x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ask Ali: On dealing with difficult mothers-in-law

Advice on cultural differences, from a critical family member to expressions of affection.

Dear Ali: I'm a 22-year-old British woman married to an Emirati local and, alhamdulillah, I'm satisfied, except for the part where my mother-in-law interferes with every single thing I do. She criticises me non-stop, says I'm ugly, and yells at me for not wearing the shayla in my own house when there is nobody around. I've expressed my frustration to my husband, and he keeps asking me to ignore it all. I'm pregnant with our first child and I'm worried his mother will drive us to divorce. AK, Al Ain

Dear AK: I sympathise with you and understand your predicament. Your husband probably doesn't want to upset his mother because, if he does, it will cause more problems. So trust me, when he asks you to ignore her behaviour and not take it personally, that is the best thing you can do.

Some mothers-in-law are overly protective of their son being taken care of by another woman. In Islam, we believe that heaven lies under the feet of our mothers.

Therefore, we find it awkward and somewhat disrespectful to put our parents "in check". Don't take this as a sign of weakness but rather as profound respect for our elders.

Maybe the three of you should have a discussion on how her behaviour is affecting your marriage. If that won't help, then the best you can do is just smile and not take it to heart.

On the shayla, I understand your situation but I also see her position.

Being married to an Emirati doesn't mean you have to cover up from head to toe, but you should consider the collective society we live in and perhaps choose to embrace our way of dress.

Your mother-in-law probably never expected her son to marry a non-Emirati.

Still, no one is forcing you to put on the hijab. Take your time until Allah guides you to the path you believe is good for you. But know that your mother-in-law would appreciate you more if you embraced our culture and wore the shayla.


Dear Ali: Since settling in the UAE I've noticed that men often hold hands or touch each other closely in public. I assume there must be a cultural reason for this that is non-sexual. HH, Germany

Dear HH: This is what I love about cultural differences, when things are perceived differently based on one's cultural norms.

First of all, let me clarify that our country consists of more than 200 nationalities, and a large number are Arabs from various countries as well as Asians from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka - cultures in which men holding hands is a sign of brotherhood or strong friendship.

Men from these parts of the world have no fear in displaying general affection in public, such as standing shoulder to shoulder, hugging, kissing cheeks or rubbing noses. So when you see these displays of affection in public, they are simply cultural expressions of friendship.

It's cute when you see children holding hands, but with adults I see how this can be a shock if you are new to this area.

But in general, some Arabs and many Asians hold hands as part of their culture. It is sign of platonic care when they do so while walking.


Language lesson

Arabic: Naseeb

English: Fate

Sometimes we don't get what we want in life, and for that we say "Mafi naseeb", which somewhat means "It wasn't meant to be".