"Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship" [Bukhari]
The young man went to attend the weekly hadith lecture of Sayyidna Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu anhu but the routine opening announcement stopped him. “If anyone sitting here has severed any ties of kinship (qata-ur-rahim), he should leave.” He recalled that an aunt lived in the town with whom he had not been on speaking terms. The young man quietly left the gathering and went straight to his aunt’s home. He 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 entire incident. She accepted the apology but asked him to inquire from Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu anhu, the reason for this unusual announcement. Why did he 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 that our deeds are 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. At two places in the Qur’an, Allah has 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)” [Ar-Rad 13:25. See also Muhammad, 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].
Another hadith highlights the high stakes involved here in a compelling way: “Rahim (family ties) is a word derived from Ar-Rahman (The Compassionate One) And Allah says: ‘I shall keep connection with him who maintains you and sever connection with him who severs you.’” [Bukhari]
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. [Shaikh Abdul Wakil Durubi in Reliance of the Traveller]. 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 Sayyidna Abu Bakr, Radi-Allahu anhu. Among the many people who benefited from his generosity was a relative Mistah, Radi-Allahu anhu. The latter, unfortunately became involved in the scandal about the Mother of Believers, Sayyida Aisha, Radi-Allahu anha, which was started by the leader of the hypocrites. 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, Radi-Allahu anhu, 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 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.