Care of Kin

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

The Islamic term used for the care of kin is sila al-rahm which encompasses visiting one’s parents and relatives, asking after their welfare, and making them happy. Islam gives importance to relationships with people, particularly the mother and father and then other close relatives. Visiting them should become a principle in one’s life.

Khalid ibn Zayd (Abu Ayyub al-Ansari) narrated an event in which a man came and asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, can you tell me an act of worship that will help me enter Heaven?” God’s Messenger replied thus, “Worshipping God, not associating any partners with Him, performing the daily prayers, giving to charity, and visiting your relatives.” [Bukhari, Zakat, 1.]

This hadith emphasizes the importance of sila al-rahm, stating that such actions can help Muslims go to Heaven. But sila al-rahm means more than just visiting relatives; it also includes taking care of their needs and always including them when doing something helpful (like giving charity). The fact that this is mentioned directly after the prescribed acts of worship, such as daily prayers and charity, shows the great importance given to sila al-rahm in Islam. For this reason, some Islamic scholars hold that such behavior is wajib, or necessary, for believers, and they consider it to be a great sin to neglect or refuse these duties. Indeed, in the Qur’an God commands:

O humankind! In due reverence for your Lord, keep from disobedience to Him Who created you from a single human self, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad a multitude of men and women. In due reverence for God, keep from disobedience to Him in Whose name you make demands of one another, and (duly observe) the rights of the wombs (i.e. of kinship, thus observing piety in your relations with God and with human beings). God is ever watchful over you. (Nisa 4:1)

In the verse above, as well as the following verse, God’s Word charges us to maintain the bond of family ties, look after relatives and never allow these relationships to be severed:

And those who unite the bonds God has commanded to be joined (among kin as a requirement of blood relationship, and among people as required by human social interdependence), and stand in awe of their Lord, and fearful of (facing) the most evil reckoning… But those who break God’s covenant after its solemn binding, and sever the bonds God commanded to be joined, and cause disorder and corruption on the earth such are those on whom there is a curse (exclusion from God’s mercy), and for them there is the most evil abode. (Ra’d 13:20, 25)

There are differences of opinion as to how far the designation of “relative” extends, or who, exactly, is meant by these verses and hadith. According to some, relatives are close relatives with whom marriage is forbidden; according to others, the word’s meaning is those relatives close enough to have rights to inheritance. Still other scholars believe that the word rahm in the verse is inclusive of all relatives, even if they are distant relatives. In terms of social life, the latter view is the most helpful.

Since it has been commanded by God and His Messenger Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to visit and care for relatives, it would be appropriate here to examine how this should be done. There are certain “degrees” of sila al-rahm:

1. The absolute minimum is to speak kindly to relatives and be amiable when talking to them, to greet them when we encounter them, to ask after their well-being, and to always think positively about them and want the best for them.

2. The second level is to go and visit them and to come to their aid in various circumstances. Such actions are a more physical way of serving our relatives. This is especially important as our relatives get older and need someone to assist them with things, they can no longer do for themselves.

3. The third and most important level of sila al-rahm is to give one’s relatives financial and material support.

There are exceptional circumstances, such as when someone is too poor to support their relatives materially. But the Muslim who is well-off cannot be said to have completed the duties of sila al-rahm simply by visiting and asking after their relatives. For such a person, these duties include financial support, as much as they can afford, for less well-off relatives. This support can be in the form of giving them a regular amount of money or providing them with the things they need. This is what is meant by “looking after and caring for relatives” in Islam; a good Muslim should carry out all of the above three “degrees” of support to the best of their ability. Otherwise, if they neglect to carry out those duties that are in their power, they will be held accountable. We must keep in mind the punishment for those who neglect these duties given in the above Qur’anic verse. Our Prophet also said, “Every Friday night each person’s deeds are presented to God; only those who neglect sila al-rahm will have their deeds denied.” [Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 2/484.]

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, spoke of this topic in another hadith, proclaiming that faith in God and in the Last Day requires looking after one’s relatives. [Bukhari, Ilm, 37; Muslim, Iman, 74–77.] The Prophet said that God’s mercy is on those whom God judges to be taking good care of their families and those who take care to maintain blood ties. Conversely, God curses anyone who makes no effort to maintain their relationships with their relatives. [Muslim, Birr wa Sila 17.]

There are also other warnings that state that those who cut ties with their relatives will be punished. The Prophet declared that such people will not be admitted to Paradise. [Bukhari, Adab, 11.] He also taught that only those who take good care of their relatives will be granted longer life and more abundance, [Bukhari, Adab, 12.] and that one who gives financial help to relatives will be rewarded twice, both for helping family and for giving to charity. [Tirmidhi, Zakat, 26.]

The term relatives usually imply close relations such as immediate family, cousins, aunts or uncles. There are special benefits in treating these relatives well. The Messenger of God said, “An aunt is like another mother.” [Tirmidhi, Birr, 5.] Likewise, an uncle is like another father. It is only natural that as part of good morality such close family members have certain rights on us. Among these rights, paying visits is of particular importance. As explained below, the general rule is that one should visit close relations first on holidays, and then occasionally at other times, if possible, bringing gifts.

Visiting strengthens the bond of love between relatives and puts an end to estrangement. It allows people to share their sorrows and joys, and to help one another through difficult times. In particular, the elderly need to spend their final years in peace and happiness in the bosom of their family, knowing they are loved and cared for.

There is another consideration that should be considered when examining the subject of sila al-rahm. One should not expect anything in return; in this context, this means that we must not only look after the relatives with whom we are already close, but we should also attend to our duties toward those who have severed ties with us. The Prophet said, “One who simply returns good with good is not living the full meaning of ‘caring for relatives.’ True care means to care for the relation who has not shown us any regard.” [Bukhari, Adab, 15.] In fact, this is a general principle we should always think carefully and choose the good action in every situation. It is not correct to look after the well-being of those in need when one is weak and powerless but to change one’s conduct when wealth and power increase. This situation is one among the thousands of layers of meaning in the following Qur’anic verse:

But is it to be expected of you (O hypocritical ones), that you will break your promise and turn away (from God’s commandments), and cause disorder and corruption in the land, and sever the ties of kinship? Such are they whom God has cursed (excluded from His mercy), and so He has made them deaf and blinded their eyes (to the truth). (Muhammad 47:22–3)

As a final point, I wish to point out a general principle found in a hadith of the Prophet. Being fallible humans, we may sometimes let bad words slip, especially when we are agitated and angry. There is a striking hadith about this: Ibn Amr ibn al-As relates the following words of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him: “One of the greatest sins is to curse one’s parents.” Those with him asked, “Would any person curse their own parents?” The Messenger answered, “Yes! If anyone curses the parent of another person, as that person will then curse their parent in return, it is as if he has cursed his own parent!” [Bukhari, Adab, 4; Muslim, Iman, 146, 90; Tirmidhi, Birr, 4, 1903; Abu Dawud, Adab, 129, 5141.]

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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