The Muslim and His Parents

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Chapter 3

Treating them with kindness and respect (birr)

One of the main distinguishing characteristics of the true Muslim is his respectful and kind treatment of his parents, because to treat parents with kindness and respect is one of the greatest commandments of Islam, as is clearly confirmed in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The Muslim who is truly following this commandment, which is a constant theme in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, must be characterized by his kind and respectful attitude towards his parents.

He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them

Islam has raised the status of the parents to a level that is unknown in any other religion, in that it has placed kindness and respect towards them on a level that is just one degree below belief in Allah and true worship of Him.

Allah revealed many bayat which reinforce the message that pleasing one's parents comes second only to pleasing Him, and respecting them is counted as a human virtue that is just one step below belief in Him:

( worship Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents . . .) (Qur'an 4:36)

So the true Muslim is kinder and more respectful towards his parents than any other person in the world.

The Qur'an paints a vivid picture of the high status of parents, and explains the excellent way in which the Muslim should treat them, if one or both of them should live to old age and reach the stage of senility and incapability, to a degree that was unknown before the light of this religion dawned upon the face of the earth.

( Your Rabb 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 honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: 'My Rabb Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.') (Qur'an 17:23- 24)

This is a divine commandment to the Muslim, which is presented in the form of an ultimate and inescapable decree: ( Your Rabb has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents.) These words represent the strong connection between worshipping Allah and treating parents with kindness and respect, thus raising the status of parents to a level that wise men, reformers and philosophers have never managed to ascribe to them.

This Ayah does not stop at drawing this vivid picture of respect towards one's parents, but it goes on to mobilize the forces of mercy, compassion and kindness in the hearts of children in a gentle way that is filled with humanity: ( Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life.) When they reach the age of senility and infirmity, they are under your care, and you must be careful to avoid uttering any word of complaint or anger towards them: ( Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them.) You must take the time to choose the right words to say to them, words that will make them feel loved and wanted: ( but address them in terms of honour.) Your attitude towards them should be one of respect, humility and obedience: ( And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility.) And pray for them for the unforgettable favours they have done for you, as they took care of you when you were small and weak: ( And say: 'My Rabb Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.)

The open hearted Muslim finds frequent references in the Qur'an which increase his respect for his parents and encourage him to treat them kindly:

( worship Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents . . .) (Qur'an 4:36)

( We have enjoined on man kindness to parents . . .) (Qur'an 29:8)

( And We have enjoined on man {to be good} to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him . . .) (Qur'an 31:14)

Anyone who looks into the Islamic sources regarding the kind treatment of parents will also find plenty of hadiths that reinforce the message of the bayatquoted above and reiterate the virtue of kindness and respect towards one's parents, as well as warning against disobedience or mistreatment of them for any reason whatsoever.

'Abdullah ibn Masud (r) said:

´I asked the Prophet (s), 'Which deed is most liked by Allah?' He said, 'Prayer offered on time.' I asked him, 'Then what?' He said, 'Kindness and respect towards parents.' I asked him, 'Then what?' He said, 'jihad for the sake of Allah.' (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (s), who was a great educator, placed kindness and respect towards parents between two of the greatest deeds in Islam: prayer offered on time and jihad for the sake of Allah. Prayer is the pillar or foundation of the faith, and jihad is the pinnacle of Islam. What a high status the Prophet (s) has given to parents!

A man came to the Prophet (s) to "make bay'ah" and to pledge to undertake hijrah and jihad in the hope of receiving reward from Allah. The Prophet (s) did not rush to accept his bay'ah, but asked him:

´Are either of your parents alive?' The man said, ´Yes, both of them.' The Prophet (s) asked, ´And do you wish to receive reward from Allah?' The man replied. 'Yes.' So the kindhearted and compassionate Prophet (s) told him: ´Go back to your parents and keep them company in the best possible way. (Bukhari and Muslim)

According to a report narrated by both Bukhari and Muslim, a man came and asked the Prophet (s) for permission to participate in jihad. He asked him, ´Are your parents alive?' He said, ´Yes,' so the Prophet (s) told him: ´So perform jihad by taking care of them.'

In the midst of preparing his army for jihad, the Prophet (s) did not forget the weakness of parents and their claims on their children, so he gently discouraged this volunteer and reminded him to take care of his parents, despite the fact that at that time he needed all the manpower he could get for the forthcoming jihad. This is because he understood the importance of respect and kind treatment of parents, and knew its position in the overall Islamic framework that Allah has designed for the well-being and happiness of mankind.

When the mother of Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas objected to her son's embracing Islam, she told him: "Give up Islam, or else I will go on hunger strike until I die. Then you will feel shame before the Arabs, as they will say, 'He killed his mother.," Sa'd told her: "You should know that, by Allah, even if you had a hundred souls, and they left your body one by one, I would never give up Islam." Then Allah revealed an Ayah which the Prophet (s) recited to the Muslims, in which Sa'd was rebuked for the harshness of his reply to his mother:

( 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} . . .) (Qur'an 31:15)

The story of the devoted worshipper Jurayj, which was told by the Prophet (s), is a vivid illustration of the importance of respecting one's parents and being quick to obey them. One day his mother called him whilst he was praying, and he wondered, "My Rabb, my mother or my prayer?" He chose to continue his prayer (rather than answer his mother). She called him a second time, but he continued praying and did not answer her. Then she called him a third time, and when he did not respond she prayed to Allah not to let him die until he had seen the face of a prostitute.

There was a prostitute in that locality who had committed adultery with a shepherd and had become pregnant. When she realized that she was with child, the shepherd told her: "If you are asked about the father of the baby, say that it is Jurayj, the devoted worshipper." This is what she said, so the people went and destroyed the place where he used to pray. The ruler brought him to the public square, and on the way Jurayj remembered his mother's prayer and smiled. When he was brought forth to be punished, he asked for permission to pray two rak'ahs, then he asked for the infant to be brought forth and whispered in his ear, "Who is your father?" The infant said, "My father is so-and-so, the shepherd."1 The people exclaimed "La ilaha illa Allah!" and "Allahu akbar!" They told Jurayj, "We will rebuild your prayer-place with silver and gold!" He said, "No, just rebuild it as it was, with bricks and mortar."

Note: 1. This child is one of the three who spoke in the cradle. The other two are 'xs ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary) and the child who was with his mother among the people of al-Ukhdud (the ditch). [Author]

Concerning this story, which is reported by Bukhari, the Prophet (s) said: ´If Jurayj had had sound knowledge, he would have known that answering his mother was more important than continuing his prayer.' Hence the fuqah , suggested that if a man is praying a nafil prayer and one of his parents calls him, he is obliged to stop his prayer and answer them.

He is kind and respectful towards them even if they are not Muslim

The Prophet (s) raised his teachings to a new peak when he advised his followers to treat their parents with kindness and respect even if they followed a religion other than Islam. This is clear from the hadith of Asm , bint Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (r), who said: ´My mother came to me, and she was a mushrik at the time of the Prophet (s). I asked the Prophet (s): 'My mother has come to me and needs my help, so should I help her?' He said, 'Yes, keep in touch with your mother and help her.' (Bukhari and Muslim)

The true Muslim who understands the meaning of this Qur'anic guidance and the teachings of the Prophet (s) cannot but be the best and kindest of all people towards his parents, at all times. This is the practise of the Sahabah and those who followed them sincerely. A man asked Sa'id ibn al-Musayyab (r): "I understood all of the Ayah about kindness and respect towards parents, apart from the phrase 'but address them in terms of honour.' How can I address them in terms of honour?" Sa'id replied: "It means that you should address them as a servant addresses his master." Ibn Sirin (r) used to speak to his mother in a soft voice, like that of a sick person, out of respect for her.

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