Honouring parents: Our Islamic duty of kindness and gratitude

Tahir Wadood, Canada

The Holy Quran is filled with immense wisdom and teachings for mankind, covering societal relationships, close ties, and individual conduct, etc. It provides guidance on how we should worship Allah, spend our wealth, conduct ourselves in daily life, and much more. The Holy Quran places great emphasis on the kind treatment of parents.

Allah the Almighty has given clear instructions to believers in the Holy Quran: 

وَقَضٰي‭ ‬رَبُّكَ‭ ‬اَلَّا‭ ‬تَعۡبُدُوۡۤا‭ ‬اِلَّاۤ‭ ‬اِيَّاهُ‭ ‬وَبِالۡوَالِدَيۡنِ‭ ‬اِحۡسَانًا‭ ‬ؕ‭ ‬اِمَّا‭ ‬يَبۡلُغَنَّ‭ ‬عِنۡدَكَ‭ ‬الۡكِبَرَ‭ ‬اَحَدُهُمَاۤ‭ ‬اَوۡ‭ ‬كِلٰهُمَا‭ ‬فَلَا‭ ‬تَقُلۡ‭ ‬لَّهُمَاۤ‭ ‬اُفٍّ‭ ‬وَّلَا‭ ‬تَنۡهَرۡهُمَا‭ ‬وَقُلۡ‭ ‬لَّهُمَا‭ ‬قَوۡلًا‭ ‬كَرِيۡمًا‭ ‬وَاخۡفِضۡ‭ ‬لَهُمَا‭ ‬جَنَاحَ‭ ‬الذُّلِّ‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬الرَّحۡمَةِ‭ ‬وَقُلۡ‭ ‬رَّبِّ‭ ‬ارۡحَمۡهُمَا‭ ‬كَمَا‭ ‬رَبَّيٰنِيۡ‭ ‬صَغِيۡرًا‭ ‬

“Thy Lord has commanded, ‘Worship none but Him, and [show] kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but address them with excellent speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness. And say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’’” (Surah Bani Isra’il, Ch.17: V.24-25)

There are two points in these verses a believer should ponder over. The first point to note is Allah’s emphasis on honouring one’s parents, placing it directly after Tawhid. The word ‘ihsan’ means to do good as a favour. It does not mean fulfilling a right that is due. For example, if someone helped you for one hour, and, in return, you helped them for one hour, you have equally fulfilled your right to them. However, if you were to help them for two hours, it would be your ‘ihsan’, or favour. Now the question arises: Why does Allah command a ‘favour’ towards our parents rather than merely fulfilling the rights due to them?

Truly, unless the basic rights are fulfilled, one cannot do a favour. To do a favour by helping your friend for an extra hour, you must have first completed the hour of help that was due. Thus, the Holy Quran expects that a believer is already fulfilling the basic rights due to parents and then instructs the believer to go beyond with favours. 

This reinforces to believers that their ‘ihsan’ is not just fulfilling an instruction but recognising that parents have done innumerable favours for them.

This leads to the second point for reflection. From feeding to sleeping, to clothing, and much more, parents do not simply fulfil basic rights; they go above and beyond to ensure their child faces no problems. It is truly impossible to repay them for countless days of this ihsan, which is why Allah has taught us this beautiful prayer. In this prayer, we ask Allah to shower His mercy on our parents and fulfil the rights we could not:

رَّبِّ‭ ‬ٱرْحَمْهُمَا‭ ‬كَمَا‭ ‬رَبَّيَانِى‭ ‬صَغِيرًۭا‭ ‬

Rabbi r-ham huma kama rabbayani rasghira

‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’ (Ibid.)

Allah states that one should “never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them.” (Ibid.) As children, when we were devoid of senses and unable to walk or care for ourselves, our parents never complained. repeatedly forgot things, our mothers showed immense patience. Now that they have aged, children must serve them without complaint.

The last portion of the verse states: “And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness. And say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’” (Surah Bani Isr’’il, Ch.17: V.25)

“The Quranic expression واخفض‭ ‬لهما‭ ‬جناح‭ ‬الذل means, And make soft to them thy submissive side, i.e., treat them with gentleness and submissiveness or lower to them the wing of submissiveness, meaning, be submissive to them (Lane & Aqrab).” (Five Volume Commentary, Surah Bani Isra’il, Ch.17: V25)

Allah the Almighty imparts a crucial lesson regarding the treatment of parents. He emphasises that if parents are harsh and lack mercy toward their children, even their children’s prayers may not be answered in their favour. The prayer taught by Allah includes the word ‘Kama’, which translates to ‘like’. Essentially, it signifies treating parents in the same manner as they treated their children during childhood. (Urdu Tarjamatul Quran Class, No. 143, Surah Bani Isra’il, verses 13-26, www.youtube.com)

I conclude this brief piece and reminder with the sayings of our beloved master, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, who said: “May a person whose parents reached old age in his presence, and they were not a cause for his entrance to Paradise, be humiliated.” (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, Kitab ad-da‘wat ‘an rasulillahsa, Hadith 3545)

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