Respecting parents and showing the proper behavior towards them are issues that are considered very important to Allah (SWT). As a result, a considerable number of verses in the Holy Quran and narrations from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and his progeny are dedicated about parents. In browsing these verses and narrations, one may find that many of the explanations and expressions about respect to parents are very astonishing, and are not said about other topics.
As stated, the treatment shown towards one's parents has different perspectives. Our juristic-economic encounter, public behavior, obedience, and etc. are all parts of these different perspectives. Islam has not only defined the appropriate way of treating our parents in our youth, middle ages, and elderly ages, but has also given us instructions of how to conduct after they pass away.
An economic advice
When it comes to financial support, the Holy Quran gives an exclusive position to parents. Besides paying attention to the obligatory rights that parents hold, Allah (SWT) notes us to give the highest priority to our parents when intending to accomplish good deeds. For example, when the topic of charity is discussed in the Holy Quran, Allah (SWT) precedes parents before any other group of people, to enforce the idea that parents hold the highest priority in receiving charity (2:215). (1)
Treating our parents with kindness, a kind of worship for Allah (SWT)
Financial support, although is very important and significant according to the Holy Quran, is just second to showing kindness to our parents in every single aspect.(2) Doing good to our parents plays a major role in our destiny, and Allah (SWT) emphasizes the importance of appropriate behavior with parents in three verses. (3) Interestingly enough, in three other verses Allah (SWT) emphatically orders us to show kindness to our parents, immediately after commanding mankind to worship Him.
The invitation of the prophets, and their word on parents
Treating parents with kindness held a much esteemed status during Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) invitation to Islam. According to the Holy Quran, when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was informing people of the unlawful acts, the first thing he commanded after prohibiting the people from ascribing partners with Allah (SWT) was to do good to parents. (4) From this we can conclude that after the greatest sin, which is polytheism, displeasing our parents is one of the greatest sins.
Moreover, showing proper behavior towards our parents is not only advised in Islam; rather it is a common instruction that all of the holy prophets were assigned to convey to their communities. For example, the Holy Quran recalls the covenant the Sons of Israel held with Allah (SWT): "And (remember) when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel, (saying): Worship none but Allah and be good to parents…"(2:83). (5) As presented in the above verse, this message was not only revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), rather it was identically revealed to all prophets.
Obedience to parents, how far?
Islam teaches us that we should avoid portraying an attitude that will hurt our parents. Therefore, it is not allowed to disobey them when they - out of good will and love - order us to do an act. Thus we must try to keep them satisfied. It is only under one condition that we are exempted from obeying them, and that is if their order contradicts the orders of Allah (SWT). In other words, it is only if they ask us to commit a sin or do unlawful acts that we must refrain from obeying them. Even under these circumstances, the Holy Quran reminds us to act with kindness and respect towards our parents in this transient world. (6)
Mother, the symbol of unlimited pain and infinite love
Allah (SWT) reminds us in the Holy Quran about some of the difficulties that mothers go through. Quran reminds us about the time that she kept us in her womb with great pain. We are reminded about the first two years after birth when she breastfed us compassionately. All these add to thirty months of pain that she handled patiently.(7) To think of all the love and caring a mother had for us throughout these years, especially after reading the teachings of Holy Quran, it is not surprising to see tears rolling down our cheeks.
Not even the smallest offense!
In addition to the fact that Allah (SWT) reminds us to be thankful to Him for all the things He has given us, He also teaches us to be thankful of our parents as well. (8) In fact this verse of the Quran (31:14) clarifies that since being thankful to parents is an order from Allah (SWT), it is a way of being thankful to Him.
When the parents reach their elderly ages, they usually become more sensitive and less patient. They may be wrong at times and judge unfairly about their children. However, amazingly enough Allah (SWT) has asked us to be patient and kind with them especially when they get older since they need more help. Even if we are hurt by them, we must not say even the smallest word "fie", lest it might hurt them. (9)
"Fie" is the smallest means of disapproval and disagreement, which could be uttered by one who has become upset. However, Allah (SWT) has disallowed us from saying even the smallest thing that might upset our parents. Imam Sadiq (PBUH) interprets this verse (17:23) and says: "If there was any word tinier than 'Fie' to upset one's parents, Allah would have banned people from using that." (10)
How should we act?
So how should we treat our parents? The Holy Quran answers this question beautifully. Imagine a powerful bird that does not want to fight back. It stretches its wings and puts them on earth to show that it has surrendered. Allah (SWT) teaches us to be humble in front of our parents just like a bird that opens it's wings on the ground.(11) Hence, we should try our best to be humble and kind to our parents; furthermore, we should try our best to protect them in anyway possible, and continuously express our love for them.
Remembering parents in the best moments
In addition to all of the teachings and orders of the Holy Quran, we can see that this Holy Book invites us to remember our parents in the unique moments of talking and praying to our Lord. The Holy Quran teaches us to pray for them: "O my Lord! Bless them, as they brought me up when I was little." (12)
An appropriate behavior to parents is something that almost everyone will have to deal with in his/her life. Let's hope to truly understand what our Lord expects from us and make our best in this way; indeed He is the best supporter and the finest beloved.