Filial duties towards parents
What are the duties of children towards their parents?
Children have responsibilities and duties toward their parents in return for the education, expenses, protection and care that their parents gave them from infancy until adolescence and even later. These duties, which are the basic rights of parents for as long as they live, include:
Being dutiful to parents and obeying them
Being dutiful to parents means showing them kindness. It does not mean repelling them or saying to them any word of contempt even with a word like “uff” to express annoyance or impatience. God Almighty says: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and show kindness to your parents. Whether one or both of them reach old age while with you, say not to them (so much as), “uff,” and do not rebuke them, but always speak gently to them” (Quran 17: 23).
Children must obey their parents in matters that do not constitute disobedience to God Almighty. It is an Islamic obligation to be kind, considerate and courteous to parents even if they are disbelievers. God Almighty says: “But if they press you to associate something with Me about which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. Yet be kind to them in this world and follow the path of those who turn to Me. You will all return to Me in the end, and I will tell you everything that you have done” (Quran 31: 15).
Disobedience to parents is described as ingratitude and this is one of the major sins in Islam. To accentuate the gravity of disobedience to parents, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The major sins are associating partners with God and ingratitude to parents.” In another hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) described ingratitude to one’s parents as the biggest of the major sins. In yet other hadiths, it was reported that the Prophet said: “Parents are the middle door of paradise, if you so wish you can maintain it and if you so wish you can forfeit it” and “Paradise lies beneath the feet of mothers.”
Obedience also includes taking their permission to perform hajj, jihad and before marriage or divorce.
Showing humility and gratitude to parents
Children must show humility, respect, and compassion to their parents. They must neither be condescending nor patronizing to them, for God Almighty says: “And treat them with humility and tenderness and say, ‘Lord, be merciful to them both, as they raised me up when I was little’” (Quran 17: 24).
They must also be grateful to them and acknowledge their favors. Kindness can only be met with kindness for God Almighty says: “We have enjoined man to show kindness to his parents-for his mother bears him in hardship upon hardship, and his weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents; all will return to Me” (Quran 31:14).
When it comes to this particular duty, obedience, a mother comes before the father because of the hardship she endures during pregnancy, childbirth and the nursing period, because of all the years when she puts her children’s needs and comforts before her own, and because of her patience and devotion to them during their upbringing and education. God Almighty says: “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: his mother bore him, in pain and in pain she gave birth to him, and his bearing and weaning takes thirty months...” (Quran 46: 15).
It is precisely because of this that when a man once approached the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked him who is the most worthy of his companionship, the Prophet answered that it is the mother. The man asked the same question three times and every time the Prophet gave the same answer. When the man asked the question for the fourth time, the Prophet replied, “Your father” (al-Bukhari).
Dutifulness to parents takes precedence over jihad for the sake of God
The fact that service to parents is better than jihad for the sake of God Almighty shows how important filial dutifulness is. This is confirmed in several hadiths which demonstrate the priority of this duty over all other considerations. Abdullah ibn Amr said: “A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked his permission to take part in jihad. The Prophet asked him, ‘Are your parents alive?’ ‘Yes, they are,’ he replied. The Prophet told him, ‘Then exert yourself in their service’” (al-Bukhari).
Abdullah ibn Masud asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “What is next to piety?” The Prophet replied, ‘To be good and dutiful to your parents.’ He then asked, ‘What is next?’ The Prophet replied, ‘To participate in jihad in God’s cause’ ” (al-Bukhari).
Talha Ibn Muaweya narrated that he asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “O Messenger of God! I wish to make jihad in God’s cause.’ He asked me, ‘Is your mother alive?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ He then said, ‘Then stay by her feet, for there you will find paradise.’
Insulting a father: a prohibition and a major sin
Insulting a father defies dutifulness to parents. The prohibition of insulting parents takes precedence over the duty of being kind to them because preventing harm takes precedence over doing good and refraining from sin takes precedence over obedience. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Insulting one’s parents is one of the major sins.” They (the Companions) asked, “O Prophet of God! How can one insult his own parents?” He replied, “By insulting someone else’s parents and that person returns the insult in kind.”
The right to discipline children
It is the parents’ right to discipline their children. Discipline includes teaching them manners, virtue, and raising them according to Islamic teachings and morals. Parents should also give their children a useful education as prescribed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who said: “That one of you disciplines his child is better for him than to give in charity half a sa’ [unit of weight] of food to the poor.” In another narration, he said: “A father does not give his child anything better than good manners.” Ibn Abbas also narrated that when the Companions asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) about the rights of children, he replied: “That you choose for them good names and that you discipline them.” From these narrations, we see that discipline and instruction are among the things that characterize the role of parents. May God have mercy upon our parents.
And God Almighty knows best.