islam has raised the status of parents to a level that is unknown in any other religion. following are the duties enjoined on us toward the most important people in a muslim's life - our parents. the duties of a son or a daughter are identical.
treating them with kindness & respect
one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the true muslim is her respectful and kind treatment of her parents, because to treat parents with kindness is one of the greatest commandments of islam, as is clearly confirmed in the quran
'... no mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child or father on account of his child...' [noble quran 2:233]
the true muslim spares no effort to show honor and respect toward them, providing them with the best food, clothing and housing - that she can afford- above all, she should speak kindly to them, present a pleasant and smiling face, and show love, tenderness and gratitude.
recognizing parents' status
the quran paints a vivid picture of the high status of the parents and explains the excellent way in which the muslim should treat them.
allah says, "'your lord has decreed that you worship none but him, and that you be kind to parents. whether one or both of them attain old age in your 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 your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood."' [noble quran 17:23-24]
when our parents reach the age of senility and infirmity, they are under our care. therefore, we must take time to choose the right words to say to them, words that will make them feel loved and wanted. also, pray for them for the unforgettable favors they have done for us, as they took care of us when we were small and weak.
further allah says, "serve allah and join not any partners with him, and do good to parents." [noble quran 4:36]
"we have enjoined on man kindness to parents." [noble quran 29:8]
abdullah ibn mas'ud said, 'i asked the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), "which deed is most liked by allah?" he said, "prayer offered on time." i asked him, "then what?" he said, "kindness and respect towards parents." i asked him, "then what?" he said, "jihad for the sake of allah."'
a man came and asked the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) for permission to participate in jihad. he asked him, 'are your parents alive?' he said, 'yes,' so the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told him, 'perform jihad by taking care of them.' [muslim]
in the midst of preparing his army for jihad, the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not forget the weakness of parents and their claims on their children. he, in fact, asked this man to stay back and care for his parents despite the fact that at that time the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) needed all the manpower he could get for the forthcoming war. the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) allowed the man to stay back from jihad because there was no one else to care for his parents.
disobedience toward one's parents is likened to shirk [associating partners with allah].
when the mother of sa'd ibn abi waqqas objected to her son's embracing islam, she told him, 'give up islam, or else i will go on hunger strike until i die. then you will feel shame before the arabs, as they will say, "he has killed his mother."' sa'd told her, 'you should know that, by allah, even if you had a hundred souls, and they left your body one by one, i would never give up islam.'
then, allah revealed a verse which the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) recited to the muslims, in which sa'd was rebuked for the harshness of his reply to his mother:
allah says, "...but if they strive to make you join in worship with me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not: yet bear them company in this life with justice [and consideration]." [noble quran 31:15]
in fact the jurists agree that if your mother calls for you and does not know that you are offering prayers, it is advisable to answer her if you are offering nawafil [voluntary] prayers. [muslim]
being kind to them even if they are not muslims
islam reached new heights by enjoining this duty on its followers. this is clear from the hadith of asma bint abi bakr as-siddiq, who said,
'my mother came to me, and she was an unbeliever at the time of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). i asked the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), 'my mother has come to me and needs my help, so should i help her?' he said, 'yes, keep in touch with her and help her.'
however, if the parents are unbelievers and tell their child to join them in disbelief, she must not obey them in that, for the muslim must not obey anyone in disobeying allah. the demands of faith take precedence over all human relations.
if parents are deviating from true islam in some way, the dutiful muslim should, in this case, approach them in a gentle and sensitive manner, so as to dissuade them from their error. she should not condemn them harshly, but should try to convince them with solid proof, sound logic and wise words, until they turn to the truth in which she believes.
mother comes first
the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave precedence to kind treatment of one's mother over kind treatment of one's father.
it comes in a hadith that abu hurairah reported that a person came to allah's messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, 'who among the people is most deserving of a fine treatment from my hand?' the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'your mother'. he asked again, 'then who?' the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, 'your mother.' he asked again, 'then who [is the next one]?' the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, 'again it is your mother.' he [again] asked, 'then who?' thereupon the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'then it is your father.' [muslim]
the quran too gives the mother precedence because of pregnancy and breast feeding, and the pains and trials that she suffers during these two stages.
'and we [allah] have enjoined on man [to be good] to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and for two years was his weaning: show gratitude to me and to your parents: to me is your final goal.' [noble quran 31:14]
treating her parent's friends well
it comes in a hadith that abdullah ibn umar reported allah's messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying, 'the finest act of goodness is that a person should treat kindly the loved ones of her father [even after her father has passed away] [muslim]
the highest form of love, faithfulness and respect that a daughter can show to her parents is to keep in touch with their friends. in this way she cares for her parents before and after death. the only two things help a person in the grave are: the ongoing effect of her charity and her righteous children praying for her forgiveness.
but are muslims today following this teaching after being overtaken by materialism and blinded by the glare of modern civilization? some parents do not even have the attention and care of their children, unless the children happen to be among those who have that sense of duty and deep god-consciousness [taqwa]. do you have taqwa enough to never leave your parents when they need you the most?