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Allah, the Most Beneficent, has repeatedly emphasized the right of parents in general and the mother in particular. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Qur'an:
(Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him; and that you be good to your parents. If one of them or both reach old age in your life, do not say to them a word of the faintest complaint or disrespect, nor shout at them; but address them in terms of honor.
In this verse the right of Allah to be worshiped is placed adjacent to the right of parents, and all scholars agree that the rights of parents in Islam are greater and placed before all others except Allah. Obedience to parents must be given priority over all others including the wife. This does not mean that the wife is to be humiliated or insulted in any matter, but only that parents should be given priority in obedience over all others on the condition that they do not disobey Allah, the Exalted, and His Prophet (Peace be upon Him). Allah's pleasure or displeasure with man is but an indication of the pleasure of the parents with their son or daughter, as the Prophet indicated (Peace be upon Him) when he said:
"Allah's pleasure with man is through the pleasure of the parents and His displeasure is through the displeasure of the parents."
[Ibn Hibban #429 & Tabrani and verified]
"Birr ul-Walidain" means being obedient, good and kind to them, pleasing them and taking care of their needs, especially in old age. Serving them is considered obligatory service and preferred over participating in the various acts of volunteer service like in some form of Jihad (i.e., striving in the cause of Allah). A man came to ask permission to go for Jihad and the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) asked if his parents were alive to which he replied in the affirmative. Then he said to the man:
"So strive for them and exert yourself (jaahid)."
[Bukhari #2842 & Muslim#2549]
This is also confirmed in an authentic tradition that Ibn Mas'ood (may Allah exalt their mention) narrated:
"I asked Allah's Prophet (Peace be upon Him): 'O Prophet of Allah: What is the most beloved act in the sight of Allah?'
He said: "Offering the prayer in its proper time."
I asked: 'What comes next, O Prophet of Allah?'
He said: "Being good, kind, respectful, obedient and caring to your parents."
I further asked: 'What comes next, O Prophet of Allah?'
He said: "Striving in the cause of Allah."
[Bukhari #5625 & Muslim#139]
In another tradition Abdullah bin Amr bin al-Aas (may Allah exalt their mention) narrated:
"A man came to the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) and said to him: 'O Messenger of Allah! I shall give you my pledge of allegiance to migrate and strive in the cause of Allah seeking His reward only.'
Upon hearing that the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) asked the man: "Are your parents alive?"
The man said: 'Yes, O Prophet of Allah, both of them are living.'
He said: "Do you seek the reward from Allah?"
He said: 'Yes.'
He said: "Then go back to your parents and be the best and kindest companion for them.
And in another authentic tradition Mu'awiyyah as-Sulami (may Allah exalt their mention) said to the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him):
'I want to go for Jihad in the way of Allah.'
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) asked: "Is your mother alive?"
He said: 'Yes.'
He said: "Stay with her, for Jannah is under her feet."
[Ahmad#1557 & Nasa'e #3104 and verified]
This idiomatic expression shows the degree of deference, respect and obedience that the children should show to their mother to earn her pleasure by continuous care and service, which leads to attaining the pleasure of Allah and His Paradise, the promised reward for all rightly guided and devout believers. Mothers have greater right and deserve more kindness, help service, good treatment and companionship than the fathers because the mother is the first one to care for the children and she suffers more directly with daily hardships in their upbringing. Bukhari and others report that Abu-Hurairah (may Allah exalt their mention) narrated:
"A man came to the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and asked him: 'O Prophet of Allah! Who is the most deserving and worthy of my good company?'
Allah's Prophet (Peace be upon Him) answered: "Your mother."
The man asked: 'Who comes next after her?'
He said: "Your mother."
The man asked again: 'Who comes next after her?'
He said: "Your mother."
The man asked again: 'Who comes next after her?'
He said: "Your father."
[Bukhari #5625 & Muslim#2548]
This comprehensive lesson is a summary proving that the mothers deserve the utmost in obedience, benevolence and concern throughout their lives.
This tradition indicates that a mother has three times the rights of that of a father due to the sufferings she experiences during the various stages of her child's life; in pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and raising the child. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur'an:
(And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and good to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship. The duration of carrying him (in the womb) and weaning is two years. So thank Me and to your parents; unto Me is the final destination.)
Mothers are given priority over fathers in terms of special kindness, care, duty, help, and obedience. Both parents, in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles, are to be obeyed, respected and not differed with as long as they do not command or order their children to disobey their Creator. If they order their children to perform an act of disobedience to Allah then they are to be disobeyed in that particular matter only and a son or daughter must continue to fulfill their normal duties towards parents in other matters. They are expected to serve them, help them in their worldly affairs, and come to their rescue when they need them. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur'an:
(And if parents strive with you to make you join in worship with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the worldly (affairs) kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you did throughout your life.)
Parents must be respected, obeyed and offered financial assistance by their children, even if they have a different religion or faith, other than Islam, as long as they do not demand that their son or daughter do any act of disobedience to Allah. Asma binte Abu-Bakr (may Allah exalt their mention) said:
My mother, who was still a pagan, came to visit. I went to the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) seeking his verdict. I said, "She has come to visit and she is interested in Islam, should I maintain my relationship with her?"
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said: "Yes, indeed, stay connected to your mother."
[Bukhari #2477 & Muslim#1003]
Islam's encouragement to sons and daughters to treat their mothers with kindness, obedience and care - and to beckon to give any possible assistance to their parents in their various daily household chores - is illustrated in the following lengthy tradition wherein Abu-Hurairah (may Allah exalt their mention) narrated that the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said:
"Only three infants spoke while still in the cradle.
The first was Jesus, son of Mary (may Allah exalt their mention).
The second was an Israeli at the time of Juraij, a monk who used to seclude himself in a chamber and devote his time to prayer and the worship of Allah. One day Juraij's mother asked for his help while he was engaged with his prayers. He said: 'O Allah! I am confused as to whom should I give priority; my prayers to you or my mother.'
He continued his prayers, and neglected his mother's request for help; upon this Juraij's mother left. On the following morning the mother did the same, and Juraij also continued his prayers and neglected his mother's call for help. On the following day, Juraij's mother came again to him and called him to help her, as she had done in the past two days. Juraij did not respond. Upon seeing that, the mother said: 'O Allah! Have Juraij look at the faces of prostitutes before he dies.'
At the time Israelis used to highly admire the amount and manner of Juraij's worship, prayers and seclusion to which he devoted himself. A very beautiful and attractive prostitute that was popular among the people proposed to Israelis: 'If you wish, I can tempt Juraij and cause him to have illegal sexual relations with me.' The prostitute set out to execute her plan, trying her best to lure Juraij into illegal sex with her, but her efforts were a failure. She then approached a shepherd who used to graze his flock close to Juraij's chamber and offered herself to the shepherd who showed no hesitation. The prostitute became pregnant and upon delivery accused Juraij of being the father of the child. The Israelis went to Juraij in his chamber, drove him out, destroyed the chamber and started beating him.
He asked: "What is the matter? Why are you beating me?"
They said: "You have fornicated with this prostitute and she delivered a baby from you, while you pretended to be a pious man."
Juraij said: "Would you bring the baby here and let me offer my prayers to prove to you that I am not the father of that child.
The Israelis permitted Juraij to offer his prayers, and they brought the baby. When Juraij finished his prayers, he went to the baby and pointed to his belly with his hand asking: "Who is your real father?"
The baby still in the cradle, said:"My father is the shepherd."
Upon hearing the baby's statement and confession, the Israelis started kissing Juraij, seeking his blessings and said:"Should we reconstruct a chamber out of gold for you?"
He said: "No. But just rebuild it of clay and mud as it was built before." And so they did.
The third baby who spoke in the cradle was an infant who was nursing at his mother's breast when a knight wearing fancy clothes passed by on a beautiful horse. The nursing mother said: 'O Allah! In the future let my son be like this knight.'
Upon hearing this supplication the nursing infant left his mother's breast and said, while looking at the knight himself: 'O Allah! In the future do not make me like this knight'. Then the infant went back to sucking.
The narrator of the Hadith, Abu-Hurairah (may Allah exalt their mention), said:
I can remember the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) imitating the infant's nursing his mother's breast by placing his index finger in his mouth and sucking it.'
Then the mother and her nursing infant passed by a maid who was being beaten by her master and others accusing her with fornication and theft. The maid continued to say: 'Allah suffices me and He is My Guardian!'
The mother said: 'O Allah! Do not let my child be like this woman in the future.'
Upon hearing his mother's statement, the infant left his mother's breast and said: 'O Allah! In the future let me be like this woman!'
The mother, upon hearing her infant's statement, addressed him saying: 'Son! What is the matter with you? A nicely dressed knight passed by on a very nice horse, with a high status and power and I wished that you would be like him in the future; but you refused to be like him. Then when we passed by that maid who was beaten and disciplined for an accusation of fornication and theft, and I prayed to Allah for you not to be tortured and accused like her, you also rejected my supplication.'
The infant said: 'O Mother, as for the knight, he was a tyrant and thus I asked Allah not to make me like him. As for the beaten and accused maid, she had neither fornicated nor stolen. Thus I asked Allah to make me innocent and pure like her!"
Disobeying parents, disrespecting them and failing to fulfill their rights is the greatest of sins. The punishment from Allah of this sin is not only in the hereafter but in this life as well, as it is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
"Two (kinds of sins) Allah will forward (the punishment of) in this world: violent transgression and disobedience of children to their parents."
[Tirmidhi #2511 & Ibn Majah #4211 and verified]
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) also said:
"Verily, Allah has forbidden you to disobey your mothers, to prevent people from their rights, to ask people for what you are not entitled, to bury your baby-girls alive. He detests for you to gossip, to ask too many questions, or to waste your wealth."
The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) illustrated that being good and kind to parents is essential in the fulfillment of the supplications and prayers of man throughout his life, as Ibn Umar (may Allah exalt their mention) reported the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) as saying in a lengthy tradition:
"Three men of the previous times set out on a journey. When night approached they slept in a cave at the base of a mountain. Upon entering the cave, a boulder rolled down and completely closed the cave's entrance. They talked the situation over and concluded that there was no way out of this trouble except with prayers and supplications. 'We had better seek the help of Allah referring to the best and most righteous deed that we have done in our lives.'
The first man said: 'O Allah! I had two elderly parents and I never would offer my wife and children anything to eat or drink before I offered them. One day I had to go a long distance seeking food for my herd and I was late coming back. Upon arrival I found both of my parents asleep. I milked the sheep in order to offer my parents their dinner, but since I hated to wake them up for their drink, I remained standing next to them carrying the milk pot in my hand waiting for them to wake up. I did not offer my wife or children anything before I offered them. At the break of the Dawn, they woke up and by this time my children were at my feet crying for milk. When they woke up, I offered them their milk. O Allah! If you know that I have done that for Your sake, please rescue us from this trap.'
Upon that the rock was moved slightly away from the cave's entrance, but not enough to let them out.
The second man said: 'O Allah! I had a female cousin from my father's side who was the most beloved woman to me on the face of the Earth. I had an intense desire for her, but she refused. At one point in time she came under financial stress due to famine. She came to me asking for help. I offered her a hundred and twenty golden Dinars so that she would let me have what I wanted from her. Under the duress of her pressing need and financial situation she agreed. When I was ready to begin relations with her, she said, 'O Cousin! Fear Allah! And do not remove the seal of virginity except in the rightful manner.' Upon hearing that, I got up and did not touch her, although she was the most beloved and desired woman to me. I did not take back the gold, which I gave her.' Then he raised his hands to the heavens and said: 'O Allah! If You know I have done, what I did, for Your cause and pleasure, please remove the trap that we are in. Remove the rock from the cave's entrance so that we can get out!'
Upon which, the rock moved another small distance but still not enough to enable them to escape.
The third man said: 'O Allah! You know that I once employed some workers and at the end of the day I paid their wages except to the one who had left without collecting his pay. I invested his wages in my business and kept a special note and account for it. The money that belonged to this worker grew during the years, and after many years the worker came to me asking for the wage that he did not take on that day of his work. I pointed out to him large herds of sheep, cows, camels, and slaves and servants, and said to him: 'All that you see is yours! That is the wage that I owe you!' The poor worker was stunned and said: 'Please do not ridicule and make fun of me! I am only asking for my one-day wage. The employer said: 'I am neither ridiculing you nor making fun of you. This is all yours.' The worker took all that I pointed out for him and left.' Then the man raised his hands to heavens and said: 'O Allah! If I have done what I did for Your cause and pleasure, remove the trap from which we are suffering.'
Upon that the rock rolled away from the cave's entrance and the three men left the cave, free once again."
Islam teaches that seeking the pleasure of the parents, and being good, kind, helpful, considerate to them, respecting and caring for them throughout their life, is a major way to expiate and remove the burden of our sins in this world. Abdullah Ibn Umar (may Allah exalt their mention) said:
"A man came to Allah's Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and said: 'O Prophet! I have committed a major sin. Do you think that I can atone for it?'
He asked: "Do you have a mother living?"
The man answered in the negative.
The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) asked the man: "Do you have a maternal aunt living?"
The man answered in the positive. Allah's Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said to him: "Be good and kind to her."
[Tirmidhi #1904 & Ibn Hibban #435 and verified]
This tradition indicates her right since the maternal aunt, in Islamic jurisprudence, has a similar status in some respects as of the mother, since the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
"The sister of the mother has a status similar to the mother."
These broad guidelines show the major rights of parents in general, and mothers in particular, and illustrate that mothers remain uniquely respected in Islamic teachings.