18 Jun 2024

The Desert Boy: Lessons in Brotherly Care

The Desert Boy: Lessons in Brotherly Care


mhussain (2)
Dr Musharraf Hussain is an Islamic scholar, CEO of Karimia Institute, and senior trustee of Muslim Hands. Formerly he was the chairman of the Christian Muslim forum (2008-2010), vice chair of the Association of Muslim Schools (2000-2003). He trained and worked as a research scientist before becoming a fulltime Imam and teacher. He has authored over 30 books.

The Desert Boy: Lessons in Brotherly Care

In a society where family ties are fast disappearing, we must rediscover brotherly and sisterly love. The relationship of siblings is so crucial to the survival of the family. It’s the best way for us to understand and respect gender differences.

Ishfaq Ahmed, a famous Pakistani intellectual said, “occasionally I go on a spiritual retreat as instructed by my Spiritual guide. I don’t head for the forest but instead, turn to the dry and arid desert. I understand this is also the practice of the Prophets. The Thar desert that lies deep in the heart of Sindh is my favourite place. It is one of the most heavily populated desert areas in the world, with the main occupations of its inhabitants being agriculture and animal husbandry”.

A spiritual retreat, also known as chilla or Khalwa, is a common practice of Godly people who go into seclusion. This is done when they need spiritual re-energising. The Beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) would climb the mount of Hira outside Makkah his hometown.

He spent time in deep contemplation, meditation and worship. It’s a way of strengthening the Divine-human link. There are numerous benefits and reasons for seclusion.

In modern practice, retreats can last anywhere from a day or two to, more traditionally, forty days. In addition to repeating the name of Allah, you can also be assigned a wide variety of spiritual practices to aid your journey towards understanding and connecting with the Almighty.

Ishfaq recounts an event that took place on one of his retreats.

I was staying in the desert. There were a few settlements nearby, so people used to pass by with their animals for grazing or carrying their goods to be sold in the neighbouring market town.

A fifteen or sixteen-year-old teenager used to pass by me daily, carrying a basket full of melons on his head, which he sold at the market. There was also a little girl barely five or six years old running and twirling around behind him.

I bought his melons and started talking to him. It transpired that his parents had died. His only livelihood was selling melons and he always took his sister with him since he couldn’t leave her alone at home. One day I asked him to tell me ‘why his sister walks behind him, shouldn’t she be in front of him to know she is safe?

The boy gave a reply that struck me like an arrow and brought tears to my eyes. He said, ‘sir, you know the sun is scorching hot, when I walk with the basket on my head a long shadow falls behind me. I want my sister to walk in my shadow and be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.’

I tried to stop my tears, but couldn’t. I cried at hearing these words of the desert boy. That day this illiterate boy taught me so much; how to love others, how to care for my sister and look after an orphan.

I wondered whether he knew what the Messenger (peace be upon him) had taught about caring for an orphan.

“The one who cares for an orphan will be with me in paradise like this” he (peace be upon him) gestured with his index and middle finger slightly apart.”


“When a man complained about being harsh and hard-hearted the Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “be kind to orphans and feed the needy.”


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