some kind of violent reaction. Oftentimes, when a person is in denial, an attempt to bring her to reality can make her extremely angry. In such a circumstance, she might try everything possible to keep up the façade – emotional blackmail, a show of repentance, or trying to prove to you that it’s all your fault. Don’t waver, be strong and firm. Remember, the more you give in, the worse the disease will get.
How do I know if I myself am an abuser?
It’s a scary thought, but we’re often blinded by Shaytan from seeing the harm we’re spreading around us. Sometimes it takes a lot of self-reflection, humility, and closeness to Allah to realize that we’re sinners. Ask Allah for guidance and recite Surat al-Fatihah from the heart in every salah:
Guide us to the straight path – The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. [Quran, 1:6,7]