The Importance of Kinship
Posted: 19 Jamad-ul-Awwal 1424, 19 July 2003
"Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of
man went to attend the weekly hadith lecture of Sayyidna Abu Huraira,
Radi-Allahu anhu but the routine opening announcement stopped him. “If anyone
sitting here has severed any ties of kinship (qata-ur-rahim), he should
leave.” He recalled that an aunt lived in the town with whom he had not been on
speaking terms. The young man quietly left the gathering and went straight to
his aunt’s home. He asked for forgiveness for his past behavior and sought
rapprochement. When the aunt inquired about the reason for this change of heart,
he narrated the entire incident. She accepted the apology but asked him to
inquire from Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu anhu, the reason for this unusual
announcement. Why did he leave all the other major sins and focus only on this?
What was so special about ties of kinship? Sayyidna Abu Huraira replied that he
had heard from the Prophet
that our deeds are
presented to Allah every Thursday night and anyone who has severed family ties
has all his good deeds rejected. He did not want any such person sitting in his
gathering, which was held on the same night, for fear that it could deprive the
entire gathering of blessings. Another hadith explains further the reason
for this fear: “Allah’s mercy will not descend on people among whom there is one
who severs ties of kinship.” [Baihaqi, Shuab Al-Iman]
Maintaining the bonds of kinship (silatur-rahim)
indeed enjoys extraordinary importance in Islam. Conversely, severing the ties (qata-ur-rahim),
is very high on the list of enormities. At two places in the Qur’an, Allah has
cursed the one severing family ties.
“And those who break the covenant of Allah, after its
ratification, and sever that which Allah has commanded to be joined (i.e. they
sever the bond of kinship and are not good to their relatives) and work mischief
in the land, on them is the curse, and for them is the unhappy home (i.e. Hell)”
[Ar-Rad 13:25. See also Muhammad, 47:22-23].
A cursed person is
one who is deprived of the mercy of Allah. It is an indication of this
deprivation that this sin is punished in this world as well as in the Hereafter.
“There is no sin more deserving of having punishment meted out by Allah to its
perpetrator in advance in this world along with what He stores up for him in the
next world than oppression and severing ties of family.” [Tirmidhi].
Another hadith highlights the high
stakes involved here in a compelling way: “Rahim (family ties) is a word
derived from Ar-Rahman (The Compassionate One) And Allah says: ‘I shall
keep connection with him who maintains you and sever connection with him who
severs you.’” [Bukhari]
Silatur-rahim has been defined as
politeness, kind treatment, and concern for all one’s relatives even if
distantly related, corrupt, non-Muslim, or unappreciative. [Shaikh Abdul Wakil
Durubi in Reliance of the Traveller]. While nearly every religion has emphasized
good family relations, Islam has taken it to unprecedented heights. It is a duty
to be discharged without an eye for reciprocity. A Muslim is required to be kind
even to his non-Muslim relatives. Similarly he is required to be kind to even
those relatives who are harsh to him.
The most telling example in this regard is
that of Sayyidna Abu Bakr, Radi-Allahu anhu. Among the many people who benefited
from his generosity was a relative Mistah, Radi-Allahu anhu. The latter,
unfortunately became involved in the scandal about the Mother of Believers,
Sayyida Aisha, Radi-Allahu anha, which was started by the leader of the
hypocrites. It was a whole month of torment and torture for all involved, after
which verses of Surah Noor were revealed exonerating her and prescribing
punishment for those involved in the false accusation. Feeling hurt and
betrayed, Sayyidna Abu Bakr, Radi-Allahu anhu, vowed never to help Mistah again.
Yet the Qur’an asked him to forget and forgive and continue helping his
relative, which he did. Is there another society that can even come close to
this standard in maintaining family ties?
Islam came to set all our relationships
right. This includes our relations with Allah as well as with other human
beings. Silat-ur-Rahim is a very important part of the latter.
Today, unfortunately, these teachings can
mostly be found in Muslim societies in their violation. The best we do today is
reciprocate; more commonly we backbite, cheat, and hurt our relatives and
continue the spiral of hurt and humiliation as they respond. And we just abandon
those of our relatives who are economically unfortunate.
There are three reasons for this sad
situation. First is the widespread ignorance about Islamic teachings in this
regard. Even in various Islamic groups the subject hardly gets the attention it
deserves. Second is the rampant materialism. While materialism hurts all aspects
of our life, it is especially damaging to family ties for they require sacrifice
of time, money and personal comfort. The third reason has to do with recent
history. It is a “gift” of the transformation of Muslim societies under
Industrial Revolution came at a time when
Muslim civilization was in the doldrums. Muslim historians point out very
accurately that the genesis of European Renaissance and the Industrial
Revolution was in the Golden Age of Muslim Spain. Yet it is also true that it
progressed at a time of Muslim decline. And that explains the form it took and
the devastation it caused to the family life. Everywhere it disrupted human
relations. Poet Iqbal pointed to this when he said in his famous line: The
rule of machines is death for the heart. Machine tools crush compassion.
Later, under the influence of colonialism, urban centers throughout the Muslim
world faithfully duplicated all of these problems. This was just what a blind
following of the West promised. Relations between husband and wife, between
parents and children, between workers and managers, between neighbors, between
relatives, in other words between all segments of society were dealt a
continues in the post industrial, neo-colonial period. To quote one example,
television is rapidly destroying what was left of human relations, cutting off
even members of the same family from each other and engulfing everyone within
his or her own pleasure cocoon, oblivious to the world without. It is just one,
but probably the most subversive and intrusive tool of our so called postmodern
global village. Village of distant neighbors without love and kinship.