Balance in Observing Rights

Balance in Observing Rights
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Question: In the ahadith of the Prophet, it is emphasized that every human being has to observe a certain set of rights – like the rights of God, the rights of one’s soul, and the rights of the family. How should believers establish balance in observing these rights?

Answer: There are two famous sayings of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, on this matter with similar implications. In one of these, the Prophet gives advice to the Companions. In the other one, the Prophet approves Salman al-Farisi who gave Abu al-Darda the correct advice on the matter (You may find several reports of these hadiths at the very end).

As noted in the sayings in question as well as in the verses and other related prophetic sayings with similar content, there are certain duties and rights a person should observe. These include primarily the rights of God, our soul, parents, spouses, children, relatives who need care, and people who need our protection and guardianship. It is essential for a believer to give everyone their due without neglect or omission and act in a balanced manner in doing so.

The Rights of God

Rights a person should observe have different levels of significance or precedence. Some of them have priority over others. Of course, the most important of these rights are those of God Almighty’s. It is God Who created us out of nothing into the domain of existence, giving us life as human beings, granting us free will and consciousness, making us superior to other creatures, and honoring us with Islam. No right can be equal to God’s rights on us. Even if we lived for a million years and spent our entire life constantly praying and worshiping Him, we could not give Him His due in terms of expressing our thankfulness. Indeed, in a noble saying of the Prophet, it is emphasized that a person can hardly express one’s gratitude to God even if he spends all his life with worship and devotion (Al-Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, 4/278).

In Gulistan, Saadi Shirazi says that one should express gratitude twice for every breath. Indeed, a person will die if he cannot breathe in or breathe out. Thus, God bestows upon us life twice for every act of respiration. In this regard, it is clear that our duty for giving God His due constitutes a huge burden, and as such, rights of God over us have the utmost importance. This also tells us that it is a natural responsibility for us to worship Him as our Creator, the only One who deserves to be worshiped. To praise, pray and worship Him alone is the sole purpose of our lives. Being human entails worshiping Him. If we try to give only God His due properly, then we will not be able to have or find any other opportunity to give others their due.

However, God does not want us to fulfill duties proportionately with the magnitude of His favors and blessings on us. He just asks us to allocate one hour to prayer out of 24 hours a day, fast for one month out of 12 months in a year, give one-fortieth of our income as prescribed purifying alms and go on a hajj once in our lives if we are healthy and wealthy enough. If we find these duties too much compared to the scale of Divine blessings we are bestowed with, that would be unfair.

On the other hand, God narrows down the sphere of our responsibilities and duties toward Him by acknowledging other rights in addition to His rights and commanding us to observe those rights as well. It is as if He said, “If you worship Me at that level, it will be enough to earn My good pleasure.” He makes servitude to Him and worship easier and more convenient to perform. In addition, He promises to grant us His eternal favors and blessings in Paradise if we fulfill our duties toward Him. All of these are manifestations of His boundless grace and mercy.

The Path of God’s Messenger

Blessed Companions of the Prophet had a perfect understanding of the importance and scale of God’s rights. Many Companions sought to worship God more in addition to objective duties imposed by Islam on each Muslim. Once, some of the Companions decided to perform prayers all through the night, fast every day without break, and stay away from all worldly pleasures and even from their wives. To this end, some of them were even preparing to try methods that were against human nature. Yet, this was not the path of our Prophet, who would not only perform worship and obedience to God in the perfect manner, but also spend time with his family, listen to those who would make demands from him regarding their needs and deal with the community’s problems. He would plan his time perfectly and deal with his duties accordingly, and this would give him ability and resources to perform all of his affairs smoothly and flawlessly. In a sense, those Companions reasoned as follows: “As clearly stated in the Qur’an, ‘that God may forgive you (O Messenger) your lapses of the past and those to follow’ (al-Fath 48:2). He is a Messenger of God. But we are not like him. God will call us to account for all of our deeds. Therefore, we should renounce all worldly affairs and focus on worship and prayer for our entire life.”

However, this line of thinking went against the sayings and living tradition (sunnah) of the Noble Prophet, who actually introduced a religion that was essentially easy to practice. Those Companions might be able to perform heavier worship as they intended to do so for the time being, but they would be overwhelmed by it when they grew older. Indeed, Abdullah ibn al-Amr ibn al-As insisted on fasting, praying and reciting more, saying he was strong enough to do so despite our Prophet’s efforts to persuade him to fast less and to keep moderation. When he grew older, he confessed that it was wrong of him not to follow the advice of the Messenger of God (Sahih al-Bukhari, Sawm, 54; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 182). As one of the most pious Companions, he found it hard to maintain his previous worshiping routines and habits due to old age and frailty and he did not want to abandon them either.

This being the proper line of thinking and the middle way, we should not nurture misconceptions about why those Companions acted in that manner. It would be wrong to assume that what they did was an aberration. Their intention was just to attain God’s good pleasure and this could be done by pushing the limits in worship. The source of their resolve and determination was their quest for giving God His due on them. By doing so, they believed, they would be closer to the Prophet in the Hereafter. However, they failed to stick to the principle of balance and moderation as the Prophet would do. And the Messenger of God advised them what was straightforward and natural.

What is implicated in the above-mentioned sayings of the Prophet is this: “God has rights over you; so does your soul, your body, or your family… Give each of those right holders their due.” Here, the advice is that believers should not only act diligently in fulfilling religious injunctions and duties, but also respect the rights of their soul and family.

Believers should make it a critical goal not to neglect any right or make one right prevent another. Even worship or prayer performed in the path of God should not make believers neglect the observance of the rights of their souls, families, parents, or children. For instance, performing services in the path of God cannot justify our failure to respect the rights of our parents: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully.” (al-Isra 17:23).  Here God commands that we treat our parents with the best of kindness after decreeing that we worship Him.

If we put forward our worship or services as excuses for our indolence or negligence in failing to pay respect to rights of our parents, spouses or children, then our guilt would be greater. We have to be considerably fair-minded and balanced in this regard.

Our Prophet would not neglect even those matters which may seem to us as secondary or incidental in terms of respecting rights of his family despite his strong rapport with God, the burden of his responsibilities and magnitude, seriousness and sensitiveness of his duties. He has such great rights over every member of the Muslim community that none of us can repay him. If it were not for him, neither would Abu Bakr find faith, nor would Aisha become our virtuous mother nor would others be guided to the straight path. As poet laureate M. Akif Ersoy put it, “All humanity is indebted to that innocent.”

The Prophet was painstaking in respecting the rights of his family. One day, with encouragement from her husband Ali, Fatima came to his father, our Prophet, and made some material demands. Our Prophet told her that he could not fulfill her demands because there were people who were needier than her. Later, assuming that his decline of her demands might have broken her heart, he went to her house. Fatima and Ali were about to go to sleep. They wanted to stand up, but he prevented them. He sat near them and taught them some words of remembrance of God and supplications, saying that they were more propitious than what they wanted. In this way, he consoled her (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 2/203). As is seen, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) not only performed properly his high-demanding mission of prophethood, but also was exacting in respecting the rights over him.

Rights and Making a Work Plan

If you plan your work well and refrain from wasting your time, God will pave the way not only for your fulfilling your duties of Divine worship and civic service, but also for your respecting other rights that concern you. You have to lead an extremely disciplined and well-planned life if you intend to give every right holder their due. What you will do on which day and at which hour would be determined in advance so that you do not neglect any duty. You should not waste even a second of your time and you should make the best use of it that you can spare some of it for other errands. Suppose you will consult your colleagues about an important matter. You should not waste your time with empty talk or chatter. You should think about what you will discuss in advance and you should even take notes without leaving the matter to the flexibility of improvisation. Otherwise, one thing will lead to another and discussions will drag on and even a matter that could be settled in half an hour would take long hours. As a result, you will find no opportunity to read books, speak with other about God the Beloved, or deal with family matters. If you can use your time efficiently, then you will have ample time to read books, and take care of your family properly, without sparing them of your quality time and smiles.

In fact, it is quite important for family members to discuss certain matters and agree on the timing and fulfillment of certain things and comply with these decisions. This is critical for peace, happiness, and prosperity in the family. Family members should be able to answer for any unwanted, inadvertent violation of rights, apologizing each other and asking for each other’s forgiveness. For instance, when you fail to come home at the designated hour, you should talk to your spouse, explain your case, and apologize. Likewise, wives should show perfect respect for the rights of their husbands, and spouses mutually fulfill their duties properly.

The same applies to violation of rights of someone who may happen to serve you, whom you employ and to whom you provide food or income. Likewise, you should acknowledge their rights and ask for their forgiveness. If you delude yourself saying that the person whose rights you violate will not claim his/her rights, being a man or woman, or a servant, child, wife, mother, father, etc., then you are going to account for those violations in the Hereafter. In the Great Gathering and Judgment Day, no one will heed the excuses you will make up for those violated rights. There, everything will be revealed and you will feel ashamed in the presence of God. You will go through a battering process of giving everyone their due in the Hereafter. We therefore should pay utter respect for all rights over us in order not to appear before God with those violated rights and delude ourselves.


Sahih al-Bukhari, chapter Sawm, hadith no 54

Sahih Muslim, Siyam, 182


  • The Prophet (ﷺ) made a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abu al-Darda. Salman paid a visit to Abu al-Darda and found Um al-Darda dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state. She replied, “Your brother Abu al-Darda is not interested in (the luxuries of) this world.” In the meantime Abu al-Darda came and prepared a meal for Salman. Salman requested Abu al-Darda to eat (with him), but Abu al-Darda said, “I am fasting.” Salman said, “I am not going to eat unless you eat.” So, Abu al-Darda ate (with Salman). When it was night and (a part of the night passed), Abu al-Darda got up (to offer the night prayer), but Salman told him to sleep and Abu al-Darda slept. After some time Abu al-Dardaa again got up but Salman told him to sleep. When it was the last hours of the night, Salman told him to get up then, and both of them offered the prayer. Salman told Abu al-Darda, “Your Lord has a right on you, your soul has a right on you, and your family has a right on you; so you should give the rights of all those who has a right on you.” Abu al-Darda came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and narrated the whole story. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Salman has spoken the truth.” (Book 30, Hadith 75)
  • In an other hadith, Abdullah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was informed that he could stand up for (prayer) throughout the night and observe fast every day so long as he lived. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “I have been informed that you fast every day and pray every night (all the night). Fast (for some days) and give up fasting (for some days); pray and sleep, for your eyes have a right on you, and your body and your family (i.e., wife) has a right on you.” …. 

In other related narrations:

  • ‘Abdullah b. ‘Amr said: I am capable of doing more than this. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: There is nothing better than this. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Amr said: Had I accepted the three days (fasting during every month) as the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) had said, it would have been more dear to me than my family and my property.
  • ‘Amr b. ‘As said: I was hard to myself and thus I was put to hardship. The Apostle of Allah (ﷺ) had told me: ‘You do not know you may live long (thus and bear the hardships for a long time), and I accepted that which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) had told me. When I grew old I wished I had availed myself of the concession (granted by) the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)
  • Herkul Radyo