Humanitarian duties

Q260 :We Muslims seem to take lightly our duties toward other people. Hence, our humanitarian feelings are very low. Is this because our education system tends to mix up our list of priorities? Some of the responsibility should be placed on our parents. Many of us seem to be forgetting that to be compassionate and humanitarian is part of worship. Please comment.

A260 : You have pointed out a problem which has become highly relevant in the life of Muslim communities of today. Duties toward God are over emphasized while duties toward fellow human beings are given a low position on the list of priorities, both at the individual and community levels. Yet, a good balance is the main characteristic of Islam and its code of living. Hence, a Muslim's responsibilities toward other human beings are indeed given a very strong emphasis in Islam. The Prophet states that a Muslim has a "sanctity", which means that he must always be respected, well-treated and immune from assault on his person, property and integrity. Hence, the Prophet defines the relationship of brotherhood between Muslims, and what it entails in practical life. He says that a Muslim is a brother to every Muslim: the one never treats the other unjustly, nor lets him down, nor tries to humiliate him." He also tells us that the "sanctity" of a believer is "in God's view, greater than the sanctity of the Ka'aba." I hasten to state that the word "sanctity" is inadequate to give all the connotations of the Arabic term the Prophet has used. Suffice it to say that the Hadith implies that all rights, minor or major, that belong to a Muslim must be always respected. A person at the receiving end of injustice is sure to have God's help. The Prophet tells that "supplication by a person treated unjustly goes directly to God without any hindrance." This very statement should be sufficient to make anyone who exercises any degree of power to be on his guard lest he should treat anyone unjustly. Moreover, mutual help between members of a Muslim community is highly emphasized. Try to help anyone with something of importance to him or her, and you are certain to receive God's help in accomplishing what you need. The Prophet says: "Whoever helps his brother with a certain need shall have God helping him in accomplishing his own purpose." The Prophet himself was the best example of extending a helping hand to all and sundry. Even the weakest member of the community could draw on an inexhaustible source of help from the Prophet. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was also the head of the Muslim state, would let even a slave make any demand on his time and service. We should not forget that the Arabian society in the pre-Islamic days was so unjust to both women and slaves. The Prophet was also the best of neighbors and he emphasized that neighbors have a claim on our kindness. He tells us "The Angel Gabriel has reminded me so often of the rights of a neighbor until I began to think that a neighbor may have a claim to inheritance." This means that the status of a neighbor should be viewed as comparable to that of a family member. According to Muslim scholars, [being] a neighbor is not [limited to] only the person living next door. The persons living forty houses away in every direction are also your neighbors. On the other hand, when the Prophet heard one of his companions say to Bilal during an argument, "You son of a black woman", he was very angry indeed. He said to that man: "You insult him on account of his mother? You certainly have not purged yourself from the values of an ignorant society." All that gives us just an idea of the sort of emphasis Islam attaches to the rights of individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable in society. We must not forget that the Prophet's conduct serves as an example which we are required to follow. It is important to realize here what sort of example the Prophet sets in respect of family life. As for the treatment of women, the Prophet says: "The best among you are those who treat their wives best. I am indeed the best of you in the way I treat my wives." We must look at this Hadith from the right angle. The first part of the Hadith lays down a principle which we must implement in our lives, because it is part of the Prophet's guidance. The second tells us of his practical example which we must follow. Therefore, there is a double emphasis here on the importance of treating wives well. When we compare this with the notion that prevails among the overwhelming majority of men in the Muslim world, we conclude that what we do is at variance with the Prophet's instructions. The letters that I receive from readers asking what they should do because their wives do not obey their instructions are too numerous for comfort. Little do they remember that the kind treatment of wives which the Prophet has encouraged by word and deed is the best way for them to win their wives' respect and a peaceful family life. The Prophet's wives have told us everything about his behavior in the privacy of his own home. There is not a single report that the Prophet ever rebuked any of his wives for any act of commission or omission. Even with his servants the Prophet was the kindest man. Anas ibn Malik reports: "I served the Prophet for ten years and he never said to me: Why did you do this, or why did you omit that." Visiting delegations to Madinah often thought that Anas and his mother belonged to the Prophet's own family, when they were only in his service. Moreover, we are told in an authentic Hadith that when the Prophet was at home, "he was in the service of his family." We tend to overlook all this and give little importance to the high-priority objective of Islam, namely, the eliminating of all injustice. People treat their wives unjustly, and they are unjust to people in their employment. Yet voices which speak against that remain faint, particularly of Muslim scholars. It is a fact of life that contemporary scholars have not addressed this question adequately. On the other hand, we have so much said and written about matters that cannot be described as being of equal importance. Look at the emphasis given to issues like the permissibility or otherwise of music, singing, photography, wearing a long robe that covers a man's ankles, etc. Look at the volume of spoken and written reminders on these and similar issues such as the length of a man's beard, the covering of a woman's face, the joining of people's feet in congregational prayer, etc. Some of these matters have their importance no doubt, but all of them are controversial in the sense that scholars have always had different views concerning each one of them. Moreover, they are far less serious than being unjust to one's wife, servant, employee, neighbor, or indeed fellow human being. We should always remember that God may forgive us all sins that relate to our duties toward Him, but He will not forgive us anything that is due to a human being until that person is ready to forgive it. Hence, balance between these two must be restored before we can truly claim to lead an Islamic life.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )