The Life of the Prophet ﷺ and Social Rights
Among all living beings on Earth, humans are the creatures who live their lives in communities, interacting and staying together. Civilizations, neighborhoods, villages, dwellings, cities, states, governments are not found in any other species. This system is not in lions, nor in elephants. Civilization means living together, fulfilling each other’s needs, and this is specific to humans, although other living beings do it within limited scopes. Civilization is also referred to as society, and it is a distinct feature of humanity. A common saying is that humans are civilized by nature, having civility, urbanity, sociality, and societal behaviors, and living together is also a human compulsion, a necessity, and a habit. To live together, it’s essential to respect each other’s rights and fulfill each other’s responsibilities. Where a few people live together, they will have to regard each other, listen to each other, work for each other, and take work from each other. This is called society, civilization, and community.
Arrangement of Social Rights
Rights of Family Members
He first elaborated on the rights of family members, rights of parents for children, rights of children for parents, rights of sisters for brothers, rights of brothers for sisters, rights of wives for husbands, rights of husbands for wives, and then the rights of other close relatives. The Holy Quran has explained these rights in this order. Hence, the directive of the Almighty is:
وَءَاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ
Give the relative his right (17:26)
The foremost right is that of parents, children, spouses, and siblings.
Rights of Relatives
After that, the rights of other close relatives have been explained, and it has been expressed as ‘Haqooq’ (rights), stating that one should fulfill the rights of close relatives step by step. This is called ‘Sila Rehmi’ (maintaining bonds of kinship). The Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has said that ‘Sila Rehmi’ is a form of dual worship. Spending (in the way of Allah) is a charity, and spending on relatives is a double charity because it includes both charity and maintaining bonds of kinship.
Rights of Neighbors
After this, the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) emphasized the third circle, the rights of neighbors, those who live around you;
وَٱلْجَارِ ذِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْجَارِ ٱلْجُنُبِ وَٱلصَّاحِبِ بِٱلْجَنۢبِ
and the close neighbor and the distant neighbor and the companion at your side (4:36)
There are three types of neighbors explained: one, those who are also relatives; two, those who are not relatives; and three, the companion in context, referred to as ‘league,’ like a class fellow, travel companion, partner in a task, or coworker. This constitutes the third circle of neighbors. Ummul Mu’mineen Hazrat Aisha (رضي الله عنها) states that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) explained the rights of neighbors, emphasizing that you should be considerate of your neighbors. If something good is cooked in your house, share it with your neighbors. She says, ‘I asked what the limit of neighbors is?’ He replied, ‘Ten houses on all four sides.’ I expressed that I don’t have enough food to send to forty houses. He said, ‘Send it to the house whose door is closest to your door.’ Among the rights of neighbors is that you empathize with each other’s pain, share in happiness and sorrow, and be available in times of need.
Nowadays, our condition is such that in modern societies (like posh colonies), we often don’t even know who our neighbors are. Until there’s an occasion of happiness or sorrow in that house, sometimes for many years, there’s no knowledge of who lives next door. Even weddings nowadays take place in wedding halls, whereas in one Hadith, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has given guidance,
ليس المؤمن الذى يبيت شبعان وجاره جائع في جنبه وهو يعلمه
He whose neighbor sleeps hungry while he himself sleeps with a full stomach, knowing the condition of his neighbor, has no right to be called a believer.
After this, the fourth circle is that of society at large; that those in need and the destitute within the general populace should be cared for. Whether someone is disabled, struck by calamity, or in distress, their rights should be fulfilled. Allah Subhanahoo Wata’ala, has commanded:
وَفِىٓ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ حَقٌّۭ لِّلسَّآئِلِ وَٱلْمَحْرُومِ
And in their wealth there was a rightful share ˹fulfilled˺ for the beggar and the poor. (51:19)
The wealth that has been given to you is not entirely yours; others have a share and right in it too, both the asker (one who expresses his need) and the deprived (one who does not express his need). ‘Asker’ here does not refer to those who wander the streets begging, but to those genuinely in need. ‘Deprived’ refers to those who are indeed in need but do not beg. There are many people in society around us who are in need but do not ask due to their dignity and self-respect; such individuals are referred to as ‘white-cloaked’ as they appear well-dressed and proper, but only they or God know their inner state. They also have the right that expenditure be made on them. Now, the question arises: how do we identify those who do not express their needs, so that their rights can be fulfilled? The Holy Quran states about them:
تعرفهم بسيمهم لا يسئلون الناس الحافا“ (سوره البقره ۲۷۳)
A wise person recognizes them by their signs and their circumstances, and it is also their characteristic that they do not persistently ask people. Meaning, those individuals in society who express their needs have rights over you, and those who, despite being in need, do not express, they have rights over you too. Scholars state that this also imposes another duty: to be aware of the environment around you and who is in what condition. It is also a Muslim’s responsibility. So, it is understood that the first level is your family. The second level is your community, relatives, and tribe. The third level is your neighbors, and the fourth is society at large. The Holy Quran has detailed these rights with precision and order, stating the rights of orphans, the needy, neighbors, travelers, and slaves step by step, clarifying that it is not your favor but their right.
The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), also articulated the rights of animals. In those times, travel was on camels, horses, and mules. If a rider came to the Prophet (ﷺ), he would ask where the ride is and where it has been tied. Once, while he was in the mosque, a man came, left his camel outside, and entered the mosque. After greeting, the Prophet asked how he had come, and the man replied, on a camel. The Prophet asked where the camel was, and the man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I have left it trusting in Allah.’ The Prophet said, ‘Go and tie the camel first, then trust in Allah.’ It is the host’s responsibility to first arrange for the guest’s animal’s feed and rest. The Prophet (ﷺ), would be mindful of this. For instance, nowadays, if a guest has come on a motorcycle or car, it should be asked whether the vehicle is parked in a safe place. These might seem like minor matters, but they are included in rights.
Rights of the Way
People today talk about human rights; the Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), also elucidated the rights of the way. Hazrat Abu Sa’eed Khudri (رضي الله عنه), recounts that the Prophet (ﷺ), instructed not to sit in the pathways where people come and go and not to establish gatherings there, as it troubles those passing by. When the Companions,(رضی اللہ عنھم), expressed sometimes it’s necessary, for instance, when meeting someone and there’s no place at home, then one has to sit outside in the street. The Companions would present their issues, and the Prophet (ﷺ), would either provide a solution or accept someone’s suggested solution. For example, during the event of Khaybar, he declared the sanctity of domesticated donkeys and ordered, “Turn over the pot in which donkey meat is cooking.” A Companion asked, “O Messenger of Allah, won’t it be purified by washing? We’ll discard the meat, but we might need the pot.” The Prophet permitted them to clean the pot.
Similarly, when the Companions said they had to sit in the pathways, he commanded:
If you must gather in the way, then fulfill its rights. They asked, “O Messenger of Allah, does the way have rights too?”
‘ما حق الطريق’
What are the rights of streets and roads? He elucidated these rights:
(don’t stare at others).
‘كفوا الاذى عن الطريق’
If you see something troubling (like stones, banana peels, etc.), remove it. It’s the right of passersby that they are not troubled. And he said, ‘Return the greetings.’ Reply to those who greet you. Greeting and responding is an enduring right of the way.
Hazrat Abdullah bin Umar, who was blind in his later years, had a student, the leader of the followers, Hazrat Nafi. He recounts that one day Ibn Umar told him, ‘Nafi, take me to the market; I need to go for a walk, I have some work.’ I accompanied him, and after walking through the market, he said, ‘Let’s return.’ Nafi asked, ‘Sir, what work did you have in the market? People trade, but you didn’t.’ He replied, ‘I completed the work I came for.’ Nafi said, ‘I was with you; what work did you do?’ He explained, ‘On the way to the market, I greeted some people, they responded; some greeted me, I responded. I came to the market for this, as it had been long since I had ventured from home and hadn’t exchanged greetings on the way, which is the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ).’ Similarly, the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), declared this right of the way:
‘الامـر بـالـمـعـروف والنهي عن المنکر’
Commanding good, admonishing someone seen in a good act, and preventing evil is also among the rights of the way.
The Holy Prophet (ﷺ), explained societal rights. I have detailed some spheres: home, relatives, neighbors, general society, ways, and roads, etc., whose rights are key to success when respected.