Updated: Jun 17
Rights and Duties - two words that we keep hearing all the time in our daily lives in various contexts. However, what is the actual meaning of these two words, and just how many people care enough to adhere to it? A majority of people prefer to focus on rights than duties. We all know and cling to our rights more adhesively than to our duties, which are always buried somewhere deep in our minds. We see our rights clearly but our duties are back-seated and are hardly visible.
Today I am going to discuss both of these under the Islamic concept as well as the international/societal concept. I believe that people in developed countries know their rights and duties, and they act upon them as well. Whereas, the case in developing countries is different where people, even if they know their rights, are hardly given them and face violent responses if they demand them.
There are a lot of examples spread across the world of such brutalities, from South Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
Now let us discuss ‘rights’ from an Islamic and Quranic point of view, where rights and duties go hand in hand. That is why I am going to discuss ‘duties’ first and ‘rights’ later on. According to the teachings of Islam there are two types of duties: our duty to our Creator - Allah - or Haqooq-e-Allah, and our duty towards our fellow human beings - Haqooq-ul-Ibaad. For the first one, Allah himself has said that if you will not perform your duty towards me, that is if you do not offer your prayers, perform Hajj, or do not fast, then you might be forgiven. However, if you do not perform your duty towards your fellow human beings then there is no forgiveness until and unless the person concerned forgives you. Thinking about it is quite scary - how will I ever be able to find the person among the zillions on that fateful day to seek forgiveness? To cope, I think it is better that I try to perform my duties to the fullest of my abilities and leave the rest to Allah.
Haqooq-ul-Ibaad - our duties towards our fellow humans. These are divided into so many categories, and that is the reason why they are so difficult to perform: e.g. duties of parents to their offsprings and vice versa, the duty of siblings to each other, duties to our maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and vice versa. Duties towards our kith and kin whether close or far. Duties as teachers and students, master and servant, shopkeepers and buyers, etc. A very important one is the duty towards our neighbors which the Prophet (SAW) highly emphasized upon. However, how many people even know their neighbors well enough and have a positive relationship with them?
How many spouses fulfill their duties towards each other? For example, and I speak this from my observation, husbands keep reminding their wives of their duties towards them while they themselves aren’t focused on making sure to fulfill theirs as providers and protectors.
Now, what leads to the creation of these problems are the customs and traditions that we have adopted and adhere to. We let these toxic cultural norms feed upon us, our relationships like parasites. We are not willing to do away with them and change ourselves for better, and this is true for both the educated and the illiterate ones among us. People are willing to die, but they won’t go against these customs and traditions. There is no injunction in the Quran and neither did the Holy Prophet (SAW) say that it is the religious duty of the daughter-in-law to look after, and take care of her in-laws. In fact, if she does out of her own will, she must be appreciated for her akhlaq, and if she declines to do so, no one is supposed to force, physically or emotionally, her into complying with their own wishes.
Another problem prevalent in our society is forced marriages, especially of daughters in the name of obedience. Such a mindset and practice solely focus on the duty of children to be obedient to their parents while completely ignoring their right of choosing a spouse for themselves. Other such practices include Watta Satta or exchange marriage, and the wretched Vani wherein a young girl is married off to settle a dispute between families. Also, in some parts of Sindh, women are married off to the Holy Quran so as to avoid paying them their fair, rightful share of the inheritance.
There are thousands of these harmful and painful traditions to which people are bound by those in power in a tribe, clan, or by least knowledgeable mullahs whose work is to keep blasting at each other and mislead the layman. We see that those whom the people consider being responsible for ensuring, or at least encouraging, the smooth flow of the rights-duty dynamics in the society, turn out to be the ones doing the exact opposite. Therefore, I believe that the people, rather than depending on others, should try to educate themselves so that they can differentiate between beneficial and detrimental customs and practices, so that they do not attach themselves to harmful practices to the extent of getting suffocated by them. It is crucial to know about our rights and duties and then do our best to uphold them in their true sense.
Faiza Zameer is an in-house writer at Perspective.