"Your Lord has
ordered that you serve no one except Him, and that you be good to your
parents. If one or both of your parents become old, never say disrespectful
things to them. Instead talk to them with noble words. And out of kindness
lower your wing to them humbly and say, 'My Lord, give them Mercy even like
they cared for me when I was a child.'"
-Qur’an - 17:23-24
In this verse from
the Holy Qur’an, our Lord gives us directions on how to treat our parents,
especially if they become old and come to depend on us. Allah (swt) tells us
that we must speak kindly to them and ask for Mercy for them. He even shows us
an important lesson in the words He gives us for prayer. The prayer says, "My
Lord, give them Mercy even like they cared for me when I was a child."
We often forget
our obligation towards our elderly parents because life has a way of keeping
us busy and focused on one task after another. Teenagers are constantly
looking to enter the world of adulthood and all of its freedoms. Twenty-somethings
just want to establish themselves. Thirty and forty-somethings want to
solidify and maintain their gains.
When we enter the
fifties perhaps we want to relax a little and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Elderly people are often left out of all our concerns. This is a tragic state
of affairs because a community is like an organic being. Each part needs to
play its role for the whole to function and continue onwards indefinitely.
The way Islam sees
the ideal family structure is simple. It consists of a mother and father
living together (one may be a step-parent or they may be adoptive parents),
and they will work together to take care of their children. And when the
children grow up and the parents are old, then the adult children should help
take care of their old and weak parents. And when the children who grew up
have kids of their own, the grandparents must help take care of the new little
And so it goes on
and on and on. New babies come in, the older respected grandparents and even
great grandparents, start to leave this life and go on into the next – but not
before passing on their lifetime of accumulated wisdom, culture and knowledge
to the young. A successful community is made up of many families just like
this, who collectively make a strong, extended network of well-adjusted and
cared for members.
I'm sure a lot of
people know what I'm talking about when I mention the endless cycle of life,
and it seems to be still working okay in many traditional places around the
world for the most part. But what happens when you take a Muslim family and
put them in a place where people look at the role of parents a little
What happens when
you raise Muslim kids in a country where parents are not so valuable? And what
happens if you live here and you don't practice Islam strongly or you don't
work hard enough to teach it to your children? This can cause families to
fail, and by extension communities will remain weak, as well.
Let me tell you
what I mean, in the United States today, the divorce rate among married people
is around 50 percent. What that says is that for every 100 couples who get
married, 50 will get a divorce within a few years, and what's worse, many of
these divorces involve children. And then you have the whole other problem of
all the kids born to a mother and father who were never married in the first
place or who separate early on. Many of these kids will never know their
fathers or at best, they'll see one parent one week and another parent the
Why should these
kids who grow up in this unstable environment feel like their parents are
special or deserve respect? After all so many parents aren't even around for
their kids, so do you think the kids will ever want to be around for them?
Popular culture is filled with movies, television shows, stories and more in
which the parents play next to no role at all in the lives of children or
young adults. Your children exist in this world right now, a world in which
half the kids in the neighborhood or school come from broken or unstable homes
of one sort or another.
What about kids
who do have two parents in the home? Do they automatically receive a sense of
obligation to their parents? Look at what happens all too often in modern
times. Today you have so many working mothers and fathers that many times the
poor young kids are put into day-care centers to be raised by minimum wage
So many children
are going to grow up knowing that when their parents were too busy for them,
they put them in a place to be watched over by minimum wage strangers. So is
it any surprise that later on in life, when their parents are old and retired,
and they’re too busy to take care of them, that they are going to put them in
an old folk’s home to be watched over by who? – minimum wage strangers! And
they won't see anything wrong with it because it was done to them.
This pattern is
the normal way in many modern societies because the attitude has evolved that
parents are just people you need for a few years to pay for stuff and then you
don't need them anymore nor do you have to care for them because there’s
retirement homes where they can sit unseen. And because modern cultures say
that money and things are the best goals to have, the kids buy into this idea
lock, stock and barrel.
They see their
parents giving them lots of stuff, so they come to expect and demand lots of
goodies. So when the parents are old and weak and can't give things anymore,
who needs them? Muslim must resist these types of values if they want to
build a community that will continue on into the future.
A strong Muslim
community can be built anywhere in the world, even in a predominately
non-Muslim place. There are many examples of expatriate Muslim communities in
former times that grew and prospered such as in East Africa, Malaysia and
Indonesia and many other places. Two key ingredients allowed these
communities to survive and prosper for generations at a time: respect for the
old among the family and then allowing the old to help shape the minds and
values of the young. The parents in between were like brokers – providing a
safe space for the young children and the elder family members to interact and
pass on things that would otherwise be lost.
How should we
raise our children to be productive members of our growing community? Here is
a story from our past to ponder over.
Once a king said
to one of his wise ministers, "Show me the people who think they have sweet
parents and those who think they have mean parents."
The Minister took
the king to a market and pointed to a person who was pushing a hand cart. He
told the king that this person thought he had very sweet parents. But because
his parents always fulfilled his demands, he did not learn to provide well for
After the death of
the parents he could not live the same kind of life. Now he was forced to do a
tough job in order to meet his needs. The Minister pointed to another
well-dressed person who was riding on a carriage which was followed by many
The Minister told
the king that this person was successful because his parents had strict rules
for him and that he used to think that they were very mean parents because of
the rules he hated. But the rules he hated made him a successful person.
Then how should we
view the place of our elderly parents in our lives? Here is another story to
illustrate this second point.
classical writer, Sa’di Shirazi (d. 1291), once wrote: “In the folly of youth,
I one day shouted at my mother, who then sat down with a grieved heart in a
corner and said, while weeping, ‘Have you so forgotten your infancy that
you’ve now become so harsh towards me?' How sweetly said the old woman to her
son, whom she saw could overpower a tiger and had become as strong as an
elephant: 'If you had remembered the time of your infancy - how helpless you
were in my arms - you wouldn’t this day have been so harsh, for you’re now a
man who is as strong as a lion, but only because I’m an old woman now.’
In closing, I
believe that we can build a strong community in this area. We have strong
foundations and our community leaders have worked tirelessly to build a
beautiful masjid and make it relevant in our lives. The only other ingredient
we need is for us to structure our families into strong units that can support
this community now and into the future.
We must teach our
children that material wealth is not the purpose of life, even as we must
bring our elderly parents and community members into our lives as respected
stores of knowledge and wisdom. May our Lord give us the foresight and
strength to build a community based on many generations all working together
for a common cause – the pleasure of our Lord and ultimate Judge. Ameen to