Thinking about duty in Islam, By Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

In this beautiful, uplifting article English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, talks to young Muslims about their responsibilities to the people in their lives and to Allah.

When people are parents, teachers etc, they have to cope with the very young, and life seems to revolve around their care, safety, warmth, food, clothing, education, and so forth. It is a particularly worrying time for new first-time parents, who may not have paid too much attention up until then on how to do all the various things that need doing.

The problem for you, as youngsters growing older, is that of knowing at what stage you begin to have duties of your own, and what those duties are, and how you should go about doing them. It is so frustrating when you are told you are too young to do half the things you would like to do, and too old to do the other half.

Parents seem to have such a knack of manipulating this age business, and since they are so much older and more experienced, they usually get away with it – leaving you steaming with pent-up frustration. Maybe not so pent-up, if you are not very self-controlled. We all know youngsters who can let you know about their frustrations and annoyances from half a mile away.

Quite frankly, I have a very strong feeling that it is no compliment to a child to be regarded as a child. I can remember when I was twelve, being furious and hurt that no-one would take me seriously when I wanted to do great things, run clubs, make people rehearse plays, help the suffering, etc. I was only a child! That made me furious – I did not think of myself as a child at all, and although I cannot have known all that much at that stage, I nevertheless had every confidence that I knew a lot, and was even very likely to do a better job than half the adults I knew. I was a conceited little brat, very obnoxious, I’m sure.

But when I eventually did manage to find people who could see that I really did have great urges to save the world, make everything better, do all sorts of wonderful works and so on, it was so satisfying to be used. To be trusted. To be given something useful to do. I threw my whole effort into it, and swore I would never let down the people who had trusted me.

As a young boy before his call to Prophethood, I should imagine the Prophet went through some of that too. He had to grow up fast in a fairly harsh environment. You know that he started off in a ‘single-parent family’, since his father died before he was born. Then his mother died when he was only six and he lived with his Grandad for two years, and finally got brought up by a very kind uncle and aunt.

By the time he was twelve he was already at work, and had already earned the nickname ‘the Trustworthy One.’ If an adult wanted a job done and needed a youngster to do it – who to choose? The trustworthy one was the lad to pick. He wouldn’t let you down, or get it wrong, or forget to do it, or make a mess of it. He was reliable, and he always told the truth.

By the age of fifteen he had fought in his first battles. He became a caravaneer, a merchant trader. He had many hard-working and much respected friends who were also merchant traders. Two were Abu Bakr ibn Quhafah and Uthman ibn Maz’un. They had always been good kind men too, long before the revelation of Islam.

They grew up believing that there was a real God who cared about justice, and like all good people did their best to do their duty towards their families, their friends, their business contacts, and people who needed help. They had probably visited the same places, and maybe even done deals together.

When the three young men were in their twenties, it was time to marry, and one lady who wanted to marry the Prophet was Khadijah’s niece, Khawlah bint Hakim. As it happened, the Prophet did not choose to marry her, and married his boss, Khadijah, instead. Uthman married the disappointed Khawlah. Nevertheless, they all remained very good friends, and Khawlah acted as a kind of aunt to the Prophet’s children. Years later, when Khadijah died, Khawlah took over a lot of the housework for him, and in due course helped to arrange his next marriage – to another widow, Sawdah bint Zam’ah, and then to Aishah, the young daughter of his other great friend Abu Bakr.

Both Abu Bakr and Uthman went on to become leading Muslims. However, Uthman spent more and more time at his prayers, meditations and study of the Quran. He never missed a prayer, and prayed more extra prayers than anyone else. He frequently prayed all night. He disciplined his body with constant fasting, far more than other Muslims did, and ate little when he did eat. Completely devoted to Allah, he began to withdraw more and more from the life of this world.

One day, Khawlah turned up in a state of distress. She was suffering from marriage problems. Uthman was always so occupied with his religious devotions that he totally neglected her, and had become very difficult to live with. In his devotion to duty towards Allah, Uthman had not understood the most vital teaching of Islam – that Islam is not just a matter of prayers and study, but a complete way of life. It does not mean a person should withdraw from the world, but work in the world – to help others and make life better for people. Islam applied to every aspect of daily life, to study at school, to being honest and reliable at work, to relaxation, to relationships, to the way people treated their partners and family, to their attitude towards those less fortunate or less intelligent or less religious – in fact, everything.

The Prophet went to see Uthman.
‘Do you dislike my ways, Uthman?’ he asked. Uthman was very surprised and assured him that he always tried to follow his Sunnah. The Prophet explained where he was not doing so.

‘Uthman, I pray but I also sleep; sometimes I fast and sometimes do not fast. I marry women.’ He meant he enjoyed their company. ‘Uthman,’ he continued, ‘when you fear (have respect and reverence for) Allah – you need to know that your wife has a right over you, your guest has a right over you, and your self has a right over you.’ He requested him to be less extreme and to care more for his family and general personal wellbeing. (Abu Dawud 1364).

When something ‘has rights over you’, it means that you have duties to perform. Being a Muslim, and ‘fearing’ Allah involves so many duties – towards Allah, towards ourselves, towards our relatives, our community, and the world at large, especially those bits of it that need special help. It is not enough to say your prayers – but then be mean, or lazy over helping others who need your help, or to sit around expecting to be waited on while they get tired.

It is not enough to study the Quran, and then be selfish or greedy or deceitful. It is not enough to fast, and then tell lies or cheat people. It is not enough to attend the mosque regularly, and then be spiteful to people less able than yourself, or disruptive in school upsetting those paid to train you, or shouting and abusive towards girls, or to use foul dirty language and look at smutty pictures, or bully the weak, or ridicule the ugly.

Many young Muslims are very religious, like Uthman, but imagine if the Prophet came to visit them one day, and said: ‘Do you dislike my ways, Salmah (or Arif, or Sherzaman, or Talulah, or James, or Platovic, or Khusraw, or Yung Chan, or Brigitte)?’

Think of his ways – the ways of the True Messenger of Allah. He never told lies, or cheated. He was never abusive or arrogant or bullying. He loved his followers, even if they got things wrong sometimes and maybe made mistakes. He specially loved the young men who were so brave, and loyal, and ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah. He loved his womenfolk and children. He took in other men’s children and brought them up. He bought slaves who were being badly treated and cared for them with such love that many of them chose to remain living with him and helping him even when granted their freedom and told they could go. He visited the sick, not only his friends but even if they were people who had tormented and abused him, even if they were not Muslims.

He cared for the fate of refugees, prisoners, and especially prisoners of war, and organised arrangements for them to sort out their lives and carry on. He encouraged his followers to learn as much as they could, and educate themselves so that they would be useful citizens who could help others, and not just be a drain on society. He encouraged his womenfolk to act as nurses and teachers. He taught people it was important to be clean, and health conscious, and physically fit and ready for action. He cautioned people against becoming ‘extreme’, exhausting themselves in any aspect of their lives if it meant neglecting other aspects.

It was the Muslim’s duty to do the best he or she could, to be disciplined and create regular practice, and not to look down on other people whose ‘best’ might be quite different. Each person would be judged by his or her own life and effort – nobody else’s. These things were all a Muslim’s duties – and were all really duties towards Allah. Even if you were just being kind to an insect, it was a duty towards Allah well done. Even if you just picked a sharp stone out the path of a poor blind beggar, it was a duty towards Allah well done.

It is not easy to do all our duties in life, but this is how we show real love – not only for the people we care for, but also for Allah. It is what we mean by a sacrifice – being a shahid. We may not have to be put to death for Allah’s sake, but we might well have to do some boring chores when we don’t want to.

We may not be clever enough to learn the whole Quran by heart, but we might well have to be honest when it would be so easy to be dishonest. We may not ever be noticed or thanked or praised, but we have to remember we are not doing things for thanks, but simply because we love Allah and these are our acts of love. Some of the Prophet’s greatest Companions were very simple people who did not have the ability to learn much, but who gave everything they had to help others – and if everything they had was only a small offering, it was worth just as much to Allah as all the riches of the wealthy.

So, may Allah bless us with His grace, and grant us the patience and determination and courage to take on whatever duties He lays upon us, and bring us to success. Amin.