Chapter 7: The Muslim Woman and Her Relatives
The Muslim woman who is guided by the teachings of her religion never forgets that her relatives have rights over her, and that she is required to uphold the ties of kinship and to treat them well. The relatives (in Arabic arham, which literally means "wombs") are those to whom a person is linked by ties of 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 (PBUH), who described kinship (rahm) as standing in the vast arena of creation and seeking refuge with Allah (SWT) from being cut off. Allah (SWT) 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 who said:
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 ayat is:
This ayah commands man to fear Allah (SWT) first and foremost, then places respect for arham second to that taqwa in order to emphasize its importance.
For the true Muslim, the fact that rahm is often mentioned in conjunction with belief in Allah (SWT) and good treatment of parents, is enough to confirm its status and importance:
(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)
(Serve 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 you 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 counted as one of the major characteristics of this religion, along with pure monotheistic belief in Allah (SWT), 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 (RAA), which includes many of the basic teachings of Islam, he said:
In this summary of the most important principles of Islam, the Prophet (PBUH) clearly gave precedence to upholding the ties of kinship and mentioned this among the foremost features of the faith. This is indicative of its high status in the framework of this religion which Allah (SWT) 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 (RAA) said:
How great is the tie of kinship, and how heavily will it weigh in the balance of a person's deeds (on the Day of Judgement)! For it appears in the same context as worshipping Allah (SWT), believing in His absolute unity, establishing regular prayer and paying zakat. Hence it is one of the best of righteous deeds that will guarantee Paradise and save one from Hell.
Anas (RAA) said:
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.
The Muslim woman does not forget that upholding the ties of kinship is a duty required of women just as it is required of men, and that the words concerning it are addressed to every Muslim, whether man or woman, as is the case with all the general duties of Islam. So the Muslim woman upholds the ties of kinship sincerely and earnestly, and does not let her busy life of responsibilities distract her from doing so.
The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion realizes that upholding the ties of kinship brings blessing in a woman's rizq and in her life, mercy from Allah (SWT) in this world and the next, and makes people love her and praise her. In contrast, breaking those ties will spell disaster and misery for her, earning her the dislike of Allah (SWT) and the people, and keeping her far from Paradise in the Hereafter. It is misery and deprivation enough for such a woman to hear the words of the Prophet (PBUH):
It is sufficient to know that the mercy of Allah (SWT) will be denied to the one who breaks the ties of kinship; moreover, it will be denied to others in a group among whom is a person who breaks the ties of kinship, as in the hadith reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad8:
Hence the great Sahabi Abu Hurayrah (RAA) never liked to make supplication to Allah (SWT) in a gathering in which a person whhad 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 say such-and-such." She told him, "Go back to him and ask him why he said that." (Abu Hurayrah) said: "I heard the Prophet (PBUH) say: `The deeds of the sons of Adam are shown to Allah (SWT) every Thursday evening before Jumu`ah, and the deeds of the one who breaks the ties of kinship are not accepted."9
The sensitive Muslim woman who is hoping to earn the pleasure of her Lord 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 her and her du`a' not to be answered. It will be a source of great misery to her to be in such a position, to do deeds which are of no avail, to seek the mercy of her Lord and not receive it. It is unimaginable that a true Muslim woman would ever break the ties of kinship.
Breaking the ties of kinship is a sin which the Muslim woman whose heart is filled with true guidance and the desire to obey Allah (SWT) and earn His pleasure would never commit, because it is one of the sins that Allah (SWT) has said will bring punishment; indeed, it is one of the foremost sins for which Allah (SWT) will punish the one who is guilty of them both in this world and the next, as is stated in the hadith:
The acts of oppressing others and breaking the ties of kinship are very much like one another, so the Prophet (PBUH) 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 the ties of love and affection?
The Prophet (PBUH) described the oppression that befalls the ties of kinship when they are cut off:
Allah (SWT) raised the status of the tie of kinship and honoured it by deriving its name, rahm, from one of His own names, al-Rahman. For He said (in a hadith qudsi):
These texts clearly confirm that the one who upholds the ties of kinship will be happy, loved and honoured and will enjoy the cool shade of his Lord's mercy; The one who breaks those ties will be denied that shade, and will be forsaken and abandoned, denied the the mercy, forgiveness and pleasure of his Lord.
The Muslim woman upholds the ties of kinship
according to the teachings of Islam
The Muslim woman who is truly guided by the teachings of her religion does not neglect to uphold the ties of kinship, and never lets the responsibilities of motherhood or the burden of caring for her house and husband distract her from always upholding these ties. So organizes her time so that she may visit her relatives, 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.
The Muslim woman earns two rewards when she treats her relatives with kindness and respect: one reward for maintaining the relationship, and another reward for giving charity, if she is rich and can spend money on them. This gives her a greater incentive to give to her relatives, if they are in need. By doing so, she will earn two rewards from Allah (SWT), and will also win the affection of her relatives. This is what the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged Muslims to do, in the hadith narrated by Zaynab al-Thaqafiyyah, the wife of `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (RAA), who said:
The Prophet (PBUH) said:
The Prophet (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, Allah (SWT) 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 sadaqah to Allah (SWT), hoping to store up reward with Him. O Messenger of Allah, dispose of it as you will." The Prophet (PBUH) 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.17
The Prophet (PBUH) 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, which is known as the land of al-qirat (i.e. where coins are minted) 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)."18
The `ulama' explained that rahm here referred to Hajar, the mother of Isma`il, and sihr referred to Maryah, the mother of the Prophet's son Ibrahim - both of whom came from Egypt.
What a display of loyalty, faithfuand good treatment, which extends to the kinsfolk and countrymen of those two noble women down throughout the ages! The Muslim woman who hears these wise teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) cannot but uphold her ties with her relatives, offering them her sincere love, keeping in constant contact with them and treating them witkindness and respect.
She maintains the ties of kinship
even if her relatives are not Muslim
When the Muslim woman looks into the guidance of Islam, she sees that it reaches new heights of gentleness and humanity by enjoining its followers to uphold the ties of kinship even if one's relatives follow a religion other than Islam. `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn al-`As (RAA) said:
"I heard the Prophet (PBUH) openly saying: `The family of Abu So-and-so are not my friends, for my friends are Allah and the righteous believers. But they have ties of kinship with me, which I will recognize and uphold."19
When the ayah (And admonish your nearest kinsmen) (Qur'an 26:214) was revealed, the Prophet (PBUH) summoned Quraysh. They gathered and he addressed them both in general and specific terms: "O Banu Ka`b ibn Lu'ayy, save yourselves from the Fire. O Banu Murrah ibn Ka`b, save yourselves from the Fire. O Banu `Abdu Shams, save yourselves from the Fire. O Banu `Abdu Manaf, save yourselves from the Fire. O Banu Hashim, save yourselves from the Fire. O Banu `Abdul Muttalib, save yourselves from the Fire. O Fatimah, save yourself from the Fire. I cannot do anything to protect you from the punishment of Allah, but there are ties of kinship between us that I will recognize and uphold."20
The Prophet's teachings reached the hearts of the first Muslim men and women, and had an effect upon them, so that they were kind to their non-Muslim relatives. Evidence of this may be seen in the report given by Ibn `Abd al-Barr in al-Isti`ab and by Ibn Hijr in al-Isabah, which describes how a female slave of Umm al-Mu'minin Safiyyah came to the khalifah `Umar ibn al-Khattab (RAA) and said, "O Amir al-Mu'minin, Safiyyah loves the Sabbath (Saturday) and treats the Jews well." `Umar sent for Safiyyah and questioned her about that. She replied: "As far as the Sabbath is concerned, I have not loved it since Allah replaced it with Jumu`ah (Friday) for me. As for the Jews, I have relatives among them with whom I uphold the ties of kinship." Then she turned to her slave and asked her what had made her tell such a lie. The slave woman answered, "Shaytan." Safiyyah's response was to tell her: "Go, you are free."21
`Umar (RAA) did not see anything wrong with giving a garment that the Prophet (PBUH) had sent him to his half-brother (through his mother), who was a mushrik.22
Hence the Muslim woman sees that the spring of human emotion does not dry up when a person utters the Shahadah, but rather his or her heart overflows with love and good treatment towards his or her relatives, even if they are not Muslim. The expression of the Prophet (PBUH), "but there are ties of kinship between us which I will recognize and uphold (literally `moisten')" is an example of Arabic eloquence, a metaphor in which the kinship tie (rahm) is likened to the earth, and is "irrigated" by upholding it, so that it bears fruits of love and purity; if it is cut off, it becomes barren and produces only hatred and animosity. The true Muslim is on good terms with everyone and is liked by everyone, as they see good characteristics embodied in him.
Islam encourages us to treat our parents with kindness and respect, even if they are mushrikin, and here we see how it encourages us to treat our relatives equally well, even if they are not Muslims either, based on the gentleness, humanity and mercy which this religion brings to the whole of mankind:
(We sent you not, but as a Mercy for all creatures.)(Qur'an 21:107)
She fully understands the meaning of
upholding the tie of kinship
For the Muslim woman, the tie of kinship is multi-faceted. Sometimes it may involve spending money to ward off poverty and relieve hardship; at other times it may mean making visits to strengthen the ties of love; or speaking and smiling kindly and offering a warm welcome; or giving advice, showing compassion or making a selfless gesture . . . i.e., acts of goodness which will awaken and increase human feelings of love, compassion and mutual support between those who are related to one another.
Hence the Prophet (PBUH) urged Muslims to uphold the ties of kinship even in the simplest of ways:
"Maintain your ties of kinship even if it is merely with a greeting (i.e., saying al-salam `alaykum)."23
She maintains the ties of kinship even
if her relatives fail to do so
The Muslim woman whose soul is infused with the true teachings of this religion upholds the ties of kinship and does not break them. She does not treat like with like, upholding the tie if her relatives uphold it and breaking it if they break it. The Muslim woman is one who always upholds the ties of kinship, because by doing so she is seeking the pleasure and reward of Allah, not equal treatment in return. In this way she sets the highest example of that refined human behaviour which Islam is always keen to instil in the souls of Muslim men and women. It is, in fact, a most difficult level to achieve, except for those whom Allah has guided and who have devoted themselves to seeking His pleasure. The Muslim woman who is truly guided by the teachings of her religion is among this noble group of women who are eager to treat their relatives well in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH):
"The one who maintains a relationship with his relatives only because they maintain a relationship with him is not truly upholding the ties of kinship. The one who truly upholds those ties is the one who does so even if they break off the relationship."24
How important is the tie of kinship, and how heavily will it weigh in the balance of the believer! How unfortunate are those who neglect it and cut off the ties of love and kinship! How great will be the reward of the woman who upholds the ties of kinship and bears her relatives' harshness with patience, so that Allah Himself will support her against them, filling her heart with patience when they treat her badly and helping her to persevere in her noble attitude. How great is the sin of those men and women who break the ties of kinship, so that the Prophet (PBUH) likened such a person to one who eats hot dust as a punishment for breaking the ties of kinship when others are seeking to maintain it.
The true Muslim woman is one who upholds the ties of kinship no matter what the circumstances; she does not cut them off even if they cut her off. Thus she seeks the pleasure of her Lord, rising above the petty issues that may arise between relatives from time to time, and avoiding the insignificant matters that occupy the minds of lesser people and fill their hearts with hatred. She believes that she is above going down to the level of insignificant, foolish issues that cancel out good deeds and affecthe purity of the kinship tie. It never occurs to her to sink to such a level when she listens to the words of the Prophet (PBUH):
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/20, Kitab al-birr wa'l-silah, bab thawab silah al-rahm wa ithm man qata'aha.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Riyadh al-Salihin, 51, Bab al-sidq.
- Sahih Muslim, 6/115, Kitab salat al-musafirin, bab al-awqat allati nuhiya 'an al-salat fiha.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Riyad al-Salihin, 195, bab birr l-walidayn wa silah al-arham.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/19, Kitab al-birr wa'l-silah, bab thawab silah al-rahm.
- Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/140, Bab man wasala rahmahu ahabbahu Allah.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/26, Kitab al-birr wa'l-silah, bab thawab silah al-rahm wa ithm man qata'aha.
- 1/144, bab la tanzil al-rahmah 'ala qawm fihim qati' rahm.
- Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/142, Bab birr al-aqrab fa'l-aqrab.
- Reported by Ahmad, 5/38, and Ibn Majah, 2/37, Kitab al-zuhd, bab al-baghy. Its isnad is sahih.
- The connection is clearer in Arabic, as rahm and al-Rahman are derived from the same root. [Translator]
- Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/146, Bab ithm qati' al-rahm.
- Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/132, Bab fadl silah al-rahm.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Riyad al-Salihin, 189, Bab birr al-walidayn wa silah al-rahm.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 6/187, Kitab al-zakah, Bab fadl al-sadaqah 'ala'l-awlad wa'l-aqarib.
- Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 2/84, Abwab al-zakah, 26; he said it is a hasan hadith.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 6/189, Kitab al-zakah, bab fadl al-sadaqah 'ala al-aqarib.
- Sahih Muslim, 16/97, Kitab fada'il al-Sahabah, bab wasiyyah al-Nabi (r) bi ahl misr.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/29, Kitab al-birr wa'l-silah, bab thawab silah al-rahm.
- Sahih Muslim, 3/79, Kitab al-iman, bab man mata 'ala'l-kufr la talhaquhu al-shafa'ah.
- Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, al-Isti'ab, 4/1872; Ibn Hijr, al-Isabah, 8/127.
- Fath al-Bari, 10/414, Kitab al-adab, bab silah al-akh al-mushrik.
- Reported by al-Bazzar from Ibn 'Abbas, as stated by al-Haythami in Kashf al-astar, 2/373; its isnads strengthen one another, as stated by al-Sakhawi in al-maqasid al-hasanah, 146.
- Fath al-Bari, 10/423, Kitab al-adab, bab laysa al-wasil bi'l-mukafi'.
- Sahih Muslim, 16/115, Kitab al-birr wa'l-silah wa'l-adab, bab tahrim al-tahasud wa'l-tabaghud.
- (Bukhari and Muslim), See Riyadh al-Salihin, 191, Bab birr al-walidayn wa silah al-arham.