May 10, 2012

The Role of Elder Siblings in the Lives of Their Younger Siblings

By Anum Ali


I was reading an essay written by my twenty-year-old sister, Sara, when I had a shocking realization. She had written that she was inspired by my creative drive and my writing skills. She went on to elaborate how she self-mentored herself through my work and dialogue. I realized at that very moment that an elder sibling is a powerful influence over a younger sibling. An elder is a long way ahead in riding the rollercoaster of life so he or she is familiar with the bumps and wild twists. So, for the younger sibling, the elder can provide an ideal role model; a perfect ‘rollercoaster riding’ manual, free of charge! A Muslim has an added responsibility because in addition to mentoring younger siblings in the area of personal management, he or she is also vested with the task to coach them towards Islamic practice and values. So, if you are an elder sibling, you’ve got work to do and it begins with self-change.

1. Become a ‘Transformational’ Sibling
Younger siblings often tend to imitate and then adopt whatever the elder siblings do because that’s their first source of inspiration, or rather exposure, of the real world. Transformational leadership, leading by example, is a concept they teach you in business school but it applies marvelously to siblings’ relationships as well. You will be a great mentor if you “become the change you want to see” in your younger siblings. Start by correcting your observable wrongs such as managing your anger, controlling harsh language, eliminating immoral habits such as lying and backbiting, etc. Once you realize how powerfully you influence your younger siblings, you can cultivate the most beautiful of values in them by teaching them indirectly. Rush to offer your prayers and show them how urgent it is for you and they will learn the value of prayer, say your Bismillah aloud before you start eating or working, and they will pick up the wonderful practice, be obedient to your parents and they will be inspired to do the same.

If you have siblings who are young adults, you can inspire them similarly. Be sure to be expressive about your opinions during family discussions and bring good, religiously-correct logic. You may not feel it, but your sibling might be learning from you. Your contribution to the community, i.e. by writing for youth websites, serving the community service centers and mosques, and making sound decisions in academic and family life will establish you as a transformational leader for your sibling.

2. Coach them from your bag of mistakes
Snap out of the denial that you are perfect and do not be boastful about yourself before your siblings. Each one of us carries a big, fat bag of mistakes with us and we tend to hide it by either boasting about our accomplishments, or simply providing foolish logic to justify our mistakes. Your sibling might follow your footsteps and learn the same foolishness. Instead, modestly open your bag of mistakes, acknowledge the wrong, and coach them about what not to do! You’re going to learn to overcome the fear of your past while teaching your siblings. They will begin to admire you as a role model who learns from their mistakes, never repeats them, and does not fear them. The lessons you can teach are countless.

My personal bag of mistakes has a lot of examples which I use to coach my sister on maintaining a high self-esteem. Having lived a tough, unpleasant teenage life because of being the “fat kid in the corner” I can advise my sister on how to defend herself against worldly standards of perfection and not succumbing to bullies and plastic beauties. In my mid-twenties, now, I am a strong, beautiful woman and when I look back at the mistakes I made in judging myself and succumbing to the nasty mockery, I feel that I missed out on enjoying my teenage. My sister has the advantage of being a beautiful teenager, masha Allah, but modern times have greater standards of perfection and my advice as an experienced sibling is no less than Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class for her!

3. Assume a strategic parental approach
Elder siblings can be a toned-down, more comfortable version of parents. They can function strategically as parents but sugarcoat the surveillance and disciplinary actions to maintain comfort levels and trust in the relationship. For example, if you are an elder brother, you can watch out for the type of friends your younger brother associates with and if negative peer pressure is contributing to detrimental practices. You can track their unhealthy habits like smoking, and haram habits like backbiting, vandalism, and adultery. If it is a younger sister you are watching over, you can do the same. You can keep a check if non-mahram males are part of her friend circle, if she is compromising her hijab in any way and, additionally, you can ensure her safety i.e. from emotional and sexual harassment.

4. Seek to become their best friend
Ever heard of ‘BFF’, the ‘Best Friend Forever’? They are about being there for one another for whatever the reason may be. Today’s sibling relationships have increased personal and social distances and communication gaps. Elder siblings may be unaware of what is going on in their young siblings’ lives. They may be facing bullies or ‘Mean Girls’ at school/college, they may be experiencing academic problems or self-esteem issues, or they may just be missing out good buddy-time. At a more mature level, they might be considering marriage, trying to quit a bad habit such as smoking, and so on.

Arrange for together-times over activities like watching good TV, playing a sport, shopping or eating out, and indulging in hobbies like cooking, crafts, and so on. Make sure you don’t hog up your siblings’ personal space. You may not know, but such memorable times may be filling up the gaps left by your sibling’s social friends due to academic/professional jealousies. The result of such bonding will be mutual trust, added love, and an overall beautiful relationship.

5. Share your experiences with them
You do not have to read books on how to influence your siblings. You already have the perfect manual – your own life. Our lives are full of experiences starting from the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep, moreover, even in our dream state we are experiencing something negative or positive. We have academic struggles, household work, social contacts and relationships, health issues, creative activities, professional works, and so much more that we deal with to function in our daily grind. The biggest mistake some of us elder siblings make is to hoard up stories of our personal struggles and challenges inside us. If we share how we did it and how we got to the end of things to tell the day off, we can be excellent guides to our young siblings.

Younger brothers and sisters often become overwhelmed as life’s challenges come to them when they least expect it. If you are able to forewarn them, they will not be caught off guard and may plan ahead.

6. Give them sensible advice
Some over-strict elder siblings are of the opinion, “I was caught off guard, why should they suffer any less?” That, I believe is unfair. There is a reason you’ve been chosen to be the elder one; put it to the benefit of your sibling. Instead of closing up, offer the best advice to your siblings. Be their academic counselor when they seek advice in their studies, be their emotional counselor when they experience emotional turbulence and transform into a life coach when they need help with issues in their lives.

As an elder, you can investigate alternatives before you advise your younger sibling out of irrationality. Suppose your younger sibling expresses the will to get married at a very young age. You can foster sensibility into their thinking by providing the social, mental, and financial logic associated with the decision. Your farsighted view of the big picture would help direct your sibling towards what’s best for him or her.

7. Be patient with them
Your siblings can be your ultimate anger management and forbearance testing program! Watch out as the young, irrational ones can be slow, erratic, and emotionally-driven. You have to be patient with them as they learn gradually when you guide them. Be ready to answer a hundred million questions pouring out from their doubtful little minds.

“Why can’t we see God?” “Why do we pray five times a day?” “Do angels fall off our shoulders when we bend?”

Trust me! The list is endless with the very young siblings. It is very hard to get your point across when you are trying to teach them the basics of growing up, such as differences between mahram and non-mahrams, and the state of being impure such as when a girl gets her period.

The older ones, however, will question you more perplexingly. They are bound to question your judgment, your skill, your abilities, and your opinions. You can expect ‘Why Hijab?’, ‘Why Beard?’, ‘Why Marriage?’, ‘Why No Music?’ questions. If you explode into an impatient, angry outburst, you are at the risk of losing your respect in their eyes. The best defense is patience and, of course, your Sunnah smile! They work like miracles.

8. Acknowledge universal siblinghood
I was born as the elder sibling so I have always maintained the elder edge and responsibility. I like to think big. Beyond my blood-related younger siblings, I recognize my responsibilities towards my siblings in faith, i.e. fellow Muslims, and siblings around the world. Universal siblinghood is a beautiful concept in my opinion and the day each individual recognizes it, the world would be a beautiful place.

I automatically assume the role of an elder sibling when I am serving my Muslim brothers and sisters through my writing and counseling. I use my skills and abilities as my age and seek to give the best advice and answer all questions patiently. You need to develop that sense of love and responsibility towards your Muslim siblings. Furthermore, we’ve all been raised as one family from Prophet Adam alayhis salam, so we are accountable for all we come in contact with. Be a responsible, kind, humble, and serving sibling.

How do you play a role in the lives of your younger siblings, and how do your elder siblings influence your life? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below! :)


Some great advice here in. It's timely in a way for me - as in I have many a bends to reflect upon with reminders that this article is full of. In my own case, I've learnt a lot and been inspired by my younger sister (10 yrs my junior), and based off that I can say that there does come an age in our lives, when the learning/inspirations can be both ways, or either way. So setting a good example stands well by us, no matter where we stand age wise between siblings. I'm 2nd and in most ways, I've failed to set a good example, but I'd like to hope that perhaps in one or two ways I might have been good? Allah swt Knows Best. JazakAllah khayr for this article, for I am of the belief that so long as we are breathing, we have a chance to better ourselves, and with that in mind - this article is a lovely reminder that I can insha'Allah make changes in as many ways possible from today... Time will tell how successful I may/may not be, but I sure will be trying insha'Allah.

Having said that, this post reminded me of a post I made on my blog, some time ago... it was about my sisters 10 and 12 yrs younger than me each. If you would be interested in reading it, I'll leave a link to it below: 

JazakAllah khayr for your post...


MashaAllah.. very well put sis! JazakAllahu Khair! 

I dont have any youngers sisters, but I do have 2 nieces just 7 yrs younger to me.. and I always feel they are very highly influenced by my behaviour! May Allah help us all be good role models to our younger siblings!! 

Asalam Alaikum, 

Wonderful article, MashaAllah! =) 
I wanted to add one more thing, in addition to the point on advise you have given, I have a younger brother (9 years younger) and he and I have always had a very close relationship - though I consider him a baby at 12 years of age. And he is more likely to buy what I have to say than perhaps my mom, and this has given me a great advantage in sitting down and teaching him about Islam. 

On Fridays we hold our 'official' halaqahs - just him and I - where we cover seerah or maybe tafseer of the Quran. 

And then we have our 'unofficial' halaqahs, usually when I'm baking and he's helping in the kitchen. We call them our 'theological discussions', I usually start by asking him what his opinion is and then it intrigues him to find out what it actually is. (the last discussion we had was on 'ihsaan'.)

The point is, younger siblings *really* look up to their older siblings, and thus we really need to take advantage of this, directly AND indirectly. 
And I added the above so that our sisters can get ideas on how to help their young siblings learn more about Islam. 

Walekumassalam Abeer,

Walekumassalam Abeer,
Your story is so beautiful mashAllah. May Allah bless the wonderful relationship between you and your brother, ameen! I have shared your beautiful idea on my blog. 

Masha'Allah this article has been so beneficial for me, jazakAllahu khairan! With me being the eldest, I've always felt that the pressure and burden is on me, but you have made me realise that it can be FUN being the eldest if we maintain our relationship with younger siblings.
I've got a 5 year old brother, and since he was born, I've been the closest sibling to him than anyone else.. Like sister abeer said.. My little brother also tends to take me more seriously than our mother. This tells me that I do influence him so it's my responsibility to be the best eldest sister possible, character wise!
I also have noticed that my 10year sister observes me .. And loves it wheb I spend time with her (very rarely however) due to college and other duties I have, it can hard to balance everything out but I know how important it is to give time to young siblings.
JazakAllahu khairan once again for this article, exactly what I needed :)

lol  "Each one of us carries a big, fat bag of mistakes with us and we tend to hide it by either boasting about our accomplishments, or simply providing foolish logic to justify our mistakes." this is sooooo takes a lot to finally burst your "perfect" bubble in front of your siblings and teach them from your past mistakes....
sister Anum, this has GOT to be one of the BEST articles i have EVER read on maybe it's because i'm the oldest sibling in my family and i have a huge responsibility on my shoulder but i just LOVE love love the way you wrote the whole thing with funny examples and was a beneficial read without the bore! Can't wait to hear more from you sis! :)

Aww that is beautiful, Jazake Allah khair sis! May Allah bless you and your family. =)

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