Since his birth and after his human integrity and growth, man begins his interactions and relations with people around him, the first of whom would be his parents within (the realm of) his family. Parents play an important role in the flourishing of the individuals, who should owe them much for their spiritual and mental upbringing. Parents, in Islam and the Qur’anic culture, are known to have a very high position. We must treat our parents with high regard and honor, for uttering even the slightest expression of displeasure like “fie” to them, particularly the mothers, would be counted as a sign of impoliteness prohibited by the Qur’an.
In what follows we have surveyed the relation of children with their parents in the eyes of the Qur’an.
The Relation of Children with their Parents
The most important relation between two people can appear between a child and his/her parents on the favor of whom he/she may live. We, here, cannot take the mutual relations as the standard to evaluate such a relation. For children cannot have the same influence on their parents as the parents have on them. Children owe their being to their parents, but they are not indebted to their children for their being.
Therefore, children-parents relations, cannot be measured according to the principle of justice, which implies mutually equal rights. Fairness may only be true when two people have the same reciprocal relations and equal rights. Equal relations bring about equal rights and obligations. Wherever there are the same reciprocal rights and obligations, there must be the same reciprocal influences. Parents, however, have such a great influence on the being of their children that cannot be appreciated and compensated for by the children. This is why Allah has continually enjoined us, in the Qur’an, to be good to our parents, and has regarded this issue as the major principle of evaluating the children-parents relations. There is not any verse in the Qur’an enjoining the children to treat their parents with justice and equality, for justice and equality in such a relation would be impractical.
Children, in many verses of the Qur’an, are enjoined to be good to their parents. This shows that the rights of the parents over their children are too great to have equal among other members of the society. The very rights of parents, therefore, are unique of their kind. This is why the obligations and duties of the children toward their parents have no equal whatsoever. Parents, however, may have rights other than motherhood and fatherhood over their children which may be of equal value with regard to other members of the society.
As regard the rights of the parents and related duties of the children toward them, the Qur’an contains several nice articulations that show the importance of the issue.
Allah, in the Qur’an, says:
﴾Worship Allah and do not ascribe any partners to Him, and be good to parents﴿1
Following the command of worshipping Allah and the prohibition of shirk (polytheism), Allah has immediately enjoined us to be good to our parents, which shows the immense magnitude of the parents’ rights over their children.
In another verse, He says:
﴾Say, ‘Come, I will recount what your Lord has forbidden you from. That you shall ascribe any partners to Him, and you shall be good to the parents﴿2
Still, in another verse, He says:
﴾And your Lord has decreed that you shall not worship anyone except Him, and [He has enjoined] kindness to parents﴿3
“Qada” (decree), here, suggests an accomplished, confirmed and certain duty. The highest duty to which man is addressed, is to worship Allah. Being a unique term to which no other expression even “command” can be similar, the word “qada” demonstrates the weight of the issue. Having used the term “qada”, Allah then goes on saying: “kindness to parents” which shows that kindness to parents, after worshipping Allah, is firmly commanded by Allah.
The foregoing represents the general line of conduct followed by the Qur’an. Hence, after worshipping Allah and prohibiting shirk (polytheism), kindness to parents is counted as the most essential duties of mankind in Islam. The above-mentioned verse, however, has distinctive characteristics and special emphasis on the issue.
With this immense enjoinment of the Qur’an about the parents, some may think that the children are required to absolutely surrender themselves to their parents and obey them without any limit. Correcting such an illusion, Allah says:
﴾We have enjoined man to be good to his parents. But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them﴿4
The phrase “But if they urged you” suggests that we are required to obey our parents as long as they do not lead us to Kufr (unbelief). The simultaneity of the two issues reveals how far one is due to be humble to one’s parents.
The Qur’an and the Priority of Mother
Having affirmed the great rights of the parents which are to be compensated for by children, many verses of the Qur’an proceed to mention the hard and serious actions carried out by mothers. In the Chapter of Luqman, for example, Allah says:
﴾We have enjoined man concerning his parents; his mother carried him through weakness upon weakness, and his weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and your parents. To Me is the return﴿5
This verse has deeply stressed the rights of mother, which are, in our collections of hadith, known to be more and higher than those of father. The verse first enjoins us concerning our parents, but the whole next words remind us of the rights of mother and her hard acts of pregnancy, breastfeeding and upbringing. The verse is meant to reveal the wisdom why parents, and particularly mother, are an object of great esteem.
Then, as an inimitable and wonderful wording of the Qur’an, comes the phrase “give thanks to Me and your parents”. Allah enjoins us to thank Him first, and then immediately enjoins us to thank our parents. The nice point is that only one verb, “thank”, has been used for both Allah and the parents. This suggests that thanks given to the parents are not separate from those given to Allah Himself. As well, it reveals the immense rights of the parents in the eyes of the Qur’an. With a little difference and in the following verse, the above-mentioned exception is stated: If they urge you to ascribe to Allah a partner, then do not obey them.
“But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them, and keep their company honourably in this world, and follow the way of him who turns to Me penitently. Then to Me will be your return whereat I will inform you concerning what you used to do”.6
Those parents who not only suggest but also urge and call their children to ascribe to Allah a partner naturally insist on their polytheistic stand. Nevertheless, the Qur’an has enjoined us to be good to them in this world, but not to follow them in their polytheistic call.
In another verse, the Qur’an says:
﴾We have enjoined man to be kind to his parents. His mother has carried him in travail, and bore him in travail, and his gestation and weaning take thirty months.﴿7
Like the preceding verse, this verse mentions the travails and labor pains of pregnancy and giving birth by our mothers to remind us that the rights of mother are much more and greater than those of father, so that we must appreciate her existence and not to forget her rights.
Special Recommendations Concerning Parents
The afore-mentioned verses enjoin all men to be good to the parents in general. However, there is another cluster of verses which shows high regard for a particular person or group to be, or who are, good to their parents.
“And when We took a pledge from the Children of Israel: ‘Worship no one the but Allah, and do good to the parents.”8
Because of his good traits, including kindness to parents, holy Yahya is highly esteemed by Allah Who says:
﴾And We gave him judgment while still a child. And a compassion and purity from Us. He was Godwary and good to his parents, and he was not self-willed or disobedient. Peace be to him the day he was born and the day he dies, and the day he is raised alive.﴿9
Kindness to the parents is one of the praiseworthy characteristics of holy Yahya mentioned in the Qur’an.
Allah, in the Qur’an, says that holy Jesus used to speak miraculously in his cradle and to predict his prophetic mission and the future. As to the recommendations of Allah to him, holy Jesus say:
“And He has enjoined me to [maintain] the prayer and to [pay] the zakat as long as I live, and be good to my mother, and He has not made me self-willed and wretched.”10
Because he had no father, holy Jesus only talked about kindness to his mother.
Samples of Kindness to the Parents
The foregoing verses have spoken about kindness in general and have not propounded a special one; therefore, they include any kind of it. But, other verses enjoin a particular act of kindness. For example in this verse says:
“Prescribed for you, when death approaches any of you and he leaves behind any property, is that he make a bequest for his parents and relatives in an honorable manner, an obligation on the Godwary.﴿11
The jurists and interpreters hold that this verse was revealed before the verses of inheritance. Since any portion of inheritance for the parents has not been specified by that time, Allah gives command to the children to allocate a portion of their property to their parents. It may, however, be said that the bequest for parents was still desirable, even after the verses of inheritance had been revealed. This proves that (the ruling related to the) aforementioned verse has not been abolished, or rather it is desirable to bequeath something more than the due portion to the parents. Such a bequest is an act of kindness to the parents. It is, therefore, recommended for everyone to bequest something out of ones’ due ie one third portion; to one’s parents; and this is another witness for the importance of the parents’ right.
In another verse, Allah says:
﴾They ask you as to what they should spend, Say, ‘Whatever wealth you spend, let it be for parents and relatives.﴿12
The parents, in this verse, are mentioned before all the others, namely, if they are in need they come before all the others.
All the foregoing verses have placed emphasis on financial kindness, even though other verses enjoin kindness in treatment, such as the following:
﴾And your Lord has decreed that you shall not worship anyone except Him, and [He has enjoined] kindness to parents. Should they reach old age at your side -one of them or both- do not say to them, ‘Fie!’. And do not chide them, but speak to them noble words. Lower the wing of humility to them, out of mercy and say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy on them, just as they reared me when I was [a] small [child]’.﴿13
Old age is the time when parents are weak and disabled and are in an urgent need of their children. Children are morally and legally required to take care of them and observe their rights. When they are young, the parents are financially or none-financially independent; they may work more than their children and hence make more money than them, so they can help their children. But when they become old, they cannot work like the youths, and they may suffer from several illnesses and troubles of the old age as well. At such an age, they naturally need the help of their children, who must observe their duty patiently.
In their treatments with their old parents, children may, in many cases, carp or lose their patience. Referring to those cases in particular, the Qur’an enjoins the children to be patient and tolerant with their parents, and not to tell them even the least word of discomfort like “Fie”, lest the parents should feel that their children are tired of them. “Do not say to them, ‘Fie!’. And do not chide them”.
Then, the Qur’an says: ﴾Lower the wing of humility to them, out of mercy﴿. The interpreters state that when the birds want to be humble to one who takes care of them, they lower their wings on the earth. Allah, in this verse, says that when you are with your parents you must be like those birds humble, modest, and meek, but not haughty, arrogant, so do not shrug or treat them harshly.