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A Mulsim Perspective on Pastrol Care

Basma Elshayyal's picture

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What is pastoral care? To some, I imagine, it means chaplains counselling those in their care, or vicars visiting members of their congregation or asking after their wellbeing. For those from a professional background it means the duty of care and the practice of looking after a student’s personal and social wellbeing; of being ‘in loco parentis’ (a familiar term to tutors and teachers)

For me as a Muslim, another layer is added. This teaching is expressed in vividly metaphoric language and applies to all Muslims.

Everyone is a shepherd

Ibn 'Umar reported that the Prophet ( May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock; and will be answerable in respect of it.’

The Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) )continues to list other categories involving pastoral care: child and parent; worker and employer and so on; and details the amana (trust) over which each has been made a custodian. Reading more deeply into this, it clearly covers a wide variety of other issues like health, social and moral education, financial provision, behaviour management, emotional support and so on.

The Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds; Who created me, and it is He Who guides me; Who gives me food and drink, And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me; Who will cause me to die, and then to life (again); And who, I hope, will forgive me my faults on the day of Judgment.

(Qur’an, 26:77-82)

These words are developed in the narrative in the Qur’an and attributed to Abraham (pbuh). He says that the Lord is his shepherd when answering challenges from his family about whom, and what, he believed in.

With this as a starting point, a Muslim considers himself/herself as a shepherd or custodian of all around him (This is an extension of the idea of Khilafa: vicegerency which is outlined in Care for the Earth article in this book) and is therefore morally responsible for their wellbeing in whatever capacity he or she can offer. In return, they are to expect the same.

Guidelines for the shepherd

Whilst maintaining the belief that Allah, God, is the One central source for all sustenance, cure, nurture, care and love, Muslims are guided to implement the following when dealing with their own personal ‘flock’

  • Guidance and appropriate teaching: Just as a shepherd directs his flock to their destination, not leaving them to wander aimlessly. He is conscious that they need him and therefore takes his responsibility seriously and doesn’t act carelessly. He shepherds them only to the places that are best for them.

  • Nurture and provision: Following on from the knowledge that a shepherd is needed for guidance, this is also true in the case of food, water, shelter, etc. in addition to love and care.

  • Boundaries: A flock that is well cared for will be kept to certain guidelines, not as a control measure, but rather one of protection from harm. Their shepherd will constantly be on the look out for dangers that may threaten their wellbeing or security.

Rereading what I have written, I feel it may come across as slightly patronising to some. However, the point to note is that this idea is not a fixed role, nor one to be bestowed on a particular section of society, gender or age, etc. To return to the Hadith: ‘each of you is a shepherd…’ The responsibility to care for all, and work for the common good, rests on everyone’s shoulders and could mean visits to the sick, teaching, counselling, offering condolences, financial support (especially towards orphans and widows), protecting and caring for one’s family or any other.

Likewise, there is no particular exclusivity to any role that can, or should be, undertaken by any priest or religious minister. In fact the concept of a clergy, or theocratic hierarchy, does not really exist as such in mainstream Islamic theology, except in branches of Shia Islam.