يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ
Yā ayyuhal-ladhīna āmanū qū anfusakum wa-ahlīkum nārā waquduhān-nāsu wal-hijārah
O you who have faith! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel will be people and stones!
(Sūra al-Tahrīm, No.66, Āyat 6)
In this verse believers are told that they should be concerned about themselves as well as their families in the quest to save themselves from the displeasure of God. This is the goal of a believer’s life. Note that the verse first says to save the self. That indicates that a person who wishes the family to traverse a certain path must first be a good example. Self-discipline and self-improvement is necessary before embarking on helping others.
One of the main objectives of starting a family is to help one another in the journey towards God. The close bonds and constant interactions within a family form a perfect setting for encouraging one another towards good and helping each other stay away from wrongdoing. The family does not just provide for the physical needs of a person. They satisfy emotional needs which are a part of the development of a healthy personality. They also fulfill spiritual needs and help the person attain closeness to the Creator. Thus a family looks after all different aspects of the human being.
Protecting the family means to help them avoid disobedience to God and submission to personal desires. Unless guided and motivated, a human being is prone to indulge in desires. Desires are attractive and give pleasure, even if the pleasure derived is fleeting and transient. It requires sensitive understanding and compassion to help someone overcome the lowliness of the nafs and bring out the potential virtue from within. This can be best done by caring members of the family.
Imam Ali (a) explains this verse saying it means: Teach them knowledge and etiquette (Musnad ‘Abdullāh bin Mubarak, p.163, H. 190). A companion asked Imam Sadiq (a) about this verse, ‘How should I protect my family?’ Imam replied: Tell them to do what Allah has commanded them to do and tell them to avoid what Allah has forbidden. Then if they obey you, you have protected them. And if they disobey you, you have fulfilled your duty (Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn, H.18 under this verse)
Family members can be very effective in motivating each other towards virtue and good. Imam Ali (a) tells his son about how a parent can affect a child: Certainly, the heart of a young man is like uncultivated land. It accepts whatever is strewn on it. So I hastened to mold you properly before your heart hardens up and your mind gets occupied. So that you may be ready to accept through your intelligence, the results of experiences of others and be saved from going through these experiences yourself. (Nahjul Balāgha, Document 31)
Mention of the fire in the verse is a reference to the Hereafter. It shows the responsibility and accountability of life on earth. Members of a family help one another realize the transience of human life on earth and set a goal that goes beyond death.
Let this verse inspire you to enhance the spirituality of your family. It is a constant struggle in today’s times. But it is an important part of Islam’s expectations of the family system.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma’ul Bayan; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; ‘Abd Ali b. Jumu’ah al-‘Arusi al-Huwayzī, Tafsīr Nūr ath-Thaqalayn