The Muslim and His Relatives

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Chapter 6


A Muslim's kindness, respect and good treatment are not limited just to his parents, spouse and children, but extend to his relatives, all of whom he should treat well. In the Qur'an, the word used is Arham (literally, "wombs"), which refers to relatives to whom a person is linked by ties of womb and blood, whether they are his heirs or not.

Islamic view of kinship ties

Islam has recognized the ties of kinship in a way that is unparalleled in other religions or "isms"; it enjoins Muslims to uphold the ties of kinship and condemns the one who breaks this tie.

There is no greater proof of the emphasis placed by Islam on the ties of kinship than the vivid picture painted by the Prophet (s), who described kinship (ra­m) as standing in the vast arena of creation and seeking refuge with Allah from being cut off: Allah answers its prayer, taking care of those who maintain the ties of kinship, and cutting off those who cut off these ties. This is seen in the sahih hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah (r) who said:

´The Prophet (s) said: 'Allah created the universe, and when He had finished, kinship (rahm) stood up and said, ´This is the standing up of one who seeks Your protection from being cut off.' Allah said, ´Yes, would it please you if I were to take care of those who take care of you and cut off those who cut you off?' It said, ´Of course.' Allah said, ´Then your prayer is granted."' Then the Prophet (s) said: ´Recite, if you wish: ( 'Then, is it to be expected of you, if you were put in authority, that you will do mischief, in the land, and break your ties of kith and kin? Such are the men whom Allah has cursed for He has made them deaf and blinded their sight.') (Qur'an 47:22-23)" and the hadith is narrated by: (Bukhari and Muslim)

Many ayat of the Qur'an reiterate and affirm the position of Arham in Islam, encouraging people to uphold the ties of kinship and instilling a strong sense of the importance of recognizing kinship rights and avoiding neglect of those rights, and warning against abuse of them. One of these ayatis:

( ...Fear Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual {rights}, and {reverence} the wombs {that bore you}...) (Qur'an 4:1)

This ayah commands man to fear Allah first and foremost, then places respect for Arham second to that of taqwa in order to emphasize its importance.

For the true Muslim, the fact that ra­m is often mentioned in conjunction with belief in Allah and good treatment of parents, is enough to confirm its status and importance:

( Your Rabb has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents...) (Qur'an 17:23)

( And render to the kindred their due rights, as [also] to those in want, and to the wayfarer: but squander not [your wealth] in the manner of a spendthrift.) (Qur'an 17:26)

( Worship Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the wayfarer {you meet}...) (Qur'an 4:36)

Hence kind treatment of relatives comes one degree below kind treatment of parents on the scale of human relationships as defined by the Qur'an; from there, kindness and respect extends to encompass all those needy members of the greater human family. This suits human nature, which is more inclined to start with kind treatment of those who are closer; it is also in harmony with the overall Islamic system of social organization and mutual responsibility which starts with the family then is readily extended first to relatives and then to society at large, in a spirit of mercy and friendship which makes life more pleasant and beautiful for mankind.

Upholding the ties of kinship is one of the major principles of Islam, one of the fundamentals that this religion has promoted from the first day the Prophet (s) began to preach his message. It is one of the most characteristic features of Islamic law. This is reflected in the lengthy conversation of Abu Sufyan with Heraclius. When the emperor asked Abu Sufyan, "What does your Prophet order you to do?" he answered, "He (s) tells us: 'Worship Allah alone and do not associate anything with Him. Give up the religion of your forefathers.' He tells us to pray, to give charity, to be chaste and to uphold the ties of kinship. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Upholding the ties of kinship is counted as one of the major characteristics of this religion, along with pure monotheistic belief in Allah, establishing prayer, and adherence to truthfulness and chastity, which were being explained to those questioners for the very first time.

In the lengthy hadith of 'Amr ibn 'Anbasah (r) which includes many of the basic teachings of Islam, he said:

´I entered upon the Prophet (s) in Makkah (meaning at the beginning of his Prophethood), and asked him, 'What are you?' He said, 'A Prophet.' I asked, 'What is a Prophet?' He said, 'Allah has sent me.' I asked, 'With what has He sent you?' He said, 'He has sent me to uphold the ties of kinship, to break the idols and to teach that Allah is One and has no partner whatsoever...' (Muslim)

In this summary of the most important principles of Islam, the Prophet (s) clearly gave precedence to upholding the ties of kinship and mentioned it among the foremost features of the faith. This is indicative of its high status in the framework of this religion which Allah has revealed as a mercy to the Worlds.

The sources of Islam go to great lengths to encourage upholding the ties of kinship, and warn against cutting them off. Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (r) said:

´A man said, 'O Messenger of Allah, tell me of a good deed that will grant me entrance to Paradise.' The Prophet (s) said, 'Worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him, establish regular prayer, pay zakah and uphold the ties of kinship.' (Bukhari and Muslim)

Upholding the ties of kinship appears in the same context as worshipping Allah, believing in His absolute unity, establishing regular prayer and paying zakah. Hence it is one of the best of righteous deeds that will guarantee Paradise and save one from Hell.

Anas (r) said:

´The Prophet (s) said: 'Whoever would like his rizq (provision) to be increased and his life to be extended, should uphold the ties of kinship.' (Bukhari and Muslim)

So it is a blessing for the one who upholds the ties of kinship, a blessing which affects both his rizq and his life: his wealth will increase and he will live a longer and more blessed life.

Ibn 'Umar used to say: "Whoever fears his Rabb and upholds the ties of kinship, his life will be extended, his wealth will increase and his family will love hiim more."1

Note: 1. Narrated by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad.

As we have seen, upholding the ties of kinship brings blessing in a man's rizq and his life, mercy from Allah in this world and the next, and makes people love him and praise him. In contrast, breaking those ties will spell disaster and misery for him, earning him the dislike of Allah and the people, and keeping him far from Paradise in the Hereafter. It is misery and deprivation enough for such a man to hear the words of the Prophet (s):

´The person who breaks the ties of kinship will never enter Paradise. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Even worse for him is the news that his presence may deny mercy to his fellows, as in the hadith quoted by al-Bayhaqi in Shu'ab al-Iman:

´Mercy will not descend upon a people among whom is one who breaks the ties of kinship.'

Hence the great Sahabi Abu Hurayrah (r) never liked to make supplication to Allah in a gathering in which a person who had broken the ties of kinship was present, because that would prevent mercy from descending and the du'a , from being answered. In one Thursday night gathering, he said: "I urge everyone who has broken the ties of kinship to get up and leave us." No-one got up until he had said this three times. Then a young man got up and went to see a (paternal) aunt of his whom he had forsaken for two years. When he entered, she said, "O son of my brother, what brings you here?" He said, "I heard Abu Hurayrah (r) say such-and-such." She told him, "Go back to him and ask him why did you say that?" [Abu Hurayrah (r)] said: "I heard the Prophet (s) say: 'The deeds of the sons of Adam are shown to Allah every Thursday evening before Jumu'ah, and the deeds of one who breaks the ties of kinship are not accepted."2

Note: 2. Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad and by Ahmad in al-Musnad.

The sensitive Muslim who is hoping to earn the pleasure of his Rabb and attain salvation in the Hereafter will be deeply shaken by the news given in these texts, that breaking the ties of kinship will cause mercy to be withheld from him and his du'a , not to be answered. It will be a source of great misery to him to be in such a position, to do deeds which are of no avail, to seek the mercy of his Rabb and not receive it. It is unimaginable that a true Muslim would ever break the ties of kinship.

Breaking the ties of kinship is a sin which the Muslim whose heart is filled with true guidance and the desire to obey Allah and earn His pleasure will never commit, because it is one of the sins that Allah has said will bring punishment; indeed, it is one of the foremost sins for which Allah will punish the one who is guilty of them both in this world and the next, as is stated in the hadith:

´There is no worse sin for which Allah will hasten the punishment of one who is guilty of it in this world - in addition to what awaits him in the Hereafter - than breaking the ties of kinship and oppressing others.'3

Note: 3. Reported by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, with a sahih isnad.

The acts of breaking the ties of kinship and oppressing others are very much like one another, so the Prophet (s) mentioned them together in this hadith. For breaking the ties of kinship is a kind of zulm (wrongdoing, oppression), and what zulm can be worse than breaking off relations with one's own kin and destroying ties of love and affection?

The Prophet (s) described the oppression that befalls the ties of kinship when they are cut off:

´The tie of kinship (rahm) is a close knit relationship that comes from Allah, the Most Merciful (al-Rah­man).4 It says: 'O my Rabb, I have been oppressed, O my Rabb, I have been cut off...' He answers, 'Will you not be content if I cut off the one who cuts you off and take care of the one who takes care of you?' (Bukhari)

Note: 4. The connection is clearer in Arabic, where ra­m and al-Rah­man are derived from the same root. [Translator]

Allah raised the status of the tie of kinship and honoured it by deriving its name, ra­m, from one of His own names, al-Rah­man. For He said:

´I am al-Rah­man (the All Merciful), and I have created rahm and derived its name from My name. Whoever takes care of it, I will take care of him, and whoever cuts it off, I will forsake him.'5

Note: 5. A hadith quds¯ reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, and by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi.

This indicates to the sensitive Muslim that the one who upholds the ties of kinship properly will enjoy the cool shade of his Rabb's mercy, and the one who breaks those ties will be denied that shade, forsaken and abandoned.

The Muslim upholds the ties of kinship according to the teachings of Islam

The true Muslim upholds the ties of kinship and does not let his worldly concerns, wealth, wife or children distract him from keeping in touch with his relatives, honouring them and helping them. In doing so, he is following Islamic teaching, which regulates these relationships and ranks them in order of priority and degree of closeness, starting with the mother, then moving on to the father, then other relatives, from the most closely-related to others who are more distantly related. A man came to the Prophet (s) and asked, "O Messenger of Allah, who is most deserving of my good company?" He (s) said, ´Your mother, your mother, your mother, then your father, then those who are most closely related to you. (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Muslim earns two rewards when he treats his relatives with kindness and respect: one reward for maintaining the relationship, and another reward for giving charity. This gives him a greater incentive to give to his relatives, if they are in need. By doing so, he will earn two rewards from Allah, and will also win the affection of his relatives. This is what the Prophet (s) encouraged Muslims to do, in the hadith narrated by Zaynab al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of 'Abdullah ibn Masud (r), who said:

´The Prophet (s) said: 'O women, give in charity even if it is some of your jewellery.' She said, I went back to 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and told him, 'You are a man of little wealth, and the Prophet (s) has commanded us to give charity, so go and ask him whether it is permissible for me to give you charity. If it is, I will do so; if not, I will give charity to someone else.' 'Abdullah said, 'No, you go and ask.' So I went, and I found a woman of the Ansar at the Prophet's door, who also had the same question. We felt too shy to go in, out of respect, so Bilal came out and we asked him, 'Go and tell the Messenger of Allah that there are two women at the door asking you: Is it permissible for them to give sadaqah to their husbands and the orphans in their care" But do not tell him who we are.' So Bilal went in and conveyed this message to the Prophet (s), who asked, 'Who are they?' Bilal said, 'One of the women of the Ansar, and Zaynab.' The Prophet (s) asked, 'Which Zaynab is it?' Bilal said, 'The wife of Abdullah.' The Prophet (s) said, 'They will have two rewards, the reward for upholding the relationship, and the reward for giving charity.' (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (s) used to reaffirm the priority given to kind treatment of relatives at every opportunity. When the ayah: ( By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give {freely} of that which you love...) (Qur'an 3:92) was revealed, Abu Talhah went to the Prophet (s) and said, "O Messenger of Allah, Allah says: ( By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give freely of that which you love...) The most beloved of my properties is Bayraha, (a date orchard), which I now give up as Ñadaqah to Allah, hoping to store up reward with Him. O Messenger of Allah, dispose of it as you will." The Prophet (s) said: ´Bravo You have got the best deal for your property. I have heard what you said, and I think that you should divide it among your relatives.' Abu Talhah said, ´I will do so, O Messenger of Allah.' He divided it among his relatives and (paternal) cousins. (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (s) looked far back into history and evoked ties of kinship going back centuries, when he enjoined good treatment of the people of Egypt, as is recorded in the hadith narrated by Muslim:

´You will conquer Egypt, so when you conquer it, treat its people well, for they have protection (dhimmah) and the ties of kinship (rahm).' Or he said: ´... protection and the relationship by marriage (sihr).'

The 'ulam , explained that ra­m here referred to Hajar the mother of Isma'il, and sihr referred to Maryah, the mother of the Prophet's son Ibrahim - both of who came from Egypt.

What a display of loyalty and faithfulness and good treatment, which extends to the kinsfolk and countrymen of these two noble women down throughout the ages! It is no surprise, then, that the true Muslim willingly recognizes the rights of his relatives and eagerly fulfils his duty of treating them kindly and maintaining the relationship.

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