وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا
And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. (Surah al Isra: 23)
In this ayah, Allah is commanding us to do good to our parents, for the simple reason that they deserve it. They are a means of our existence. They fed us, clothed us, educated us, raised us and we are who we are today largely because of them. To do Ihsan to one’s parents means to give them more than what is their due right, to go above and beyond in serving them, in taking care of them and supporting them.
And whether one of them or both of them reach old age while they are with you, Allah has also commanded us in this ayah to refrain from saying so much as “uff”.
When our parents become old, it seems as though suddenly the roles have reserved. They become more child-like, feeble, helpless and sometimes more demanding. They maybe physically fit, but emotionally they become needy, esp when their children have grown up and moved out (eg. the children getting married or attending college). Feelings of grief and loneliness set in and now they want companionship more than ever, they need some sort of attachment, or simply just someone to talk to.
So we are told in this ayah to hold ourselves back from saying “uff”, which if you think about it is the mildest form of irritation or disrespect that one can show towards another. Which means in a way we are told that we should not let our parents suffer even the least amount of discomfort or annoyance.
And the ayah continues with Allah telling us not to even repel them. Not to scold them, not to yell at them, not to shout at them – basically not to raise our voices at them. Because in their old age, sometimes they might keep repeating things, they may become forgetful and they might ask you something over and over again, and sometimes this might upset you – yet we are told here not to scold or repel them.
So if we can’t say “uff” to them or scold them, then what should we say? “Kawlan Kareema” – a noble word. So we need to speak to them using words that are beautiful, elegant, soft, delicate, civilized and decent. So the words that you use should be “Kareem” and the style you speak to them should also be “Kareem” – humbled, gracious and with honour. Basically the way a ‘guilty person speaks to his harsh master’.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr said, “A man came to the Prophet ( ﷺ ) and made a pledge to him that he would do hijra. He left his parents who were in tears. The Prophet ( ﷺ ) said, ‘Go back to them and make them smile as you made them weep.’” [Abu Dawud]
Abdullah ibn ‘Umar said, “The pleasure of the Lord lies in the pleasure of the parent. The anger of the Lord lies in the anger of the parent.” [Adab al-Mufrad]
Abu Hurairah saw two men and said to one of them, “Who is this man in relation to you?” “He is my father,” he replied. He said, “Do not call him by his own name nor walk in front of him nor sit down before him.” [al-Adab al-Mufrad]
So it is very important that we treat our parents with immense respect and honour and do utmost good to them, esp. when they reach old age.
Allah further says…
وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (Surah al Israa: 24)
So we need to physically humble ourselves before our parents, which means we shouldn’t snap at them, answer back or sit arrogantly in front of them. Rather, we should humble ourselves on account of our mercy and affection towards them. And alongside this, we need to make Dua for them, whether they are alive or they’ve passed away:
رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
“My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.”
In this Du’a we are asking Allah to have mercy on them, just as they nurtured us and did our tarbiyah when we were small. Tarbiyah means to foster, to nurture, to develop constantly by providing nutrition, education, training, instilling good morals and values. So they did all of this for us when we were small. But we can never fully repay all the favours. We can however try our best by doing good to them, showering them with love and above all asking Allah to have mercy on them.
So if you are living away from your parents, call them everyday, give them the salams, get your children to speak to them and visit them as often as you can. Because they need this emotional support.
And if they are no longer alive, continue to make Du’a for them, give sadaqah on their behalf and maintain ties with their friends and relatives
Abu Hurayra said, “The dead person can be raised a degree after his death. He said, ‘My Lord, how is this?’ He was told, ‘Your child can ask for forgiveness for you.'” [Al Adab al Mufrad]