Parents and children
Allah Almighty has established for us certain relationships without which our Islam is destroyed. He has, first of all, established the relationship between us and Him. That relationship was established right at the beginning of the creation of human beings, when Allah addressed all the descendants of Nabi Adam (a.s.), all the descendants from the beginning of time until the end of time. The Qur’an says:
أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوا بَلٰى شَهِدْنَا
“Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes truly. We do testify!”
With this interchange of words, Allah established between us and Him a relationship. He is Lord and we are His servants or His creation. This is the one relationship, which has to do with the recognition and acceptance by us of Allah as Lord. Without this relationship we have no religion. Then Allah also established a relationship between us and Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). Amongst other matters, he (ﷺ) brought to us the Qur’an and we are the recipients of the Message of that Holy Book from him (ﷺ). Without this relationship also we have no religion.
The third relationship is between children and their parents. Allah says in the Qur’an:
وَ قَضَى رَبُّكَ أَلاَّ تَعْبُدُوا إِلاَّ إِيَّاهُ وَ بِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none except Him and that you treat your parents well (xvii: 23).
In this verse Allah brings together worshipping Him solely with treating parents well. There is no principle greater in Islam than declaring our belief in Allah’s Existence and Oneness and directing one’s worship solely to Him. This is reaffirmed in Suratul-Fatihah in which Allah makes us say, after He introduces aspects of Himself to us:
Thee alone do we worship (i: 5)
Part of our declaration of our belief in Him is also accepting Nabi Muhammad’s (ﷺ) role as Messenger. Our Islam starts with this. At this critical religious juncture, Allah tells us that He has decreed that we treat our parents well. There is no more important juncture in Islam. It is very difficult to assess the overall religious importance of how we treat our parents, and what this treatment means to our religious quest and success. This is because Allah has given such treatment immense importance. Allah explains further:
إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِنْدَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا اَوْ كِلاَهُمَا فَلاَ تَقُلْ لَّهُمَا أُفٍّ وَ لاَ تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَ قُلْ لَّهُمَا قَوْلاً كَرِيْمًا وَ اخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَ قُلْ رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِى صَغِيْرًا
Whether one or both of them attain old age in their life, say not a word of contempt nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour and, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord, bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (xvii: 23-24).
Of course, treating parents well means that we have to see to what they need and show kindness and love to them. We are not allowed even to say “tch” to our parents. That must be the extent to which they must be respected. In many cases if our parents say one word we say two, or if they say one word we say a sentence, or we say a paragraph or we say a full story. This is not permitted in Islam. In this verse Allah Almighty details to us the treatment of parents during their old age; how we should address them, the tone of our voices and how we should supplicate for them. This detail expresses the religious importance of the relationship between parents and children.
In another verse this relationship is stressed in another way:
أَنِ اشْكُرْ لِى وَ لِوَالِدَيْكَ إِلَيَّ الْمَصِيْرُ
Be thankful to Me and to your parents.To me is the return (xxxi: 14).
In this verse Allah couples gratitude to Him with gratitude towards parents. What this means is that gratitude to Allah is not acceptable unless it is coupled with gratitude to one’s parents. According to Ibn Abbas (r.a.) this is one of three such pairs of matters found in the Qur’an, with the acceptance of the one matter depending on the performance of the other. The other two are the performance of salah and the paying of zakah, and obedience to Allah with obedience to His Messenger (ﷺ).
In a tradition Ibn Umar (r.a.) reported: “A man came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and asked him permission to go on jihad. The Prophet (ﷺ) asked, ‘Are your parents alive?’ He replied’ ‘Yes.’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘Exert yourself on their behalf’” (Bukhari and Muslim). This tradition means that “looking after one’s parents” is of greater religious value than jihad. My word! We can obtain grants from Allah greater than grants received by those actually fighting in His Cause, just by looking well after our parents, loving them and respecting them, especially in their old age. In the tradition the Prophet (ﷺ) used the jihad for what one does when one cares for one’s parents.
In another tradition, the Prophet (ﷺ) asked: “Shall I tell you about the greatest of major sins? Associating anything with Allah (shirk) and not being dutiful to parents.” Not being dutiful to parents means not seeing to their needs, not being kind to them, not being loving to them, saying to them what one wants to, and turning one’s back on them; all kinds of ugly things that I have come across in this community. This happens especially in those cases where parents have become old, are unable to look after themselves, and are unable to work and have an income. They depend on the income of their children and these children treat them as underlings.
One’s status as a child never ends. It doesn’t matter who one is; even if one becomes the president of this country, one is still the child of one’s parents. One’s status never ends. I’ve seen so many cases of how children treat parents because they bring in money on a Friday night or they bring in money at the end of the month. They treat their parents with utter disrespect and later the parents become just like children. They are unable to make their own decisions. They can’t do what they want to. They are now under the orders and instructions of their children. That is absolutely disgraceful. It is not permitted in Islam. In another tradition, Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said that a person who is disrespectful to his parents will never enter Paradise. It doesn’t matter what one does. It doesn’t matter how much adhkar one makes, how many times one makes salah, how many times one fasts, how many pilgrimages one has done, one will not even smell Paradise. In other words, the acceptance of our ibadat, the acceptance of the things that we do, our salahs, our adhkar, our pilgrimages all those things that we do, Allah Almighty accepts those things on one condition, and that is that one is respectful to one’s parents. One must not have the imagination that one can do to your parents what one wishes because one is performing ibadat.
I’ve said on a previous occasion that when a man gets married, it doesn’t mean that his status as son stops because he has become a husband. He is husband, he is son, and when Allah Almighty grants him children, he will be father. All those categories are now on his shoulders. One cannot say that one has one’s own home and family to see to, so one cannot see to one’s parents. So please, I want you to take exceptional note of what I am saying that one’s quality as a Muslim depends on the extent to which one is prepared to obey Allah Almighty and Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) with regard to one’s parents. I am appealing to you on this matter. We will find that you are running on the spot spiritually or even in reverse and we would not know why. The reason is we don’t treat our parents with the kindness and the love and the deference and the respect and the regard that we are supposed to.
In a further hadith Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) says that Allah has cursed the person who insults his or her father, and curses the person who insults his or her mother. He (ﷺ) says further that Allah Almighty postpones the punishment of any sin to the Day of Judgement except the sin of disrespect to parents. The punishment for this comes down immediately. Now, one of the things that we hear very often is that young men will say when they get married: “I now have responsibilities towards my own home. I have a wife and children, I can’t see to my parents.” Those parents never said when that child was young: “I have to see to myself. I can’t see to my children.” I never heard a parent ever saying that. I’ve never heard a parent saying: “I don’t have money for food for you, the food is for me.” The parent will go hungry to feed the child. That is what a parent will do.
The son has special responsibilities to his parents. Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said to a son who came to complain that his father wanted to take of his property: “You and your property belong to your father.” This means that our fathers have a right over us with regard to our property. The scholars who had looked at this statement said that it is with regard to the needs of the father not with his wants. So when one of our fathers tells us: “I need a thousand rand,” you can’t tell him, “My wife does not want me to give it you” or “I must first ask my wife.” I want the sons here to understand that. Let me tell you a little story. There was a doctor in Hanover Street, Cape Town, a very good doctor, a well known doctor. I think I told you this before. There were no such things as medical aids at the time. The money he received he would put into his bag. At the end of the day he would first go to his mother’s house, and tell her that she could take what she needed of the money. After his mother had taken, he would close his bag and leave. May Allah give him a wonderful place in the Hereafter, Amin.
Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) reported that a man came to the Messenger (ﷺ) and asked: “O Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who is most deserving of good care by me?” He (ﷺ) replied: “Your mother.” He asked again who comes next and the reply was: “Your mother.” He asked yet again who comes next and the reply was: “Your mother.” He then asked once more who comes next and the reply was: “Your father.” According to this report the mother is three degrees higher than the father with regard to children, and the report shows that the love, respect and kindness for her by her children must be considerably more than for the father. This is obvious. Allah Almighty had sent you through her. My word! How must you not respect her? But now we are adults, and smart. We earn well. We have forgotten the years of their sacrifice and treat them with disdain. I have seen so much of this over the years. So many mothers, so many fathers have come to complain to me about this with regard to the behaviour of their children.
It is an illusion I tell you, an illusion to think it doesn’t matter how we treat our parents because we pray, because we fast, because we go on pilgrimage. Be very careful about this. I want to stress that if any one of us had done anything to our parents that we should not have done, short-changed them in any way, not giving them their due, not loving them enough, not respecting them enough, not being kind enough to them, not speaking kindly to them, anything like that, then we must ask Allah for repentance. If I had known years ago what I know today about Islam, I would have kissed my mother’s feet every single day. My father died in 1943, but if he had been alive I would have done the same for him. I would have given them respect, intense respect.
Remember: no respect for parents means no respect for Allah, no thankfulness to parent, no thankfulness to Allah, no regard for parents, no regard for Allah Almighty. Please be extremely careful about this. Check carefully the words we say, the words we use, the sound of our voices when we speaks to our mothers or when we speaks to our father. Check carefully. And if there is the slightest indication of rudeness, even slight, we should go down on our knees and kiss her feet and apologize. If she is dissatisfied with you, Allah is dissatisfied with you. A man came to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, if I pray five times a day, fast the month of Ramadan, pay zakah, perform my haj, what will my reward be?” Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “Whoever does that will be with the Prophets, those who live by the truth, the martyrs and the righteous unless he had shown disrespect to his parents.”
It is important for us to measure what we do in terms of the teachings of Islam. If Allah Almighty says something, to what degree are we prepared to obey? If Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) says something, to what degree are we prepared to obey? The extent to which we show obedience to Allah Almighty and to His Messenger (ﷺ), that is the measuring rod of the strength of our Islam. My appeal is that if we have in any way done anything wrong against our parents, we must seek repentance if those parents have passed away. We must pray two raka’ahs sunnah and then speak to Allah Almighty and ask Him to forgive us for what we have done with regard to our parents. We should not leave this alone. And ask Allah: “O my Lord, please send this message to my mother” or “send this message to my father.” If the parents are alive and we have done something against them, we must go and kiss their feet and say we are extremely sorry for our behaviour. We should say: “I am extremely sorry for my disrespect towards you. I ask you to please forgive me.” Otherwise, we will not smell Paradise. Not even smell it! Our destination will be Hell.
People don’t seem to understand what respect for parents mean. Many of us, I suppose all of us, I also, were very smart when we grew up. We became very smart because we had degrees, smart jobs, earned a lot of money, owned property or cars, and so we think we are very smart individuals. Allah doesn’t look at our property, doesn’t look at our degrees, and doesn’t look at our titles. He just looks at our hearts. If He sees righteousness in those hearts, then we are righteous. If He sees no righteousness in those hearts, then there is no righteousness in us. We can’t pretend by Him. We can pretend to each other but not to Allah. He knows our hearts. I am appealing to Allah that if any one of us, including me, had in any way short-changed our parents, we ask Him for repentance, right here and now. I am asking on behalf of all of us: “O my Lord, if we have in any way said anything or done anything that showed disregard or disrespect to our parents we ask Thee to forgive us.” We ask for all of this with the blessings of Suratul Fatihah …
And Allah knows best, and I ask forgiveness for any mistakes or distortions in what I have said, Amin.
 This talk was partly based on the chapter, Disrespect to Parents, in The Major Sins by Muhammad ibn Uthman al-Dhahabi, translated by M. M. Siddiqui, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, pp. 42-47
 The word shirk means to give Allah a co-partner or to give someone the names and attributes used for Allah, such as saying that a person is all-knowing. In this country and elsewhere the word is bandied about indiscriminately to describe some of the religious activities of the Ahl-Tassawwuf, and in the process to give the false impression that what they are doing is shirk. Spreading false information has become an essential part of the religious discourse of certain perspectives of Islam. There is also the minor shirk when one performs religious duties for the eyes, ears or knowledge of others, and not purely for the sake of Allah.
Selected Talks by Yusuf da Costa [Published 2008]