Our parents are the people who provide the most care for us in this world. Unfortunately, most of us often fail to show them the respect they deserve. There are many days set aside in societies to honor and appreciate parents; Father’s Day and Mother’s Day to name just two. Such days appear to be more an effort to make up for duties neglected. In Monotheistic religions-when they are practiced-respecting, honoring and appreciating parents is not something that should be just one day a year, but rather on each and every day. In Islam, parents’ rights are the most venerable rights after those of God. There are many verses in the Qur’an urging Muslims to treat their parents with utmost kindness, to be grateful for the care they have provided, to obey them, and to care for them when they grow old.
Now (among the good deeds), We have enjoined on human is the best treatment towards his parents. His mother bore him in pain, and in pain did she give him birth. The bearing of him and suckling of him (until weaned) is thirty months, When he has finally reached his full manhood and reached forty years of age, he says: “My Lord! Arouse me that I may be thankful for all Your favors (life, health, sustenance, faith, and submission, and more) that You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good, righteous deeds with which You will be pleased, and grant me righteous offspring (so that they treat me righteously, as I treat my parents). I have turned to You, and I am one of those who have submitted to You.”
Those are they from whom We will accept (their good deeds in a manner to reward them in accordance with) the best of what they ever did, and whose evil deeds We will overlook, (and include them) among the companions of Paradise. This is a true promise which they have been given (here in the world). (Ahqaf 46:15-16)
One point that should be emphasized here is that while both parents are given importance, the mother ranks before the father in Islam as far as their children are concerned. Prophet Muhammad said: “Paradise lies under the feet of the mother.” However, fathers are never ignored: “The contentment of the father is the door to paradise.”
The teachings of Jesus are no different. The Qur’an describes the miracle of baby Jesus speaking out to prove his blessed mother’s chastity; when Jesus mentions God’s blessings on him, he also emphasizes the importance of being good to one’s parents: …And (God has made me) dutiful towards my mother, and He has not made me unruly, wicked. (Maryam 19:32). Also, one of the Ten Commandments says: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). The word “honor” cannot only be defined as feeding parents, clothing them, and helping them get from A to B, because these are acts of charity usually reserved for homeless or poor people. “Honor” means to prize highly, show respect, glorify, or exalt.
From the very moment of conception, and as the child grows and develops it is a duty and responsibility for the parents. It is not possible to estimate the depth of attachment or compassion parents feel for their children nor to calculate the troubles or hardships they undergo as parents. For this reason, respecting the parent is not only a debt of human gratitude, it is also a religious obligation.
Those who can value their parents in the correct way and who regard them as a means for obtaining the mercy of God are the most prosperous in both worlds. Those who, in contrast, regard their parents’ existence as a burden on themselves or who become wearied of them are unfortunate people who will inevitably suffer the severest hardships in life.
The more respectful you are to your parents, the greater the respect and awe you will feel before your Creator. Those who do not feel or show respect to their parents have no fear, awe, or respect of God. However, it is a curious thing that today that it is not only those who are disrespectful to God who fail to show respect to their parents, but also those who claim that they love God. As Martin Luther expressed, we must respect and love God so that we will neither look down upon our parents or superiors, nor irritate them, but rather we will honor them, serve them, obey them, love them, and value them.
The importance of respecting parents, however, extends beyond social welfare to the very welfare of society itself, as the family is the basic unit of society. Just as a body’s health is dependent on the health of the cells, so the vigor of a nation, the body politic, is directly related to the health of the families that make it up. Families form the foundation of a society. Where there is reciprocal respect of rights and obligations within a family, the society will be healthy and strong. It is vain to look for compassion and respect in society once these have been lost.
Fethullah Gulen refers to this neglected value in the following words:
How we treat our parents can be taken as an indication of how our children will learn to treat us. Obviously, we too hope to become old. If we do not honor our parents, then in keeping with the maxim: “let the punishment fit the crime,” our children will not be dutiful towards us. If we treasure life in the Hereafter, this is an important treasure for us: let us be dutiful towards our parents and win their pleasure. However, if it is this world that we love, still let us try to please them, so that through them our life will be easy and our sustenance plentiful. If we want the mercy of the Most Merciful One, we should be merciful towards those in our house who He has entrusted to us.
There are different types of parents, but regardless of how they treat their children, they are still parents. Parents make mistakes too, but that does not decrease their value. While we are still under parental guidance we have to follow what they want, even if it goes against our heart. When we are standing on our own two feet, then we have freedom, but we still have the responsibility to respect our parents. We have to examine the situation, rather than concentrating on our own satisfaction. We have to be kind to our parents, because most of the things they do are for us. Today it is likely that parents are more neglected than in any other period throughout history, even though modern life has provided us with more and more comforts.
Said Nursi drew attention to another aspect of the issue in his Gleams:
There have been many experiences that have given me the certain conviction that, in the same way that infants are sent their sustenance in a wonderful fashion by Divine Mercy because of their impotence, flowing forth from the springs of their mothers’ breasts, so too the sustenance of the believing elderly, who have acquired innocence, is sent in the form of miraculous abundance. The part of a hadith which says, “Were it not for the elderly with their bent backs, calamities would descend on you in floods,” makes clear that a family’s source of abundance is the elderly among it, and it is the elderly who preserve the family from the visitation of calamities.
Since the weakness and powerlessness of old age are the means of attracting Divine mercy to this extent; since the wise Qur’an through the verses – Should one of them, or both, attain old age in your lifetime, do not say ‘Ugh!’ to them (as an indication of complaint or impatience), nor push them away; and always address them in gracious words. Lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy, and say: “My Lord, have mercy on them even as they cared for me in childhood (Isra 17: 23–24),” calls children, in the most wonderfully eloquent fashion, in five ways to be kind and respectful towards their elderly parents; since the religion of Islam orders respect and compassion towards the elderly; since human nature also requires respect and compassion towards the elderly we elderly people certainly enjoy, in place of the temporary physical pleasures roused by appetites of youth, substantial, continual mercy and respect from Divine grace and human innate feelings of tenderness, and the contentment of spirit that arises from such respect and compassion. This being the case, we should not wish to exchange this old age of ours for a hundred youths. I can tell you certainly that if they were to give me ten years of the Old Said’s youth, I would not give in exchange one year of the New Said’s old age. I am content with my old age, and you too should be content with yours. (Twenty sixth Gleam, ninth hope)
Elderly believers are more deeply aware that the true abode is the eternal one, and turn to God with sincere devotion. Therefore, they present an example to the younger generations with their piety, wisdom, and tolerance. In short, even though we respect our parents for the sake of God, observing their rights and caring for them not only leads to eternal happiness in the Hereafter, but it also provides us with such an inner peace no worldly pursuit can bring. To put it in religious terminology, abiding by the divine commands results in saadat al-darayn-happiness in both abodes.
- Adil, Furkan, Kudsi İki Varlık: Anne-Baba, İstanbul: Rehber Yayınları, 2008
- Gönüllü, Ömer Said, “Ebeveyn Hukuku ve İnsan Olma,” Sızıntı, Issue: 298.
- Gulen, Fethullah, Fasıldan Fasıla 3, İstanbul: Nil Yayınları, 1997.
- Luther, Martin. Martin Luther’s Large and Small Catechism. Translated by F. Benteand W.H.T. Dan. Sioux Falls, SD: Nuvision Publications, 2007.
- Nursi Said, The Gleams, “Solace for the Elderly,” New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2008.
- Taiwo, Niyi. Respect: Gaining It and Sustaining It. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2007.
- Unal, Ali, trans. The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English, New Jersey: The Light, 2006.