Brother lives far away, he’s straying, what can I do?

Brother lives far away, he’s straying, what can I do?


My brother lives away from home since he does internships in California and goes to uni away from home. As a consequence has adopted a very unislamic way of life (drinking, zinah) and I fear he has completely renounced it. This difference has caused us to drift apart and I often lose my temper towards him. What can I do to preserve my iman and help him? (also he only comes home 4-6 times a year and does not maintain regular contact with our family)

Salaam alykum,

I’d like to start by saying how sorry I am that you and your brother are drifting apart. The most important thing is that you don’t lose faith in him as a person, because from what you’re telling me, I think that’s what he needs the most.

I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that because you used the word “Uni” that you are not in America yourself, and I’m sure that sort of distance does not make things easier. The fact that you are only seeing him 4-6 times a year, obviously, makes things even more difficult. Again, the important part is please don’t lose faith in him, it’s what he needs more than anything else.

In order to perhaps explain his behavior a little bit, so that you can understand it, I’ll outline the most common reasons why when Muslims go to school they tend to “act out.” As stupid as this sounds, peer pressure really does affect people. They will be invited to parties, they will see everyone with a drink, and they’ll drink either to fit in, or to use alcohol as a “social crutch” so that they can use the alcohol as a way to get over their fears.

As far as zinah, again, there is tremendous social pressure, especially on young men, to prove how masculine they are by having sex. Many of the young Muslim men I’ve met with and spoken to, and as a young Muslim man myself, I would say that avoiding alcohol, while difficult, is easier than avoiding sex, because while being a virgin is many times seen as virtuous among women, it is seen as a point of weakness between men.

So, as far as a direct connection, between alcohol and zinah, I don’t think there is always a direct connection, but many times one leads to another. The point of me explaining this to you is so that you can understand a possible reason why he’s doing what he’s doing. Try and be understanding, yes, he is doing things that he shouldn’t, but many times people feel that they have no reason to stop, once they have started something, as if “oh well, I’m screwed now, doesn’t matter what I do now.”

That being said, I think the most important thing is that you learn from this situation, because the root of this problem comes from the way that we, as Muslims, deal with these issues internally. We try and segregate ourselves from things that we believe will prevent us from engaging in those activities. We will interact with these pressures, no matter what. Thus, we should be educating ourselves not just that we shouldn’t be drinking or committing zinah, but we should be understanding why.

So, from that perspective in mind, you should exercise as much patience as you can. I went through that lengthy explanation because instead of just looking at your brother as someone who has decided to reject Islam’s teachings or to distance himself from his family, realize that there is most probably some deeper issues there. You have to be the stronger person, because he’s hurting, something is bothering him, whether its another person, whether its his self-perception, or his connection with his religion.

A big reason why he may be contacting you less and drifting away is because he thinks of himself as unworthy, and he looks at himself as not good enough to even interact with his family. He could be ashamed of himself, and as a result, he is drifting away not as a consequence of his actions, but out of shame from his actions.

I don’t think that talking to him about Iman, about salat, or drinking being haram is going to get through to him. However, love and understanding from his family will be important for him. If you combine the reasons why he’s doing these activities, with his perception of himself, as it contributes to his lack of contact with you, the only way he’s going to be able to see value in the things that define your family is if he can “find a way back.”

The difficult part is, of course, having your parents have an open mind. Chances are, they won’t. But, I’m assuming you’re somewhat near your brother’s age, and, you can be the person who will show him “a way back.” If you can get your parents “on board,” that would be great.

Don’t judge him, because we all sin, we all will do things wrong, no matter who we are, because we are human. There’s no mystery here, the big question is how you deal with it, not just personally, but with others. That’s, obviously, the central element of your question.

If you can be open to him, be understanding, be a source of support for him, then you can be the person who can guide him back to where he should be. Don’t try and lecture him, it’s not going to work, because he’s just going to be more aware of his faults and many times, when people are in this spiral, they feel more comfortable in that bad place, because its difficult to get that energy to fix themselves.

Let me put it to you this way, and I’m really hoping you’re not super neat, but if you’re like me, your room gets messy pretty quickly. In fact, its a mystery how your clothes went from being folded and hung (by color) to suddenly your room looking like a tornado hit it. It starts with you leaving your shirt on a chair, or laying out some pants on the bed, and soon it spirals out of control.

What prayer does, for me, is helps me maintain the “rules” of my room. So when I pray, its like I remembered to put that shirt away or hanging up those pants. But, before you can get to that point you have to “clean up your room,” which takes energy, and many times it takes help from outside (or a strict mother).

So, look at yourself as being the source of comfort for your brother, the “connection” that he will have to his home, to his culture, to his religion. You can be that energy to help him “clean his room.” It’s going to take strength and patience, and you’re going to have to put your ego aside, and focus less on formal religion, and on interacting with your brother on a very human level.

Listen to him, even if its going to be painful, because he needs that. By seeing you as that source of comfort, the way that you act, the way you conduct yourself, he will respect that and see that as the proper way to conduct himself. This is how Dawah is supposed to work, through proper example

Our sisters and brothers in Indonesia and Malaysia are Muslims today precisely because of this pure form of Dawah. There was not a Muslim conquest of their lands, it was traders from Yemen that went to those Islands who simply were fair and just in their dealings with the locals. The people asked these merchants about what made them act in such a way, to which these merchants shared The Qur’an and Islam. The process was slow, but it happened, and today Indonesia is the largest Muslim country on Earth.

Taking that example in history as a guide, you have to maintain yourself, have to make sure you have the patience to see his actions as a product of his own internal issues. Every time you lose your temper, you’re simply giving him more reason to self-destruct, and yes, that’s a lot of responsibility on you, but the fact that you can recognize that you ultimately want to help him, that’s the choice you’re going to have to make. Insha Allah, I’m sure you’ll be able to do it.

The way to preserve your Iman is this problem you are being confronted with. Learn about not just what is forbidden, but find out why. Knowledge about your religion is the best way to make your Iman stronger. I’d like to note, that when I speak of knowledge about your religion, go beyond, just the “religious” perspective, but seek the knowledge on a psychological level or a biological level. That way, your dedication to your Iman will not just be on the “religious” level of a you-and-God level, but on the personal level, one that motivates you to benefit yourself holistically.

There are several Muslim speakers who specialize in social work, and I think they are a great resource for these sorts of issues, because that is what they are formally trained in. Don’t just seek knowledge from someone who has religious training, make your scope larger, and try and make connections between the different kinds of knowledge. It will benefit you, make your Iman stronger, and help you see how knowledge of anything leads you to God.

Be prepared for some pain, make sure to have patience, look past the sins that your brother is engaging in, and remember that he is a human being, obviously someone you care about. This isn’t going to change overnight, it’s going to take time. Don’t focus on getting him to start praying, for example, make sure you can get him to see that what he’s doing is damaging first, and once he recognizes that, the power of prayer, and its practical benefit will become apparent to him.

Ultimately, please be patient and understanding with him, and reach out to him and check your temper, even if he does things that are designed to push you away. You have to push past those things.

If you have any more questions for me, please don’t hesitate to ask me. If you’d like to contact me in a more private way, please just send me a way to contact you and we can discuss your concerns in more detail, Insha Allah.

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