The concept of ‘Silah al-Rahem’ means to maintain a relationship based on goodness and love with ones near relatives. It is religiously obligatory upon everyone and many positive effects have been listed for it. Amongst these are the lengthening of one’s life, good naturedness, and an increase in one’s livelihood.
Silah al-Rahem is obligatory in regards to all of one’s relatives (whether they are male or female, pious or impious, Muslim or non Muslim, oppressive or otherwise). It has been narrated from Imam Ali (a) that: Maintain good relations and closeness with your relatives, even if they have cut relations with you.
Likewise, Silah al-Rahem possesses various degrees in regards to various situations and individuals. In case maintaining this act causes worldly harm or harm in the hereafter, then this precept decreases or changes up to the degree that the harm is removed. For example, when faced with an oppressive or sinful individual, one should maintain the ties in a way that good is also enjoined and vice is forbidden. In such cases, one must maintain ties in a way that doesn’t approve their wrong at the same time. Regarding those who don’t want to see us, this obligation can be carried in other ways, such as helping them indirectly, or asking about them from others, etc. In any case, we have to somehow show our good intentions and kindness to them.
The Lexical and Jurisprudential Meanings of Silah al-Rahem (Maintaining Relations with One’s Relatives)
The word ‘Rahem’ in lexicon (as well as in normal usage) takes on the meaning of one’s relatives and close relations. According to some scholars, its jurisprudential meaning is the same as its lexical one; the one difference is that it applies to one’s blood relations and not one’s relations through marriage or other means, whether they are male or female, one’s inheritors or not, one’s Mahrams (those whom one cannot marry) or non Mahrams, Muslim or non Muslim, from the father’s side or mother’s, or even from both. At the same time, it is necessary that they not be so far in terms of their blood relationship that people would not ordinarily consider them as your relatives (because in a sense all human beings are relatives of one another). The measure of this is found in what the people normally consider when they think of relatives. Some scholars have considered one’s relatives (rahem) to be those who inherit from you (in all of the categories) and these include all of the children, with the inclusion of all the grandchildren of one’s aunts (both paternal and maternal) and uncles (both paternal and maternal).
The word ‘Silah’ possesses the meaning of goodness and gift in lexicon. In common usage it means the initiation and establishment of a relationship along with affection and love; the cutting of relations and a sort of distance would be the complete opposite of this meaning. Therefore, Silah al-Rahem means goodness, serving, asking of news, and other such things in regards to ones close relations (here, Qat Rahim is the opposite in meaning).
Results and Effects of Silah al-Rahem:
Many benefits and positive results have been recorded in the words of the Infallibles (a) in regards to Silah al-Rahem; these involve effects both in this world as well as in the next. We will suffice with the following two examples:
Imam Baqir (a) said: Maintaining good relations with the relatives (Arham) purifies the deeds, increases the wealth, prevents calamities, makes the accounting easy (on the Day of Judgment) and delays death. Some of these effects are related to our lives in this world, while others relate to our lives in the next world.
Imam Sadiq (a) has mentioned that: Maintaining good relations with the relatives makes one’s behavior pleasant, brings about generosity, makes one’s heart happy, increases one’s livelihood, and delays one’s death. This simple action possesses so much merit and pleases God so much that at times, he increases the lifespan of an individual; on the other hand, cutting off relations with one’s relatives is so disliked and unacceptable that the lifespan of an individual may be cut short.
The following tradition is also incredibly moving: Imam Sadiq (a) has said: We do not know of anything similar to Silah al-Rahem which increases the lifespan [in such a direct manner]. During some instances, an individual has only three years left to live but when he initiates Silah al-Rahem, God increases his lifespan by 30 years and he lives for 33 more years. In other cases, a person has 33 years left to live but due to his cutting off of relations with his relatives, his lifespan decreases and death comes to him in three years.
The Limits of Maintaining Good Relations with one’s Relatives
This code of behavior is not restricted only to those who are religious; this is something which extends to all human beings, whether they are sinners or even disbelievers. In some cases, through the initiation of such a custom, the worst of sinners have been drawn towards religion and goodness through the example they saw in their religious relatives. Even in cases when an effect cannot be seen in impious relatives, still we would be duty bound to continue with this code of behavior.
It has been narrated that one of the Shias asked Imam Sadiq (a) the following question: Some of my relatives are of a different ideology than I am. Do these relatives have rights upon me? The Imam (a) replied: Yes, nothing disconnects the rights of the relatives. If they are of the same ideology as you, then they have two rights upon you. One of these is the rights of the relatives, while the second relates to the rights of Islam. 
Even if the relatives harass an individual, still, he does not have the right to cut relations with them. In a tradition, it has been mentioned that: A man came to the Prophet (s) and said: Oh Prophet of God (s), I have relatives whom I maintain relations with but they bother and bring pain to me. I have made a decision to cut off relations with them. The Prophet (s) replied: In that case, God would cut off relations with you. The man said: Then what should I do? The Prophet (s) said: Give to the one who has deprived you, maintain relations with the one who has cut relations with you, forgive the one who has oppressed you. Whenever you do such a thing, God will support you.
It has been narrated from Imam Ali (a) that: Maintain good and close relations with your relatives, however much they may have cut relations with you.
Even if maintaining relations with our relatives and going to their houses causes them to become upset or causes an insult to us, the duty to maintain this code of conduct is not removed. In such a case, we must find other means to maintain contact with them which would not bring up such issues and problems. For example, we could still maintain contact with them via telephone instead of visiting them in person or in extreme cases we could even ask about them indirectly through means of other people. We could also help indirectly, either through financial means or through other ways. In any case, we should never act with our relatives in a way as if they are strangers, and in spite of any obstacles or problems, we should always find some way to maintain contact with them and aid them. At the point where Silah al-Rahem causes us worldly harm or harm in the next world, its degree must naturally change in relation with the harm.
What is the Criterion for ‘Maintaining a Relationship with one’s Relatives?’
The criterion for what constitutes a proper relationship can be found in what is commonly recognized in society as such; therefore, it varies with different cultures and time periods, as well as with different people. In some cases, financial help may be a standard (if the need is there) and in other cases, other forms of help may be the standard. For example, an elderly couple may require physical assistance, while others may require intellectual assistance. All of these can be considered in varying situations as forms of support and assistance. Some people don’t need any help at all and it is only required to ask about how they are doing. In any case, Silah al-Rahem has varying degrees and forms and these all relate to the ability of the individual, the culture and norms of the society, the needs of the receiving individual, and their varying responses to such efforts. We are all duty bound to exert our utmost efforts in performing this religiously obligatory duty.
 al-Munjid: “ذو رحم ای ذو قرابه”
 Adopted from Jame’ al-Masa’il of the late Ayatullah Fazel Lankarani, vol. 1, pg. 494, inquiry 1773 (Balagh website).
 Such as the late Ayatullahs Tabrizi and Khu’i, Sirat al-Najat, vol. 1, pg. 433.
 al-Munjid: “الصلة : العطیة و الاحسان و الجائزة”.
 “صلة الارحام تزکی الا عمال و تنمی الاموال و تدفع البلوی و تیسر الحساب وتنسیء فی الاجل”, Usul al-Kāfī, vol. 2, pg. 150.
 “صلة الارحام تحسن الخلق و تسمح الکف و تطیب النفس و تزید فی الرزق وتنسئ الاجل”, Ibid, ppg. 150 and 151.
 Ibid, pg. 152.
 Mizan al-Hikmah, vol. 4, pg. 83.
 Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pg. 100.
 “صلوا ارحامکم و ان قطعوکم”, Ibid, pg. 92.
 Adopted from Sirat al-Najat of the late Ayatullahs Tabrizi and Khu’i, vol. 3, pg. 294.
 Ata’ib al-Kalim fi Bayan Silah al-Rahem, the late Karaki, pg. 30. (Adopted from the Howzah website).