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Our Parents and Elders

By Imam Yahya Hendi

One day you hear about a teenager murdering her own father. A month later you see a news story about someone being sentenced to 27 years in prison for shooting his own father. A week later, its a teenager ending the life of his own mother. In today’s society, we see a lack of respect for parents that manifests itseld in many ways, from children not calling them to ask how they are doing to acts of violence against them. The big question is why?

Is it because children do not see their own parents setting a good example by checking on their elderly parents? Or is it what our children see on TV? Is it the school system that did not do its job? There are numerous factors that have contributed to this problem, however, we are all responsible for its creation and ultimately its resolution. Parents and elders must regain a status of honor and respect in our society.

A variety of forces have been systematically at work for some time now busily breaking down the American family. As a result, we have created a society that encourages an attitude of indifference and lack of concern for elders. There is a lack of fundamental respect and consideration of children for their parents. The situation is exacerbated as the children grow up and the parents become isolated from them. If one’s parents are sick and old, they usually end up in a deplorable condition in a nursing home with occasional visits from their children, if any at all.

I remember how I was taught as a child, not only by the words of my parents regarding the importance of caring for parents and elders, but by their actions as well. I watched how loving and caring they were with their own parents.

My mother’s words still ring in my ears. Whenever I asked her about what it means for me to be a Muslim, her answer would always be that my first duty is toward God, The Almighty One. The rights of parents are placed at the top of the list of how one must translate his/her respect of God to respecting one’s parents. My mother always reminded me of how the Qur’an reminds its readers that our duties to parents come immediately after our duty to God. The Qur’an states

“And Your Lord has decreed do no worship anybody but God, and be good to your parents.” 17:23.

The Qur’an repeatedly orders us to behave humbly, respectfully and tenderly towards our parents.

“And I, God, have enjoined on man being kind and dutiful to his parents.” Qur’an 29:8.

Addressing the Israelites the Qur’an says:

“And remember I took a covenant from the children of Israel: ‘Worship none but God, treat with kindness your parents’” Qur’an 2:83.

Signifying the importance of this injunction the Qur’an says:

“Say: ‘Come, let me convey to you what God has forbidden for you: Do not join anything as equal with God, and do not offend, but rather, be good to your parents.” Qur’an 6:151.

It means that one must bring every possible good to them and to prevent any possible harm reaching them.

Someone came to Prophet Muhammad and asked him about what deed is best loved by God? He answered, “The prayer on its time, followed by kindness to the parents and then to strive in service of God.” In another narration Prophet Muhammad is said to have said, “ The pleasure of God lies in the pleasure of the parent and the displeasure of God is in the displeasure of the father.”

It is narrated that Prophet Muhammad told a person that one who awakes in the morning as kind, was like one who found the two doors opened for him in heaven. But one who broke the day as disrespectful to his parents, was like one who found the two doors opened for him in Hell. The man asked the prophet that should one be kind and obedient to his parents even if they were callous to him? The prophet replied, “Yes, even if they are callous; yes, even if they are callous; yes even if they are callous.”

In this century as welll as centuries past, we have seen a continuous rise in the average life expectancy; due in great part to medical and technological advances. Improved nutrition and healthier lifestyles have contributed to people living longer than ever before. With the rapid advances in our understanding of human biology and advanced medical technology, predictions are that the life span will further increase resulting in more people reaching old age. At present there are approximately 2.2 ,illion Americans who take care of their 1.6 million elderly family members. Dr. Shirley O’bryant, a family relations researcher at Ohio State University estimates that today more than 80 percent of couples in their 50s and 60s have at least one living parent compared to less than 50 percent at the beginning of the century. As the “baby boomers” age this number is expected to rise even more, resulting in an increased need for care. Their adult children who have family responsibilities of their own and will be subjected to increased pressures and stress will care for many of the older adult population. Others whose care needs are greater or where families don’t have the resources, will end up in nursing homes.

The Qur’an tells us that special regard and care should be given to parents as they age and are in need of their children. It says:

“Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not a word to them of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “my Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” Your Lord knows best what is in you hearts: if you do deeds of righteousness, verily He is most forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true patience)” Qur’an17:23-25)

I hope and pray that our society takes this issue seriously and improves in regards to the treatment of our elders. It is about time that dialogue starts about the need to restore the dignity our parents.
 
 
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