Relations that Muslims must maintain with their elderly and aging parents
AT TIMES our relationships with our elderly and aging parents can be challenging. It is quite common nowadays for people to send their parents to an old home at that period in life rather than bear them constant company. But what relations are Muslim sons and daughters to maintain with their parents, specially when they are in old age?
In what matters are they not supposed to obey them? Generally what opinion have people held concerning their parents and ancestors when the message of God was delivered to them?What should be believers’ relationship with their parents in case they are not sympathetic to Islam and are unbelievers?
The answers to such and many other questions are provided in the Qur’an as guidance for all humanity. The Qur’an provides a clear criterion to believers for establishing a relationship with their parents whether they be believers or unbelievers. This article explores such issues in the light of Ayaat (verses) dealing with this subject.
WHEN YOUR PARENTS ARE OLD
Believers are instructed about the sort of behavior that they are to maintain with their parents, especially when parents have reached old age:
“And your Sustainer has decreed that you will serve none but Him, and that you be good towards parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them (even) ‘fie’ nor rebuke them but address them with terms of honor.” (17:23)
“And out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: ’O My Sustainer, Bestow on them your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (17:24)
In the above verse believers are restrained from even saying ’fie’ i.e. a meager word of protest to their parents as people who are harsh on their parents and rebuke them are described as:
“And (there is one) who says to his parents ‘Fie’ on you! Do you hold out the promise to me that I shall be raised up, even though generations have passed before me?’ And they too seek God’s aid (and say) ‘Woe to you! Believe! For the promise of God is true.’ But he says: ‘This is nothing but tales of the ancients!’ (46:17)
“Such are they against whom is proved the sentence among the previous generations of Jinn (hidden persons) and mankind, that have passed away; for they are those in loss.” (46:18)
SUPPORT YOUR PARENTS FINANCIALLY
Believers are also commanded to spend on their parents from their resources as they cherished them in childhood:
“They ask you what they should spend. Say: ‘Whatever you spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever you do that is good, God has its knowledge.” (2:215)
DO NOT TREAT YOUR MOTHER HARSHLY
It is obligatory for believers to provide for their parents when they are in need and not to desert them in an old home. Furthermore they cannot impose any hardships on them. In the Qur’an, Jesus Christ is cited as an example to emulate in this regard:
(Jesus said) “And He has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable.” (19:32)
WHEN YOU SHOULD NOT OBEY THEM
While maintaining good behavior with their parents, the believers are instructed not to obey their parents in certain situations:
“And We have enjoined on Man concerning his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and his weaning is in two-years: Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: To Me is your goal.” (31:14)
“But if they strive with you to associate with Me that which you have no knowledge, then obey them not; Yet bear them company in this life in a recognized manner. And follow the way of those who turn to Me. In the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth of all you did.” (31:15)
You are not to obey our parents if they suggest ’Shirk’ i.e. association with God, yet bear them company in a just manner.
DO NOT BLINDLY ADHERE TO YOUR PARENT’S FAITH
Usually people maintain those beliefs in their lives which they have inherited from their parents and ancestors. Seldom do they analyze the inherited belief and faith by way of reason or evaluate it critically. A person calls himself a Muslim usually because he was born to parents who labeled themselves as such. It is rare to find a person to analyze his parent’s beliefs to see whether their version of Islam conforms to the Qur’an or not.
Similarly a person may label himself as a Christian, rarely on account of an informed reading of the Christian scriptures, but more due to the Christian faith that he has inherited from parents. This is the common trend in all religions. Majority of people are religious by birth and not necessarily by choice. People seldom follow a religion after its study and critical analysis, but lean more towards what parents hold to be true, as that is the easy path and a more comfortable identity for them.
As religious beliefs are spread mostly from generation to generation and held in veneration due to the emotional attachment and bonding that children have with their parents, it is not uncommon for people to take the faith of their ancestors to be the whole truth under the assumption that their elders and loved ones could not be wrong.
The Qur’an is against such an approach towards religion. According to it, the inherited faith has always caused a barrier in accepting the truth as the beliefs of ancestors are mostly at variance with the message of God. We read that in all times the foremost reaction of people, when the truth and reality of God is made evident to them is that they found their fathers following something else and they will stick to their ancestral beliefs. The excuse that people give when they are told to follow Qur’an is the same and they prefer the blind following of the sect or denomination which they received from their parents rather than personally consult the Qur’an for guidance:
“And when it is said to them: ‘Follow what God has revealed !’ They say: ‘Nay! We will follow what we found our fathers following.’ What! Even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance?” (2:170)
The faith of ancestors has always been a barrier in accepting the truth and God’s messengers were repeatedly given the same argument.
Response to Prophet Noah
“….Never did we hear such a thing among our fathers of old.” (23:24)
Response to Prophet Hud:
“…Have you come to us that we may serve God alone and leave that which our fathers served…?” (7:70)
Response to Prophet Salih:
“…..Do you forbid us that which our fathers served ? ….” (11:62)
Response to Prophet Shoaib:
” O Shoaib, does your Salat order that we leave of that which our fathers served…..” (11:87)
Answer to Prophet Abraham’s question:
“They said: ‘Nay we but found our fathers doing thus what we do!” (26:74)
Prophet Joseph’s reminder:
“If not Him you serve nothing but names which you have named, you and your fathers….” (12:40)
Response to Moses and Aaron:
“…Never did we hear the like among our fathers of old! ” (28:36)
Reaction to Muhammed:
“…This is just a Man whose intention is to oppose you from that which your fathers served…” (34:43)
It can be observed from above that the Qur’an strongly opposes the blind following of the faith of parents and ancestors.
It invites people to use their reasoning ability and intelligence in ascertaining the truth.[i] The Qur’an not only provides evidence for its claims[ii] but also asks its opponents to provide sufficient proofs.[iii] Blind following of ancestors involves a person to accept their beliefs without question or sufficient proof. The blind submission to ancestral beliefs is encouraged by Satan as his chief objective is to keep people away from the Qur’an:
“When they are told to follow what God has revealed, they say: ‘Nay we shall follow the ways that we found our fathers following! ‘What ! Even if it is Satan beckoning them to the penalty of the blazing (fire)?” (31:21)
Instead of taking guidance for all matters requiring guidance from the Book of God, people insist upon copying the ways of their fathers.
” What! Have We given them a Book before this to which they are holding fast?” (43:21)
“Nay! They say: ‘We found our fathers following a certain way and we will guide ourselves by their footsteps.” (43:22)
“Just in the same manner, whenever We sent a Warner before you to any town, the wealthy ones among them said: ‘Surely we found our fathers following a certain way and we will certainly follow in their footsteps.” (43:23)
By following the faith of their ancestors people get involved in worshiping those names and heroes which exist in their ancestral traditions and don’t serve God alone. Joseph also faced a similar situation and he reminded:
“If not Him you serve nothing but names which you have named, you and your fathers, for which God has revealed no authority: The government is for none but God; He has ordered that you be subservient to none but Him, that is the established judgment but most of mankind do not know.” (12:40)
IF YOU BLINDLY FOLLOWED YOUR PARENTS
It is essential once we have the opportunity in this lifetime that we use our reasoning and the evidence available to us in analyzing the faith that we have inherited from our parents, whether it can justified as the truth. In case we are not doing this exercise but are blindly following our fathers then our end has been foretold:
“Then their return is to the blazing (fire).” (37:68)
“Surely they found their fathers on the wrong path.” (37:69)
“So they (too) rushed down their footsteps.” (37:70)
God will question on the last day:
“The fire will burn their faces and they will grin therein with their lips displaced.” (23:104)
“Were not my signs rehearsed to you and you did but treat them as falsehoods?”(23:105)
“They will say: ‘Our Sustainer! Our misfortune overwhelmed us and we became a people astray!” (23:106)
People will further admit on that day:
“They will (further) say: Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the companions of the blazing fire!” (67:10)
RELATIONSHIP WITH UNBELIEVING PARENTS
To a believer, the cause of God is what matters the most. Believers cannot give preference to their parents, children, relatives, careers etc. over the cause of God. The following verse reminds us:
“Say: ‘If it be that your fathers, or your sons, or your brothers, or your mates, or your relatives; the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline; or the buildings in which you delight–are dearer to you than God and his Messenger and the striving in his way;–Then wait, until God brings about his decision: and God guides not the Dissolute.” (9:24)
If parents and relatives hold such beliefs and actions that are against the teachings of the Qur’an , then they are not to be taken into intimate ranks:
“O Believers! Take not as protectors your fathers or your brothers if they love disbelief (Kufr) above belief (Eimaan). If any of you do so then they are from the oppressors.” (9:23)
In such a situation were parents are unbelievers, believers should strive to share God’s message with them and in case they do not respond positively and are harsh and aggressive, then bear such aggression with patience and should not retaliate harshly themselves.
Misbehaving would mean taking a stand on a person’s own ego, rather than following the guidance of God. The example of Abraham is to be followed when dealing with unbelieving and aggressive parents:
“And remember in The Book, Abraham; He was a true Prophet.” (19:41)
“When he said to his father; ‘O my father why serve that which hears not sees not and can profit you nothing?” (19:42)
“O my father! To me has come knowledge that has not reached you: So follow me. I will guide you to a way that is even and straight.” (19:43)
“O my father serve not Satan, for Satan is a rebel against (God) Most gracious.” (19:44)
“O my father! I fear that a penalty from (God) Most Gracious afflict you, so that you become to Satan, a friend.” (19:45)
To Abraham’s invitation his father responded in negative:
“(The father) replied: ‘Do you hate my gods O Abraham? If you forbear not, I will indeed stone you! Now get away from me for a long while! ” (19:46)
Abraham did not reply in a harsh manner to his father’s threat:
“(Abraham) Said: ’Peace be on you: I will pray to my sustainer for your forgiveness, for He is to me most gracious.” (19:47)
Imaan or belief is the ultimate cornerstone in the life of a believer and Qur’an describes them as not having affection or love for those who oppose the way of life prescribed by God even if they are their parents and near relatives:
“You will not find any people who believe in God and the Last day, loving those who oppose God and His Messenger even though they were their fathers or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written ‘Eimaan’ (belief) in their hearts and has strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. And He will admit them to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. God well pleased with them and they with Him. They are the Party of God. Surely it is the Party of God that will prosper.” (58:22)
RIGHTEOUS PARENTS OF NO HELP
Even if our parents are genuinely righteous in the sight of God, even then they can be of no help to us on the last day. Each and every one of us is responsible for our own actions.[iv] How much we follow the guidance of God in our lives that we ourselves have to face.
The instance of Noah is evident in this regard as he being a messenger of God could not save his own son:
“And Noah called upon his Sustainer, and said: ’O my Sustainer, surely my son is of my family and your promise is true and you are the most just of judges !” (11:45)
We are responsible and accountable for our own actions, what our parents and ancestors did , we will not be questioned about them:
“That was a Nation that has passed away. For them is what they earned and for you is what you earn. And you will not be questioned as to what they did.” (2:141)
A REMINDER ABOUT THE HEREAFTER
People are reminded about the day when parents and children will be of no help to each other. In this life we are responsible for our own beliefs and actions and have been provided with the faculty of reasoning and the free will to choose our course.
It is our own duty to seek the truth and follow the guidance, rather than blindly follow our parents and ancestors. On the last day we cannot put the blame on our parents for the results of our actions.
“O Mankind! Do your duty to your Sustainer, and fear a day when no father can avail ought for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father, Surely the promise of God is true: Let not then this present life deceive you, nor let the chief deceiver deceive you about God.” (31:33)
[i] See 38:29, 47:24, 43:3, 21:10
[ii]See 4:174, 6:104
[iii] See 21:24, 27:64, 2:111, 37:157
[iv] See 53:38, 35:18
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