“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship” (Bukhari)
A YOUNG man went to attend the weekly Hadith lecture of Sayyidna Abu Huraira but stopped when he heard him saying “If anyone sitting here has severed any ties of kinship (qata-ur-rahim), he should leave.”
He recalled that he had not been on speaking terms with his aunt living in the same town. The young man quietly left the gathering and went straight to his aunt’s house and 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 incident. She accepted the apology but asked him to inquire from Abu Huraira the reason for this unusual statement. Why did Abu Huraira 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 (peace be upon him) that our deeds were 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. On two occasions, Allah 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)” (Qur’an, 13:25)
Allah also says: “So would you perhaps, if you turned away, cause corruption on earth and sever your [ties of] relationship? Would ye then, if ye were given the command, work corruption in the land and sever your ties of kinship? (Qur’an, 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)
Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: “Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “The bond of relationship is suspending from the Throne, and says: ‘He who keeps good relations with me, Allah will keep connection with him, but whosoever severs relations with me, Allah will sever connection with him’.”
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. . 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 Sayyidana Abu Bakr (may Allah have mercy upon him). Among the many people who benefited from his generosity was a relative Mistah (may Allah have mercy upon him). The latter, unfortunately became involved in the scandal related to the Mother of Believers, Ayesha (may Allah have mercy upon her). 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 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 any 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 colonialism.
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 devastating blow.
The process 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.