By Syed Akbar Hassan
The Qur’ān (31:14-15) says: “We have enjoined upon man goodness to his parents: his mother bore him going from weakness to weakness, and his weaning takes place within two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents. With Me is the end of all journeys. Yet should they endeavour to make you associate as partner with Me something of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them, but (even then) bear them company in this world’s life with kindness, and follow the path of those who turn towards Me. In the end, it is to Me that you shall all return, when I shall inform you about all that you were doing (in life).”
When western philosophers discuss morality, they base it on established universal principles founded on common sense. However, they have not been able to talk about the origins of these established moral principles. The reason is they evade the concept of a Wise Creator and of the nature on which Allah, the Exalted, created man. All their philosophical endeavours could neither formulate a barometer for good and evil nor could they tell why man should do good and resist evil.
The Qur’ān has not only based its morality but also the whole of religion on nature and since this nature is made by a Wise Creator, it is not permitted that people deviate from it. He who deviates from his nature, will lead himself to ruin and anger of his Creator. Man’s nature is a treasure of guidance; yet he may deviate from the path of truth by being influenced by his environment or misusing his authority. For this reason, the Almighty has explicated all the details of guidance found in human nature through His prophets and books so that no confusion may remain for anyone. It would provide opportunity for everyone to tread the path of guidance found in his nature and attain success in this world and Allah’s pleasure in the next.
Here, the surah speaks in gentle terms about relations between parents and children. Nevertheless, the bond of faith takes precedence over such close relations. Children are enjoined to be good to parents repeatedly in the Qur’ān and by Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. Human nature ensures that a new-born is taken care of by its parents. It is because of their very nature that people look after the new generation in order to ensure the continuity of life, as Allah wills. In this way, parents normally offer their personal efforts, resources, possessions and lives, without complaint or boredom. Indeed, they often do not realise how much they give. They do it willingly and with pleasure, as if they were the recipients.
Thus, parents do not need to be urged to take care of their children. It is children who need to be urged to look after the generation that has already given its all and stands at life’s departure gate. Children cannot compensate parents for even a portion of what they have given, even though they may dedicate their entire lives to such ends.
Such parental dedication is given an inspiring image: “His mother bore him going from weakness to weakness, and his weaning takes place within two years.” Needless to say, the mother gives the larger share of such sacrifice, with more love and care. “A man was carrying his mother on his back in tawaf, (a worship ritual of pilgrimage), when he asked the Allah’s Messenger ﷺ: ‘Do I thus pay her back for what she did for me?’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘No; not even for one heaved sigh’.” (Bazzar) This is how Allah’s Messenger ﷺ compares the two actions.
With this image of compassion, the surah directs us to the need to express gratitude to Allah, the first Benefactor, and then to show gratitude to parents who are always ready to give to their children. These duties are given in order of priority: “Be grateful to Me and to your parents.” That is, after Allah, it is the parents who have the greatest right on a person. It is they who bring him into existence and nourish him. There is no greater a right on a person regarding his fellow brethren than his parents. However, this right relates to gratitude and service and not to worshipping them. The real essence of gratitude is fulfilment of promises. If this fulfilment does not exist, expressing gratitude through the tongue is an absolutely baseless thing. This fact is linked to the reality of the hereafter: “With Me is the end of all journeys.” It is then, at the end of the journey, that what has been advanced of good work will be of benefit.
This bond between parent and child, with all its care, love and sacrifice, nevertheless comes second to the bond of faith. Hence, immediately after the statement enjoining man to be dutiful to parents, he is told: “Yet should they endeavour to make you associate as partner with Me something of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them.” Should this happen, the duty of obeying one’s parents is no longer valid. The bond of faith supersedes all bonds. Hence, no matter how hard parents try to persuade, coerce, pressurise or force their son or daughter to associate with Allah anyone, they must not be obeyed.
Though children must not listen to their parents if they force them to polytheism yet they still must treat them kindly in this world. Their needs should be met as far as possible. Children should also continue to pray to Allah for their guidance.
As far as gratitude and service are concerned, children are directed to do so in the case of both father and mother. However, as far as sacrifices and labours are concerned, only those of the mother are enumerated. The words are: “His mother bore him going from weakness to weakness.” Here all the three phases of pregnancy, birth and suckling are referred to and all these phases relate to the mother. It is on this ayah that the narrative of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is based which says that the right of the mother is thrice that of a father.
Here we are warned that everyone should bear in mind that at last finally everyone has to turn to Allah. If anyone shows any slackness in showing gratitude to Allah and in fulfilling the rights of the parents, he will be held accountable before Allah for this attitude. “With Me is the end of all journeys.” The implication is that one day every person will return to Allah and he will be shown by Allah all the deeds he had done. If some parents by misusing the right granted to them by Allah force their children to abandon the path of Allah, the Exalted, , they will be punished for it. On the other hand, if children fully recognised the right of Allah together with the right of their parents and adhered to it in a steadfast way, they will be abundantly rewarded for this courage.