There are several verses in the Qur’an that enjoin on Muslims the duty of being kind and compassionate to their parents. In almost every case, this injunction appears soon after the injunction to worship only one God. This shows how important it is in Islam to treat parents properly.

In the Qur’an, God asks Muslims to show kindness to their parents and forbids them from making even the smallest gesture or uttering even the smallest word of reproach to them. No impatience, disrespect, or contempt may be shown to parents.

God says in the Qur’an what means,

{And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve any but Him, and goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them (so much as) “ugh,” nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word. 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.”} (Al-Israa’ 17:23-24)

The metaphorical use of the word “wing” calls to one’s mind the way in which birds tenderly and gently lower their wings for their offspring. The reason for the necessity of showing compassion toward parents is also given in the verse that reminds Muslims that their parents, and particularly the mother, suffered and sacrificed for them when they were young, weak, and totally dependent.

God says in the Qur’an what means,

{And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), “Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal.} (Luqman 31:34)

Rights of Parents in the Sunnah

A man asked Prophet Muhammad “What kinds of deeds are best in the sight of God?” He replied, “To pray on time, to be good and kind to parents, and to struggle in the path of God” (Al-Bukhari).

Thus, kindness toward parents came between two of the most important religious duties that Islam lays on Muslims. The reward for being good and kind toward one’s parents was mentioned on several occasions by Prophet Muhammad, emphasizing that those who are obedient to their parents and to God also will be in the highest places in Paradise.

Also, Prophet Muhammad equated kindness toward parents with jihad (striving in the way or God) and often promised people that if they were kind, obedient, and close to their parents — particularly the mother — their reward would be similar to that of someone who strives in the way of God.

Prophet Muhammad also indicated that the pleasure or anger of God is in the pleasure or anger of parents, and that Muslims who are kind to their parents earn forgiveness from God. The importance of gaining the pleasure of one’s parents was also emphasized by Prophet Muhammad when he said that the earnest prayers of parents for or against their child are always answered by God.

Showing Goodness to Parents

The Arabic word that appears in the Qur’an and in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad in connection with the treatment of parents is bir, often translated as “goodness.” However, this translation is not very accurate, as bir includes other qualities, such as righteousness, kindness, compassion, reverence, respect, obedience, and even patience. Muslims should demonstrate all of these qualities when dealing with their parents.

Prophet Muhammad indicated that those who treat their parents with coldness are not treating them with bir, and that Muslims should always show love to parents and never raise their voice when speaking to them.

Fatimah, Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, displayed excellent filial behavior. Whenever Prophet Muhammad visited her, she would rise, greet him with a kiss, and then, out of respect for him, seat him in her own place. Prophet Muhammad used to greet her in the same way.

Children are responsible for the maintenance of their parents in three circumstances:

  1. If the parents are destitute and do not have the resources to meet their daily needs.
  2. If the parents are not able to earn a living for themselves.
  3. If their children are able to provide for them, (their ability to do so being determined by whether they have more food than needed to tide themselves over for one day and one night.

This obligation to look after parents is both a moral and a legal responsibility. Proof of this comes from the fact that when a man came to the Prophet complaining that his father wanted to take some of his property, Prophet Muhammad said, “You and your property belong to your father” (Ibn Majah). Thus, Muslims should not be stingy or miserly when it comes to serving their parents.

Non-Muslim Parents

It is a basic rule in Islam that all parents, whether they are Muslim or not, are entitled to good and kind treatment from their offspring.

At the time of the Prophet, many of those who embraced Islam had difficulties with their parents, but Prophet Muhammad taught them to be kind to their parents and to obey them except if they demanded actions that were contrary to God’s laws.

{And if they contend with you that you should associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them, and keep company with them in this world kindly, and follow the way of him who turns to Me, then to Me is your return, then I will inform you of what you did.} (Luqman 31:15)

This verse specifies the way in which Muslims should treat their non-Muslim parents. It is clear that obedience to parents is required of every Muslim, but if that obedience comes into conflict with obedience to God, then a Muslim’s’ duty toward God comes first.

The Qur’an specifically criticizes those who are blind to the truth and follow the wrong path simply out of obedience and loyalty to fathers and forefathers.

The verse also says that even though Muslims should not obey their non-Muslim parents if the latter try to divert them from Islam, they nevertheless should be kind and give them “good company,” and be helpful to them so long as they show no aggression toward Muslims and Islam.

It is important to remember that when parents grow old, they may be in feeble, mentally and physically, and so they can become impatient, oversensitive, and less tolerant. Muslims should therefore be patient and kind to them, refraining from disobeying and rebelling against them.

By  Dr. Jamal Badawi