A family meeting? Perhaps you imagine a long, empty table, with oversized, uncomfortable blue armchairs that just don’t ever get close enough together for everyone present to earnestly hear the other. A judge’s gavel may come to mind, or fluorescent lighting blinking over a glaring whiteboard. A family meeting may sound boring, formal, and uninspired. Yet, done correctly, family meetings can have a wholly galvanizing effect, bringing family members closer together, living more harmoniously, being a source of support for one another and growing and learning as a unit. Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said “There is no backing [and support that is stronger and] more reliable than consultation (or consulting one another).1 Human beings crave interaction and connection. If the family does not create an atmosphere at home, children naturally look for that connection somewhere else. And when children get older they may run into problems such as wanting to hang out with anyone who isn’t family or unislamic relationships. Furthermore, in today’s world of devices, we see that even simple dinner conversations have become hard to have in many households so this brings the family together with a chance to connect. So how does a family unit go about incorporating this new tradition?
What is the purpose of these meetings and what can they accomplish?
These meetings (call them huddles, meet-ups, discussions, round tables, rendezvous – or something not even English) can help bring a family together, connect to Allah (swt) with and through each other (especially if your day is generally spent apart), and bond with each other. They can teach families to begin communicating effectively, talking with each other, instead of at each other. They can normalize speaking candidly and openly about religion and religious questions, becoming spaces of shared learning, growth and guidance. Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) said: Seeking to consult someone [in one’s affairs] is guidance in itself[…]”2. A family meeting can meet the needs of each individual unit by allowing them to bring their needs and comments to the metaphorical table, opening a space for parents and children to speak about the whole gamut of topics they may be exposed to, from religious questions and taboos, world events, or daily interactions. It can be an opportunity for parents to genuinely take interest in and be aware of their children’s development spiritually, mentally, emotionally, socially, and intellectually, and direct this potential towards Godly and Divine pursuits. At the end of the day, these meetings can be a source of routine and comfort for your children and yourself – something to look forward to, a reset, especially when your day has been anything but calm. In short, the purpose of these meetings is to address the collective needs of the family, as a family. This includes spiritual needs, the need for guidance, the need for connection and collective sharing, and emotional needs such as acknowledgement and solace.
When and where should we have the meeting?
Your family meeting can happen in any place that accommodates all family members, preferably in your home, in a cozy area with minimal distractions. They should be planned at a time when everyone is available, and family members don’t usually have something pressing to get to. Ideally it should be the same time and place every day. When starting off, keep in mind that these meetings will be a hit-and-miss as you figure out what works best for your family. Eventually, once the kinks are ironed out, you can establish these as part of your family’s daily activities.If daily meetings don’t work for your family, consider some other frequency, such as three times a week. The true benefits of it are reaped when families can be consistent.
How do we start and end the meeting?
Family meetings can be a beautiful space to practice the akhlāq of the Noble Prophet. He stressed the importance of etiquette, especially amongst family members. We should help each other feel at ease and welcome, ensuring that the space will be a safe space, allowing each person the comfort and trust to speak freely without worry of their words being turned against them or leaving the confines of their family unit. We must keep in mind the words of Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) stating that “[the] meetings are trusts. No one must make public anything that one’s companion does not want to be made public unless it is with his permission, or he is trusted and does it only for his good.”3 It can be beneficial to start the meetings with Bismillāhir Raḥmānir Raḥīm and some Qurʾān.
One of our Kisa families shared that they begin their meeting by taking turns talking about their day; what was good and bad, finishing unsettled arguments. The children may share some funny memes, jokes, or something important they had learned that day. The toddler may share a sentence of their own making, exclaiming with a laugh or scream of excitement and returning to their play thereafter. Everyone contributes at their own level! Household needs and tasks are discussed, such as who will do dishes, and what school supplies are needed. The family technology social contract may be reviewed. They end the meeting with the recitation of Ziyārat ʿAshūrāʾ. The Maʿṣūmīn and their companions would end with Sūrah al-ʿAṣr which has four golden keys to take away: Faith, righteous deeds, brotherhood/sisterhood and patience. It is important to note that these meetings are organic and not set in stone so each day does not look like the day before and can be tailored for what works for your family. You may choose to begin your meeting with reflecting on a Qurʾānic verse, or acknowledging a moment of strength each family member exhibited. You may choose to end your meeting with a round of duʿās, or with each family member expressing gratitudes. Another option is to create an agenda for your meeting which will allow family members to have a clear direction for the time and allow a space for individuals to prepare in advance some items they may want to share. Shared items can be of an academic, spiritual, inspiring, or even humorous nature; below we have included a sample agenda for a family meeting. Noticing what your family needs most or what resonates with your family will help you decide how to structure the meeting.
Sample Family Meeting Agenda
- Bismillāhir Raḥmānir Raḥīm
- Reiterate the purpose of the meeting and thank everyone for participating
- Verse of the Quran and a bit of commentary
- Each individual can point out something they are thankful/appreciative of in another family member
- Discuss a relevant topic in the family at that time (something seen on the news, event that occurred for the family, an event on the Islamic calendar that may have recently passed or upcoming)
- Ask family members if there is anything they wish to share or discuss
- Surah Asr
How long should these meetings last?
The length of these meetings should take into account your family’s needs and commitments, the ages of your children, and the attention span they can commit to. They may begin short and sweet and as they become more invested, the length of time can increase naturally with interest. It may be the case that younger children may start playing while older children take time to discuss more nuanced issues with parents. Perhaps your family can commit to twenty minutes at a time. Gauge what works for you all.
How can we incorporate the Islamic calendar into the meetings?
The Islamic calendar can be taken into account depending on which month it is and if there are any birthdays or martyrdoms of the Maʿsūmīn (ʿa) taking place. On days without an occasion, one of our Kisa families reported that they will recite a couple pages of the Noble Qur’ān out loud, sometimes adding a couple sentences of tafsīr (commentary) to help with deepening an understanding of the Noble Book. Sometimes a passage from Nahj al-Balāghah or aṣ-Ṣahīfah as-Sajjādiyyah is read and if it is a Thursday night, then Duʿāʾ Kumayl is recited. If a spiritual season is around the corner, such as the month of Shaʿbān, they open Mafātiḥ al-Jinān and read about the importance of the month a little before it begins. For subsequent days, they will start by doing some of the special tasbīḥ and/or istighfār recommended during the month. Encourage your little ones to repeat after you and learn the tasbīḥ; they will memorize them before you know it! This is a great way to place importance on certain times of the Islamic calendar and make the home a place of remembrance of the family of the Prophet (ṣ). During birthdays or martyrdoms, they can be celebrated or mourned respectively. You can have a small majlis (religious gathering), recite a poem, or, maybe one of your children can choose a ḥadīth narrated by the personality in question and a discussion can be centered around it.
I only have little kids (ages three and under), should we still start this?
Of course! These meetings can be for a young married couple or a family with young children or a veteran family with all grown children. It is important to keep in mind that these meetings can be tailored to fit the needs of your family, at whatever point you’re at!
My children don’t enjoy these meetings, what should we do?
It may take a while for your children to adjust to this new addition to their routine, especially if they would much rather be playing a video game or hanging out with friends. However, be patient and persistent. Start with only half an hour or less depending on how much they can handle and then stretch it a couple minutes every time. They will -little by little- enjoy it deep inside even if they don’t show it. They might sometimes, to your surprise, ask for it! They will also after a while enjoy the duʿāʾ as it is part of their fiṭrah (nature) to love and remember Allah. It will just take some time and patience to remove the rust!”
I really want to have these meetings but my spouse is not supportive or doesn’t have the time, help?!
It can be difficult to start something new, especially when you haven’t quite seen tangible benefits. It is important to speak to your spouse and have a candid conversation about what you want for your family and to be on the same page. If these meetings fall in line with your goals then they can become a great addition. However sometimes, we need to begin short and sweet, tailoring our expectations to what is feasible for our family; perhaps starting with only the recitation of a short sūrah as a family or a family meal; once a time of connection is built, it becomes easier to build on that.
We hope you can introduce this fruitful and beneficial opportunity into your family’s life, using this as a beginners guide to family meetings, keeping the words of Imām ʿAlī ar-Riḍā (ʿa) in mind, “On the day when the hearts will perish, the hearts of those who attend meetings in which our affairs are revived will not perish.”6
- Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #4975
- Mizān al-Ḥikmah, Ḥadīth #790
- Al-Kāfī, Vol. 2, Ḥadīth #3
- Tasbīḥ: Can be used to refer to the act remembrance of Allah, or the beads used for that purpose
- Istighfār: the act of seeking forgiveness from Allah
- Mishkāt al-Anwār Fī Ghurar al-Akhbār, Ch. 3, Section 6, Ḥadīth #1516