On top of the trunk loads of gifts we receive after visiting family, we often get another windfall: our wishes come true.
About a year ago, for example, I desperately wanted my daughter to learn our Holy Book but could neither find a local tutor nor make the time to teach her myself.
A few days after returning from seeing relatives--where my guilt trip got guiltier after a cousin asked about my kids' Quran progress--came the solution. Intending to call a neighbor, I accidently dialed an acquaintance with the same name who went on to tell me about her brother's new online Quran tutoring service!
I think not. I'm convinced that referral was a godsend for our weekend efforts at silat-ar-rahm, an Arabic term for loving, sympathizing with and doing good to relatives (other than dependents).
Silat-ar-rahm is a serious obligation and can be expressed in many ways, such as supporting, helping or visiting our blood relatives (near and far) and in-laws.*
"Man is not given the reward of any good work sooner than that of silat-ar-rahm," according to Ali, husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women).
Rewards in this world for silat-ar-rahm include a longer life, increased sustenance, a prosperous home and family and the easement of death pangs.
Fatima's great-grandson Jafar Sadiq demonstrated the utmost importance of silat-ar-rahm on his deathbed. While coming in and out of consciousness he told his slave girl Salimah to give his relative Hasan 70 dinar.
Salimah said: "You are bequeathing to a man [Hasan] who had attacked you with a knife and wanted to kill you?"
Jafar Sadiq said: "Do you not want me to be among those whom God has praised for 'joining the relationship'? (Quran 13:21)
O Salimah, verily God created Paradise and made its scent pleasant and its scent reaches up to the distance of two thousand years. But the person who disobeys his parents or severs relationships will not smell its scent."
Indeed, strengthening family ties for the pleasure of God provides support for the individual and a network for fulfilling social obligations.
"Struggle is a multi-generational task," says lecturer Sheikh Nooruddin.
Fatima's son Hussain provided the ultimate example of how one family's collective commitment to truth and justice can revolutionize society. When Hussain undertook his mission to Kerbala to protest an oppressive regime, his kinfolk-- the old and the young, the men and the women--joined him.
That, in fact, was the secret to his success.
"If Hussain had fought to quench his worldly desires...then I do not understand why his sister, wife and children accompanied him," said nineteenth century writer Charles Dickens. "It stands to reason, therefore, that he sacrificed for Islam."
*As a side, silat-ar-rahm does not sanctify participating in activities in which God's laws are violated, even if they are hosted by family members.