Translated by Yusuf Ali
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The family, be it immediate, extended or that of one’s in laws, is an important aspect of everyday life. Should relations between a basic family unit be dysfunctional or severed then it is argued that this will have a consequence on the larger society.
This is due to the fact that the family unit is microcosm society, in which a person must interact with others and co-exist by forming mutually respectful relationships. If someone cannot show respect for their own family members then how can it be expected that they will show respect for others?
Islam, as a religion functions on both societal and individual levels, has therefore given adequate guidance on how someone is to act within their family.
Islam requires and demands that Muslims take extra consideration, and even go out of their way to please their family members.
Muslim children are expected to obey their parents’ requests and actively seek to please them. This is clarified in a hadith of the Prophet in which he states that an individual’s prayers will not be accepted if his parents are displeased with him. Upon being asked if this includes parents who are sinful and oppressive, he responded “yes.” However, children are not expected to follow their parents in areas that enter the remit of the forbidden in Islam.
Mothers are particularly singled out as being more deserving than any other family member and numerous narrations from Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s) state that paradise is under the feet of the mother.
This respect is also mutual between parents and children and one concept heavily stressed in Islam is the concept of mutual respect and dialogue between a father and his children. Particular examples in the Qur’an which highlight this point include the dialogues of the Prophet Ibrahim with his son Isma’il as well as the extensive advice and counsel given by the wise Luqman to his son.
The relationship between a husband and wife and the mutual rights and responsibilities they have towards each other are also heavily emphasised in Islam. Whole treatises have been written on these subjects by the scholars of Islam in the field of Akhlaq (etiquette and Islamic behaviour) which elaborate on the finer details which are mandated by the religion.
The Imams (a.s) took particular care in ensuring that these rights were emphasized and clarified in detail. An example of the meticulous attention shown to the area of the family relations, mutual rights and responsibilities can be observed in the treatise of the fourth Imam, Ali b. al-Husayn (a.s) known as “The Treatise of Rights,” a work which is no doubt the first work in the religion which systematically provides a list of the various rights of different groups of individuals.
The family unit is extremely important in Islam. This is due to the fact that Islam, like most other religions, is concerned with co-existence, progression and the flourishing of society on a local and global level.
The religion of Islam does not encourage individualism, nor does it allow people to pursue success at the expense of others.
The Rights of One’s Parents in Islam
It has been narrated in a Hadith belonging to Ahadith Qudsi (namely sayings of God which have been recorded through the Prophet (s.a.w) as opposed to being included in the Qur’an):
“I swear by My Glory and power that if one is disobedient to his parents comes to me with all the good deeds of all the prophets, I will not accept them from him.”
This saying powerfully demonstrates that Islam holds the opinions of one’s parents in extremely high regard. It also shows that someone cannot be a good Muslim without taking into consideration that the pleasure of God can only be achieved through the pleasure of one’s parents.
This is something which is also affirmed in the Qur’an:
“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, "My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small." (17:24-25)
There is a distinct principle in Islamic Jurisprudence which recognises that if the most imperceptible form of disrespect is not permitted then certainly anything worse than that would not be permissible either, as is the case with uttering ‘uff’ to one’s parents.
The Fourth Imam, Ali b. al-Husayn (a.s), wrote a document known as “The Treatise of Rights,” which is no doubt the first Islamic document compiled which systematically provides a list of the various rights of different groups of individuals amongst other things. He expands beautifully upon some specific rights of both one’s mother and father. It is appropriate to cite these explanations and expositions as a befitting summary of the rights of parents in Islam.
“The right of your father is that you know that he is your root. Without him, you would not be. Whenever you see anything in yourself which pleases you, know that your father is the root of its blessing upon you. So praise God and thank Him in that measure. And there is no strength save in God.”
“The right of your mother is that you know that she carried you where no one carries anyone, she gave to you of the fruit of her heart that which no one gives to anyone, and she protected you with all her organs. She did not care if she went hungry as long as you ate, if she was thirsty as long as you drank, if she was naked as long as you were clothed, if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade. She gave up sleep for your sake, she protected you from heat and cold, all in order that you might belong to her. You will not be able to show her gratitude, unless through God's help and giving success.”
(Ali b. al-Husayn, al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyyah)
While it is incumbent to disobey one’s parents if a child has been ordered to commit something contrary to Islam, it is necessary to seek the pleasure of one’s parents in all areas which do not cause one to compromise Islamic values.
The Rights of One’s Siblings
Imam Ali b al-Husayn (a.s) aptly summarises one’s duty towards their siblings in the section of his treatise on rights concerning one’s brother. Naturally whilst this is applicable primarily in regard to one’s blood brother, the advice and counsel given do not stray far from the responsibilities and rights that are expected with fellow Muslims and their spiritual siblings:
“The right of your brother is that you know that he is your hand, your might, and your strength. Take him not as a weapon with which to disobey God, nor as equipment with which to wrong God's creatures. Do not neglect to help him against his enemy or to give him good counsel. If he obeys God, well and good, but if not, you should honour God more than him. And there is no strength save in God.”
The Rights of One’s Wife
In regard to the rights of one’s wife, God has described the example of the married couple within the Qur’an. The example of the married couple is specifically described as being planned by Allah (s.w.t) as mates mutually created for each other:
"And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect" (30:21)
It is the husband’s Islamic obligation to financially provide for his wife and to sustain her and the needs of the children. The wife is not in any way obliged in Islam to work in order to sustain the family should she choose to work, her income is in principle her own money which she can spend however she chooses and it would still be the responsibility of the husband to provide financially for her.
In describing the responsibilities of a man towards his wife, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s) states:
“He should fulfill all her basic necessities and must not terrorise her by getting angry time and time again. i.e. after fulfilling her needs, is kind and affectionate towards her, then I swear by Allah, he has fulfilled his wife's rights.”
The Rights of a Husband Over his Wife
The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) has aptly summarized in a narration, the specific duties of a wife to her husband:
“The right of the man over his wife is that she should turn on the light, prepare the food, and rush to warmly welcome him when he comes home. She should take him some water and a towel, wash his hands and not withdraw herself from him unless she has an excuse.”
In Islam, the Prophet and the Imams have repeatedly stressed that the wife’s responsibilities to her husband are of the same level as the child’s responsibilities to its parents. Hence one finds within the lives of the Infallibles, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), Fatimah al-Zahra (a.s), remained entirely devoted to her father as well as her husband Imam Ali (a.s).
The Rights of Children over Their Parents
The Prophet (s.a.w) is known to have said:
“Love your children, and be kind and merciful to them. Fulfill your promises made to them since children consider their father to be the one who provides for their sustenance”
He has also said within the same work:
“Kiss your children. There is an elevation in your rank in Paradise as a reward for each kiss. Each raise in rank is as much as five hundred years”
It is clear that Islam places a heavy emphasis on parents sustaining their children and providing for their basic needs. Separately, parents also need to take particular care that they do not allow their children to become the object of ridicule. For this reason, Imam Ali b al-Husayn (a.s) in his treatise of rights has stipulated that one should not name their children with the types of names which will become a source of ridicule for their children.
Another right which the child possesses over his parents is the right to guidance. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children do not go astray through a lack of guidance in life. The advice given by Luqman in the Qur’an is a clear example of how a parent should try to impart their own experience and wisdom unto their children in order to ensure that their children may benefit and not make the same mistakes as previous generations.
It is clear that Islam places a heavy emphasis on the concept of the family with attention also encompassing the concept of mutual rights and responsibilities within a family unit.
Given that a family unit is a microcosm of the broader society, if success can be achieved within a family unit, based upon the guidance and precepts of Islam; it can also be attained and achieved on a macro level. It is not coincidental that Islam has generally labeled the Ummah or collective body of believers as a large family. Therefore, if Muslims are successful in maintaining guidance at the family level, then there is a greater likelihood that the collective body of the Muslims would also receive appropriate guidance.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Shiapedia: a detailed description of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and the four periods of his life.
The Holy Qur’an instructs Muslims to take as examples in their life the Prophet (s.a.w) and the other good people, whom Allah (s.w.t) has blessed, especially his family.
One of the most controversial topics among Muslims since the formative period of Islam until our modern times has been that of political authority and the method through which the Muslim community should be governed.
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