Question: Enough attention is not given to the rights that others have over us, despite the delicacy of the matter and its severe repercussions. What would you like to say in regard to this?
Of those things that will not be forgiven on Judgement Day are associating partners with Allah and the rights of others.While Allah the Almighty forgives the sins of a servant, be they mountain high, He excludes from this pardon the rights that others have over us; He makes forgiveness in this regard contingent upon servants’ observing their mutual rights and in their obtaining each other’s pardon. This is why the sincere and pious travellers on the path of Truth spent their entire lives in the consciousness of the rights of others and were careful to avoid even the slightest carelessness in this matter.
Question: Exactly what kind of care did they show and what did they do?
There are many beautiful narrations serving as guidance in this context. Allow me to mention a few of these which come to mind, as examples:
It is reported that ‘Abd Allah ibn Mubarak owned a prized horse. During one of his travels, when the time for prayer set in, he unbound his horse and observed the prayer; however, during this time, the horse went to a state-owned pasturage in a certain village and began grazing. Upon this, Ibn Mubarak refused to mount that horse.
Another example is as follows:
Abu Hamdun al-Qassar was next to one of his friends who was on his deathbed. As soon as the latter passed away, he blew out the lamp in the room. When others asked him why he had done so, he replied:
“Until now, the lamp and the oil within it belonged to the deceased. From now on they are rightfully the property of his heirs…”
In another example, Abu Sulayman al-Khawwas relates his personal experience as follows:
“One day, I mounted a donkey. The flies kept bothering the poor creature and it therefore kept bowing its head. And I continually struck it so that I would not be delayed on my journey when eventually it raised its head. With its tongue of disposition it said: ‘You may strike me now, but have no doubt that this beating will one day come back to you!’”
Question: What seems to be important is that we take the necessary lesson from these stories and direct ourselves accordingly, is it so ?
Certainly! However, the words of the Master of Humanity (Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings) to his Companions,
“Whosoever has a right over me should claim it,” and his observing the rights of others even at the approach of death, is a most meaningful message universally.
One of the noble Companions attaining spiritual maturity with such sublime messages and one of the Caliphs, ‘Uthman, when unwittingly pulling the ear of one of his workers, said to him in remorse:
“Now you pull my ear” When the worker in his reluctance pulled softly, ‘Uthman commanded him to pull harder and deliver him from being held to account in the Hereafter. Upon this, the worker replied, expressing his concern that if he were to pull harder then he would be accountable instead. This mutual asking for pardon is noteworthy indeed.
Question: What is the scope of the rights of others? Are these rights only observed when a person takes the possessions of another and then returns them, or do they include immaterial violations also? In other words, what must we understand from the notion of the “rights of others”?
This, in my opinion, is the most important point in relation to the rights of others, that is, the issue of whether or not the violation perpetrated is seen to be the rights that others possess. Consequently, one of the most important aspects of the matter is knowing exactly what falls under the rights of others and what does not. There are so many matters that are deemed to be normal within the scope of daily life today that are in actual fact each included among the rights of others. The most basic of these is, in places where there is heavy traffic, leaving other drivers in a difficult situation, selfishly committing certain breaches of traffic rules and, as such, paving the way for many a tragedy on the roads; these are among the severest violations of the rights of others that cannot possibly be accounted for. Similarly, tormenting one’s neighbour with aromas of various foods is also thus. Consequently, breaching the rights of others should not be understood merely as illegally taking and usurping the possessions of another; it must be known that violating the rights of others through selfishness in our behaviour towards and treatment of them are also included among these. In other words, there is virtually no difference between breaching the rights of others materially or outwardly and immaterially. On the contrary, accounting for immaterial or spiritual violations is much graver. For instance, a teacher who is negligent with respect to the learning and training of their student has taken upon themselves the rights of their student due to wasting their student’s energy and time and giving rise to the waste of human potential.
Question: The matter of the rights of others is then quite far reaching.
Indeed. When considered carefully, the far-reaching nature of the rights of others is so expansive that even wrongly scowling at a fellow believer is a transgression. In addition, care must be taken not to backbite and must similarly refrain from violating the rights of the deceased. Again, wrongful defamation or libel of a person is an even greater offence due to their not being in a position to defend themselves. As a result, when uttering a statement, one needs to be wary of whether it is like a dagger into the heart or a compassionate embrace. The blessed Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings declares: “Do not speak a word that causes you to ask for pardon.” (Ibn Maja, Zuhd, 15.)
Question: What do you recommend in relation to the rights of others?
If the rights that others have over you is spiritual, than you must ask for pardon; if it is material, then you must return it. That is to say, the rights of others should not be deferred to the Hereafter. The Prophet’s practice, upon him be peace and blessings, is this. When a deceased person who was in debt was brought before him for the funeral prayer, or who in other words had the rights of others upon them, he would not lead the funeral prayer until these were repaid. Abu Qatada, may Allah be well pleased with him, relates:
“Once, a deceased person was brought to the company of the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, for him to lead the funeral prayer. However, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said:
‘(He is in debt) Lead the prayer of your friend.’
‘O Messenger of Allah, I undertake to pay his debt.’
‘In its entirety?’ he asked.
‘In its entirety,’ I answered.
Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, then led his funeral prayer. (Tirmidhi, Jana’iz, 69)