A Family Tree Full of Nuts
The family system is a phenomenon inherent to our very being. No human is born without a mother (with the exception of Ādam and Ḥawwāʾ (Adam and Eve)), or a father (with the exception of ʿĪsā (Jesus)). By extension then, we would all naturally have relatives too: children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, both maternal and paternal. Allah says in the Qur’an:
‘O humanity! Be mindful of your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate, and through both He spread countless men and women. And be mindful of Allah—in Whose Name you appeal to one another—and [honour] family ties. Surely Allah is ever Watchful over you.’ (4:1)
This verse is generally thought of as one in which the rights of the spouses are highlighted, yet in fact it covers relations in general. Allah reminds us that the way He created us means we have relatives and family ties, all of which we should honour and keep enjoined.
Enjoining the ties of kinship - which in other words means keeping active, positive relationships with one’s relatives – is an undisputed requirement of the teachings of Islam. Many of us tend to think that Islam is just about ṣalāh, fasting in Ramadan, Zakat and Hajj, yet this is also one of the obligations that is commonly overlooked.
In numerous places in the Qur’an, Allah puts extending kindness towards relatives alongside fulfilling the rights of parents. This indicates that after the rights of parents, you should be looking to fulfil the rights of your relatives:
‘Worship Allah [alone] and associate none with Him. And be kind to parents, relatives…’ (4:36)
‘They ask you [O Prophet in] what [way] they should donate. Say, “Whatever donations you give are for parents, relatives…”’ (2:215)
‘And [remember] when We took a covenant from the children of Israel [stating], “Worship none but Allah; be kind to parents, relatives…”’ (2:83)
What does ‘enjoining the ties of kinship’ mean?
To actively maintain relationships with your relatives, riding through the peaks and troughs, and repairing those that have turned sour or become obsolete is all a part of enjoining ties of kinship. Starting with your immediate family and then moving further away: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles - both maternal and paternal -, as well as cousins, are all people the Sharia dictates we are to maintain ties with. These are the people that we should seek to look out for, help and support - both materially and morally -, primarily before we extend our grace to others.
What does this entail?
Maintenance and upkeep of these relationships comes in many different forms. However, there are two principles that it should be viewed in the light of:
Your capability and the needs of your relatives need to be considered. Likewise, the closer they are both in relationship and in distance, the more priority is given to them. You are not obliged to jeopardise your own financial, physical and mental wellbeing, nor to patronise them.
Cultural norms and expectations should be considered. Behaviours, etiquette and expectations should largely fall within the norms of the local culture.
With this in mind, there are a few general actions that would normally entail that the ties of kinship are being maintained:
Praying for them: this is something each and every single one of us should do, as are we in need of others doing for us. Making duʿā for someone doesn’t cost anything, and it is hugely rewarding for both of us. A definite quick-win.
Keeping your heart clean about them: not to harbour feelings of malice, hatred and resentment towards them, nor hold them in spite.
Asking after them, missing them and sending greetings to them: it may seem mundane, but sending a random message to a relative you haven’t been in touch with in a while is invaluable. Try it; you’re bound to put a smile on your face, even if not on theirs!
· Sharing in their moments of happiness or grief: reach out and send a message of congratulations when you hear of their wedding, expectancy of a child, purchase of a new home, or landing a new job. Also reach out with a message of condolence if you hear of a bereavement, illness, breakup or a calamity.
Socialise with them: go and visit them, invite them over, arrange a meal out together, accept their invitations. In our modern age, sometimes we under value this. We have to ask ourselves, are we really that busy, or do we stay distant and virtual out of convenience? Do we not give priority to our own comforts more than we should?
Spend on them: obviously within your own capacity, helping through either giving them an interest-free loan, or helping them out of a financial difficulty. In some cases, you can even give Zakat to your relatives.
Exchange gifts: who doesn’t love a gift? The Prophet ﷺ mentioned that exchanging gifts increases mutual love between the parties.
Facilitating reconciliation between them: if you are held in a position of respect and trust, try and facilitate clear-the-air talks between disputing relatives, with the aim of resurrecting the relationship. This is a monumentally rewarding act anyway, but two-fold in this case, because you’re also enjoining ties of kinship.
A Few Issues
Each family has issues. ‘Family politics’ is a thing. We don’t choose who our relatives are, and there are bound to be fall-outs and personality clashes. The idea is not to let them fester into toxic and damaging relationships.
There are the stereotypical aunties and uncles in most families who are outspoken, rude, nosy and gossip. Don’t be that guy. Don’t even be the snake who asks after their relatives and pokes their nose into their affairs when it’s unwelcome, just to then gossip and turn the rumour mill. That’s not rewarding, it’s hugely sinful. Instead of maintaining relationships, it breaks them.
In Islam, no good deed goes unrewarded. Making good with your relatives is no different. The Prophet ﷺ has promised great rewards for it:
‘O people! Spread the greetings of peace, feed, enjoin the ties of kinship, and offer prayers at night when most people are asleep, you shall enter Paradise in peace!’
‘Whoever wishes his sustenance to be plentiful, and his life to be lengthened, should enjoin the ties of his kinship.’
The commentators have explained this to mean a person will find great blessings in his wealth and time; he/she will find that they will be able to achieve a lot with the amount of wealth and time they possess, not necessarily that they will have more wealth and a longer lifespan.
‘Whoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day, should enjoin his ties of kinship.’ He ﷺ declared it an emblem of faith.
May Allah enable us to fulfil this obligation by strengthening and maintaining our family ties. Āmīn