The parent-child relationship is complementary. Parent and child in Islam are bound together by mutual obligations and reciprocal commitments. But the age differential is sometimes so wide as to cause parents to grow physically weak and mentally feeble. This is often accompanied by impatience, degeneration of energy, heightened sensitivity, and perhaps misjudgement. It may also result in abuses of parental authority or intergenerational estrangement and uneasiness, something similar to what is now called the “generation gap”. It was probably in view of these considerations that Islam has taken cognizance of certain facts and made basic provisions to govern the individual’s relationship to his parents.
The fact that parents are advanced in age and are generally believed to be more experienced does not by itself validate their views or certify their standards. Similarly, youth per se is not the sole fountain of energy, idealism, or wisdom. In various contexts, the Qur’an cites instances where the parents were proven wrong in their encounter with their children and also where children misjudged the positions of their parents (see Qur’an, 6:74; 11:42-46; 19:42-48).
More significant, perhaps, is the fact that customs, folkways, traditions, or the parents’ value system and standards do not in themselves constitute truth and rightness. In several passages the Qur’an strongly reproaches those who may stray away from the truth just because it is new to them, or contrary to the familiar, or incompatible with the parents’ values. Furthermore, it focalizes the fact that if loyalty or obedience to the parents is likely to alienate the individual from God, he must side with God, as it were. It is true, the parents merit consideration, love, compassion and mercy. But if they step out of their proper line to intrude upon the rights of God, a demarcation line must be drawn and maintained.
The Qur’an sums up the whole question in the master concept of ihsan, which denotes what is right, good, and beautiful. The practical implications of the concept of ihsan to the parents entail active empathy and patience, gratitude and compassion, respect for them and prayers for their souls, honoring their legitimate commitments and providing them with sincere counsel.
One basic dimension of ihsan is deference. Parents have the right to expect obedience from their children if only in partial return for what the parents have done for them. But if parents demand the wrong or ask for the improper, disobedience becomes not only justifiable, but also imperative. Obey or disobey, the children’s attitude toward parents may not be categorical submissiveness or irresponsible defiance.
The last integral part of ihsan to be mentioned here is that children are responsible for the support and maintenance of parents. It is an absolute religious duty to provide for the parents in case of need and help them to make their lives as comfortable as possible.
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