Respect for Parents
It is a pleasure to be here with such good company and spiritual atmosphere. I hope and pray that this meeting resonates with all of us and strengthens family relations in our society.
We live in a difficult age, where the self-centered paradigm became more appealing than god-centered ones. In this paradigm, we think about our material comfort and prosperity and ignore the needs of others or our duties towards them.
The problem with this self-centered paradigm lies in the definition of the self. We are not only made of flesh, as this paradigm suggests, but we have a spiritual dimension. Any choice we make that ignores our soul unfortunately ends up ruining our lives and the peace and love in society.
“Why should I take care of my parents; it is a big burden”, my self-centered paradigm says. And we try to rationalize our negligent attitude towards them with many arguments.
Interestingly, the Quran proposes a completely opposing view on this matter: God says in the Quran:
“Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents…” (Quran 17:23)
Being kind to parents is mentioned in the same sentence with worshiping God alone. In a way, we are asked to ponder on what it means to worship God in a practical sense.
Worship of God from a Quranic perspective means to experientially know the Divine. For instance, when we look at our surroundings with an open eye, we realize that what is happening cannot be the result of mere chance. The entire universe is full of art and purpose, and everything points to the Artist. Indeed, the perfection in everything testifies that they are created by the All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Powerful Creator. The Qur’an is replete with statements that urge us to ponder about this very reality.
This recognition of witnessing the Divine Attributes in creation and within ourselves, and the ability to reflect these Divine Attributes is the essence of worship in Islam. We recognize that, as the Quran mentions, human beings are created to become stewards of God on Earth, by reflecting His Divine Attributes, such as the All-Just, the All-Loving, and the All-Pure.
So, coming back to the verse I mentioned, worshipping none but God, is the recognition that all the beautiful attributes belong to God, and that He is the Sole Agent, the Sole Doer.
In this sense, being kind to parents is reflecting the Diving Attributes of Caring, Loving, and Compassionate, to them. It is becoming a mirror to the Divine Attributes and showering our parents with these beautiful attributes. In this process, we come to know that the value of being a human being is not in the flesh and worshipping the self, but it is in becoming a humble mirror to God’s Divine Attributes, a humble servant whose mission is to reflect the Divine Love wherever it is needed.
How can we do that?
The verse continues:
“If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully.” (Quran 17:23)
We are invited to become like a cloud of compassion and shower God’s love and care to them. Here, the issue is not whether our parents are easy or difficult to get along with, or whether we like them or not, but it is about feeling humility in front of God and recognizing our role as the mirror of His Divine Care and Love.
Yes, our parents may become more child-like, as mentioned in another verse. They may become more demanding, forgetful, irritable, and stubborn. But isn’t this the best environment for our spiritual growth and to practice reflecting the Divine Attributes?
Through this relationship, we experientially come to know who God is. He is the Patience, He is the Loving, He is the Caring…
The Quranic passage continues: “and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.’” (Quran 17:24)
Here, we are reminded of how they cared for us when we were little. In fact, we are reminded of God’s care through them, and are invited to reflect on His All-Encompassing Love. We are invited to become part of this symphony of Divine Love and reflect His Attributes.
What if they did not care for us as they should have? Well, now the situation is reversed, and we are in their shoes. They need our care, not us. We are provided with an opportunity to care for them as we would have liked to be cared.
I remembered my friend Seth, who decided to call his father who he never knew during his childhood. His father was an alcoholic and was in a rehabilitation center at the time. Seth flew from Ohio to Kansas, to meet his father for the first time in his life. Seth was in his late twenties at the time. And he wanted to let him know one thing; that he forgave him and that he was there to help him. I saw Seth after this event, and I could see the incredible positive effects of this experience on him. Through deciding to become a mirror of God’s Divine Attributes, Seth was transformed.
We have been given an opportunity to improve our character and grow spiritually through caring for our parents. As our parents age, we learn to speak in a kind and gentle manner. We become forgiving and 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? I too struggle in this at times. But when I look around me, I see that we cannot reach to the love and harmony we dream of without humility and love.
As Prophet Muhammad (P) said:
“He is not one of us who is not merciful to youngsters and does not respect and honor elders.”
When the society starts to function this way, we see an air of compassion and love. In our spirituality workshops in Orlando, I love to see the little ones run and greet the elderly. They become very happy too, and I see how much the love positively affects my 6-year old daughter.
Let’s say we like the idea of becoming more fit and exercising to be healthier. No matter how many books we read about how to exercise, no matter how much we talk about the benefits of exercising, the only way we will benefit from working-out is actually sweating in the gym!
Similarly, no matter how much we talk about the virtues of being a forgiving, loving, and giving person in theory, we cannot become more mature, more understanding, and more giving without going through the actual training. No matter how much we talk about God’s forgiveness, patience, compassion, and love, we won’t know and appreciate Him experientially unless we practice these virtues in our lives.
When I show compassion towards my parents, I start to see how God is showing compassion to all old people, animals, and plants in the universe. As a result I feel and say: Thank you God for showing me your compassion through letting me show compassion toward my parents!
If we realize the importance of love and respect to the elderly, I believe we can rescue this sacred school from being abolished. And if we can do that, we will have societies that are peaceful, caring not only towards their kinship but towards all humanity. Injustices committed all around the world would cease then, and we will enjoy living in a peaceful, loving, and caring society.
I personally don’t think that this is impossible. I am very hopeful. In fact, I firmly believe that all humanity will soon realize that living in the name of God is the only way to individual and communal happiness.
May God help each and every one of us in our journey to become better believers, better submitters to His Will, better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters…