What Is Kindness to Parents?*
The parents are entitled by right to kind and dutiful treatment from their children. Since this is an important duty that Allah emphasized so strongly, it is essential for every human being to know what constitutes kind treatment of parents. It is no exaggeration to say that for a believer, to be a dutiful son or daughter is to take the way that surely leads to heaven.
We note first that Islam uses the Arabic word birr in connection with children's attitude towards their parents. The term connotes kindness, compassion, benevolence, and almost every aspect of good and generous treatment of others. One of Allah's own attributes is derived from this root. Allah is the "Barr," which means that His kindness, compassion, grace, and generosity never fail. Scholars say that this term includes everything that is good.
Muslim scholars divide birr into two main branches; financial and non-financial. In respect of children-parent relationship, if either or both parents are poor, children must support them according to their means. This is not a matter of choice. Islam makes it a duty on the children to look after their parents, providing them with the same standard of living as they provide for their own children. If they are well off, to go beyond the mere provision of what is necessary for a decent living, so as to allow their parents to share in the comforts and luxuries that they can afford, is to make an investment for the hereafter. Nothing goes amiss with Allah. Allah is pleased with any son and daughter who please their parents.
Looking for Allah's reward, some people make their parents feel that whatever they own is their parents' as well. They can use it in the way they please. Although some people are careless how they spend their money, most parents are more careful when it comes to spending their children's money than spending their own. So, to make one's parents feel that they do not live on their children's charity is to give them that kind of trust that makes the difference between feeling oneself to be a burden and feeling perfectly at home. The more parent feels happy and contented with their children, the more Allah is pleased with those children. Moreover, parents pay their children back immediately. This takes the form of praying Allah for them. Such a prayer by parents for their children, which for Muslims, normally takes the form of "May Allah be pleased with you," is certain to be answered. When Allah is pleased with someone, He helps him or her overcome their difficulties, eases their hardships, and guides them to success in this life as well as in the hereafter.
The duty required of sons with respect to financial support of their parents is to provide them with what is reasonable according to their means. A son of moderate means cannot be expected to provide his parents with the same standard of living as a much wealthier son. Although we speak of this as kind treatment by children, it is indeed a repayment of a debt. Parents look after their children when they are young and helpless. They provide them with all they need as much as they can. Moreover, they do it willingly. Children take what they are given unaware of how much effort their parents exert in order to earn money for them. When the children grow up and their parents are in need of their support, that support must come naturally, without letting the parents feel themselves to be a burden on their children.
Apart from financial support, children must respect and honor their parents and extend to them the sort of treatment that befits their status as parents. In any social occasion, and even when they go out with their parents on the street, children must not precede their parents or take a higher or more favorable position than theirs. Children should always allow their parents to take precedence. In Muslim societies, that sort of treatment always earns children more respect. Muslim society looks down on anyone who do not extend to their parents the standard of honorable treatment expected from children.
Moreover, children are expected to do as their parents tell them. From the Islamic point of view, this does not apply only when a child is young. As long as a son or a daughter is able to grant the wishes of their parents, and by doing so they neither incur any sin, nor jeopardize any greater interest, then they should do so as if these wishes of their parents were commands. There is nothing excessive in this. It does not impose a great, heavy burden. Normally, a parent is easy to please. Even when parents ask for something that is difficult to obtain, children can maneuver their way to please their parents without undertaking any great difficulty. Some parents may be unreasonable in their demands, especially when they live with their son in the same house. Relations between his wife and his mother may be occasionally strained. A mother may feel that her daughter-in-law takes her son away from her. That may lead to friction between the two. A wise son tries his best to reconcile his mother's rights with those of his wife. He must not be unfair to either. Should his mother ask him to divorce his wife, he must not do so if his wife fulfills her duties toward him and his mother. All that a daughter-in-law is required to do towards her mother-in-law is to look after her in a reasonable manner.
Even in such kind treatment, children are only paying back a debt to their parents. No matter how great a burden the children bear, they do not pay them back adequately. It is very rare that a parent is so ill and handicapped that he or she needs to be looked after in the same way as a baby is looked after by his parents. `Abdullah ibn `Umar, a leading scholar among the Prophet's Companions once saw a man from Yemen carrying his mother on his back and going around the Ka`bah in his Tawaf. Rather than show any sign of complaint, the man was happy, repeating a line of poetry in which he likened himself to a camel his mother was mounting. The only difference is that a camel may be scared by something and go out of control. He would never go out of her control. He looked at `Abdullah ibn `Umar and asked him whether by so doing he discharged his debt to his mother. Ibn `Umar said, "No. You have not even paid back one twinge of her labor pain when she gave birth to you." (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and authenticated by Al-albani)
That was not an exaggeration by Ibn `Umar. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) defines the only way through which children repay their parents fully. He said, as related by Al-Bukahri in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and by Muslim and others on the authority of Abu Hurairah, "No child repays his parent fully unless he finds him a slave, then he buys him and sets him free."
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