Duties towards our Parents


Like most children, I thought my parents were superheroes. My mom could open the tightest of jars and could carry us around while she finished her chores. My dad could come back from a long business trip and still have the strength to play and take care of all 6 of us.

I was in denial about my parents’ aging until my dad asked me to take a basket of laundry down the stairs for him because he wasn’t able to carry it. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that they no longer had the strength I thought they’d always have.

The hardest part of witnessing our parents age is seeing a regression in their strength and capabilities. The two people who we turned to for a helping hand no longer have the physical strength to do so.

Yet when Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) speaks of their old age in the Qur’an, He (swt) does not advise us to offer physical help to them. Rather He Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) says:

“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Qur’an 17:23)

While there are many verses in the Qur’an that instruct us to be good to our parents, this one specifically highlights how we should treat them in their old age. In his explanation of this verse, Shaykh al-Sha`rawi says that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) mentions their old age here because it’s the time in their lives that they are in the most need of their children. He further explains that when parents are younger and stronger, their children rely and depend on them because they are able to help them. But as they age, the roles are reversed – the parents go from giving to being needy, from breadwinners to dependants.

One thing we all notice as our parents age is the change in their character. As we become more independent, they may become demanding, forgetful, irritable, and stubborn. Because of this change in character, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) reminds us that especially during this time we have to show the utmost kindness and respect to them.

We are told in this verse to not treat them even with the slightest form of anger. The term “uff” is the smallest expression of dissatisfaction. For us today, this can be rolling our eyes or a slight tone of annoyance in our voices. Shaykh al-Sha`rawi mentions how hard it is to keep ourselves from expressing “uff” because sometimes we do it subconsciously. He advises that we as children should be vigilant in keeping ourselves from expressing these small gestures of annoyance and anger because of how hurtful they can be to our parents.

In the following verse, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) goes on to explain further how we should treat them:

“And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.’” (Qur’an 17:24)

“Lowering the wings” is a saying used to express humility. It means that you have a chance to show your power, but you refrain out of humbleness. Similarly, the word “rahmah” or “mercy” gives a connotation of someone, despite having the upper-hand, still showing kindness.

Some of us may consider our parents to be difficult. We may have given up hope that our relationship with them can improve. The beauty of Islam is that God will reward you for your intentions and efforts just as He rewards for good actions. We have to put in effort before we see change. It is important for us to remember that there is no magic pill for good character. If we are truly sincere in improving our character then Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) will put us in difficult situations with difficult people. We learn good manners through these trying experiences.

We have been given an opportunity to improve our character through our parents. As our parents age, we should speak in a kind and gentle manner. We are merciful to them. We cover their faults. We overlook the things they may do that annoy, irritate or hurt us. We reciprocate with love.

Easier said than done, right? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) has given us the answer to why we may not have a strong relationship with our parents:

“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Qur’an 17:23)

This verse allows us to gauge our relationship with our parents by first looking at our relationship with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He). Essentially, if we are not fulfilling our duties to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He), then we will not be able to treat our parents in the best manner1 .The Prophet  (peace be upon him) taught us, “Righteousness is good character,” (Muslim) so a righteous and God-fearing child will treat their parents with good manners. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) has placed such great importance on parents that even their religion does not warrant their child to behave improperly to them.

Now that we are older, stronger and more capable than our parents, this is the time to really show our compassion to them. Our emotions will be stirred by what they say and do, which is why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) reminds us that instead of getting angry, frustrated or annoyed at them, we should restrain ourselves and be humble.

The Prophetic tradition provides us with motivation when we find it hard to deal with our parents:

In a famous narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Ameen,” to three supplications made by Angel Gabriel. One of them was, “Far away is the person whose parents, one or both of them, reach old age during his lifetime but he does not enter Paradise!” (Muslim)

This person was given a chance to enter Paradise by being good to their parents, but they let the opportunity slip away. This person lost out because of how easy it can be to gain reward for helping them or staying in their company. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called out this person because it is the ultimate lack of mercy to leave your parents in their old age.

Similarly in another narration, the Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “A parent is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, keep to the gate, or lose it,” (Tirmidhi). The scholars explain this narration to mean that entering Paradise through being good to your parents is of the best ways to enter it. It not only shows the honor that lies in being good to your parents, but also that it is up the person to take advantage of this gate.

Shaykh al-Sha`rawi says, “Just as they showed you ihsan (the best form of kindness), you must do your best to do the same. But your mercy alone is not enough to compensate for what they did for you. Therefore seek the best form of mercy for them from Allah, the Most Merciful. [by saying] ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small,’ (Qur’an 17:24).”

Just as they still loved us when we said or did things to hurt them as children or youths, we in return do the same in their old age. Don’t wait until you see your parents carried out of the masjid in a box to realize how much better they deserved from you. Don’t wait until that largest gate of Paradise is closed in your face to realize how easy it could have been to enter through it.

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