Basira Ajmal, Bournemouth
We are living in the 21st century with a plethora of rights. Every day on social media, TV, or on the street we witness individuals, groups or organizations labelled as activists proclaiming and working for a different set of rights; women rights, children rights, employee rights, free speech rights, refugee rights and so on. Mesmerized by the chiming resonance of this r-word, we often neglect the other more important r-word i.e. responsibilities. We forget the fact that rights cannot be established without the fulfilment of responsibilities. This basic principal is however fully ingrained in the beautiful and universal Islamic teachings. Islam extraordinarily granted all these rights to us about one and a half millennia ago but at the same time, for the implementation of all these rights, Islam fervently emphasizes on discharging one’s responsibilities towards our fellow beings. So where does this network of rights and responsibilities begin from? Allah the Almighty says in the Qur’an:
Thy Lord has commanded, “Worship none but Him, and show kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but address them with kind words.” “And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness. And say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’” (17:24-25)
These verses signify that after the duty towards God, our foremost and greatest responsibility is towards our parents—the first and the most important link of the network. It is incumbent upon children to love, obey and respect their parents. To provide an unambiguous criterion for the level of kindness we owe to our parents, the first verse elucidates with an example that when one or both of our parents reach an age of weakness and frailty while living with us, we should not spare them any act of kindness and we, must not despise or scorn them the least. At old age, when their behaviour sometimes gets challenging, we should not even utter the slightest expression of disapproval. Instead, we should speak to them in a highly esteemed manner and treat them with reverent honour.
The expression, lower to them the wing of humility, reminds us of a bird which opens up its wings to provide shelter and protection to its offspring. In the same way, Allah the Almighty has obligated us to cover our parents gently under our love, generosity and meekness by providing them with comfort and utmost care. Even after doing all this, we can still never fully repay the favours, love and sacrifices that our parents bore for us. Therefore, to make up the insufficiency, Allah instructs us to pray for them. The words of the prayer infer that in old age, parents need to be treated as obligingly and affectionately as children are looked after in their childhood. We are required to pray to Allah to bestow mercy and forgiveness on our parents. It is worth noting here that completely opposite to this before the advent of Islam, infanticide of female children was a common practice prevalent among Arabs. The birth of a daughter was considered a disrespect for the family and thus they were doomed to be buried alive. Islam, however, strongly condemned the killing of daughters as cited in the Holy Qur’an (81:9-10 & 16:59-60), and the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) categorically adjured on good upbringing of daughters saying, ‘He who brings up two girls through their childhood will appear on the Day of Judgment attached to me like two fingers of a hand.’(Muslim). As Muslim women, we owe our lives and all our rights to Islam which admonished our parents against denying our rights. Thus, being daughters, we must also fulfill our duties towards our parents and show them gratitude as Allah the almighty says,
‘…Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. Unto Me is the final return.’ (31:15)
It is our task to cherish, obey and revere our parents with great forbearance. We need to lower our wing of humility onto them as they selflessly spent their lives bringing us up with care and compassion. If we love them, we will strive to please them and take delight to be in their company and find pleasure in spending time with them. We should consult them for advice on matters big and small and share with them our joys and blues. Having our parents with us is one of the greatest blessings of Allah, which we need to treasure and admire and we need to make them feel like a valuable part of our lives. We must never leave them helpless or God-forbid, abandoned. In fact we must practically manifest our commitment to them because nothing gives parents a feeling of higher content than an eminently dutiful child.
The system of rights and responsibilities is a reciprocal one. If we fully discharge our obligations towards our parents, only then can we expect our own children to fulfil our rights. Therefore, instead of focusing on attaining our rights, if we all start aiming to undertake and accomplish our responsibilities, the delivery of rights will become reflexive.