Parent-Child Relationship in Islam
(1) Rights of Parents (and Duties of children)
Islam recognises family as a basic social unit. Along with the husband-wife relationship the Parent-child relationship is the most important one. To maintain any social relationship both parties must have some clear-cut Rights as well as obligations. The relationships are reciprocal. Duties of one side are the Rights of the other side. So in Parent-child relationship the Rights of parents are the obligations (duties) of the children and vice versa, the Rights of children are obligations (duties) of parents. Islam clearly defines the Rights of Parents (which mean duties of children) and obligations of parents (which means Rights of children).
It is clear that after Allah parents are the persons who give us innumerable favors. They provide protection, food and clothing to the newly born. The mother sacrifices her comforts and sleep to provide comfort to her children. The father works hard to provide for their physical, educational and psychological (and spiritual) needs. It is a matter of common courtesy that if a person does you some favor you feel obliged to him. Verbally you say ‘thank you’ to him. You try to repay and compensate him for his gifts and favors. You feel a sense of gratitude towards him. So it is with Allah and with parents. Allah’s favors cannot be counted or repaid except by thanking Him and obeying His orders. After Allah our parents deserve our thanks and obedience for the favors they had done us. That’s why Quran lays stress on feeling grateful to parents, and doing good to them. “And your Lord has ordained that you shall worship none save Him and shall do your parents a good turn.” What does a ‘good turn’ mean? It includes obeying them, speaking softly, avoiding harsh words or harsh tone, giving them company when they are lonely, caring for their physical and psychological needs (especially in their old age), and praying to Allah that He may bless them and have mercy on them.
As between parents the mother has more rights than the father. The reason is apparent. Mother has borne the child’s burden during pregnancy, has undergone birth pains in delivering the baby, has sacrificed her own comforts to provide comfort to her children, has looked after them and felt worried for their well-being. That is why mother deserves our good treatment more than the father. A Tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) tells us that a Companion asked the Prophet, “ Who deserves my good treatment most?” “Your mother”, said the Prophet. “Who next?” “Your mother”. “Who next?” “Your mother”. “Who after that?” “Your father”. This means that the mother deserves three times more good treatment from her children than the father deserves. Another Tradition wants us to extend kind treatment to close relations on the mother’s side also (even to her friends). A famous Hadith (Tradition) says, “Paradise lies under the feet of the mother”. This means doing good to our mother lead us to Paradise.
As to the reward for doing good to our parents a Hadith mentions the following story: “Three persons of ancient days were once travelling in a mountaneous region. The rain, thunder and lightning made them take refuge in a cave. Mudslide made a stone block the opening to the cave. The persons were entrapped inside. When the storm stopped they tried to push back the heavy stone to get out of the cave but they could not. They wondered ‘what to do now’. At last seeing that their joint efforts also cannot move the stone they decided to pray to Allah sincerely. One of them suggested, ‘each one of us should relate one good thing he has done in his life and beg Allah to move the stone. One said, “One night my old mother asked me to bring a cup of milk for her. During the time I milched the goat and brought it to her she had gone to sleep. I did not think it proper to disturb her. So I stood by her bedside for the whole night till she got up in the morning and then I offered her the cup of milk. O God, if this act of mine was approved by You please shift this stone.” The stone slipped a little but not enough to let them get out. Similarly, the second and the third man mentioned an act of goodness and prayed to God to shift the stone. The stone slipped down and the entry to the cave opened up. So the men got out. This story shows how service to one’s parents leads to blessings from God and rescue from troubles. Now let us summarize the Rights of Parents (Duties of children):
(1) Right to be respected and obeyed:
Parents have a right to be respected and obeyed by children. All parents are well wishers of children. They issue orders and instructions that are in the best interest of children (though children might think ottherwise). So it is the duty of children to obey their orders and act accordingly. Some children listen to parental orders but do not act upon these or show laziness in carrying out these orders. This causes annoyance to parents. Children should remember that annoying one’s parents can lead to God’s wrath.
(2) Right to scold and rebuke:
It is instinctive obligation of parents to protect their children from physical and moral harm. If a small child puts its hand in fire it is natural urge for you to push the child back, even if the child does not want. It is in child’s interest. So it is with parents. They are duty bound to protect their children in every way, physical, intellectual, moral. If the children have a temptation to do an act that is not in their long-term interest it is the duty of the parents to keep them back from that act or behavior. To this end they may resort to advice, rebuke, scolding, even hitting them. Good children should take all this ‘harshness’ in their own interest. If parents scold them they should bear it calmly. No rude replies, no arguing, no explanations, no comments unless asked for. Parental advice should be listened to and acted upon, even if against children’s own wishes.
(3) Right to be looked after.
Parents have looked after the children for decades. So it is the duty of grown-up children to repay them by way of caring for them and looking to their physical and financial needs. A Quranic verse says: “People ask you (O Prophet) how should they spend. Say, ‘whatever you spend should be spent on Allah (in good cause), on parents, near relatives, on orphans, destitutes and travelers (who fall short of money in foreign lands)”.
(4) Right to be helped:
As parents grow old their energies also decline. So it is the duty of children to help their parents in any household chore in which they can help. Sons can help in lifting heavy things, cleaning home, arranging things etc. Daughters can help in mother’s household work—cooking, washing, cleaning, serving food etc. With good children such help should come automatically, not when asked for. Whenever you see your mother or father doing something extend a helping hand to her/him without their asking. This is what Islam expects from children.
(5) Right to kind words/good behaviour:
Quran urges children to be soft-spoken towards parents and show respect and kindness in their behavior towards parents. Unforunate as it is, the Western societies have forgotten these lessons. Young children are rude towards parents and show disobedience. As the parents grow old they drive them out from their homes and put them in “Senior Citizens Homes”. Grown up children cannot spare time to attend to the needs of old parents. The busy Western life has led to a break-up of the family unit (so much upheld in Islam). As Muslims we expect our children to adhere to Islamic values and show respect, obedience, kindness, leniency and care towards parents, especially in their old age. Children must not forget the favors and sacrifices of their parents. As good mannered persons they must feel and remain obliged towards parents and try to repay them by kind words and deeds, even with money and material needs. These are the Rights of Parents due from their children (or the Duties of Children towards parents). These Rights and obligations are not found in Islam only. Such values are to be found in all true religions. Quran mentions Hazrat Yahya (John the Baptist) as “kind towards his parents, not tough and disobedient”. Similarly Hazrat Isa (Jesus) is quoted saying to his people, “God made me kind towards my mother (Mary) and did not make me tough and disobedient”. Hazrat Yousuf (Joseph), as a royal Minister in Egypt, called his old, poor parents from their far off home and offered them seats on a high platform (he did not feel shy of behaving in a kind manner to poor parents in the presence of his officials).
(2) Rights of Children
Now let us see the other side of the coin. We have mentioned that Parent-child relation is a reciprocal one. The Rights of Parents (discussed above) are the Duties of children. Now let us see what are the Rights of Children (and Duties of Parents) in Islam. These can be summarized as under:
(1) Children have the right to be fed, clothed and protected till they grow up to adulhood. It is, primarily, the duty of the father to do that.
Mother can provide help if necessary. Protection means protection against physical as well as moral and intellectual harm. Parents are duty bound to see that the child’s personality develops in all fields. So if the parents have to resort to strictness for the sake of disciplining the children and protecting them from intellectually, morally and religiously undesirable behaviour, children should not resent their strictness. Let them perform their duty as parents. Children’s duty is not to protest or be rude but to listen and obey. “Their’s not to question why; their’s but to do and die”.
(2) Right to education.
In Islam education is not limited to bookish knowledge but includes moral and religious training also. It means healthy all-round growth of child’s personality. Parents must not only provide for children’s education in schools and colleges but should also take personal interest in their studies, helping them if they can. This gives children a feeling of ‘working with the parents’ and encourages them in studies. Parents should sacrifice their own comfort and social activities and must spare some time to take interest in children’s studies, especially when they are young. Leaving children to the mercy of teachers or tutors is not a wise policy. And of course, parents should not forget or neglect imparting religious/moral training to children. A little sacrifice on part of parents will save children from moral disasters. Effective moral training comes not from sermons, advice and precepts but from parents’ personal examples of good behaviour. It is a famous Tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) that acquisition of knowledge is a must for every Muslim boy and girl. Another Hadith says, “The best of you is one who gives a good education (intellectual and moral) to his children”. Another Hadith lays stress on education of daughters. The Prophet (PBUH) once said, “He who provides good upbringing to 3 daughters shall go to Paradise”. A man asked, “what if one has only two daughters”. “He also shall go to Paradise”. Another man asked, “and what if one has only one daughter?” “He too”, replied the Prophet (PBUH).
(3) Right to love and affection:
Children have many psychological needs also. Small children need to be loved, caressed, kissed and hugged. The Prophet loved children greatly. He would allow his grandsons Hassan and Hussain (R.A) to ride his shoulders even during his prayers. In streets he would offer ‘salaam’ to children, play and cut jokes with them. Sometimes he would even kiss small children in the street. Once a Bedouin saw the Prophet kissing a small kid. Out of wonder he said, “I have eight children but I never kiss them”. The Prophet remarked, “What can I do if Allah has taken away love and compassion from your heart”. The Prophet would show special kindness to orphaned children. Some parents believe that being frank with children is not good from discipline point of view. This is wrong. Love and leniency can do much that fear and strictness cannot do. If leniency leads to rudeness on the part of children it should be mixed with strictness. That will tell the children that parents are basically kind but can be tough if children show rudeness and bad manners. Over-protection and over-care are undesirable. Let the child grow up as a responsible person. Only provide them guidance.
(4) Right to be well provided (materially)
A Hadith says, “It is better for parents to leave their children well provided (financially) than to leave them in poverty”. This means that parents should not spend all that they have on their own comforts and luxuries but must make provisions for children’s welfare after the parents die. These are brief outlines of the Rights and Duties of both parties in the Parent-child relationship. If the parents and children act according to these guidelines they can make the family environment most conducive to peace and satisfaction for the parents and healthy personality growth for children. May Allah bless us all. AMEN.
© (Dr.) I.A. Arshed, 1919, Valleria Courts, Sugarland. Tx 77479