Emphasis On Blood Relations
The Prophet (peace be upon him) has more claim on the believers than they have on their own selves, and his wives are their mothers. Blood relatives have, according to God’s decree, a stronger claim upon one another than other believers (of Madinah) and those who have migrated (for God’s sake). Nonetheless, you are to act with kindness toward your close friends. This is written down in God’s decree. (The Confederates, Al-Ahzab: 33: 6)
This surah revealed toward the end of the fifth year after the Prophet’s emigration to Madinah begins with important legislation in family matters. It seeks to put these on the right footing. It starts with the abolition of the practice that some Arabs used to resort to when they wanted to punish their wives causing them lasting damage. A man would say to his wife that she was to him like his mother’s back, which meant that all marital relations between them were ended. Yet she was not divorced so as to be able to marry someone else. Islam put an end to this practice, imposing a heavy penalty on anyone who resorts to it. The surah then moved on to abolish adoption. This does not mean a prohibition of looking after an orphan child, or a child in need of care. What is abolished is to attach that child to one’s family as if it was born to the adopting couple, giving it the same surname.
The surah then moves on to put an end to the brotherhood institution, established by Islam following the migration of the Muslims from Makkah to Madinah. This was a practical measure to address the situation of those immigrants who had abandoned their relations and property in Makkah, and the situation of Muslims in Madinah whose relations with their families were severed as a result of their embracing Islam. At the same time, the Prophet’s personal authority over all believers is emphasized and given a higher position than all blood relations, while his wives are to be seen as the spiritual mothers of all believers: “The Prophet has more claim on the believers than they have on their own selves, and his wives are their mothers. Blood relatives have, according to God’s decree, a stronger claim upon one another than other believers (of Madinah) and those who have migrated (for God’s sake). Nonetheless, you are to act with kindness toward your close friends. This is written down in God’s decree.”
When the Muhajirin, i.e. the Muslims from Makkah, left for Madinah, they had to leave everything behind, preferring their faith to their relatives, clans, property, livelihood, friends, and life memories. They abandoned all this for their faith. Their migration in this way, abandoning all that was dear, including their own families, provided an example of how faith grips one’s whole being. They provided a practical example of the integrity of the Islamic personality, confirming the Qur’anic statement: “Never has God put two hearts in one man’s body.”
A different situation, however, arose in Madinah as Islam began to infiltrate homes. The result was that some members of a family became Muslims while others did not. Relations between people were often severed; family bonds became shaky, and there was an even greater disruption of social bonds. The Muslim society was still in its infancy and the Muslim state was still more of an idea than a solid regime with lasting roots
This gave a new faith a strong moral impetus that superseded all emotions, traditions, social institutions, and bonds, making faith the only bond that unites hearts. At the same time, it united the small units that separated from their natural roots in the family and the clan, thus replacing the ties of blood, family, interest, friendship, race, and language. It united these Muslim units into a well-knit and coherent block that showed a high degree of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual care. This was not initiated by legislative texts or government orders; instead, it was based on an inner impetus that was stronger than anything that was familiar in ordinary human life. This provided the basis for the rise of the Muslim community, which could not be otherwise established.
The Muhajirin (i.e. the migrants from Makkah) were welcomed in Madinah by its Muslim residents, the Ansar. The Ansar opened their hearts and homes to them and gave them shares in their property. In fact, they were so keen to make the Makkan Muslims feel welcome in their new abode that the Ansar drew lots to decide who would take each of the Muhajirin: this because there were only a few of the latter as compared with the great many Ansar who were keen to host them. They, in fact, shared with the Muhajirin everything they had, willingly and with warm hearts that betrayed no trace of avarice or showing off.
The Prophet established a bond of brotherhood between individuals of the Muhajirin and individuals of the Ansar, naming every two brothers, thereby giving rise to a unique bond in the history of mutual solidarity between believers in the same ideology. Indeed this brotherhood superseded the blood relationship, as it included rights of inheritance and other commitments between relatives. The resulting moral impetus was strong because the Prophet’s companions took to the new bond seriously, in the same way as their attitude toward everything Islam laid down. This impetus was essential to the rise of Islamic society and its protection, providing all, if not more than what could have been provided by a state that enjoyed stability and well-established laws. Thus, the bond of Islamic brotherhood was necessary to safeguard and consolidate the new Muslim community in its exceptional and highly complicated circumstances. A similarly strong impetus is essential for the rise of any community facing equally unusual circumstances until it begins to have a stable state with well-defined laws that give it normality.
Although Islam welcomes such a strong impetus, it nonetheless wants Islamic society to have a foundation that relies on the normal resources its people can give in ordinary situations, not on what people are ready to sacrifice in exceptional circumstances. This is essential because once an emergency is over, people should return to their normal and ordinary standards. Therefore, once circumstances in Madinah began to settle after the Battle of Badr when the new Muslim state became more stable, social conditions and means of livelihood improved, and all were able to earn their living, the Qur’an amended the system of brotherhood. It abrogated the commitments attached to it, which normally arise from family and blood relations, but retained it as a moral bond of brotherhood that can be reactivated in reality whenever needed. Thus, the Muslim community returned to a normal situation in which inheritance and other binding commitments are limited to blood relatives as they have always been in God’s original decree and natural law: “Blood relatives have, according to God’s decree, a stronger claim upon one another than other believers (of Madinah) and those who have migrated (for God’s sake). Nonetheless, you are to act with kindness toward your close friends. This is written down in God’s decree.”