Meeting Family Obligations: Prophet’s Example
FULFILMENT of family obligation is the litmus test for greatness. Many men, considered being otherwise great, have failed in this test. There are persons, who go beyond the realm of right and wrong when it comes to serving the needs and desires, genuine or false, of their family members as if family was more important than society at large. There are other persons who consider family to be a liability and its obligations to be undesirable. Such persons simply ignore the genuine demands of family life. For these men their own engagements, activities and preoccupations are so much important and engrossing that family as such becomes impediment and so its demands are sacrificed at the altar of their greatness! Human beings err and falter and tend to adopt lopsided attitudes in life.
A balanced approach in life has to be taught to mankind. All the Prophets of Allah taught this correct approach in life where all its ingredients: the self, the family, the society, the other creatures along with the sole Creator have their specific obligations and there is no clash between their respective demands.
The last Prophet of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him), taught this middle path and translated these into practices, leaving a recorded and rich legacy in the form of his Sunnah (the Traditions) which may also be termed as the Seerah, i.e. the Prophet’s life history.
The Prophet’s Tradition recorded by both Bukhari and Muslim (i.e. agreed upon Tradition) and related by Abu Masood is that a man who spends (his earning) on his family members, with the intention of getting reward (from Allah), will be (duly) rewarded. So earnings have to be spent on those persons who are dependent. There are many other clear and emphatic Traditions in this regard. Persons doing hard labor to fulfill the needs of their parents, children, wives and other family members are termed as those striving in the path of Allah.
Sa’ad Bin Abi Waqqas, a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him), at the time of his critical illness sought permission to donate his total property in the path of Allah. He was not allowed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) instead told him to leave at least two-thirds of his property for his natural heirs because any benefit derived by the family members from the property will also be rewarded by Allah.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that it was better for him to leave his family members as rich as against leaving them as paupers begging other people (Bukhari, Aamir Bin Sa’ad Bin Malik). In another tradition quoted by Baihaqi on the authority of Abu Hurairah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) praised a person who earns his livelihood from permitted means with the intention of feeding his family members and doing good deeds to his neighbors. Such a person will meet Allah on the Day of Reckoning with a glowing face like a full moon.
Such maintenance and fulfillment of the physical needs of one’s kindred cannot be done without practical involvement in domestic affairs. One has to be with them to share their joys and sorrows and resolve the familial issues. The Prophet (peace be upon him) almost daily spent quality time with his family. And his engagements in the family have also been recorded in detail. Husain Bin Ali, grandson of the Prophet (peace be upon him) has described, quoting his father, that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to divide his time in his household in three parts: one part for his prayers, second part to fulfill responsibilities due to his family members and the third part either and or for his rest and visitors. So the family enjoyed his specific attention, share and concern.
The corporeal needs of the family have to be addressed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had made precise and specific arrangements to meet the same. This aspect of the Prophet’s life has not been discussed much and there is need to elaborate for proper appreciation of how obligations arising on account of being the head of the family have to be fulfilled.
The problem is that many religions and philosophies consider involvement in the worldly affairs including toiling to earn livelihood and meeting the physical needs to be undesirable – to be engaged in them to the bare minimum and that too with reluctance and, if possible, desist altogether from doing so. Islam has a different approach altogether.
In Islam, everything is correlated to each other and each aspect of life has its own place of importance. In this scenario meeting familial obligations has a definite place, with due concern and full sanctity. The Prophet’s own exemplary life is an example worth emulating, in this regard too.
In Makkah, prior to the conferment of Prophethood on him, Muhammad (peace be upon him) owned some family properties and he worked on remuneration basis to take out camels and goats for grazing. Later he worked as a trader or as partner-in-trade and travelled to other countries with trading caravans. These were for profit or on the basis of profit-sharing with the owner of the merchandise. After marriage he became the guardian of the properties of his rich wife, Khadijah. These properties were liberally utilized in his mission afterwards, as after being commissioned as Prophet he had no time to engage in trading or other similar activities.
In Madina, the Prophet (peace be upon him) initially stayed as a guest of his relatives from maternal side. The Ansars of Madina, in general, and the Prophet’s maternal relatives like the tribesmen of Najjar, in particular, took care of him. Many of them earmarked trees in their respective orchards for the Prophet (peace be upon him). The family’s size itself was small. The Prophet (peace be upon him) purchased some goats. Camels and goats were also given as gifts by other Muslims.
These milk-giving animals were kept in an earmarked grazing ground in the outskirts of Madina and one companion of the Prophet worked there as their caretaker. Milk
From them was meant as diet for the Prophet’s household. Besides, Sa’ad Bin Ibadah, a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to send cooked food for the Prophet’s family members everyday.
A Jew named, Makhreeq, who had perhaps become a Muslim and participated in the Battle of Uhud on the Muslims’ side, had left in inheritance seven gardens to the Prophet (peace be upon him) which became a source of income. Further, after the Battle of Uhud, the Jewish tribe of Banu An-Nadir was banished from Madina owing to their treacherous behavior. The Prophet (peace be upon him) earmarked a portion of the property left by them comprising gardens and land for his own use. Agricultural produce from this property used to be sold and the income accruing from them was distributed among the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This catered to their yearly needs. After the Conquest of Khaibar a fixed amount of agricultural produce therefrom was given every year to the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as annual provisions.
Thus we find planned and specific arrangements for fulfillment of the Noble Prophet’s family obligations. This is obviously one part of the story. Income generated from these planned sources of revenue should have sufficed for the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his household. But these were not ordinary mortals: they were extraordinary and exemplary people. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and his family members used to feed others and go themselves without food for days together. Provisions that could suffice for years were distributed to the poor and the needy in a matter of hours. That part of the story is beyond the scope of this write-up.
Another very noteworthy feature, in consonance with the subject matter of this article, is that the financial matters of the Prophet’s household, were handled by Bilal, who used to manage all these aspects including arrangement of loans and repayments thereof and looking after the needs of the guests like their food and lodging on behalf of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Fulfillment of family obligations is primarily the responsibility of the head of the family. Along with the financial needs of the family, other obligations like education, care giving, upbringing, character building, etc. have also to be catered to. Guidance is available from the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for all these aspects, severally.