And We have commanded man kindness to his parents: with hardship his mother bears him and with hardship she brings him up, and the weaning of him is thirty months, until, when he attains his full strength and attains the age of forty years, he says: “Lord! Grant me the ability that I may give thanks for the favor You have done to me and my parents and that I may act piously such as You may approve. And be gracious to my children. Truly I have turned to You and truly I submit to You (in Islam).” (Al-Ahqaf 46:15)
And We have commanded man about his parents, his mother bears him in hardship upon hardship, and his weaning is in two years. Give thanks to Me and your parents. Unto Me is the return. (Luqman 31:14)
Man has obligations towards his fellow human beings, but his obligations towards his parents, according to Islam, are of the utmost importance. The Qur’an mentions this duty, next only to that of serving Allah:
And your Lord has commanded that you should worship no one but Him and show kindness to your parents; and if either or both of them become old, do not say to them “pooh”. Do not show any disrespect to them. Speak to them a word of respect. And lower unto them the wings of humility out of kindness and say: Lord! Have mercy on them as they brought me up when young. (Al-Israa’ 17:23-24)
To begin with, the following points are worth noting, as one studies these passages, prescribing how we should treat our parents:
1- That parents are to be treated with kindness and respect features as a divine command in all the above instances. It underscores the tremendous importance attached to this duty in the Islamic scheme of things. It is not some moral precept which one may observe as a dictate of conscience or as a discretionary matter. On the contrary, it is a definite divine command which must be obeyed unquestioningly by everyone and at any cost.
2- The Qur’an repeatedly asks man to thank Allah for His numerous favours. Parents alone hold the distinction of being mentioned along with Allah, who deserve to be thanked for their favours. Man is directed to recall with gratitude the favours done to him by his parents. One should constantly bear in mind the exalted rank accorded to parents by the Qur’an.
Furthermore, besides enacting the command for the good treatment of parents, Allah teaches man the following supplications, which he should make for his parents:
Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and the believers on the Day of Reckoning. (Ibrahim 14:41)
Lord! Grant me the ability that I may give thanks for the favour You have done to me and my parents … (Al-Ahqaf 46:15)
Lord! Forgive me and my parents and him who enters my house as a believer, and all the believing men and women … (Nuh 71:28)
By making these supplications, love and respect for parents is likely to be ingrained in both mind and heart. Man is thus instructed to regard his parents as an almost inseparable part of his self, as he seeks Allah’s forgiveness both for himself and his parents. Islam, thus, ensures that love and respect for parents is infused deeply into man’s consciousness. Man should imbibe this truth thoroughly.
3- Significantly enough, Islam admits no distinction between one’s Muslim or non-Muslim parents in treating them well. The parents of many early Muslims in the Prophet’s day clung to their ancestral faith out of blind conformity and imitation, and some of them even opposed Islam. Yet these Muslims were directed not to break their family or social ties with their parents.
Rather, they were told to treat them well, irrespective of their religious affiliations. The Prophet’s noble example bears out this point. It is on record that he always spoke affectionately of his loving uncle, Abu Talib, though the latter refused to embrace Islam, even in the face of the Prophet’s repeated and persuasive pleas.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to recount gratefully the invaluable patronage and protection extended by Abu Talib and mourned his death, describing it as his irreparable personal loss.
The same point comes out unmistakably from the following report, recorded by Al-Bukhari:
“Asmaa’, Abu Bakr’s daughter, sought the Prophet’s directive as to how she should treat her polytheistic mother who visited her. The Prophet told her to maintain filial ties with her mother and to look after her well.” (Al-Bukhari)
Other Qur’anic passages instructing man to treat his parents with love, kindness and respect are verses 83 of Surat Al-Baqarah 2, 36 of Al-Nisaa’ 4, 151 of Al-An`am 6 and 19 of An-Naml 27.
The directive embodied in the above is elucidated in several hadiths. Take the following for instance: The Prophet is on record declaring: “Your Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.” (Ahmad)
– The Prophet spelled out the following as cardinal sins: “To associate partners with Allah, to disobey parents, to commit murder and to give false testimony.” (Muslim)
– Once the Prophet exclaimed:
“Let him be disgraced!” On being requested to identify the culprit, he clarified: “One who is with his parents in their old age, both or either of them, and yet fails to win a place for himself in Paradise by serving them well.” (Muslim)
– That one may discharge one’s obligation towards one’s parents even after their death is clarified in the following hadith reported by Abu Usayd Sa`idi:
“Once while we were in the Prophet’s company, someone from the tribe of Salamah called on the Prophet and asked him: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Do I owe obligations to my parents even after their death?’ The latter replied: “Yes, you must pray to Allah to favour them with His forgiveness, honour the commitments which your parents made and maintain ties with their relatives and friends.” (Abu Dawud)
Notwithstanding its emphatic exhortation for kindness towards parents, the Qur’an makes it plain that they are not to be obeyed if they ask their children to follow a faith other than Islam. Allah alone is to be obeyed in matters of faith, as is evident from the following assertions: “If they try to make you associate anyone with Me, of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them.” (Al-`Ankabut 29:8)
If either of them should try to make you associate anyone with Me, of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them, although you may keep company with them honorably in this world. Follow the way of him who turns to Me in repentance. (Luqman 31:15)
Islam adopts a balanced approach regarding one’s non-Muslim parents. This issue made its appearance in the early days of Islam.
Today, the same problem is faced by new Muslims. On the one hand, Islam directs a Muslim not to abandon his unbelieving parents. Nor should he/she recant his/her belief in Islam as a result of emotional blackmail from them.
That one should adhere steadfastly to Islam once the truth dawns on one is illustrated by Sa`id ibn Malik’s conduct. His acceptance of Islam in response to the Prophet’s call was vigorously resented by his polytheistic mother. She refused to take food, demanding that Sa`id should give up his allegiance to Islam.
However, he did not relent and told her plainly that her fasting unto death would not deter him even in the slightest. After a couple of days when her condition worsened and she realized Sa`id’s unwavering commitment to Islam, she recanted her stance and resumed eating and drinking.
A Muslim is not to budge an inch in the face of such pressure. Yet a Muslim must make a point of maintaining his social relations with his unbelieving parents. His treatment should be characterized by gentleness and kindness. He should help them financially and emotionally.
Particularly the Mother
In the Qur’anic passages setting forth one’s obligations towards parents, it is worth noting that they, particularly the mother, are portrayed as one’s benefactors. One is reminded of how they faced hardships in bringing one up.
As thanksgiving one should be kind to them. This fits in with the larger scheme of things Islamic. For Allah is the benefactor par excellence. It is on account of Allah’s favour that one is blessed with parents who selflessly and lovingly spend all that they have for their children.
In comparison, Allah’s concern and bounties for His servants are beyond measure. One should be thankful, in the first place, to Allah and then to one’s parents. Islam infuses gratitude into the hearts of believers.
Prompted by the same they profusely thank Allah. And on a much narrower scale, a Muslim is naturally drawn towards his parents out of gratitude for them.
Another striking point about the Qur’anic directive is that one should treat one’s parents well in their old age. This pointed reference to their old age rests on several important considerations. First, they need greater care and attention as they turn physically and emotionally infirm.
At this juncture they are especially sensitive to any neglect shown them. Being physically weak, they are more prone to being irritable and unable to exercise self-restraint. At times, they may behave irrationally, placing such demands on their children which may be hard to meet. It is in the face of all these irritants that one is directed by the Qur’an to treat them with love and respect.
Man is reminded of his own infancy and childhood when he placed too many demands on his parents and they cheerfully bore all such hardships. In turn, one should bear with his parents’ foibles and temperamental problems.
Against this backdrop, one realizes the significance of the prayers taught by the Qur’an to man, for seeking strength from Allah, which may enable one to treat one’s parents well.
Obviously, Allah’s mercy can help one discharge this difficult duty. Furthermore, it explains why many hadiths highlight the importance of this obligation and speak of Allah’s reward and punishment for one’s treatment of one’s parents.
It is, no doubt, quite a task to maintain excellent relations with parents consistently. At the same time, it is vital for protecting and upholding the social fabric. Accordingly, many hadiths graphically spell out Allah’s reward on this count. Take the following hadiths as illustrative.
It is related on Ibn `Abbas’ authority that the Prophet made the following observation:
“A dutiful son who only looks at his parents with love and kindness will earn the reward due for Hajj for each glance of his. Someone asked: If one casts such a glance one hundred times a day, will he get the reward one hundred times? The Prophet replied: Yes, he will be credited with this reward for each glance. Almighty Allah’s treasure is not diminished on account of even such generous and ample rewards.” (Al-Bayhaqi)
“Abu Bakr reports that the Prophet said: While Allah may defer the punishment for one’s sins until the Day of Recompense, one guilty of denying one’s parents their due and disobeying them is punished in this world itself. This is in addition to the punishment to be inflicted in the Hereafter.” (Al-Bayhaqi)
The Qur’anic passages urging the good treatment of parents make pointed reference to man’s total submission to Allah in this world and his ultimate return to Him.
The point pressed home is that one’s excellent attitude towards one’s parents should flow from one’s wholesale surrender to Allah. As part of this and in accordance with divine command one should treat one’s parents well.
One should not be prompted by any material interest or selfish motive such as that of eliciting praise from others in serving one’s parents. Rather, one’s eyes should be set on the Hereafter, and, in view of divine reward, one should be kind to one’s parents, as this will win Allah’s pleasure in the Hereafter.
The article is an excerpt from the author’s The Qur’an: Essential Teachings, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.