By Nageen Khan
When asked about the people who taught us the most, who were there for us through hardships, who laughed with us during the good times, who put up with us on our off days, most of us think immediately of our parents. And it is true: our parents are the ones who have been with us through almost everything in our lives. Our mothers carry us for nine grueling months before we are born, and for at least eighteen years afterwards, our parents, to list a few things, take care of us, teach us, help us, and provide for us financially and academically. Without them, most of us would not be in the places we are today.
Unfortunately, however, many people do not treat their parents in the manner they deserve. Teenagers fight relentlessly with their parents, often over extremely trivial topics. Other young people ignore their parents, rather spending time with their friends or online. As we get older, we tend to forget that our parents are growing older as well, and they are pushed aside to living on their own or in nursing homes while we start our own families. Not only is this disregard unfair to our parents, it is also strictly forbidden in Islam. God has commanded us to treat out parents with utmost respect, no matter the situation we are in.
Respecting parents is one of the most significant aspects of Islam. God says in the Quran:
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (17:23)
The first decree in this verse is to worship none but God. This is the first and most important pillar of Islam, and enjoining partners with God is the only unforgivable sin. The order right after this is kindness to parents. There are other major sins in Islam that could have been mentioned here, but the one God has forbidden us against here is disrespect to parents. We are told not to speak contemptuously to them: the word given in Arabic is “oof,” and even this simple groan of scorn is forbidden. Instead, God has told us to address them with honor and deference.
The next verse tells us: “And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood’” (17:24). The phrase “lower to them the wing of humility” has been interpreted as an image of the way birds spread their wings out of protection and love for their young. Our treatment of our parents is shown in the same way: we should be humble, respectful, and loving towards them.
Moreover, the prayer in this verse (“My Lord! Bestow on them your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood”) is extremely powerful, and many scholars say that Muslims should say this after every prayer. It is truly a beautiful prayer, as we are asking God to bestow mercy on our parents, as they were merciful to us when we were young.
Holding one’s parents in high esteem is so important that, even if they tell us not to obey God’s command, we are still to treat them kindly. God says in the Quran,
But if they strive to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration). (31:15)
Even if our parents strive to make us commit the worst act in Islam, we must still treat them with justice. There is no concept of leaving our parents in Islam, even if they are disbelievers. To further elaborate this point, there is a saying from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), narrated by Asma, the daughter of the Prophet’s good friend, Abu Bakr. Asma once asked the Prophet (pbuh) how she should treat her mother, who was a polytheist. The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Treat your mother well.”
While we should obviously respect both our parents, our mothers are given special treatment in Islam. This is because our mothers carried us for nine months, and were our primary caregivers when we were children. In one saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a companion asked him who deserves the most good treatment and respect. The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Your mother.” The companion asked again, and again the reply was “Your mother.” The companion asked a third time, and once more the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Your mother.” When the companion asked for the last time, the Prophet (pbuh) then answered, “Your father.”
Our mothers deserve the utmost respect and good treatment, and there is no excuse otherwise. We are told this three times over. In another narration, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that paradise lies under the feet of the mother. This further reiterates the fact that our mothers are to be the most revered and cared for people in our lives. In yet another saying, we are told that a man did the entire pilgrimage, Hajj, with his elderly mother on his back. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told him that this did not even repay his mother for a single kick the man gave his mother while she was bearing him in the womb.
This is not to say that our fathers do not deserve respect. The story of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) in the Quran tells us that his father was ready to kill him for destroying religious idols and abandoning the pagan religion. Abraham, instead of losing control, merely prayed to God to have mercy on his father and to help him find the truth. Many youth today shout obscenities if their fathers give them a stern lecture. From our prophet we learn that this is never acceptable, no matter the situation.
Finally, there are many ways to fix our relationships with our parents. First and foremost, of course, we must recall the importance our parents have in our lives, and the various verses that remind us to be kind to them. There are also many sayings from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that teach us how to act with them. In one narration, he likened caring for parents to fighting for the cause of God, the best deed a Muslim can do in his life. In another, we are told that smiling kindly at our parents is as though we have done the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. We should make it a habit to do these small things in our daily lives. Talking to our parents on a day-to-day basis, no matter our age, is also a way to close any gaps we may have with them. Lastly, it is always important to remember to pray for our parents. We have been told that several people’s prayers will always be answered, and among these is the child’s prayer for their parents.
May God help us all to be more respectful to our parents.