TWO sons recently took their father to court over alleged fraud in his own company. A father announced his decision to disinherit one of his sons. A mother cried every day for decades because her children had broken off relations with their elder brother. Two brothers broke off communication with their sister because she had married against their wishes.
Such situations are common in our society and reveal how frail blood bonds have become. People even kill their own for similar or less important reasons. Communication between relatives is severed even if they live under the same roof. The nature of disputes is mostly financial, but such incidents have also been observed when children marry of their own choice. Arguments are common and people are ready to break off ties over the flimsiest of matters, including fights between children. An intolerant attitude and the inability to accept differences of opinion or resolve misunderstandings are often the reasons.
In the West, family break-ups (except for divorce) are less common. People do not live with their parents after reaching adulthood and thus are already distant from each other. Family size is smaller and disputes tend not to linger for years. In Muslim societies, break-ups among blood relatives and within marriages have a specific significance. This is because qata rahmi, literally, breaking with the womb, is not permitted in Islam and, although divorce is allowed, it is distasteful and must be avoided if possible. ‘Rahm’ means both womb and mercy. The womb is a manifestation of mercy and compassion: God has given Himself the names of Ar Rahim and Ar Rahman, both derived from the same root. Relatives are connected through sharing of blood and this connection is important.
The Quran mentions family ties 23 times and in a number of verses, places kinsfolk and relatives just after God Himself. “Serve God ... and do good to parents, kinsfolk…” (4:36). The best of behaviour is commanded towards parents: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour” (17:23). Similar behaviour should be adopted towards relatives in terms of supporting and being kind to them and maintaining and developing these bonds through constant nurturing. It is indicated that the worst of curses are to befall those who sever ties with relatives and they would not be worthy of God’s mercy in the Hereafter (13:25).
People are ready to break off ties for the flimsiest reasons.
How does one carry out this command, especially with relatives who one may not get along with? There are times when one finds acquaintances and friends to be closer. There are no easy answers. We can’t choose our blood relations. We are born into a family and must own the latter’s human assets and liabilities. Even if one does not like them, one must be polite and kind to them. Such an attitude would be adopted for the sake of God and for seeking His approval.
Breaking marriage bonds is now very common. Married couples see divorce as an easy option, particularly where parents or other elders become partners in disputes. Instead of playing their correct role of mentor, mediator or counsellor, many add fuel to the fire and encourage their sons or daughters to break off their marriages. Divorce is disliked by God, unless there are compelling reasons that prevent the pair from living together in mutual respect and harmony. The latter two characteristics of marriage are mentioned in the Quran as being essential. Couples are likened as garments for each other (2:187): enhancing each other’s beauty; hiding each other’s faults and private matters from the rest of the world and comforting and protecting each other, especially in times of stress and trouble. A friend rightly points out that married people should question themselves if their spouse would want them in the same relationship in heaven.
Very often, people opt for divorce if they do not find love, respect and companionship from their spouse. Forced marriages or marriages that are arranged without consideration of compatibility as well as domestic violence are the main reason, as is a lack of understanding between spouses of what it takes to maintain positive and mutually rewarding relations. Whatever the reason, divorce should be the last option and undertaken only after much deliberation and discussion between partners. Third-party counselling should be considered.
Quarrels, heated arguments, fights are all discouraged in Islamic teachings. The Quran enjoins Muslims to help establish peace between those who quarrel or have stopped speaking. Muslims are asked not to break communications for more than three days. Peace and morality are the Quranic prescription for serene homes and neighbourhoods, leading to peaceful societies.
The writer is an independent contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2022