By Zaynab Dawood
As Muslims we are always concerned with protecting our deeds, making sure they are not accompanied with unpleasant ones; and as individuals we are concerned with protecting each other from harm. Immediately we respond to this notion of protection as one of duty, of care and of love. We want to protect others from harm, mainly physical, mental and emotional harm, and as Muslims we want to be protected from spiritual harm too. Endowed with the capacity for this level of concern through our spiritual self, which preferably gravitates towards a positive soul, we as humans are primed to maintain this default instinct to protect others, especially our family and friends. This is a great blessing from Allah, the Protector of all of us, yet this default exists in other species too.
The foci of all our relationships which includes parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends, become objects to protect. This is obviously a crude observation of this innate disposition to protect our loved ones and it disregards the inherent and unique worth of each individual. However, this understanding is necessary if we are to grasp the difference between what, or in this case, who, we protect and the process of protecting. It is the process that makes the relationship. The process, method and means we use to interact with others, define our relationships. Our relationships need protecting too. It is the “how” that needs protecting not just the “who” and “what”.
How many of us have lost friendships and experienced strains in our family ties? Unfortunately, all of us. This is because we have allowed, willingly or unwillingly, our workload, family commitments and the busy humdrum of life to occupy our time and emotional energy. We all accept that the organic flow of life means we cannot engage with people with the same level of emotional energy all the time. So how do we protect our relationships?
As an unmarried adult I had more time and energy for my siblings and their children. When I married and had children of my own, my time and even the type of interaction with my lovely nephews and nieces began to diminish, slowly at first and soon weeks and months would pass before I made the effort to spend any meaningful time with them. This makes me a little sad – I always felt good about myself, that I had good relationships with my wider family, but I came to the point when I no longer felt content with how I managed these relationships.
There is a verse in the Quran that reminds me of my purpose in life. Worship is not simply composed of rituals; rather worship in Islam is kaleidoscopic, in the sense that it absorbs and colours every aspect of our lives, including the people that Allah has chosen to be a part of our lives, whether they are the permanent proximal ones such as parents, siblings and children, or those in a close but wider proximity. Included in this are those in extended circles, whose relationships are defined by their dynamic: work, relatives, in-laws, friends and even those further afield with a more fluid connection. The list goes on, but what is certain is that Allah expects us to honour these connections, to shape our relationships under the nurturing lens of the Quran:
“…Do not worship except Allah, and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah…” (2:83)
What strikes me about this ayah is that Allah, in His Wisdom, has mentioned good relations alongside the obligatory acts of worship. Hopefully we all try to give due attention to each of these acts of worship but I know, from myself first and foremost, that relationships do not get that same gravitas in our minds and hearts. Our relationship with salah is, among other beliefs, tempered by the notion of sin, and what this entails. Our relationship with zakah is tempered with our yearning for Allah’s Mercy, as He will be Merciful towards those who are merciful.
Relationships, it seems to me, are not taken seriously. At times we seem to be duty focused: once we have done what is necessary, we take a step back and it is this temporary detachment that allows the cobwebs to form. Complacency can soon take root once seasoned Muslims have embedded salah, zakah and fasting into their lives. Obviously each one of us can improve the quality of these types of worship but what I have noticed is that some relationships tend to get a bit stale,some become awkward and some just vanish.
It can be more challenging for revert Muslims, who perhaps need to reduce their engagement with some people, whilst still trying to maintain some good will between old connections. Parents of reverts must still receive love and respect from their children – it is their right. The challenge may be great for reverts but the reward will be too. I have non-Muslim neighbours and I must maintain a good neighbourly relationship with them because my Lord commands it. In this regard, realigning my intentions so that I fulfil the command of Allah ensures I protect this relationship. I keep it alive and safe because I know I will be rewarded for its success and questioned for its deficiencies. Even for complete strangers we must be courteous and civil so how more important must it be to maintain our relationships with those that Allah has made a permanent fixture in our lives?
“…the one who severs the ties of kinship will not enter paradise…”
Our beloved Prophet (SAW) warned us that “the one who severs the ties of kinship will not enter paradise,” therefore we must protect our relationships with our families and relatives. This commitment towards having good and amicable relationships extends to cover friends, work colleagues and those that we have some contact with.
Relationships, good and meaningful ones, scent life with peace and love. It was the Prophet (SAW) who demonstrated how to maintain a good relationship with everyone through his “great moral character” (68:4). In order to maintain healthy relationships, we need to exercise patience when things don’t run smoothly, demonstrate discernment when needed and express gratitude: we need to show others that they do matter.
Especially for family, relatives and friends, we need to let them know that they occupy a portion of our hearts, that our relationships are important. We can do this by protecting it. By not allowing our relationships to grow rusty and decrepit. Time has become an endangered commodity, yet we can maintain a basic level of connection through our phones and even social media. Nothing can equate real interaction and quality time spent together but I’ve learnt to compensate this with texting. Relationships deserve our time, however little.
Someone once said that when we reach our final hours, we will not remember the wealth we have accumulated or our achievements- what will be remembered is how individuals made us feel. In life, some people have “go-to places” when they are stressed, and some have “go-to people”. These are the people that value others and constantly protect their relationships from disintegrating. They fortify their relationships with kindness, respect and as the verse quoted above, good speech.
My toolkit for protecting my relationships contains respect, kindness, courtesy, understanding, forgiveness and love: all the essential ingredients needed for a Muslim’s akhlaaq (manners). Relationships are so important that we even pray for those that have left us. Our love and care for each other does not stop here in this dunya, but carries forward to the next life where our souls will see, recognize and be drawn to each other; where we will gather together once more in order to complete the perfection of a relationship fulfilled for the Sake of Allaah, inshaaAllah.
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!