There is a historic freshwater spring in Bahrain known as Ain Adhari that has an interesting geographic feature. Due to the regional topography, it is only miles away from the spring that its waters reach a high enough level to irrigate the soil. Consequently, the Adhari Spring leaves its surrounding lands dry and barren while providing water to distant farms. This peculiar aspect of the Adhari Spring has led to an old Bahraini proverb:
عذاري تسقي البعيد وتخلي القريب
“Adhari nourishes that which is far and neglects that which is near.”
As Allah ﷻ says in the Qur’an, “Verily in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe.”
A question which every single Muslim man should ask himself is this: “Am I an Ain Adhari?” Am I someone who nourishes and helps those who are far away while neglecting those who are close to me?
Prioritizing your family has always been one of the most important commandments of Islam. Growing up, many of us heard khutbahs about the high status that parents are given in Islam. So high, in fact, that in the Qur’an, Allah ﷻ mentions the rights of the parents immediately after His own rights.
“Your Lord had decreed, that you worship none save Him, and (that you show) kindness to parents.” (Qur’an 17:23)
Some thing you may not have heard in khutbahs, however, is that in other places in the Qur’an, Allah ﷻ mentions the rights of the family immediately after His own rights and the rights of the parents.
“And serve Allah and do not associate anything with Him and be good to the parents and to the near of kin” (Qur’an 4:36)
This ayah is even more striking when you keep reading it.
“And serve Allah and do not associate anything with Him and be good to the parents and to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy.” (Qur’an 4:36)
Allah ﷻ mentions the rights of orphans and rights of the needy after the rights of the family. Ponder on that for a moment. Even when a person prioritizes career or money over family, they will often acknowledge it is wrong. They will see it as a weakness and shortcoming that they need to fix. More insidious and dangerous, however, is the increasingly common situation where a person neglects their family under the guise of “da’wah” or “Islamic education” or “helping society.” In such a situation, the person may actually feel that they are doing something good by sacrificing family for “Islam” or for the “the needy.” The person may even humblebrag about how their dedication to a social justice cause or to Islamic work is costing them their family life.
Make no mistake, this is no less contemptible than prioritizing career or money or fame over family.
The Example of the Prophet
A man once came to the Prophet ﷺ and informed him that he had traveled from a distant land to meet the Prophet ﷺ and become a sahabi. He told him, “I left my parents in tears so that I could come and be by your side.” The Prophet ﷺ firmly responded,
ارْجِعْ إِلَيْهِمَا فَأَضْحِكْهُمَا كَمَا أَبْكَيْتَهُمَا
“Go back to them and make them laugh just like you made them cry.” (Source)
Even the action of becoming a sahabi and being with the Prophet ﷺ was not something the Prophet ﷺ prioritized over family ties. Let that sink in. If that is not a sufficient justification to neglect family, what good deed can you or I possibly do in the 21st century that justifies neglecting family?
Unfortunately, many people think it is not only justified but commendable to put so much effort into “Islamic” causes that family ties suffer. Part of the reason behind this is sociological. Every action carries a certain amount of societal weight in its community. The Muslim community is no different. If someone memorizes the Qur’an, people are impressed. If someone is able to eloquently deliver a halaqah, people are impressed. If a person spends their free time volunteering at a foodbank, people are impressed. If a person organizes or participates in a rally for a Muslim cause, people are impressed. These actions are seen as noble and good actions.
Of course, all of these are good actions. We can strive and make space for each of them in our lives. But if our goal is emulate the Ideal Muslim Man, the Prophet ﷺ, our priorities must mirror his priorities.
Once, the Prophet ﷺ was leading the sahabah in salah and he was in sujood for a very long time. The sahabah began to wonder what was going on. Eventually, the Prophet ﷺ came out of the sajdah and finished the salah. The sahabah asked, “Ya Rasul Allah. Did something happen to you in that sajdah? Were you receiving revelation from Allah ﷻ?” The Prophet ﷺ smiled and responded, “No, nothing happened. My son (i.e. one of his grandsons) climbed onto my back when I was in sajdah and I did not want to hurry and end his fun.” Even in salah, the Prophet ﷺ showed how important his family was to him.
Aisha (ra) narrates that after praying the two rak’ahs of Fajr salah, the usual habit of the Prophet ﷺ was to look to see if she was asleep. If she was asleep, he would lay down. If she was awake, he would stay up and talk to her. The entire Muslim ummah needed the Prophet ﷺ, but this specific time after Fajr salah, he set aside for his wife. It was her time, either for him ﷺ to lay down next to her or to stay up and talk to her.
Better for Society
After the individual obligations of Islam like the five pillars, the priority is family. A healthy family life is a noble goal. It is, in and of itself, a worthy aspiration. However, it does not carry the same societal weight as other, more flashy actions. It does not get Twitter likes, it does not get people gushing over you, it does not win you adoring fans who fawn over how great of a Muslim and activist you are. But it will, insha’Allah, win you the pleasure of Allah ﷻ. It will also lead to an overall healthier society and its converse, the deterioration of family life, will lead to a sick society. Interestingly, even many non-Muslims have come to this conclusion. A former president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, presciently said this:
“When home ties are loosened; when men and women cease to regard a worthy family life, with all its duties fully performed, and all its responsibilities lived up to, as the life best worth living; then evil days for the commonwealth are at hand.”
One of the signs of the end of times, as the Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, will be the deprioritization of family, i.e. the breaking of ties of kinship.
Don’t set fire to your home
When the priorities are set correctly, everything else falls into place. When I was in college, some of the members of the college MSA put together a weekly halaqah at the masjid. The halaqah was open to young children and we talked to many parents to get them to bring their children. The idea was to increase the exposure these young children had to the masjid so that they would spend more time there and increase in Islamic knowledge and character. I vividly recall one brother whom I talked to about bringing his two sons to the halaqah. He politely declined, saying, “Friday evening is our family time. We play a board game or go out to eat or go to the park. Any other day of the week will work, but they can’t go to a halaqah on Friday evening.” In his list of priorities, family time on Friday evening took precedence over a halaqah at the masjid. A few years later, those same two kids were in my Sunday school class. They were light-years ahead of their classmates in terms of Islamic knowledge and adab. When you prioritize family, when you align your priorities with the priorities of the Prophet ﷺ, you will only bring more barakah into your life.
On the flipside, I know of several people, some personally and some by reputation, who are visibly active in Islamic/social causes. They appear, on the surface, to be very involved and very “active” Muslims. In the meantime, their personal and family lives are in shreds. They are beloved to strangers and Twitter followers while their family becomes distant or even repulsed by them. They neglect the tarbiyyah of their own family while working hard for the benefit (and often admiration) of others.
In India, there’s a description for people like this:
گھر میں آگ لگانا اور مسجد میں چراغ جلانا
“Setting fire in your house while lighting a lamp in the masjid.”
Prioritizing family is prioritizing Islam
Don’t feel that you are a bad Muslim or a negligent Muslim for not getting on board with popular Islamic causes. Once, the sahabah passed a man who was impressively exerting himself while performing manual labor. The sahabah said, “If only he was exerting himself this hard in the path of Allah ﷻ.” The Prophet ﷺ heard this and corrected them. He said,
إن كان خرج يسعى على ولده صغارا فهو في سبيل الله
“If he has gone out, striving to provide for his young children, then he is in the path of Allah.”
وإن كان خرج يسعى على أبوين شيخين كبيرين فهو في سبيل الله
“If he has gone out, striving to provide for his elderly parents, then he is in the path of Allah.”
وإن كان يسعى على نفسه يعفها فهو في سبيل الله
“If he is striving in order to protect himself [from the disgrace of begging], then he is in the path of Allah.”
And then the Prophet ﷺ finished with a chilling reminder to us all about ostensibly doing things in the path of Allah:
وإن كان خرج رياء ومفاخرة فهو في سبيل الشيطان
“And if he has gone out in order to show off and boast, then it is the cause of Shaytan.”
Sincerely providing for your family, not just with money but also with your time, emotion, and energy, is going out in the path of Allah ﷻ. And similarly, doing things which are outwardly good Islamic deeds like organizing halaqahs, raising money for orphans, helping the poor, or attending Islamic lectures can actually be in the cause of Shaytan if our intentions are wrong. Your intention can not be completely sincere if your actions are not prioritized the way that Allah ﷻ has ordered them to be prioritized.
Allah ﷻ says in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا
“O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones.”
There are countless causes which need help. Rohingya. Palestine. Shirk. Islamophobia. Bid’ah. Racism. Lack of Islamic knowledge. Prison reform. Misogyny. Domestic abuse. These are all causes which are good to get involved in. But never at the expense of family. To put it bluntly, you will not be asked why you did not save a stranger across the world. You will not be asked why you did not manage to get the Muslim countries of the world to unite and help the Muslims of Myanmar. You will be asked whether you fulfilled the rights of your family. Once you have done those, yes, spend your free time helping in whatever cause you can.
But never be an Ain Adhari.