Respect for Parents and Elders
A Muslim's duties to his or her parents are secondary only to duties toward Allah, their Lord and Creator. The Prophet Muhammad once asked his companions, “Shall I inform you of the biggest of the major sins?” He repeated the question three times, until the people answered, “Yes, please inform us.” Then, he said, “Ascribing partners to Allah, and being undutiful to your parents.”
Muhammad once said that cursing parents is one of the greatest of sins, as it shows pride and ingratitude to those who deserve the greatest respect. It is forbidden for Muslims to ridicule, abuse, or insult a person or a person's family members, even as a joke.
Our life would not be possible without the sacrifice and hard work of our parents, who cared for us and met all our needs when we were young. The Qur'an addresses this point in one touching verse: “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. If one or both of them attain old age during your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor repel them. But address them in terms of honor, and lower to them the wing of humility, out of mercy, and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy, as they did bring me up when I was young’” (Qur'an 17:23–24).
Duties to Parents
Muslims are advised to treat their parents gently and respectfully. They should always strive to please them and never become impatient or rude with them. Muslims consider it an honor and a blessing to be able to care for their parents in old age. After all, it's the least we can do to repay them for all of their hard work and sacrifice. Nursing homes and hospice care are new phenomena in the Muslim world, and they are not widely accepted. Elderly and ill family members almost always remain in the homes of children or relatives, cared for and respected until death.
Muhammad encouraged his followers to treat their parents well and to be mindful of their needs. Once, a young man came to him and wanted to join the Muslim army on the battlefield to defend the community from attack. Muhammad asked him if his parents were living. When the young man said they were, he told him: “Then go back to your parents, serve them, and deal with them kindly. This is as good as fighting for God's sake.”
A young man once traveled from Yemen to be with the Prophet Muhammad. When he arrived, Muhammad asked him if he had asked his parents' permission before coming. He hadn't. Muhammad sent him home, with these instructions: “If they permit you, then come back. Otherwise, be devoted to them.”
Muslims consider their parents' opinions about important matters, such as choosing a career path, spouse, or place to live. As a Muslim gets older, any income she earns is partially used to support her parents and meet their needs. A Muslim prays that after their deaths, God will forgive her parents and show mercy toward them.
It is important to note, however, that a Muslim's duty toward his parents is not blind obedience. No Muslim should obey his parents if they order their child to do something that is in violation of Islamic law. In this situation, a Muslim strives to advise his parents, educate them about Islamic teachings in the matter, and ultimately serve God first and foremost.
Among parents, it is usually the mother who makes the most sacrifice and endures the most hardship in the care of her children. Islam recognizes this fact, offering more honor to the mother as a parent. Muhammad once said, “Paradise is placed at the mothers' feet,” so high is their status and regard.
The Qur'an reminds people of the sacrifices and hardships that mothers face on behalf of their children. “And we enjoined upon mankind concerning parents: his mother carried him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is two years. Therefore show gratitude to Allah and to your parents” (Qur'an 31:14).
On another occasion, some people asked the Prophet Muhammad, “To whom should we show kindness first?” He answered, “Your mother.” Then he was asked again, “And after that, then whom?” Muhammad again replied, “Your mother.” He was asked yet again, and he gave the same reply again: “Your mother.” Only after that, when he was asked one more time, did he answer, “Then, your father.”
Muhammad once said, “Let his nose be rubbed in the dust; let his nose be rubbed in the dust; let his nose be rubbed in the dust.” When asked, “Who is it that should be humiliated in such a way?” he answered, “That person who finds his parents, one or both of them, attaining old age in his life, but does not enter Paradise by serving them.”
If a Muslim's parents do not believe in Islam, she is guided to treat them with kindness and mercy out of respect for their sacrifices and unconditional love. However, just as with Muslim parents, if a non-Muslim parent orders something that goes against the faith, the Muslim is not to obey: “But if they strive to make you join other gods in worship with Me, of which you have no knowledge, obey them not. Yet accompany them in this life with gentleness” (Qur'an 31:15). A Muslim must respect and give all other rights and duties to non-Muslim parents, regardless of their faith.