The Islamic Personality, Part 4-2: Ihsaan, 2-2: Parents, by Ayub A. Hamid

Excellence (Ihsaan) in Interacting with Parents

Just as the starting point of practicing ‘Adl is fairness in fulfilling the rights of Allaah on us as our Creator and Master without letting anything come in our way of our obedience to Him or of our performance of the duties assigned by Him, the starting point of practicing Ihsaan is the excellence in our interaction with our parents. In the Holy Qur-aan, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala has enjoined excellence in one’s behaviour with one’s parents immediately after mentioning Towheed and pure submission to Allaah. In Soorah Banee Israaeel, the Qur-aan says:

Your Lord has decreed that you do not serve anyone like a slave except Allaah and deal with parents in an excellent manner. If one or both of them reach old age in front of you, do not express any annoyance to them, do not raise voice to them and speaking pleasantly, say only respectable things. And lower yourself in humility with kindness in front of them and pray: O Lord have mercy on them as they brought me up when I was little.” (Banee Israaeel 17:23)

Similarly, when reporting Luqmaan `alayhissalaam’s admonition to his son about not associating any partners with Allaah or equating anyone in any respect with Him, Allaah interrupts the flow of what Luqmaan had said in order to emphasize one’s obligation to his parents, saying:

We have exhorted man (human beings) about his parents. His mother bore him enduring difficulty after difficulty, nursing (suckling) him for two years, so that you thank Me and your parents.” (Luqmaan 31:14)

The same style of commanding Ihsaan towards parents immediately after emphasizing Towheed as our duty to Allaah is repeated in the following verses:

And remember when we took a promise from Israelites that: Dedicate your servitude exclusively to Allaah and be good to your parents, to close relatives, to orphans and to the poor; and talk nicely to people, establish Salaah and pay Zakaah.” (Al-Baqarah 2:83)

And serve Allaah, do not equate anyone or anything with Him and treat parents superbly. And be nice to close relatives, orphans, the poor, close neighbours, farther neighbours, a fellow traveller, and the wayfarer.” (An-Nisaa 4:36)

Say: Come, I will recap what inviolable duties your Lord has obligated on you:

  • Do not equate anything or anyone with Allaah;
  • Be excellent to your parents;
  • Do not kill your children fearing poverty because we provide for you and for them;
  • Do not go near lewdness or shameful things, whether it is open or hidden; and,
  • Do not take a life, which Allaah has made sacred, except for the administration of justice. 

“Thus does he command you so that you can attain wisdom.” (Al-An’aam 6:151)

This suggests that in terms of importance and status of one’s responsibilities, obligation to one’s parents is immediately next to one’s obligations to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala.

One of the special characteristics of Yahya (John, the Baptist) and Eesa (Jesus), peace be upon them, mentioned in the Holy Qur-aan (Maryam 19:14 and 32) is that they were very respectful and dutiful in fulfilling their obligations to their parents/mother.

Serving and obeying parents is also a topic that has been very strongly emphasized in Ahaadeeth.

‘Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood asked the Messenger about the actions Allaah loves the most. He said, “Salaah at its time.” Asked, then what, he said, “Serving the parents well.” Asked then what, he said, “Jihaad in the way of Allaah.” (Muslim Kitaabul-Eemaan)

A person asked the Messenger of Allaah, about the right of parents on their children. He responded, “They are your Jannah and your Fire.” (Aboo Umaamah in Ibn Maajah)

Allaah’s pleasure is in the pleasure of father, and His displeasure is in the displeasure of father.” (‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar in At-Tirmidzee)

Fighting in the way of Allaah and migrating for that purpose are the most virtuous actions to gain the pleasure of Allaah SWT. However, if someone has old parents who are dependent on him for their living and their survival, the serving of the parents takes precedence over migration and fighting in the way of Allaah:

A person came to the Messenger of Allaah, leaving his parents crying, to make a commitment for migration to Madeenah (Hijrah). The Prophet sent him back saying, “Return to them and make them happy just as you caused them to cry.” (Abdullaah ibn Umar in Al-adbul-mufrad lilbukhaari)

A person came to the Messenger of Allaah to seek permission for Jihaad. The Prophet asked if his parents are alive. On receiving a positive answer, he said, “Perform Jihaad (work hard) in their service.” (‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar in Muslim kitaabul-birr, in Bukhaaree kitaabul-jihaad)

A person came from Yemen to the Prophet and was asked if he had left behind some relatives in Yemen. When he said that his parents were there, the Prophet asked, “Did you seek their permission for migration?” On receiving a negative response, the Prophet said, “Go back and seek their permission. If they allow, then participate in Jihaad. Otherwise, keep serving them well.” (Reported from Aboo Sa’eed Khudriy in Aboo Dawood)

Jaahimah, the father of the narrator, who had a very old mother at home depending on him for her survival came to the Messenger of Allaah and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I want to go for Jihaad and am seeking your advice in this respect.” The Prophet asked if his mother was still alive. When he confirmed that she was, the Prophet responded, “Dedicate yourself to her service because your Jannah is at her feet.” (Mu’aawiah Ibn Jaahimah in Musnad Ahmad)

At the time of the Messenger, sons were closer to, more attached to and more subservient to the father than the mother and there was a chance that father may be favoured at the expense of mother. Hence, the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam emphasized that if someone has to choose between father and mother, the mother deserves three or four times more servitude than the father.

A person came to the Prophet and asked who had more right on his companionship and service. The Prophet indicated it to be his mother. He was repeatedly asked “Then who?” The Prophet repeated three times, “Your mother”. Then on the fourth question, he said, “Your father”. (Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Bukhaaree Kitaabul-Adab and in Muslim Kitaabul-Birr)

Sometimes, we may feel that we have done enough in the service of our parents. Here is something to ponder for those who may think so:

A person came to the Messenger of Allaah and narrated, “O Messenger of Allaah! I carried my mother on my back from Yaman for Hajj, performed Tawaaf of the House, performed Sa’yy betweem Safaa and Marwah, stayed in Arafaat, brought her to Muzdalfah, stoned the pillars in Minaa. I did all this carrying her on my back, as she is too old even to move. Have I fulfilled my obligations to her?” The Prophet responded in the negative. The person wondered why. The Prophet responded, “Whatever she did when you were little, she did with a strong desire for you to live. Whatever you have done for her, you have done while desiring her death.” (Zaadi Raah (Urdu, page 61) with reference to Al-Sunnatul-Khaamisah)

The Messenger of Allaah Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam also gave strong warnings to those who disobey or disrespect their parents or do not serve them lovingly:

Once the Messenger of Allaah exclaimed, “May he be humiliated! May he be humiliated! May he be humiliated!” He was asked, “Who? O Messenger of Allaah!” He said, “Who finds one or both of his parents grown old, but he does not avail the opportunity to gain entry into Jannah.” (Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Muslim)

He who keeps reminding after doing someone a favour, he who is disobedient to parents or he who is an alcoholic, cannot enter Jannah (paradise).” (‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar in Mishkaah with reference to At-tabaraani and Nisaai)

Allaah curses anyone who curses his parents.” (Reported from ‘Ali in Muslim)

Cursed is one who uses abusive words to his father or his mother.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Allaah forgives whatever sins he wants except the disobedience to the parents which is punished in this world even before death.” (Reported from Abee Bakrah in Mishkaah)

The Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam also said,

The following are major sins: Equating others with Allaah in obedience or worship, disobeying the parents, taking a life, and telling a lie.” (Reported from Anas in Muslim)

The kindness, humility and service to one’s parents is incumbent on Muslims regardless of whether the parents are Muslims or non-Muslims, guided or misguided, right or wrong. However, obedience to them is only in the things that are in accordance of Islamic teachings. In the matters of Deen, it our duty to Allaah that we believe and practice only what is right and we follow only the person who helps us to the right path to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. In the ordinary worldly matters, the obedience and Ihsaan to the parents must continue in all circumstances.

And if they coerce you to equate with Me others, of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them, but continue to provide them good companionship in the world, and follow the path of the person who leads to Me.” (Luqmaan 31:15)

If the parents are not Muslims or are misguided, part of the Ihsaan is to earnestly pray to Allaah for their guidance.

How to serve the parents if they have already died?

A person asked the Messenger of Allaah if there was any obligation that he could fulfill to serve his deceased parents. He replied, “Yes, there are four ways: Praying for them; seeking forgiveness for them; fulfilling their words and commitments; maintaining the relationships that emanate from them (uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.); and, respecting (honouring) their friends.” (From Aboo Usayd in Aboo Dawood)

The greatest virtue is to be friendly to the people loved by one’s father.” (Ibn ‘Umar in Muslim)

Those who keep their parents happy can immensely benefit from their du`aa: “Three supplications (Du`aa) are answered without doubt: A Father’s duaa, a traveller’s duaa and an oppressed person’s du`aa.” (Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Aboo Dawood)

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