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It seems severing ties of kinship (family) is a serious issue. From Sunnah.com:

'Abdullah ibn 'Awfa reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said

Mercy does not descend on a people when there is someone among them who severs ties of kinship

and from Islam Basics:

The person who breaks the ties of kinship will never enter Paradise.

Islam Q&A even quotes al-Ra’d 13:26:

And those who break the Covenant of Allaah, after its ratification, and sever that which Allaah has commanded to be joined (i.e., they sever the bond of kinship and are not good to their relatives), and work mischief in the land, on them is the curse (i.e., they will be far away from Allaah’s Mercy); And for them is the unhappy (evil) home (i.e., Hell).

Question: Is it still wrong to sever ties of kinship in the case of an abusive relative?

I'm thinking either physical or psychological abuse towards oneself or one's other family members (e.g. children). Would Allah be okay with severing contact with them?

The Islam Q&A page continues:

A man said to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), “I have relatives with whom I try to keep in touch, but they cut me off. I treat them well, but they abuse me. I am patient and kind towards them, but they insult me.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “If you are as you say, then it is as if you are putting hot dust in their mouths. Allaah will continue to support you as long as you continue to do that.” (Reported by Muslim with commentary by al-Nawawi, 16/115).

It's unclear to me what the Prophet means. It's also not quite addressing my question (although it does show Allah has some leniency), as this man is attempting to maintain ties of kinship, whereas I'm asking about severing ties of kinship as the result of abuse.

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A fast review on the quoted ahadith

The hadith of 'Abdullah ibn 'Awfa has been qualified as da'if even if it differs slightly of other sahih ahdith like your second quoted hadith which you may find in sahih Muslim, sunan abi Dawod, Jami' at-Tirmdihi and in both the sahih and al-adab al-mufrad of al-Bukahri.

The last hadith is originally from sahih Muslim: What one could deduce from it is that if you could do your best to keep the ties of kinship and you could be patient while your relatives are treating you badly you may be rewarded in the hereafter. So this is an other way to emphasize the importance to maintain ties of kinship. See also this fatwa with more details on the importance of maintaining ties kinship.

Gracious avoidance الهجر الجميل

Allah the Almighty said addressing his Messenger (Peace be upon him):

And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance. (73:10)

so beside patience a way to treat relatives whom we may fear or fear their abuse ... there's the so called gracious avoidance.

According to this Fatwa (in Arabic) quoting at-Tahar Benachour gracious avoidance means: that one is asked to do avoidance literally that means not meeting somebody, to have no social relation with him/her but without any bane or any kind of vengeance or dislike. This means you shouldn't talk badly or abusing or any bad words or acts.

Ibn Taymiyah said (My own translation take it with care or feel free to suggest editing):

الهجر الجميل هجر بلا أذى، والصفح الجميل صفح بلا عتاب، والصبر الجميل صبر بلا شكوى

The gracious avoidance: is an avoidance without bane, the gracious forgiveness: is a forgiveness without blame and gracious patience: is a patience without beef

Ibn 'Abd al-Barr explained that gracious avoidance is allowed if one fears due to social relation a harm in his faith or his Dunya (this life) and an increase of animosity and hatred. So avoiding in those cases is safer then to approach and maintain ties. As it would prevent you from slips as you will be safe from aftereffects of this company.

On maintaining ties of kinship to non-Muslims

According this Fatwa (in Arabic) a Muslim isn't asked to maintain to maintain the ties of kinship to a non-Muslim (literally a kafir) relative (in means of affection) even if it was a brother, sister etc quoting the story of Noah and his son in (11:46) which may indicate that a disbeliever is no more considered as a relative to a Muslim and (58:22) which adds even the parents and kids if they were disbelievers and oppose Allah and Islam.

But it is allowing to keep the ties for allowed wordily matters like making gifts especially if there's a hope that this person could convert or at least be positive about Islam based on verse (60:8) and in case of the parents (31:15). See also this sahih hadith and this about giving gifts see also this hadith on a statement about the paternal relatives of our Messenger (Peace be upon him) see also in sahih Muslim. According to ibn Hajar in fath al-Bary ibn Bital concluded that this last hadith indicates that the wilaya الولاية translated protection or guardianship or friendship (the two first are closer to the Arabic meaning) is ordered for the faith and banished for the kinship.

More references and conclusion

For further information here is a fatwa in English On how to deal with a relative who is an apostate.
Note that on islamqa I found a fatwa allowing the gracious avoidance as described above even for Muslims see for example here for relatives who abuse and threat others badly and one where a mother (Muslim) is allowed to avoid her (Muslim) if she is abusing her, but this fatwa is also recommending patience and quoting ahadith on the importance of maintaining ties of kinship.

So in your situation you are the best to know what is more convenient: you can show patience and keep at least a minimum of the ties of kinship in the hope of being rewarded by Allah or avoid a gracious avoidance.
Note you could keep the ties by a simple phone call asking how things are, no more no less or being as much neutral as you can!

And Allah knows best!

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The Hadith you mentioned is exactly about abuse, as long as that man can continue to treat them well, he will be supported by Allah, which is the aim for every Muslim.

If there is sever harm in keeping ties of kinship (such as physical), then he can abandon them without cutting all ties, for example giving them a call from time to time should be enough to stay away from harm and not considered Boycotted kinship.

Disbeliever’s ties of kinship

If the relatives are non-Muslim, most scholars say it is permissible but not obligatory to maintain their ties, but that does not apply to parents.

Non-Muslim parents

Accompany them with kindness for Allah says:

But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness….31/15

  • I'm not sure how to explain my personal situation without backbiting, but the severing took place many years ago. Maybe I need to speak to an Imam about it privately. It's plausible that any communication with this person could lead to harm (including physical) to a family member (we've all severed contact). Do you have a reference for the "harm => severing is okay" claim? – Rebecca J. Stones Jul 6 '16 at 12:51
  • Two comments about backbiting: 1) it's considered backbiting only when you speak about Muslim known to the person you talk to but if it is about some one indefinite and talking to people who'll not recognize him/her, it's not backbiting.......2) There are 6 cases in which backbiting is allowed, one of them when you ask as in your case here....it's a good idea to ask Imam, but also you are safe from backbiting, if you are sure that no one reads your post will recognize that person. – M.M Jul 7 '16 at 5:23

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