Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that all Bedouin stopped the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) while he was traveling and asked, “Tell me what will bring me nearer to heaven and keep me away from the fire.” The Prophet answered, “Worship Allah and do not associate anyone or anything with Him. Attend regularly to your prayers and pay zakah and foster your ties of kinship.”
When we study the Sunnah, it is of great importance sometimes that we relate a certain hadith to the occasion on which it was said and the person addressed by it. Sometimes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stressed a certain aspect because it was important, or more relevant, to the person himself. Not only did the Prophet know his Companions well, he was keenly aware of what life was like in all parts of Arabia, knowing at firsthand the differences between the life of a bedouin and that of a city dweller and how these differences affected people and their attitudes. Furthermore, the Prophet knew very well how different people reacted to certain situations. This is not surprising because people and their characters were a main concern of the Prophet, right from the day when he received his first revelation.
At times the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stressed a certain aspect of Islam to the extent that one might have thought that it took precedence over all other aspects. We find the same aspect, however, reduced to a position of secondary importance on a different occasion. It is the task of scholars to reconcile these differences so that no thought of contradiction in Islamic teachings may be entertained. This is not difficult to achieve for a person equipped with the appropriate type of study. In fact, this has been done most admirably by a long line of scholars who have dedicated themselves to the study of the Sunnah, deducing from the various hadiths very important rules which every Muslim should know.
When we find a certain aspect of Islam stressed by the Prophet on a number of occasions and in different circumstances, that aspect acquires greater importance. Its frequent mention by the Prophet indicates its universal application and its high position in the list of Islamic values and practices.
One aspect that is so frequently mentioned by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is the need to maintain close ties with one’s relatives. It is important to know what is meant by maintaining and fostering the ties of kinship in an Islamic context. A person’s relatives are collectively called in Arabic his rahim. Linguistically, this word means “womb.” When it is used to indicate a person’s relatives, it includes all his relatives whether close or distant, heirs or not, including also his women relatives whom he can marry. In other words, it refers to his family in the widest sense of the term. The Arabic root from which the word rahim is derived indicates mercy and compassion. A hadith related by Ahmad, Al-Hakim, and Al-Bukhari in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad on the authority of
Abdur-Rahman ibnAwf quotes the Prophet as saying “Allah says: I am Ar-Rahman (the most merciful) and I have created kinship (that is rahim) and given it a name which is derived from My name. He who fosters it I will bless, and he who severs it I will sever.”
This hadith qudsi stresses that aspect of kinship that calls for compassion and kindness among kinsfolk. The large number of hadiths that speak of kinship stress the need to foster one’s relationship with one’s kinsfolk through kind treatment, help, and care. Islam detests the very thought of dispute arising between relatives, and greatly honors and respects those who forgo what is rightly theirs for the sake of maintaining and fostering ties with relatives.
The questioner in this hadith has set his aim very clearly. He wants to escape Allah’s punishment in the hereafter by doing what is right in this life. To him, as indeed to every Muslim, the fire of hell is a reality. It awaits everyone who incurs Allah’s displeasure. No success in this life is greater than avoiding it. Allah says in the Qur’an (Every soul is bound to taste death; you will be paid on the day of resurrection only that which you have fairly earned. He who shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have triumphed) (Aal `Imran 3:185).
Hence, everything that draws a Muslim nearer to that triumph is of great importance. The bedouin puts his question to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in a way that indicates that he has fully understood the reality of reward and punishment in the hereafter. He wants to know what draws him nearer to heaven and away from hell.
The Prophet’s answer is very significant. It points out first the most essential Islamic belief, namely, the Oneness of Allah. No partners may be associated with Him in any form whatsoever. Hence, this belief is stated in both a positive and a negative way: “Worship Allah without associating anyone or anything with Him.” The Prophet then stresses to his questioner that he must attend regularly to his prayers and pay his zakah. These two duties are always mentioned together in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. To a Muslim, mentioning these two basic duties in this context comes as no surprise. They and the belief in the Oneness of Allah are the first three of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islamic faith is built.
What is surprising, however, is that the Prophet does not mention here the two other major duties, namely, fasting in the month of Ramadan and pilgrimage. He mentions instead the duty of fostering the ties of kinship. Some scholars say that this particular aspect of Islamic duties was of special importance to the bedouin himself. This was certainly true in the bedouin society of Arabia where wars were launched for the slightest of reasons against cousin tribes. The significance of the hadith is, however, applicable to all societies and all people. As we have seen, it puts fostering the ties of kinship on a par with the major duties of Islam.