Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

To Be a Good Child

A couple of days ago, Ahmed went to Riyadh with his mother. There were a few things that he wanted to do there, people he wanted to see. His mother told him the next morning that she wanted to go home. Knowing that his time in Riyadh was shorter than he expected, I asked Ahmed if he told his mother that he wanted to stay longer. He only said, "But she wanted to come home." I know that Ahmed was not conscious of it, but his response was a crystal clear example for me of the kind of respect that Islam demands children show to their parents. It would not even enter his mind to persuade his mother of something other than what she wanted.

Reading through Al-Quran, I notice that believers are repeatedly commanded to treat parents well, and often the commands go hand in hand with practicing the pillars of Islam, like praying five times daily and paying Zakat. The message of the Quran includes the good treatment of parents in descriptions of people who are truly Muslim.

The other night on Skype my mother said something that bothered me. I became angry and did not hide my anger. Immediately I regreted the tone I had taken and the words that I said in anger.  Curiously, there is more instruction in Al-Quran teaching children how to treat their parents, than there is to parents on how to raise their children. I was particularly struck by this guidance in Al-Quran regarding parents:
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour. And lower to them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young." Your Lord knows best what is in your inner selves. If you are righteous, then, verily, He is Ever Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again in obedience, and in repentance. Al-Isra 17:23-25
From the get-go, fulfilling our obligation to parents is linked directly to worship. The wording and order of the passage prompts me to consider my mother's age to be a privilege and blessing to me as a child - already, I cannot imagine who I would turn to without my mother there to speak with in good times and bad. Anticipating my upcoming visit home, I am internalizing this command to constantly speak respectfully and mercifully to my mother. Sadly enough, shouting is commonplace in our household, and I know that sometimes it will feel impossible to hold my tongue, or to just control my volume. But a Muslim child is not meant to even display frustration or anger towards their parents. If I write any more on the topic, I'll just quote Nouman Ali Khan from his teaching on Islam's requirement that we 'Be the Best to our Parents.' He explains that it does not matter what our parents say to us, or what volume or tone they assume, the child's voice and behavior must remain respectful and merciful. He suggests that when we are angry with our parents, we should go out of our way to do something kind for them. 

The ultimate example of the mercy we are required to offer parents is in Allah. Even in this short excerpt, Allah assures the believer that He is the source of mercy and forgiveness. Islam consistently calls believers to offer others forgiveness and mercy. Husbands and wives are told that the healthy, faithful marriage relationship is based on love and mercy. They couple is told to focus on the positive aspects of their spouse - getting hung up on small nuisances is foolishness. I've learned that Muslims make excuses for friends or neighbors who wrong them. If my friend arrives late for a meeting, before I get angry while watching minute after minute pass on my watch, I should make every excuse for their delay. Islam is full of practical, daily applications of mercy.

My mother does not approve of my interest in Islam, but Islamic teachings challenge me to treat her better than I ever have before. Up until now, I've mostly been soaking in Islamic concepts and instruction through conversations with friends, and by observing my local Muslim community. In this time I have learned to respect my mother more, and to be more generous to her. A few nights ago I woke up at 3am to pray Fajr and drink water before the fast began. My mother was struggling to make an online payment, so I offered to do it for her, after unsuccessfully leading her through the process over the phone. The next day at work, I felt like I was glowing. Although I had only a few hours of sleep, I felt that all of my energy grew out of my happiness at making one small thing easier for my mother. 

In Matthew 15 Jesus reminds the Pharisees and scribes that "God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' In light of the Quranic teachings on the proper behavior of children, the words of Jesus here feel much heavier, and more serious than I ever sensed them before. His words reinforce the Islamic teaching that the person who disrespects their parents will not enter paradise; at the same time, respect for our parents in our pathway to paradise. Sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman states that it's even an honor for our parent to step on our head, to have their foot above our head.

Just as we practice self-discipline in order to abstain from food and water during daylight hours in Ramadan, I have to be silent in moments when my impulse is to argue, debate, or speak a disrespectful word to my mother. Also, I feel that I must speak more respectfully of my late father - I admit not all of my memories are positive, but as Ali Khan points out, parents deserve our respect, regardless of how they treated us.

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