Parenthood Part 2: Caring for the Caretakers

We children sometimes try to prove our love for our parents by claiming we could die for them.

Parents don’t claim that for their kids. Parents live and die each day. With every smile and burst of laughter, they receive a breath of life. With every tear and the slightest etch of worry on their child’s forehead, they die a bit inside.

I can say, without the shadow of a doubt, that every parent that has ever lived, goes through this. Every mentally sane parent. The expression of those emotions might be different from person to person. Some are highly expressive, showing each and every pang of emotion that passes through them. Some are skilled at the art of concealing. You can never know their true emotions unless and until they burst from the torture they inflict upon themselves. Some are different altogether.

But for all of those cases, each and every parent thinks the same, “I’m doing what is best for my child.”

Whether or not the actions they carry out or the words they speak are in fact good, the intention is always to do what is in the child’s best interest.

I know I just threw out numerous generalizations about all parents, when in fact many exceptions might come to your mind. But we can firmly take these as indisputable truths simply because of the great rank Allah bestowed.

We hear of horror stories in the news and on social media of abusive parents, who commit verbal, physical, emotional abuse, of parents who force young daughters into marriages, of psycho parents who leave their infants to die, those who sell their kids to trafficking chains for any material gain.

Many places in the Quran, the terrible practice in the pre-Islamic era of burying daughters alive is mentioned and stressed again and again that it was an extremely evil and foolish act. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, forbade this numerous times as well, and spoke of the generous rewards for those who raised their daughters with love and compassion.

The criminals who still commit similar acts today should receive their rightful punishment, according to the law of the land they are in, which would preferably also coincide with Islamic law. But with all that said and done, why does Allah again and again, through the Quran and through our Prophet’s teachings, command us to be the best to our parents, before anyone else? If parents are just as capable of harm and evil, then why did Allah command us to honor them, to be kind to them, regardless of what they do to us?

Before any older readers become frustrated with this seemingly unnecessary questioning, let’s back up a bit.

Our older generations weren’t accustomed to challenging anything they learned. If Allah says parents are to be obeyed, they must be obeyed. Period. Anything parents say will and must be obeyed, even if it seems wrong.

Compare that to today’s opposite extreme. Especially as children of Muslim immigrants living in the West, we millennials were usually among the first in our families to question anything and everything. Why? Because we could. And for today’s generation, that level of questioning has increased tenfold. Their intellect is at a much more advanced level, and can become overwhelming.

While I, too, at times believe the over-questioning becomes unnecessary, this question at hand is crucial to answer.

Why are parents given such a high rank by Allah, when there are innumerable examples of abuse committed by parents in history and that still occur today?

Allah doesn’t tell us to only care for and obey those parents who treat us the best and express their love continuously, are the most wise in their decisions, give perfect advice, and never let harm touch us.

With any other relation, we are still commanded to be just, but we can defend ourselves if necessary. If someone slaps you, you can slap them back, exactly the same way. You can yell at someone, scream at someone, retaliate. But with parents, we aren’t allowed to even say “uff”, which can translate to any sigh or expression of impatience or frustration. While Allah most definitely will hold them accountable as well for their actions, we as their children cannot take judgment into our own hands.

The reason is not simple logic. It’s concerning emotional intelligence.

When Prophet Ibrahim, God’s peace be upon him, was unsuccessful in convincing his father to cease his worship of false idols, his father told him to leave. Prophet Ibrahim’s tone didn’t change with his father. He respectfully disagreed, called him “Ya Abati” (Oh my dear father), and left just as he was commanded.

A wise child understands this – no matter how angry a parent gets, even so much as to disinherit or shun the child, deep inside the parent’s heart, s/he always yearns for their child to listen and to come back.

Prophet Ibrahim’s father firmly believed that the key to their salvation was to worship those idols. He desperately wanted to “save” his son as well, but of course his adherence to their ignorant rituals was too strong to realize the truth. His father might have been secretly hoping that even after he sent his son away, he would come running back to him.

But Prophet Ibrahim discovered the truth about the One Creator. He was guided, and as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t guide his father, only lead him to the Truth.

Parents might be disbelievers, they might be extremely misguided in their beliefs and/or actions, but those parents still deserve kindness from their children, just for the simple fact that their love for their children is unsurpassable by anyone else’s love except for that of Allah.

Kindness and sincerity are two crucial traits for any believer to possess, but especially for one’s parents. There are numerous cases of parents coming to the Truth, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, just because of their child’s noble character towards them.

We should all remember this one golden key whenever dealing with our parents. Find the truth in whatever they say to you. The truth is either that what they say is verifiably true, or it merely stems from love for you. They might say something false; they might try to coerce you to do something that is in fact wrong, like being unjust toward someone, or doing something else sinful or lawfully wrong. In those cases, you would be committing a sin if you actually obey their misguided words, of course. Maybe Allah granted you more knowledge and guidance about a certain matter and you know you have to change things, but your manners in dealing with them should always be most decent.

Hold your father’s hand, tell him you love him first of all, then subtly explain why you can’t obey him, explain how it’s best for both of you if you did something different, that you want Allah to be pleased with him. Hug your mother even if she resists out of anger, show her that you acknowledge the love she has always given you, and that you know you can never repay her.

I believe the biggest issue we have in today’s world is impatience. We want quick answers, we want immediate results. We want to delete the bad with the click of a button and recode our lives in one sitting. We’ve become so computerized that we scoff at emotions and pretend that they’ll just disappear if we ignore them.

They won’t.

And as a result, we’re horrible to ourselves and our loved ones, especially our parents.

As they near old age, parents start to become irrational and frustrated with just about everything in life. Their physical and mental health decline; the reality of the world becomes clearer and clearer to them, the finiteness of it. Just as they dealt with our impatience for years and years, maybe we could show a bit of Ihsan and just smile for them, to shine some light through the darkness they might be enveloped in.

And remember – this bond is special between the child and parent. If you expect anyone else to care for and/or advise your parents, forfeiting your own responsibility, then you’re deeply mistaken. There’s a reason why Allah made it obligatory on us to care for OUR parents, not anyone else’s. If you expect your spouse, your relatives other than your siblings, children, other caretakers, nurses, to be just as compassionate and loving as you would be towards your parents, then you’re not truly fulfilling the rights of your parents. Your parents want YOU, even if cultural standards dictate otherwise.

They know you, and you know them. Why then do we pass on that responsibility to others, when we know inside our hearts that they might not have the same sincerity towards them as we do? It’s unnatural, against the very Fitrah (nature) that resides in us all. Unless you have some legitimate excuse, a physical disability, needs of children that cannot be fulfilled by others, then don’t give your responsibility to anyone else.

It’s not easy. As they grow older, their needs become more and more like children’s. Their demands may be incessant. But just keep in mind - we need our parents’ Duas (supplications). They don’t need our care, in all actuality. Allah takes care of His creations; nothing in this universe is dependent on us. We need to care for our parents so that through them we can achieve true salvation.

I can say that after becoming a mother, I finally understand. I witness my son in pain and I want to rip that pain away and consume it so none of it touches him. I see him laugh and smile and play and I feel the universe was made just so I could experience this.

I wish that these expressions of my feelings were exaggerations. I honestly do because they all hurt so badly. I see him grow up and my eyes well with tears as I imagine him getting older and our time together in this life getting shorter and shorter. The only thing that comforts me is Allah’s promise – that if we both earn Jannah, then we can be together again, forever.

And now I know what my parents’ Duas consist of.

And I want to help make those Duas come true.

Insha Allah.

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