One of the most vital relationships we will encounter in life is the one we have with our parents. After all, these are the very people who helped shape us into the individuals we are at present and that is something undeniably to be grateful for. Allah (swt) has given a special status to parents and they rightly deserve this appointed honour and reverence. In any case it is not a title afforded to just anyone but rather to those who have sacrificed, persevered, worked hard day and night and cared for and nurtured us. Those who have disregarded any problems or ill health of their own to listen to our anxieties about a lost toy. Those who have instilled discipline and conscientiousness into the fabric of our minds even if they had to shout at what they loved so much. Those who gave us the things we wished for so much even if they had nothing themselves. Those who spent time teaching us despite having their own needs and desires. It’s a hell of a lot of work and requires profound strength in all facets within human existence.
“We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth…” Surah al-Ahqaf, Qur’an (46:15)
Not only do they deserve our respect but our kindness; and kindness rather than respect is mentioned here. It is common to discuss respect and kindness synonymously but in reality, though they may compliment and consolidate each other, they are two very separate entities. Respect entails an admiration for someone’s qualities/abilities/achievements or regard for the rights of others. So in actual fact, we may hate a person but admire the way they talk or deliver their opinions or admire their resilience in the face of opposition from others. We may even disapprove of certain cultural practices but acknowledge that they have a right to perform whatever is in question as long as it does not unfavourably affect us. This is what respect by itself can legitimately be and I would hate to analogise the parent-child relationship to the one we may have with a dictator for example who does not have our best interests at heart. Kindness on the other hand involves affection, warmth, selflessness and care. This is what humanises the bonds between people and breaks down egocentric desires, ultimately leading back to the real purpose of wanting to attain God’s pleasure.
Unfortunately, having to witness the opposite of what should be from time to time pains me. And the only reason I can assign to this would be that a child simply does not see the apparent forfeits a parent undergoes to serve them, which certainly is not a human response I would expect to a parent’s continuous acts of selflessness. It is the combination of kindness and respect that will allow us to be truly grateful to our parents for everything they have done and continue to do for us. The respect for their amazing qualities, especially as our earliest teachers who made us who we are today and a kindness where we can mirror back to them the sacrifices they made for us – that is what we need to do.
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.” Surah Al-Isra, Qur-an (17:23)
If God acknowledges and draws attention to the amazing role of parents Himself (and several times at that), then how could we ever not treat them with the kindness and respect that they so deserve? If the respect and honour of our parents are mentioned along the same lines as the core of our faith to worship Him; then who are we to sideline these individuals who raised us up with so much love.
“And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” Surah Al-Isra, Qur’an (17:24)