Breaking off Relations

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

Resentment and irritability eat away at feelings of brotherhood; it is extremely harmful to nurse grudges. If one is offended by something a fellow Muslim does, it is important to make peace immediately. In the words of the Qur’an, “The believers are but brothers, so make peace between your brothers and keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety (particularly in your duties toward one another as brothers), so that you may be shown mercy (granted a good, virtuous life in the world as individuals and as a community, and eternal happiness in the Hereafter)” (Fussilat 49:10).

The Qur’an tells us that Muslims are brothers and sisters. If two Muslims have a falling-out and remain at odds with each other and if they cannot get over this, what should be done? According to the verse, we are commanded to try to bring these people together to help them overcome the rift. A Muslim should feel compelled to make peace between others as a duty and responsibility. This “brotherhood” of believers in Islam is not meant to be in word only. Just like blood siblings, other believers deserve to be treated well by us, and we are charged with caring for them and seeing to their physical and spiritual needs, giving support and guidance to them when they need it, and staying in touch with them.

The Prophet reminded us that caring for our brothers and sisters is directly related to faith when he said, “One who does not want for his brother what he wants for himself does not have (true) faith.” [Bukhari, Iman, 7] It is not acceptable for a Muslim to remain estranged from another Muslim for more than three days under normal circumstances (barring some legitimate reason). In fact, the Prophet said, “It is forbidden for a Muslim to remain angry with his brother for more than three days. When three days have passed, he should go immediately to the person and greet them; if the greeting is returned, both of them will be rewarded; but if the person does not return the salutation, he will bear the sin and the one who greeted will have emerged from the sin of keeping apart. [Muslim, Birr, 8, 2560; Abu Dawud, Adab, 55]

When a falling-out has occurred, it is better to be the first to go and make peace with the other. The Prophet said, “It is not permissible for a Muslim to remain estranged from his Muslim brother (because of a falling-out). When they come across each other, one turns his face to one side, the other turns to the other side (to avoid one another). The better of them is the one who speaks first and initiates reconciliation.” [Bukhari, Adab, 57]

It should also be noted, however, that occasionally there may be legitimate reasons for a rift, such as the breaking off relations for the purpose of admonition. For example, a father could tell his grown son, “I will not talk to you until you stop drinking alcohol,” in order to prompt him to reform. This would not be the same as refusing to see someone because they have upset you. There is such an example in the life of the Messenger of God: he did not speak to some of the Companions for a time (in Medina) when they did not join a military campaign without any valid excuse. It was not until they finally repented, and their repentance was accepted by God Almighty, more than fifty days after the campaign, that the Prophet resumed speaking with them. From this we can infer that there are cases where a compelling reason justifies not speaking to someone. [Bukhari, Wasaya, 16; Jihad, 103; Manaqib, 23; Manaqib al-Ansar, 43; Maghazi, 3, 78; Tafsir, Baraa, 17–19; Istizan, 21; Ayman, 24; Ahkam, 53; Muslim, Tawba, 53, 2769; Tirmidhi, Tafsir, Baraa, 3101]

Nevertheless, if there is no such special reason, remaining estranged from someone out of anger for more than three days is an act of peevishness that arises from the ego or from Satan’s promptings. Furthermore, there are important consequences when such a falling-out comes between two believers, and thus this situation should be avoided. The main reasons for not falling out are, in short, to preserve harmony in families as well as outside them, to overcome impulses that lead to aggression or violence, and to protect the spiritual and psychological health of individuals.

When examined closely it is clear that erroneous principles of interaction are what lie behind all dysfunctional family or community relationships. One of these faulty principles is allowing resentment or rifts to fester and remain unresolved. Such feelings undermine trust between people. It is a well-recognized fact that in day-to-day relationships, be they at work, at home, or with a spouse, trust is of the essence. It is necessary to constantly renew and build up these bonds of trust by letting resentment go. It is easy to understand that resentment can develop into aggressive and even violent feelings. The following hadith emphasizes the importance of eliminating this possibility by speedy reconciliation. According to Abu Hurayra, the Prophet said, “Every Monday and Thursday God reviews our deeds. On those days, God Almighty forgives all His servants who are not in shirk. The only exception is brothers (or sisters) in faith who remain in conflict with each other; (they are not forgiven) until they make peace with each other.” [Muslim, Birr, 36; Muwatta, Husn al-Khulq, 17] This hadith indicates that holding a grudge can worsen, or at least continue, a state of antagonism toward a brother or sister in faith.

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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