What is the importance of meeting other people’s needs and being good to them?

Details of the Question
What is the importance of meeting other people’s needs and being good to them?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is one of the most important duties of a Muslim to do other people favors and not to hurt them. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: A Muslim is the one from whose hands and tongue other Muslims are safe.” (Bukhari, Faith, 3-4; Muslim, Faith, 64-66).

The Prophet also said: “The best friend in the sight of Allah is the one who is good to his companions; and the best neighbor in the sight of Allah is the one who is good to his neighbors.” (Bukhari, Faith, 31; Tirmidhi, Goodness, 28). 

The believer is a person who waits for every opportunity to do favors and who does favors without a single minute of hesitation whenever s/he has got the opportunity and who has put his/her heart and soul into doing favors. Besides, according to a believer, favors can be done not only to human beings but also to animals and plants. In this sense, feeding a hungry animal or watering an almost-faded plant are favors, too. 

The Prophet gives the following example about favors and evil things done to animals: “A prostitute was forgiven by Allah and put into Heaven, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that and put her into Heaven." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 54/538; Muslim, Salam, 153-155) 

On the other hand, the Messenger of Allah gives the second example as follows: “A woman entered (Hell) Fire because of a cat which she had tied, neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth. And the cat died of hunger and that woman went to Hell because of that.” (Bukhari, Musaqat, 9; Muslim, Salam, 151-152). 

Favors and kindness that are done to human beings - which are the most honorable of all creatures - are so precious that they cannot be compared to those done to other beings and are superior to them. In a Quranic verse, people to be good to are listed in accordance with their importance as follows: “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are of kin, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” (an-Nisa, 4:36) 

When the verse is carefully examined, we see that we are ordered to do favors and kindnesses to a wide range of people including the whole society after we are warned that we must not attribute partners to Him and must worship sincerely. First, being good to parents, to relatives, to the orphans and the poor are listed. Then, being good to those who are in our neighborhood, who are our relatives, being good to who live away from us or those who are not our relatives, or to those who are not Muslims are listed. 

Commentating on the verse in question, The Late Elmalili mentions the following hadith in the section related to neighbors:

“Neighbors are divided into three. First, if the neighbor is a relative and Muslim, he has got three rights: right for being a neighbor, right for being a relative and right for being a Muslim. Second, he has got two rights if he is not a relative: right for being a neighbor and right for being a Muslim. And the third one has got one right: right for being a neighbor. This is a neighbor who is either a Christian, or a Jew or an unbeliever.” That is to say, even if the neighbor is a follower of another religion or an unbeliever, it is his right for being a neighbor to be treated well. The best goodness that is valid in all corners of the world and in all kinds of situations is a believer’s representing the virtues he has got in the most appropriate and beautiful way and showing these virtues and beauties in his personal life, domestic life and social life. We are then ordered to be good to our friends in the verse, and our best and closest friends are our spouses. Actually, they are called friends for lives. Our spouses are followed by our other friends. 

As already known, all kinds of kindness and favors done to relatives are called “sila ar-rahm” (reunion with relatives). Sila ar-rahm covers many types of kindness and favors from complimenting them, smiling at them, saluting them, asking their news to wishing the best for them, visiting them, meeting their needs, sharing their sorrows and giving them financial support. Especially in our day, ways of kindness and favors have been forgotten and almost all relations with relatives have been broken off. 

Unfortunately, in our day, when parents and grandparents grow old to be unable to meet their daily needs on their own, they happen to find themselves in rest homes for the aged. These places are called “rest” homes; yet how can one be restful in a place where their children and grandchildren are not and they cannot see their children that they brought up with utmost care and cannot say “I am a parent, too”, where they cannot see acquainted people who look at them with affectionate and respectful eyes, where never a plate for them is placed on the dinner table and where generally their news is not asked at all? We designed a fake peace in our minds and said that those places are peaceful and we insisted on it, too. And we keep forcing them to feel that fake peace that we think there is and we seem to say: “They just eat and drink and sleep, how nice! What else could one ask for?” However, a human being is not a creature that can find peace in eating, drinking, and sleeping without doing anything else. Human being is a creature that is interested in his environment, in nature and in close contact with his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Yet unfortunately, today we have confined him to eating, drinking and sleeping. 

These institutions are needed by some of us and are necessary, or course. They are places to find peace in for those who have got nothing left that will keep them in their homes anymore. Yet, those who send their aged ones away from home should think once again whether these places provide them with peace really. 

Another group of people that we should help is said to be people stranded on their journey at the end of the verse stated above. The word “ibn sabil” in the Arabic origin of the text covers both stranded people and people who are our guests. The verse orders us to be good to slaves finally. However, thanks to Allah, there is no slavery today. 

In short, when we consider the verse with a wide point of view, it is possible to say that we must be good to almost all people, regardless of religion, language, race and culture. In fact, we have adopted the understanding of waiting for an opportunity to do a favor to someone who has been bad to us and thus, instead of punishing that person because of his badness, directing him to think over what he has done, to regret it and to be good, from this verse and the likes. 

The spirit of the good deeds: Pleasing Allah 

Allah placed in hearts of all people the feeling of being good to other people. In this sense, every individual has got the potential to be good. This is a necessity of human disposition. However, there is a significant difference in terms of virtuousness between being good because of the potential of being good that Allah placed in everyone and being good as a result of contemplating Allah the Glorious. Just as one should love or dislike for the sake of Allah, so too will being good for the sake of Allah earn believers thawabs and also being good for this reason adds a different depth to deeds. 

Let us make the subject more concrete with an example: A believer can save an ant from a difficult situation with the potential of goodness present in his disposition. It is impossible to say that it is not thawab. However, being good with the feeling and thought of “There is a potential of goodness in me. But, my Allah, I am doing this just to please You.” adds a different depth to goodness. Therefore, the reason for our goodness is the spirit of our goodness; actually this is the same about all or worships, too. This is also called “ikhlas.” 

Let us finish our words with a hadith which puts Allah’s wide mercy and good will into words:

“Doubtlessly, Allah created the good and the evil and then declared them. Now, whoever wants to do something good yet does not do it, Allah records one thawab for it. If he wants to do that good thing and does it, Allah records it by folding it tenfold and seven hundred folds. If he wants to do something good and does not do it, Allah records one thawab for it. If he wants to do that bad thing and does it, Allah records it as one sin.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 31; Muslim, Belief, 207) 

Note: This article was taken from Diyanet Avrupa magazine, issue June 2008. 

Assist. Prof. Mustafa Unver, 19 Mayıs University, Faculty of Theology

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