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When Recipients of Charity Turn Ungrateful

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Q: We have two close relatives who are of limited means. We have been helping them regularly. Recently, however, we stopped giving them assistance because we learned that they were speaking ill of us. The point is that we would like to help them, but they seem to be extremely ungrateful. Are we supposed to continue to support them when they meet our generosity with ungratefulness?

A: To be kind to relatives is one of the essential requirements of Islamic manners. Islam stresses the need to foster ties of kinship in all sorts of ways. If one is of reasonable means and has close relatives, who suffered poverty, then the best way to strengthen one’s ties with such relatives is to help them financially. Richer relatives may be given gifts or may be visited every now and then in order to maintain a good relationship with them. With such an attitude, the normal response is to be grateful. Relatives who are visited are bound to be appreciative and those who receive gifts are bound to be thankful.
However, at times, you will find a relation who is ungrateful. This normally comes out of an attitude, which considers that receiving help from richer relatives is owing to one by right. Hence, any help which one receives is considered meager. Consequently, thanks which are due to the giver are substituted by gestures of ingratitude. What should be one’s attitude in such a case?
The perfect answer comes from an authentic Hadith related by Muslim, Ahmad and others on the authority of Abu Hurairah who reports as follows. “A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and said: Messenger of God, I have relatives whose kinship I try to foster while, they never. I make one good turn after another, towards them, when they reply with bad turns. They speak ill of me and I take an attitude of forbearance. The Prophet said; “If what you say is true, it is as if you compel them to eat burning ashes. You will continue to have God’s support against them as long as you continue with your attitude.”
You appear to have had a similar experience to that of the man, who put the case to the Prophet. As you see, the Prophet did not tell him to stop extending kind treatment to his relatives, despite their ingratitude. In fact, he recommends him to continue with his kind gestures. He consoles him, however, that their attitude is like one who is forced to eat burning ashes. Perhaps nothing is more painful to eat than that. One can imagine that it is very easy to choke when one tries to swallow ashes, which have cooled down. To try to eat burning ashes is far worse, in addition to it being extremely painful. The Prophet describes their attitude as such because they do not appreciate kind gestures. He further assures the man that he has God’s support against his relatives if he continues with his attitude, trying always to maintain a good relationship with them and foster his ties of kinship, while they return his good gestures with bad ones.
A poor relative of Abu Bakr who used to receive regular financial support from him was once involved in spreading rumors against Abu Baker’s daughter which was absolutely false. Abu Bakr decided to stop his financial support. God revealed a verse in the Qur’an, which encourages Abu Bakr and people like him to continue their kindness to their poor relatives. He puts to them the rhetoric question. “Do you not desire that God should forgive you your sins?” (Al-Noor: 24: 22).” When Abu Bakr heard this verse he said: “I indeed love that God forgives me.” He immediately reinstated his grant to his poor relative.
From all this, you realize that despite the wrong attitude of your relatives, it is far better for you and more rewarding to continue to help them. Perhaps this is the best way to silence them.