The Muslim Woman and Her Parents


She treats them with kindness and respect (birr)

One of the main distinguishing characteristics of the true Muslim woman is her respectful and kind treatment of her parents.

Islam encourages respect towards and kind treatment of parents in many definitive texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah; any Muslim woman who reads these texts has no choice but to adhere to their teachings and treat her parents with kindness and respect, no matter what the circumstances or the state of the relationship between daughter and parents.

She recognizes their status and knows her duties towards them

From her reading of the Qur’an, the Muslim woman understands the high status to which Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has raised parents, and that it is a status which mankind has never known except in Islam, which has placed respect for parents just one step below belief in Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and true worship of Him. Many ayat of the Qur’an describe pleasing one’s parents as coming second only to pleasing Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), and confirm that treating parents well is the best of good deeds after having faith in Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good, to parents…” (Qur’an Surat An-Nisa’: 36)

So the Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion is kinder and more respectful towards her parents than any other woman in the world; this does not stop when she leaves the home to marry and start her own family, and has her own, independent, busy life.

Her respect and kindness towards her parents are ongoing and will remain an important part of her behaviour until the end of her life, in accordance with the Qur’anic teaching which has enjoined kind treatment of parents for life, especially when they reach old age and become incapacitated and are most in need of kind words and good care:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one of 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. 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.’” (Qur’an Surat Al-Isra’: 23-24)

The Muslim woman whose heart has been illuminated with the light of Qur’anic guidance is always receptive and responsive to this divine instruction, which she reads in the ayat that enjoin good treatment of parents. So her kindness and respect towards them will increase, and she will be even more devoted to serving them. She will do her utmost to please them, even if she has a husband, house, children and other responsibilities of her own:

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents…” (Qur’an Surat An-Nisa’: 36)

“We have enjoined on man kindness to parents . . .” (Qur’an Surat Al-‘Ankabut: 8)

“And We have enjoined on man [to be good] to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him . . .” (Qur’an Surat Luqman:14)

Anyone who looks into the Islamic sources regarding the kind treatment of parents will also find plenty of Hadith that reinforce the message of the ayat quoted above and reiterate the virtue of kindness and respect towards one’s parents, as well as warning against disobedience or mistreatment of them for any reason whatsoever.

`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud said:

“I asked the Prophet (Peace be upon him), `Which deed is most liked by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He)?’ He said, `Prayer offered on time.’ I asked him, `Then what?’ He said, `Kindness and respect towards parents.’ I asked him, `Then what?’ He said, `Jihad for the sake of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).'”[1]

The Prophet (Peace be upon him), this great educator, placed kindness and respect towards parents between two of the greatest deeds in Islam: prayer offered on time and jihad for the sake of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).

Prayer is the pillar or foundation of the faith, and jihad is the pinnacle of Islam. What a high status the Prophet (Peace be upon him) has given to parents!

A man came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to “make bay`ah” and to pledge to undertake hijrah and jihad in the hope of receiving reward from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). The Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not rush to accept his bay`ah, but asked him, “Are either of your parents alive?” The man said, “Yes, both of them.” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) asked, “And do you wish to receive reward from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He)?” The man replied, “Yes.” So the kind-hearted and compassionate Prophet (Peace be upon him) told him “Go back to your parents and keep them company in the best possible way.”[2]

According to a report narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, a man came and asked the Prophet (Peace be upon him) for permission to participate in jihad. He asked him, “Are your parents alive?” The man said, “Yes,” so the Prophet (Peace be upon him) told him, “So perform jihad by taking care of them.”[3]

In the midst of preparing his army for jihad, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not forget the weakness of parents and their claims on their children, so he gently discouraged this volunteer and reminded him to take care of his parents, despite the fact that he needed all the manpower he could get for the forthcoming jihad.

This is because he understood the importance of respect and kind treatment of parents, and knew its position in the overall Islamic framework that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has designed for the well being and happiness of mankind.

When the mother of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas objected to her son’s embracing Islam, she told him:

“Give up Islam, or I will go on hunger strike until I die. Then you will feel shame before the Arabs, as they will say that he killed his mother.” Sa`d told her, “You should know that, by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), even if you had a hundred souls, and they left your body one by one, I would never give up Islam.” Then Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) revealed an ayah which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) recited to the Muslims, in which Sa’d was rebuked for the harshness of his reply to his mother:

“But if they strive to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice [and consideration] . . .” (Qur’an Surat Luqman: 15)

The story of the devoted worshipper Jurayj, which was told by the Prophet (Peace be upon him), is a vivid illustration of the importance of respecting one’s parents and being quick to obey them. One day his mother called him whilst he was praying, and he wondered, “My Lord, my mother or my prayer?” He chose to continue his prayer (rather than answering his mother).

She called him a second time, but he continued praying and did not answer her. Then she called him a third time, and when he did not respond she prayed to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) not to let him die until he had seen the face of a prostitute. There was a prostitute in that locality who had committed adultery with a shepherd and become pregnant. When she realised that she was with child, the shepherd told her:

“If you are asked about the father of the baby, say it is Jurayj, the devoted worshipper.” This is what she said, so the people went and destroyed the place where he used to pray. The ruler brought him to the public square, and on the way Jurayj remembered his mother’s prayer and smiled. When he was brought forth to be punished, he asked for permission to pray two rak`ahs, then he asked for the infant to be brought forth and whispered in his ear, “Who is your father?” The infant said, “My father is so-and-so, the shepherd.”[4]  The people exclaimed “La ilaha illa-Allah” and “Allahu akbar!” They told Jurayj, “We will rebuild your prayer-place with silver and gold!” He said, “No, just rebuild it as it was, with bricks and mortar.” Concerning this story, which is reported by al Bukhari, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “If Jurayj had sound knowledge, he would have known that answering his mother was more important than continuing his prayer.”[5]

Hence the fuqaha’ suggested that if one is praying a nafil prayer and one of one’s parents calls one, one is obliged to stop one’s prayer and answer them. The duty to treat one’s parents with kindness and respect sunk into the consciousness of the Muslims, so they hastened to treat their parents well both during their lives and after their deaths.

There are many reports and Hadith that indicate this, for example the report that describes how a woman of Juhaynah came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and said: “My mother made a vow to perform Hajj but she did not perform Hajj before she died. May I perform Hajj on her behalf?” He said, “Yes, go and perform Hajj on her behalf. If you knew that your mother had a debt, would you not pay it off for her? Pay off what is due to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), for Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has more right to be paid off.”[6]

According to a report given by Muslim, she asked, “She owed a month’s fasting, so may I fast on her behalf?” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “Fast on her behalf.” She said, “She never performed Hajj, so may I perform Hajj on her behalf?” He said, “Perform Hajj on her behalf.”[7].                                                                       

[1] (Bukhari and Muslim), See Sharh al-Sunnah, 2/176, Kitab al-salat, bab fadl al-salawat alkhams.

[2] (Bukhari and Muslim), See Riyad al-Salihin, 191, bab birr al-walidayn.

[3] See Riyad al-salihin, 191, bab birr al-walidayn.

[4] This child is one of the three who spoke in the cradle. The other two are ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary) and the child who was with his mother among the people of al-Ukhdud (the ditch). [Author]

[5] See Fath al-Bari, 3/78, Kitab al-‘aml fi’l-salah, bab idha da’at al-umm waladaha fi’l-salat, and 5/136, Kitab al-mazalim, bab idha hadama ha’itan falyabni ghayrahu.

[6] See Fath al-Bari, 4/64, Kitab juz’ al-sayd, bab al-hajj wa’l-nudhur.

[7] Sahih Muslim, 8/25, Kitab al-siyam, bab qada’ al-sawm ‘an al-mayit.

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