Parents and in-laws – how much do we need to obey them?
Abdullah bin Ammar[i] (may Allah be please with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘Allah’s pleasure is in what is pleasing to parents, and Allah’s displeasure is in what is displeasing to parents’ (Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim)
Parents are a shortcut to jannah
Obedience to parents is a shortcut to Allah’s pleasure. Who doesn’t like shortcuts? If you are pleasing your parents, you are pleasing Allah and if you are displeasing your parents, you are displeasing Allah. The concept is short, concise and clear.
In the Quran, Allah Almighty says: ‘Be good to your parents’ on different occasions. Meanwhile, one of the worst major sins (al kabair) is to be bad to your parents. In Arabic the rights of parents are known as huquq al walidayn.
Love your parents
Our parents are the reason of our existence. They looked after us, nurtured us, educated us, supported us, directed and guided us. Therefore, we show gratitude to Allah Almighty first, who gave us life and provided us parents, and then to our parents without whom we may not have survived past infancy.
We have to show our parents love, care and courtesy, regardless if they are believers or disbelievers. If they expect you to do or to say something which is displeasing to Allah Almighty, you are not required to obey them, but you still have to be nice to them, and keep good communication with them and say:
My Lord, have mercy on them as they looked after me while I was young. (17:24)
Are your parents your priority?
For every Muslim, being good is an obligation. And being good to parents is a priority. Let’s paint the picture; Allah Almighty has sent all prophets and messengers to improve human conduct and human character, and to establish belief in Tawhid (the Oneness) of Allah Almighty, from Adam to Muhammad (peace be on them). How do we action the list of priorities? Our first priority is Allah, then our parents. This is how it should be.
In reality, parents often come lower down on people’s list of priorities – they may be number four or five or may not even be on the list. Some people neglect their parents and have a bad relationship with them. I know someone who didn’t speak to his father for 12 years. You can’t do this. Even if you disagree with your father, or he was harsh, you must not cut off relations. Certainly you need to protect yourself from harm, and there are limits in what they can expect from you, but at the end of the day, you have to be good to them.
There are elders in nursing homes who have children but their children do not have time to care for them, or even visit or call them. How sad this is! That old man could be you one day. If you are to be bad to your parents, it will backfire on you. You reap what you sow.
Parents are important
Parents hold a very significant position in Islam and consequently they should in our lives. This why Allah Almighty has connected His pleasure with theirs.
In the hadith reported by Abu Hurayra,
A man asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) “Who is most deserving of my good company?”
The Prophet (peace be on him) said, “Your mother.”
The man asked, “Then who?”
The Prophet (peace be on him) said “Your mother.”
The man asked again, “Then who?”
The Prophet (peace be on him) said, “Your mother.”
The man asked again, “Then who?”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Your father.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Here the Prophet (peace be on him) was confirming the importance of the mother. At that time, in Arab society, women were weak and easily neglected. This is why in his Last Sermon the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Fear God Almighty with respect to [the rights] of women and orphans.
To the very last minute the Prophet (peace be on him) was reminding the Ummah to look after women. The status before Islam was that they are abused and mistreated. He is saying don’t do a U-turn after my death and go back to the bad things you used to do, treat them nicely, and at the top of the list is your mother.
Jannah is beneath a mother’s feet
Mu’awiyah ibn Jahima reported: Jahima came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and said:
“O Messenger of Allah, I intend to join the expedition and I seek your counsel.” The Prophet said, “Do you have a mother?” He said yes. The Prophet said, “Stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet.” (Nasa’i)
Middle gate of Jannah
In a strong hadith the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘The father is the middle gate of Jannah’ (Tirmidhi)
This means that being good to your father gives you easy access to Jannah. If you want to access this door, keep good relations with your parents and obey them as long as that they are asking for is reasonable and in line with shariah. If you want to break this door then break the relationship with your parents.
Lack of emotional attachment
If you do not have an emotional attachment with your parents because they did not spend much time with you in your childhood, or their parenting style was not demonstrative, it is never too late to spend more time with them to catch up on the time you lost.
Keep your heart open. Make a lot of dua, ‘may Allah Almighty soften their hearts and bring peace and tranquillity to their hearts’ No one can change any one’s heart but Allah Almighty. He is the controller of the hearts, so you go directly to Him. Say ‘Allah I can’t do anything about this, but you can, so I am asking you as you changed my heart, change their heart and bring tranquillity and peace to their hearts’
Where obedience ends
When the hadith said your parents’ pleasure is Allah’s pleasure, is this an open ended statement? No. We are given guidelines and limitations to this in another hadith. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘There is no obedience to somebody when it entails disobedience to Allah’.
This is a general rule. It applies to everything: your parents, boss, wife, children, friends, ruler etc. Obey them as long as it is not at the expense of disobedience to Allah Almighty. You are certainly not allowed to obey them in anything which involves kufr, shirk or disobedience to Allah Almighty.
Being commanded to do shirk or to leave Islam
Many times, in Makkah when Islam was new, parents were not pleased that their son had accepted Islam and urged him to go back to their pagan religion and culture. They were commanding their child to return to disbelief which is the highest sin. Even then, you have to treat them with kindness and respect.
Being commanded to disobey the shariah
You have to obey your parents to get Allah’s pleasure, unless their commands contradict the shariah. If it is contradicting the shariah, stay nice and kind to them, and without being harsh, do not obey them.
If they command you to do something for them, and you are harsh to them, then Allah Almighty will be displeased with you. The shortcut to Allah’s anger is to be bad to your parents, to treat them badly. You don’t want to be this person.
I knew someone who was Muslim by name but not practicing. He used to be the top DJ in the area, which was very cool in the 80s and his father was alcoholic. The son started attending circles with our Shaykh in the mosque. He learned how to pray and gradually began practicing. He started saying Asalamalaikum which was not a common thing at that time, as people would say Marhaba. His father used to send him to buy his alcohol, so he would go and say asalamalaikum then buy two bottles of wine! We explained to him that he to draw the line and you say, ‘I’m sorry, with all due respect, I can’t do this. I really love you but I can’t do this. This is displeasing to Allah.’
Exploiting your position as a parent
Unfortunately this concept is fairly widely abused in the community by parents. Knowing the high status Allah Almighty conferred on them, as reiterated by the Prophet (peace be on him), some parents abuse their position and manipulate their children.
For instance, they say, ‘Do this for me or I will be angry with you or Allah Almighty will be angry with you and you will go to hell’. This is blackmail and it is unacceptable and haram. There are limits for both sides. Limits on what children must and must not obey, and limits on what parents can and cannot ask for. Just because you are a parent, it does not mean that children have to obey your every whim, and say, ‘Yes master’.
Some parents are not even practicing yet whenever they want something they quote ayahs from the Quran, such as Allah Almighty commanded children not to say ‘uff’ to them. These are the only verses they know from the Quran!
Oppression is forbidden
Allah Almighty says Allah Almighty doesn’t like oppressors. Abu Dharr reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Allah Almighty said: O My servants, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and I have forbidden it among you, so do not oppress one another. (Muslim)
It is wrong to oppress others, manipulate them and abuse the power or status that Allah Almighty gave you. It is a common problem we have.
Overbearing parents often end up producing rebellious children who react defiantly to being controlled. I believe any extreme will lead to another extreme. If a parent is harsh with their child, their child will often react by being harsh back to their parent and even severing the relationship with them, not even calling them at Eid.
Friction and tension between mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law are common in all communities not just the Muslim community. In-law politics can be very toxic. Sometimes a mother or father who loathes their daughter in law might demand that their son divorces her otherwise they will be angry with him, and then Allah Almighty will be angry with him. A parent has no right to do this. If the daughter-in-law has not done anything that is displeasing to Allah Almighty and did not break the limits of the shariah, they cannot demand this. If she made a mistake or was rude, they can expect her to apologise and rectify things, but not insist on a divorce. Sometimes a father uses the example of Ibrahim (peace be on him) as evidence that he can demand his son to divorce his wife.
And if the father has another thing under his belt, he will say no you have to obey me, look at Ibrahim (peace be on him) he asked his son Ismail (peace be on him) to divorce his wife.
Ibrahim (peace be on him) visited Ismail’s home and met his wife who complained, ‘We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution,’ complaining to him. He left the message for his son to divorce her in his words, ‘When your husband returns, convey my salutation to him and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).’
Ismail understood his father’s meaning, divorced his wife, and remarried. However, it is wrong for a father to use this as reason for ordering his son to get divorced. We cannot compare ourselves to Ibrahim (peace be on him). We are not prophets!
At other times, they might have had a good relationship, until their son gets married, and the wife does not like them, so she criticises them to her husband, filling his ears with issues and problems and nags him. If he has a weak personality, he will not able to tolerate it and to resolve the issue he will sacrifice his parents to get peace in his home. I have come across this many times.
My advice anyone trapped in such a position is remind the wife that you do not want to hear your parents being treated like this. They must be treated well. Nobody said they have to be waited on hand and foot, or served day and night. But there must be a level of respect and honour.
In laws are not parents
This leads to another issue. In many Eastern cultures, the level of honour expected from daughters in law, is not just respect, but subservience. This is not from Islam. In fact, when a woman gets married there is an expectation that her in laws have replaced her parents – this is wrong.
From the shariah point of view her in laws are still her in laws, not her parents. Her parents are still her parents. We need to fight this. No one says you have to treat your in laws with disrespect – no. But they are not her parents. End of story.
This means that a woman’s parents take priority over her in laws 100%. Culture dictates otherwise. However this is not how it should be. Her parents are still her priority. We need to resolve these issue in order to get the right formula in our relationships, our expectations and our understanding and practice of Islam.
In laws are special
Though the relationship with your in laws is not the same as your parents, it is still a very special relationship. Apart from being the parents of one’s spouse, they become mahrams as well. The mother-in-law becomes a mahram for the son in law and the father in law becomes a mahram for his daughter in law.
In some cultures, we create a barrier between men and their in laws which can put a barrier on the whole relationship and cause marital discord. The relationship is a dual carriage way, not just one way. Love and kindness should govern the relationship, not bitterness and pain which is the situation at the moment in many marriages.
Culture vs Islam
Don’t allow culture to dictate to you what to say, what to follow, what to do. Culture should not dictate our practices.
Both the parents and the children should fear Allah Almighty. The shariah decides who deserves to be obeyed in each scenario and when they should not be obeyed. Allah Almighty is the Judge, through His Book and the Sunnah.
We need to educate ourselves so we know where to draw the line, because sometimes the problem is we do not know where the line is in the first place. Culture (eastern and western) dictates the lines and teaches us how to deal with parents and children. But culture is not the book of Allah Almighty, this is the problem. This is why we need to re-educate ourselves and our communities and our parents. When there is a conflict between Islamic values and cultural values, we have to choose Islam.
The solution for this is education, when you can separate between what is cultural and what is Islamic. This takes time and practice to bring it to the awareness of our culture at large. It won’t happen overnight. Allah Almighty has provided the solution since day one. It is us who change these divine practices into cultural practices. The solution is to come back to the divine practice. This is what Allah Almighty revealed and this is how we should be living, by the revelation not culture.
We need to be careful and try our best to have good relationships with our parents and educate ourselves and our parents about this. I know it is sometimes difficult to educate your parents, but you can try to do this with kindness and mercy. Sometimes you can send the message through a third party they listen to.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim delivered in the Sunday Hadith Class – Bulugh Al Maram of 13th September 2020
Transcribed by Asma Hussain
[i] Abdullah bin Amr
The narrator of the hadith is Abdullah bin Amr (may Allah be please with him). He was the son of Amr ibn Aws, who accepted Islam before his father, who only accepted it in 7AH, many years after the Prophet’s (peace be on him) Hijra – 20 years after the revelation. At the same time as Khalid ibn Walid.
Abdullah bin Amr was knowledgeable and educated, and keen to learn from the Prophet (peace be on him). He mastered the Quran and recorded a great deal of the sunnah. He started writing down everything he heard from the Prophet (peace be on him) in his special book, As Sahifa Sadiqa – The Truthful Book. However, we see from his biography that people took more narrations from Abu Hurayrah than him, which some scholars say is due to the face he read a lot from the Torah, so they wanted to ensure that his knowledge had not been coloured by his knowledge of the Torah and the People of the Book. It is a matter of debate.
Abdullah bin Amr is one of the four Abdullah’s: Abdullah bin Umar ws younger than him, Addullah bin Amr, Abdullah bin Abbas, and Abdullah bin Masoud. Abdullah bin Masoud was the most knowledgeable among them and the eldest and belonged to the first generation. The other three were second generation, but all of them became scholars of the Sahaba.
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