Commentary by Adil Salahi
A Hadith transmitted by Abu Hurairah mentions that a man came to the Prophet and said; “Messenger of Allah, I have some relatives whose relationship I foster but they cut me off. I am kind to them but they are unkind to me. They treat me harshly and I forbear.” The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “ If what you say is true, it is as if you are making them eat burning ashes. You will continue to have Allah’s support against them as long as you
maintain your attitude toward them.”
(Related by Muslim, Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in “Al-adab Al-Mufrad.”)
Certain virtues are universally acclaimed. You will not find a person who will not praise truthfulness, sincerity or kindness. Their universal acceptance, however, does not seem sufficient to make all people commit themselves to observe them in all situations. In societies where religion has lost much of its influence on people’s attitudes and behaviour we find that although all people do accept that telling the truth in all situations is a matter of great importance, the occasional lie is not to be met with reproach. Lies are divided into “white” lies which are met with a smile, and ones which are not so white, or, let us say “coloured.” These are viewed more seriously. This represents a deviation from the universal virtue of telling the truth in all situations. This virtue represents an idea which seems to people a little impractical sometimes. When one’s interest is served by the occasional lie, this seems to be acceptable. When you speak to people about this, they immediately try to justify this attitude by adding a proviso that the lie which is acceptable is the one which does not hurt anyone. It is needless to say that this line is too vague to serve as a boundary dividing what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
Religion, however, tells us that if something is universally accepted as virtuous it must be observed in all situations. We cannot impose artificial divisions in order to make the violation of a universal virtue more respectable. What Islam says is that when one’s interest is served by telling a lie which may not hurt anyone, to tell the truth is more virtuous and earns more respect. Hence, we have this great emphasis on maintaining virtue, even when a slight deviation here or there may be very tempting.
In our present topic of fostering ties of kinship through kindness to relatives, it is universally accepted that such an attitude is bound to benefit not only the individual and his relatives, but also society at large. It strengthens the unity of the community and establishes its structure on very solid foundations. Moreover, it is something which comes naturally. There is something within us which draws us close to our relatives. We feel that we belong to the same branch of a large tree. There is much to unite us and keep us close together. We go together through a great deal of what life has to offer.
In spite of all this, however, some people do not give the ties of kinship their true value. Some go even further than that. They meet kindness by their relatives with ingratitude. This is bound to hurt those who are at the receiving end of such a treatment. Nothing is more painful than the lack of appreciation by those to whom we are attached. When a person finds his kindness so badly received, his immediate reaction is to deal back in the same measure. This is bound to weaken the society and sow division in its ranks. It is not surprising, therefore, that Islam which wants the Muslim community to be always united and closely knit places great emphasis on the need for fostering ties of kinship. As part of this emphasis, it counsels those whose kindness is not properly appreciated not to react in the same way.
A transmitted by Abu Hurairah mentions that a man came to the Prophet and said; “Messenger of Allah, I have some relatives whose relationship I foster but they cut me off. I am kind to them but they are unkind to me. They treat me harshly and I forbear.” The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “ If what you say is true, it is as if you are making them eat burning ashes. You will continue to have Allah’s support against them as long as you maintain your attitude toward them.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in “Al-adab Al-Mufrad.”)
We note in this Hadith that the man puts his case to the Prophet (Pbuh) in a way which suggests that he is deeply hurt. He does everything which may be expected of a relative who is keen on fostering his ties with his kinsfolk, but everything he does is met with a hostile attitude. No one would blame him if he wonders how long he is expected to continue with this sort of relationship which most of us would consider untenable. How long can one continue to show kindness to someone who not only continues to be ungrateful but also rebuffs his kind relative. We have all heard of people who behave in this way. Although their attitude fills us with disgust, it remains a fact of life. How should one treat such relatives?
It is clear from the Hadith that the Prophet (Pbuh) counsels his questioner to continue to be kind to his relatives in- spite of their hostility. First he tells him that they are like a person who eats burning ashes. It is a highly vivid image of a hungry person who finds nothing to eat except something which badly burns his stomach in addition to its being absolutely distasteful. While no one eats something like this if he can ever help it, the image describes the condition of a person experiencing deep and genuine regret. When they realize how Allah will reward their kind relative and punish them for the bad deal they had given him, they also realize that it is all their own fault. It is not difficult to return kindness. A genuinely kind person, like the Prophet’s (Pbuh) questioner, is happy with even the slightest expression of appreciation. Some people, however, are unkind to their relatives for a variety of reasons which are simply unacceptable to Islam. A relative may be in a low social position which causes his more privileged relatives to look down upon him. Someone who may have managed to acquire wealth over a short period may consider that his poorer relatives want to try to trick him out of a portion of his wealth. Some people find their relatives not very intelligent, or they consider their company not very pleasant. Whichever reason makes one unkind to his relatives cannot be considered acceptable. Indeed, such reasons should encourage us to be more kind to our relatives. If we can help them, then our help should be forthcoming. The more less fortunate than us they seem to be, the more they are in need of our kindness and the easier it is for us to be kind to them. Our duty toward them acquires even greater urgency. Moreover, it earns us more reward from Allah. The less we expect for our kindness, the more genuine it is. Allah rewards us not only for the kindness we make, but also for the motive behind it. If our actions are free from any self-interest, our reward is always the greater.
Yet it is difficult to continue to be kind when the recipients of our kindness are hostile to us. For this reason, the Prophet (Pbuh) reassures his questioner that he will always enjoy Allah’s support as long as he maintains his highly commendable attitude. To a Muslim, this reassura