Why does Allah want us to pray for our parents?

Details of the Question
"And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’" (al-Isra, 24) We understand at the end of this verse that we need to take refuge in Allah's mercy. However, why is the prayer not as follows: “My Lord! Help me show them mercy even as they cherished me in childhood!”? What is the wisdom behind it? Are children not obliged to show mercy to their parents? Do children not have to return some of the good deeds that their parents did to them? Do we understand from this verse that it is necessary to refer them completely to Allah?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The translation of the relevant verses are as follows:

"Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’" (al-Isra, 17/23-24)

In fact, it is stated at the beginning of the verse that it is necessary to fulfill their legitimate wishes and to treat them well with the order “Be kind to parents!” For, the words “ihsan” mentioned in the verse is beyond obedience and it includes obedience too.

We are ordered to act toward them more sensitively after that especially when they get old and to treat them well in five degrees:

1. Do not regard serving them as burdensome; do not say a word of contempt to them.

2. Do not repel them.

3. Tell them sweet and soft words.

4. Lower to them wing of humility with kindness.

5. Pray as follows: My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood!'

In the first four levels, how to treat them is summarized in all aspects. Finally, we are ordered to pray for them. This means to ask Allah to show mercy to them. 

The following hadith shows the importance and acceptance of the prayer made by children for their parents:

"When a person dies, no further reward is recorded for his actions except for three things: Sadaqa (charity) which continues, knowledge from which people benefit, righteous child who prays for him." (Darimi, Muqaddima, 46)

“My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood!” Thereare a few issues about the order to pray in the verse: 

Firstly: In addition to teaching how to tell sweet words to parents, Allah adds how to treat them well actually.

This is as follows: A child prays to Allah for his parents and asks His mercy for them by saying, "My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy!"

The word mercy includes all kinds of good things related to both religious and worldly issues.

After that, Allah orders the sun to say, "as they cherished me in childhood", that is, "My Lord! Treat them with mercy as they treated me well when they brought me up!"

Secondly: In principle, a child cannot pray for his unbelieving parents. Therefore, one cannot pray for his parents who died as unbelievers. However, if his unbelieving parents are alive, he can ask Allah to guide them, to make them Muslims and to ask for divine mercy for them after they become Muslims.

Thirdly: The apparent meaning of the order is that it is fard. The phrase "My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy" is an order. The apparent meaning of the order does not express repetition.

Therefore, according to the decree of this verse, to utter this statement once is enough (in terms of fulfilling the order). Sufyan was asked how often a person should pray for his parents, every day, once a month, once a year, etc. He said, "We hope that his prayers after at-tahiyyat at the end of the prayers will be enough."

After this order to pray, Allah says, "Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts." This statement means as follows: "In that verse, we ordered you to worship only for Allah and to treat your parents well. Allah is aware of the intentions and thoughts you have in your hearts in terms of being sincere while obeying the orders. Know it well that Allah knows what is in your hearts. He knows them even better than you do. For, man can sometimes forget, make mistakes and cannot understand some things fully. However, Allah's knowledge is free from those states.

In that case, it means "He knows what is in your hearts better."

After that, Allah states the following: "If ye do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence)."

This statement means as follows: "If you keep away from mischief in your hearts, you will be the people who refer to Allah and turn toward him in all your affairs. Allah's custom about such people is to pardon them and to forgive their sins."

The purpose of this verse is as follows:

The first verse shows that it is fard to obey and show respect to parents in terms of all aspects; however, then, it says, "Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts" because a person can sometimes do things that will harm his obedience to his parents. It means: "He knows the states of your hearts. If those mistakes occur due to human weaknesses and as a result of your nature, not with the intention of disobedience to your parents, they can be forgiven." (see Razi, Mafatih, the interpretation of the relevant verses.)

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Why is being kind to parents mentioned in the Quran but obedience to them is not mentioned?

MOTHER-FATHER (their rights, obedience to them)

They are the founders of the family, which is the foundation of the structure of the community, and the two most important elements of it.

One of the five things that Allah wants people to protect is the continuation of human species. Allah based the continuation of species on certain laws based on the abilities and structures of living beings. The living being that faces the most difficulties to continue its species is human. Man is the strongest living being but it is one of the weakest ones when he is born. Some baby animals stand up as soon as they are born and some of them after a little while and act independently but man can stand up and act independently after a few years. Those who face these difficulties for the continuation of human species are parents. The mother carries the baby in her womb for nine months, faces a lot of difficulties but gives birth to her child facing vital dangers. She sacrifices her sleep, rest and health in order to bring up her baby, who cannot do anything on his own. As a matter of fact, Allah states the following:

"And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), ‘Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) Goal.’" (Luqman, 31/14). The father works very hard and in an unyielding manner to meet the needs of his family and the child; he sometimes does not eat but makes them eat; he does not buy clothes for himself but buys for his family. When the child becomes ill, the parents feel restless. They prefer the child’s comfort to theirs. This tiresome process lasts about twenty or thirty years in various stages and forms. Furthermore, the care parents take for their children lasts lifelong.

This relationship of rights and duties originating from the love and respect Allah created between parents and their children is an indispensable condition for the undegenerate, healthy and sound continuation of human species.

We can list the rights of parents on children as follows:

1. Obedience (respect): The most important duties of children to their parents are to obey them and to fulfill their requests that are not haram. Allah Almighty states the following: "We have enjoined on man kindness to parents: but if they (either of them) strive (to force) thee to join with Me (in worship) anything of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not." (al-Ankabut, 29/8) This verse was sent down about Sa'd b. Ab Waqqas, one of the Companions. Hz. Sa'd narrates the incident as follows: "I was a child that respected and obeyed my mother. When I became a Muslim, my mother said to me,

-O Sa'd! What is this? Either you leave this new religion or I will not eat or drink anything until I die. Then, you will be condemned as "the killer of his mother!" I said, "Mum! Do not do like that. Know it very well that I will not abandon this religion!" I waited for two days. She did not eat or drink. Thereupon, I said,

"By Allah, if I had 100 lives and I lost them one by one, I would not abandon my religion. It is up to you to eat or not to eat." When she saw my determination, she gave up her obstinacy. Thereupon, the verse above was sent down. (Tecrîd-i Sarîh Tercümesi, XII, 121 )

The Prophet stated the following in a hadith: "Allah has forbidden you to disobey your mothers." (Bukhari, Adab, 4)

As it is understood from the verses and hadiths mentioned above, it is the order of Allah to fulfill the wishes and requests of parents and not to oppose them. However, if one’s parents order him to oppose Allah, to deny Him, not to do something He rendered fard and to do things that He rendered haram, their wishes are not fulfilled. For, it is not permissible to obey people even if they are one’s parents if it necessitates disobedience to Allah.

2. To treat parents well. Allah states the following while listing man’s duties toward others:

"Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’"(al-Isra, 17/23-24)

When a Companion asked the Prophet three times, "Whom shall I do favors?", he said "to your mother" three times and “to your father” to the answer to the fourth question. (Bukhari, Adab, 2; Muslim, Birr, 1)

Even if the parents have not done enough favors to their children and even if they have harmed them from time to time, their children have to treat them well. For, as people get old, they start to act like children. They smiled and tolerated when we did bad and wrong things in our childhood; therefore, when they are in need of us, it is our duty of gratitude to treat them well as they did to us.

3. To meet their material needs. It is the duty of the children to meet all needs of their parents when they get old and when cannot meet their own needs. This duty is not only ethical but also legal. A person who does not fulfill this duty is forced by the Islamic administration. Allah gives this duty to children: "They ask thee what they should spend (In charity). Say: Whatever ye spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, -Allah knoweth it well." (al-Baqara, 2/215)

Abud-Darda, one of the Companions, said that the Prophet (pbuh) recommended him nine important things and that one of them was to meet the needs of all family members including his parents. (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 9) The Prophet sent a Companion who wanted to take part in jihad back to his parents because they needed him. (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 9)

4. Not show disrespect. A principle of the Islamic ummah is to show respect to the elderly and love to the younger. Those who deserve respect the most and about whom we should never think of any disrespect are parents. Once the Prophet (pbuh) said to his Companions,

-"Shall I tell you about the biggest sin?" He asked this question three times. They said three times, "O Messenger of Allah! Yes." He said, "To associate partners with Allah, to disobey one’s parents, to kill a person unjustly and to tell lies." (Bukhari, Adab, 6)

A Companion said to the Prophet (pbuh), "I left my parents crying and came here to migrate with your order." The Prophet (pbuh) said to him,

-"Go back to them. Make them laugh and happy as you made them cry." Thus, he sent him back to his parents, who had not become Muslims yet.

5. Receive their consent. The greatest duty of man in the world is to receive Allah’s consent. After Him, the people whose consent we need to receive are our parents. For, as it is seen in the verses above, Allah ordered us to do favors to our parents after worshipping Him. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Allah's consent is based on father’s consent; and His wrath is based on father’s wrath." (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 1; Tirmidhi, Birr, 3) The same thing is also valid for the mother, who comes before the father in terms of doing favors.

Once, the Prophet (pbuh) said angrily "Let him be humbled into dust!" three times. The Companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Who is that?" He said,

"He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise and goes to Hell." (Muslim, Birr, 9)

According to what Abdullah b. Amr b. al-As narrates, a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked permission to go to jihad. The Prophet said, "Are your parents alive?" The man said, "Yes." The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, "Try to receive their consent first." Thus, he reminded the man of this duty. (Tecrid-i Sarih Tercümesi, VIII, 377).

6. Not to say bad words. It is necessary to avoid any bad words and deeds that will sadden them. It is haram to say bad words to them and it is also haram to cause any bad words to be said to them. Along with Allah's prohibition, "do not say to them a word of contempt", the following hadith of the Prophet is also remarkable:

"It is one of the greatest sins that a man should curse his parents."

-The Companions asked, "How does a man curse his parents?"

-The Prophet (pbuh) said, "'The man abuses somebody and that person abuses his parents." (Bukhari, Adab, 4)

7. To mention them with their good aspects when they die and to pray for them. Our responsibilities do not end when our parents die. It is necessary to continue their clean memories. What makes man a man is these nice feelings and memories that continue from generation to generation as inheritance. The following hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) expresses this fact: "Love is achieved through inheritance." (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 22) Thus, a connection of love is established between grandparents and their grandchildren. Allah teaches us to mention them with good things and to pray Allah for their forgiveness in the Quran as follows: "O our Lord! Cover (us) with Thy Forgiveness - me, my parents, and (all) Believers, on the Day that the Reckoning will be established!" (Ibrahim, 14/41)

A Companion asked the Prophet (pbuh), "Are there any good things that I should do for my parents after they die?" He answered as follows:

"Yes, there are four good things:

Supplication for them, asking forgiveness for them, fulfilling their pledges, and being generous to friends of theirs. You only have ties of kinship through your parents. (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 19)

The Prophet (pbuh) expresses the benefit of the prayer made for parents after their death as follows:  "When a person dies, no further reward is recorded for his actions except for three things: Sadaqa (charity) which continues, knowledge from which people benefit, righteous child who prays for him." (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 19).

In addition, it is among our duties to treat them well and to avoid doing any bad deeds to them.

A person who fulfills his duties toward his parents when they are alive and after they die, who pleases them and makes them pray for him attains one of the greatest blisses of the world and the hereafter. For, the Prophet (pbuh) states that such people will have a blessed, long life, that the prayers their parents make for them will definitely be accepted by Allah and that they will deserve to go to Paradise.

Hz. Prophet (pbuh) states how big the responsibilities of children toward their parents are as follows:

"A child cannot repay his father unless he finds him as a slave, buys him and sets him free." (Bukhari, al-Adabul-Mufrad, 6)

It is among our ethical duties to love our parents, who made great efforts for us and to whom we owe a lot, and to change their love with anything else. This duty is fulfilled by showing respect, compassion and mercy to them when they are alive and by trying to please them. We should not forget that real love of parents does not consist of saying, "I love my mother and my father" only and that this love can be proved by fulfilling our duties toward them.

According to a hadith reported from Burayd, a man carried his mother on his shoulders and circumambulated the Kaaba with her. Then, he approached the Messenger of Allah and said,

"-Have I repaid for what she has done for me?" The Messenger of Allah said,

"-No, not even for a breath that she took and gave when she was pregnant with you."

It is clear that this description, which is full of compassion, encourages people to thank their parents.

Abdullah b. Mas'ud (r.a.) asked Hz. Prophet (pbuh):

"-O Messenger of Allah! What deed is the best?" The Messenger of Allah said,

"- The prayer performed on time."

Abdullah b. Mas'ud asked again:

"-What is next?" He answered:

"-Doing favors to your parents." He asked again:

"- What is next?" He answered:

"-Fighting in the way of Allah."

To sum up, it is necessary to do favors and treat our parents, to meet all of their material needs if they are in need, not to sayeven “a word of contempt” to them, to talk sweetly to them, to respond to them with nice words and attitudes, not to sadden them and not to show any signs of weariness to them. It is the duty of children to avoid any words that will break their hearts, to try to attain their consent regarding all issues, to please them, to serve them when they get old, and to ensure their treatment when they are ill. To serve them when they are ill or crippled is a deed that opens doors to Paradise.


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