Islamic Perspectives

Appeasing the relatives: an article of Faith

Last month an elderly lady in my extended family left for her eternal abode. May Allah bless her soul with a high pedestal in Paradise. Aameen. Later during condolence sessions it came to light that her son is highly technically qualified and worked in the Gulf at a monthly salary of half a million rupees. As mother began falling frequently ill, he requested his wife to shift to New Delhi to stay with mother and serve her. The good wife happily agreed and shifted base to the Indian capital. In due course, as mother began remaining regularly unwell, the son quit his lucrative job in the Gulf, took up a not so good position in the national capital region and both of them started living full time with mother. He noticed that due to her aching knees mother was not able to climb up while she liked to sit in the sun on the roof. He carved out space in a corner of the house and got an elevator installed.
Lo & behold, even in this 21st century there are persons in the world who discern God’s real purpose behind creating the humanity and act thereupon. One feels like envying the parental upbringing of this young couple. The boy and his wife were actually implementing God’s command in letter and spirit: In the best way possible do good to your parents and the relatives (Qur’an-4:36). Even the great poet-philosopher Mohammad Iqbal was amazed at such high level of parental upbringing:
Ye faizan-e nazar tha ya ke maktab ki karaamat thi
Sikhaaye  kis-ne  Ismaeel  ko  aadaab-e farzandee

(Was it the school lesson or parental upbringing that taught Ismail (Ishmael) what should he happily forbear for the sake of his parents’ pleasure?)

While the significance of serving parents as an Islamic teaching is generally well known, let’s try to understand what God has enjoined upon us in respect of our relatives. In order to describe the relatives God has used two types of terms in the Qur’an: Arhaam and Aqraboon or other derivatives of the 3-letter Arabic root q-r-b, like Qurba and  Dha Maqraba. Arhaam is plural of Rahm which is the chamber in the mother’s sacrosanct body in which the human being gestates. But as a collective noun, Arhaam has been used in Qur’an Kareem to describe one’s extended family comprising all the blood relatives, while “Aqraboon” includes those through matrimony also. According to the divine instruction, each one of us has to continuously and duly discharge the obligations of kinship (4.1). Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi writes in his Tafseer-e-Majidi that according to the divine law (Shari’at) the kinship group is the basic unit of society. Prophetic tradition says that, hanging from the celestial throne, the womb supplicates God to “bless those who augment me and censure those who frustrate my centrifugal aspirations”.

Qur’anic commentators agree that patronizing relatives is a fundamental obligation  (Wajib) and to deliberately disregard them is sacrilegious. For this, the individual is under continuous divine surveillance. The Prophet (pbuh) exhorted that even if the other fellow tries to sabotage the relationship bond, one should still stick on unilaterally. He declared: “Whosoever wishes augmentation of provisions and elongation of life period must indulge in obliging and appeasing the relatives”.

Companion Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) complained, “I try to strengthen the bonding while some of the relatives frustrate my efforts”. The Prophet  told him that till he does that an angel would remain deployed by his side. God further desires us to keep reminding society about such injunctions of Shari’at (26:214). Also, He cautions us that the relatives deserve our attention on priority vis-à-vis other members of society (33.6). According to Tafhimul-Qur’an, any act of charity done ignoring and superseding the needy relatives doesn’t squarely measure up to the divine reckoning. There is a special mention in the Holy Book regarding the need to help the relative who is orphan (yateeman dha maqraba - 90:15) that commands greater reward. We are forewarned (47:22) that our going against these heavenly writs is tantamount to twisting the basic infrastructure which will lead to societal upheaval. God detests and deprecates such assailants of His design. Tafhimul-Qur’an says that this verse enlists Qat’ Rahmi (cutting off blood relationship) among the fundamental prohibitions (Haraam). Conversely, Sila-Rahmi (taking care of blood relations) has been bracketed among the best deeds (2:177, 4:36).

According to the commentators of the Qur’an, all the relatives - close and distant - of an individual constitute what is known as Dhawi’l-arhaam. For special consideration of this group, God has used the term Al-mawaddata fil-Qurba (42:23). Closer the relationship more intense is the obligation and bigger is the sin for pausing, neglecting or laying off the relationship. As per divine scheme, Dhawi’l-arhaam have been made internally self-sufficient. In a kaleidoscope, turning around the cylinder in a circular motion shows different designs and colour combinations. Similar is the internal mechanism of Dhawi’l-arhaam: in the group of relatives some are very rich, some very poor, some on the threshold; some very learned, some illiterate, but the group as a whole is internally self-reliant. God keeps a tab on every group member as to his/her behaviour with others. God’s minimum expectation from us under Sila-Rahmi is to “not avoid what best one is capable of doing” for the fellow group members. In two verses of Qur’an Karim (17:26 and 30:38), Sila-Rahmi has been declared as the right of the needy relatives in the assets and capabilities of the better-off members of Dhawi’l-arhaam. Mind you, God may sometimes even turn around the kaleidoscope of Dhawi’-arhaam and thereafter the red colour may begin looking white .. and the white, pink etc. Qat’-Rahmi is ill-treatment of the relatives or deliberately not doing what best one is capable of doing with the relatives. In verse 17:26, God enjoins us not to be spend-thrift and squander away all our wealth and income and, instead, discharge the obligations of the needy relatives.

Simultaneously, God has also put a caveat (60:3) that even in order to favour the relatives, nothing should be done in violation of God’s law, otherwise on the Judgement Day the relatives too would not be of help. Also, in 4:135 God clarifies that we are expected to remain on the side of justice even though it goes against ourselves, our parents or any other relatives; be he/she rich or poor, God warrants our obedience in supersession of his/her interests. We need not let our desires have the upper hand vis-à-vis the divinely mandated straight path and should, rather, fulfill the promise that we’ve made to our Creator (6:152). God told the Prophet (pbuh), “Say, I do not ask from you for any compensation (for guiding to the right path) except valuing the natural relationships”. The scriptural research done by the famous commentator Hazrat Ashraf Ali Thanwi (may Allah have mercy on him) tells us that patronizing the relatives amounts to pure observance of faith (Iman).

The author is President, Zakat Foundation of India