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Yasir Qadhi | The Etiquette of Dealing with Parents and the Elderly



Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera

[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture “The Etiquette of Dealing with Parents and the Elderly” at the United for Change “Our Families: Our Foundation” conference in Montreal.  The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]


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Al-salāmu ‘alaykum wa raḥmatullāhi wa barakātuh

In Sūrat’l-Kāhf in the famous story of Khidr (‘alayhi’l-salām) and his encounter with Mūsa – a story that all of you have heard and read numerous times – Khidr meets three people, and each time he meets one of them, he does something very strange.  One of the three people that he meets is a young man.  What does Khidr do when he sees this young man walking along the beach, as the riwāyāt tell us?  He kills him.  Mūsa (‘alayhi’l-salām) cannot believe what he is seeing.  “Have you killed an innocent soul?  How could you have done this?  How could you have taken the life of another human being?”

Khidr of course, as you know, is doing this as a commandment from Allāh and a waḥy from Allāh.  He says to Mūsa, “I told you [that] you can’t be patient with me.”   At the end of the story, what do we find out?  “As for this person that I killed, their parents were good people, and Allāh knew that if we caused this young man to grow older and mature, he would have caused much grief and hardship to his parents, so Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) wanted to take this one away and substitute with another one who will be merciful to them.”

This story tells us much, but one of the things it tells us is that one of the most painful experiences of human existence and one of the most emotionally traumatic situations that any person can find himself or herself in is to find a son or daughter who is displeasing to them and to raise a child with love and mercy and tenderness and to have this child grow up and flourish in front of their eyes, and to spend one’s entire livelihood, one’s savings, one’s life and time and efforts on this young son or daughter and then to find this son or daughter turns around and goes against them.  This son or daughter treats them in a harsh or rude manner.  This human being, because of whom they felt motivated to live – a child motivates a parent to live – and this human being because of whom they changed their whole life plans and worked hard and struggled; someone whom they expected nothing but mercy and tenderness in response to – instead, when this child turns against the parent and treats them with contempt and arrogance, ridicule, sarcasm, the emotional trauma and distress that a parent feels is more profound than anything else.  That is why, as a mercy to righteous parents, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) actually decided to take this ghulām away because if he were allowed to live, he would have caused distress and grief.

This is something one needs to think about.  Parents would be less distressed at the death of their child and at the nonexistence of this boy that they raised than they would if he were allowed to remain and allowed to flourish and yet he would cause them grief and harm.  This really shows us how much a parent loves a child and how important it is that the children treat their parents with that love and respect that is due to them.

Brothers and sisters, I am sure that each one of you has heard many khuṭbahs, many durūs, many Islamic lectures about the rights that parents have and about the rights that children have to do when they treat their parents.  How can you not have heard such lectures when the Qurʾān treats the rights of parents second only to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla).  I am sure that the verses and aḥadīth have been memorized by you.  Wallāhi, they need to be memorized and they need to be understood.  Yet, Allāh still reminds us in the Qurʾān, “Remind them even if they have heard before.  Mention it again because mentioning it again and reminding them benefits the believers.”

Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) emphasizes the rights of the parents using the strongest nouns, strongest verbs, and strongest adjectives.  He always emphasizes the rights of the parents after He emphasizes His own rights.  “Your Lord has decreed…”  This is the decree of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) and this is the eternal decree upon which there is no other decree that will supersede it.  “…that you shall worship none except Him and that you should treat your parents with iḥsān.”

What does iḥsān mean?  Iḥsān comes from ḥusn, and ḥusn means perfection. The state of iḥsān as defined by Al-Rāghib Al-Asbahani and many of the famous commentators of the Arabic language means that you give everything you possibly can to the other party without expecting anything back from them.  This is what the state of iḥsān is.  You give everything you can – your heart and your soul, your body and your efforts – and what do you want in return?  Absolutely nothing.  That is the state of iḥsān (perfection).  You are giving and it is a one way street.  There is nothing in return that you want back.  Why?  Because my parents have already given me far more than I can ever pay back.  My parents have already done for me much more than I can possibly do for them.  Now it is my time to try to not even repay the favor because that is never going to happen, but at least do my duty as a loyal son.

In another famous verse, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) says, “We took a covenant with the children of Israel that they worship none except God and they treat their parents with iḥsān.” In yet another verse, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) tells us that when your parents reach an elderly age, don’t even say uff to them.  Scholars of the Arabic language tell us uff is an expression or phrase that actually doesn’t have a verbal meaning.  There is no noun that it is based off of.  It is simply a sound that is uttered like when you are hurt and say “ouch.”  It is not a noun, and it is not a verb; it is simply a sound.  Uff is the slightest expression of contempt.  The Arabic scholars tell us the slightest expression of irritation and anger is uff.  When you are irritated, the slightest thing you can say is uff.  Allāh is saying, “Don’t say uff to them.”  Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Had there been a word lesser than uff, Allāh would have used it in this verse.”  Had there been a word lesser than uff to describe a state of exasperation or frustration, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) would have used it here.

The meaning here is that when your parents reach that age when you have to now take care of them, they will do things that will irritate you.  They will treat you in ways that you will find troublesome.  Why?  Because you are not a child anymore; you are an adult, but for your parents, you are always going to be a child as we all know.  No matter how old you are – 40, 50, 60 – in your their eyes, and they have every right to do this, you are always their little baby.  They are going to command you and tell you this and that, and you being māshā’Allāh 30 or 40 or 50 or however old you are, think that khalās you are in charge.  It is very easy to lose track of the fact that when your parents are their, you are always going to be their little baby.  Allāh says, “Don’t say uff to them.”

The beauty of the Qurʾān here is that Allāh does not command you with more than you can bear.  Notice Allāh doesn’t say don’t get angry and Allāh doesn’t say don’t get frustrated and Allāh doesn’t say don’t get emotional because that is inside the heart.  What Allāh does say is don’t express that emotion externally; control it, trap it, and make sure it is not manifest to your parents.  This is the beauty of our religion.  Anybody who is dealing with elderly parents knows this first hand.  It is very difficult to take care of elderly parents.  It is very frustrating.  Allāh didn’t tell you to not get frustrated.  Allāh said, “Don’t express that frustration.  Don’t let it manifest.  Don’t let anything come that will show your parents you are frustrated.  Trap it; keep it within you.”  Outwardly, show them the respect that they deserved, even if it has to be forced.

Likewise, in the beautiful story of Luqmān (‘alayhi’l-salām) when he is giving advice to his son.  “When Luqmān said to his son, ‘Don’t commit shirk with Allāh.  Verily shirk is the worst of all sins.”  Then Allāh said, “We are the ones who told mankind to treat his parents with kindness, iḥsān, and gentleness.”  The next verses: “Luqmān said,…Luqmān said,…Luqmān said…”  What I am trying to emphasize here is that there is a passage one page long in Sūrah Luqmān.  Every single verse begins with, “Luqmān said to his son, ‘Ya bunayy…’”  There is only one verse in which Allāh speaks directly.  “We are the ones who told mankind to take care of their parents.”  It is not Luqmān telling his son, “O my son, take care of us.”  In only one of these verses Allāh removed the voice of Luqmān and spoke in His own voice.  Scholars say this is to emphasize that Luqmān when he is preaching to his son to be righteous is not doing it out of his own selfish motivation.  He is not doing it based on “I am your father, treat me like this.”  Rather, Allāh took this obligation from him and Allāh spoke on behalf of him, and Allāh said, “This is Our Commandment.  We are the ones who commanded mankind to treat their parents with gentleness and mercy.”

The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) in numerous aḥadīth elaborated on this concept of treating parents with mercy and tenderness.  We can go on and on about this fact.  Once it is narrated he (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) entered Jannah and he heard somebody reciting the Qurʾān in a beautiful voice.  He asked Jibrīl, “Who is this person?”  He was told, “This is al-Ḥaritha b. Nu‘man [a famous companion of the anṣār].”   The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “This is what birr does to a man.  al-Ḥaritha used to be good and righteous to his mother.”  He hears Ḥaritha reading Qurʾān in Jannah, and automatically he links it to only one action: this is what righteous does; he used to be good to his mother.

You all know the story of Uways al-Qarni, and if not, we will summarize it briefly.  Uways al-Qarni was not a companion; he was a tabi‘i.  He never met the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam).  The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) told ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb, “There will come to you a man from Yemen,” and he described him in detail.  He said, “His name is Uways from the tribe of Qarn.  When he comes to you, then ask him to make du‘ā’ for you.”  He is asking ‘Umar to ask this man he has never seen to make du‘ā’ for him.  Why?  He was righteous to his mother.  ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb, being who he is, is told to go to this man because he was righteous to his mother.  Some books of history mention a story – Allāh knows how authentic it is, but it is mentioned in our classical sources – that Uways al-Qarni was the only son, and his father had passed away.  He was taking care of his mother in a very dutiful manner.  He asks and begs permission to go to Madīnah and meet the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam).  His mother grudgingly allows him to go but says, “You know that I need you; therefore, I only give you a day or two in Madīnah.  As soon as you get there, meet the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) and come back.”  It is said that Uways traveled from Yemen all the way to Madīnah, and when he got there, lo and behold, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) was away on an expedition and wasn’t in Madīnah.

Now he was stuck between two options.  The first was to wait a week or two and wait for the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) to return.  He has traveled from Yemen, which is already a month’s journey.  If he did, he would be raised in status eternally from a tabi‘i to a ṣaḥābah.  The second option was to listen to his mother.  What did he choose to do?  He chose to obey his mother and give up this voluntary status.  Being a ṣaḥābi is a privilege but it is not wājib.  Listening to your mother is wājib.  According to this riwāyah, Uways al-Qarni stayed a day or two, as much as his mother had allowed him, and then he rode his mount all the way back to Yemen.  He voluntarily and willingly gave up that status in order to please his mother.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said what he said to ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb that “When Uways al-Qarni comes to you, ask him to make duā to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) because this is a man who used to treat his mother with righteousness and birr.”  SubḥānAllāh, this shows us that if we really want our duās to be accepted, then let us treat our parents with the dignity and respect that they deserve.  If we want Allāh to bless us and if we want the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) to know who we are – Uways al-Qarni and the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) never met, but Allāh’s waḥy came down and Jibrīl told him who Uways al-Qarni was.  How magnificent of a status did this man have that Jibrīl comes down to inform our Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) about this beautiful human being whose only good that we know of was he was somebody who treated his mother with birr.  That is why the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) never ceased to remind us to take care of our parents with the utmost gentleness and kindness.

In one ḥadīth, he said, “The largest door to Jannah and the middle door to Jannah that any person has are that of his parents.”  His parents are the easiest way that a person can enter Jannah.  If you treat your parents with the love and respect that they deserve, the easiest way to enter Jannah will be through that door.

In yet another ḥadīth, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “The pleasure of Allāh is in the pleasure of the parents, and the anger of Allāh is in the anger of the parents.”  If your parents are happy with you, then even if you have other sins and other major problems, inshā’Allāh ta‘āla this is a source of expiation and kaffārah for you.  Once a man came to Ibn ‘Abbās and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, I have done this and I have done that.  I have fornicated and I have drunk wine.”  He basically did every sin in the book.  “What can I do to make up for this?”  Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Are your parents alive?”  He said, “My mother is alive.”  Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Go and serve her because wallāhi, I know of no good deed that cleanses a man of all of his sins than servicing his parents.”

Another motif of the Sunnah, which is in at least four or five aḥadīth, we learn that even struggling in the way of Allāh and even participating in a legitimate jihād.  These days, the word “jihād” makes me a little scared.  We call it the “J-word” and are not supposed to say the word “jihād.”  The fact of the matter is, we need to overcome this trepidation and this hesitation, and we need to say very clearly that jihād is a concept of our religion and it is mentioned in the Qurʾān in hundreds of verses and in the ḥadīth dozens of times.  It is mentioned in a noble manner, and there is nothing wrong with the concept of jihād.  What is wrong is how certain Muslims have misunderstood it.  The concept of jihād remains a noble striving for the sake of Allāh.  Jihād means you strive for the sake of Allāh.  It does not mean you go and kill innocent people.  It doesn’t mean you go and bomb civilians.  It doesn’t mean you misinterpret your religion of Islam and do that which damages your own people more than it damages others.  The concept of jihād is a noble one.  We should not be ashamed and we should not be shy from using this word.

We need to reclaim the word with dignity and honor as we explain to others and non-Muslims the reality of this word.  What those people are doing is not jihād.  There are aspects of jihād and a concept of jihād that is a part of our tradition.

I want to talk about this motif that is mentioned in more than one ḥadīth which is helping your parents is better than doing a legitimate jihād.  This is really relevant, especially in our times when we are facing a little bit of a crisis of certain youngsters, undereducated and overzealous, who think that they will revive the glory of Islam by doing acts of ridiculousness, militancy and violence and they go overseas and participate in military expeditions in Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan and bring about the days of Salahuddin Al-Ayubi.  For these youngsters amongst us who have been deluded by certain clerics and are being brainwashed, I say in all sincerity to them:  open up the Qurʾān and Sunnah and read some basic āyāt and aḥadīth.

A man comes to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) and says, “Ya Rasūlullāh, I have come here to go and fight for the sake of Allāh and do jihād for the sake of Allāh, so what do you advise me?  Where should I go?”  The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Is your mother alive?”  He said, “Yes.”  He said, “Go and stick with her because Jannah is under her feet.”  He wants to go for jihād, and this is a legitimate jihād – not the illegitimate type that we find in our times of killing innocent people and bombing airplanes and doing things of utter and sheer stupidity which is unIslamic and downright evil and foolish.

This man says, “I’ve come to do jihād.”  What does the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) say?  “Is your mother alive?  Go struggle in taking care of her and struggle in maintaining the ties of kinship and ties of loyalty that your mother deserves.”

In another tradition narrated in the Musnad of Imam Aḥmad, a man comes to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) and says, “O Messenger of Allāh, I have come from a far away land [in some versions he says Yemen], and I have immigrated to Madīnah in order to be with you and do jihād behind you, and I have even left my parents crying in order to be with you.”  This is the first time he is seeing the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam).  He is trying to boast to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) that he has done so much for the sake of jihād that he even left his mother and father crying.  The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Go back to them and make them laugh just like you made them cry.”  You want to do jihād?  What a joke!  You have left your parents angry at you, what kind of Muslim are you?  You want to go do jihād and your parents are crying?  You want the pleasure of Allāh by angering your parents?  You want to please Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) by displeasing your parents?  “Go back to them right now and make them laugh as you had made them cry.”

This is the real jihād, brothers and sisters.  This is what we need to tell our young, overzealous, undereducated youth.  Wallāhi it is easy to log onto a few chat forums and talk some grandiose, ultra-romanticized, utopic talks about how you are going to do this and that, but it is very difficult to listen to your mother and father.  It is very difficult to be a good son and daughter.  Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) tells us very clearly that is the real jihād.

What can we do with our parents?   In other words, what does Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) require from us?  To summarize very briefly, if one’s parents are alive a number of things can be done.  First and foremost, financial rights and obligations.  No doubt, parents have financial rights over us.

Secondly, physically helping and serving them.  Taking care of their needs, giving them food and water, making food for them.  Instead of your mother going to the kitchen to get a glass of water, wallāhi this is your duty.  If you see your mother stand up to do something, you should stand up and do it for her.  The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said to the ṣaḥābi, “Go and stick to her feet…”  This is an Arabic expression and means to go and lower yourself to her and humble yourself to her.  You are literally and metaphorically a servant.  “Go and stick to her feet because Jannah is under her feet.”

Thirdly, respecting them, controlling your anger in front of them, and never showing your irritation.  Next time you feel irritated against your parents, remind yourself of the verse of Allāh:  “Don’t say uff.”  Ask Allāh to help you in preventing to say that uff even if you feel it and even if you feel the anger and frustration, close it.  Withdraw and withhold that sentiment from being expressed.

Lastly, showing your love to them.  Going above and beyond the call of duty.  This is what Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) says:  “Lower unto them your wings of mercy.”

If your parents have passed away, one or both of them, then no doubt this is a great loss and a very traumatic experience.  Once it is narrated that the father of the famous companion al-Ḥarith al-Aqli passed away, and he was uncontrollably crying.  The ṣaḥābah around him consoled him and said, “Inshā’Allāh he is in Jannah and inshā’Allāh Allāh has forgiven him.”  He said to them, “Do you think that I am crying because he has passed on?  Wallāhi I am sad that he has passed on, but that is not why I am crying.  I am crying because my main door to Jannah has now been taken away from me.  This is how I wanted to get to Jannah.”

The father of another ṣaḥābi died and he said, “For one year after he died, every time I raised my hands I could not think of any duā except for him.  All I could think of was to make duā for him.”

After a parent dies and moves on to the next life, still a lot can be done.  First and foremost, as the ṣaḥābi said, seek forgiveness for them and ask Allāh to forgive them and raise their ranks for them.  Make duā for them.  Secondly, make sure that their wishes, requests, and wills were fulfilled.  Make sure that anything they wanted done is executed on their behalf.  Thirdly, give ṣadaqah.  Give money and say, “O Allāh, reward my mother for this ten, twenty, thirty dollars.”  Give regularly – every week, every month.  Give something on their behalf and say, “O Allāh, give this reward to my mother and father.”  Sacrifice an animal, mentioning Allāh’s Name and giving it to the poor and saying, “O Allāh, reward my mother for feeding the poor.”

Also, make Ḥajj and ‘Umrah for them.  Making Ḥajj and ‘Umrah is one of the greatest and most noble acts that you can do as a son or a daughter as long as you have done Ḥajj and ‘Umrah.  When you put on ihram, “Labbayk on behalf of my mother” or “Labbayk on behalf of my father.”  Then, each and every penny, minute and toil and circumstance that you face, Allāh will reward your mother, and you will be rewarded as a righteous son for doing this for your mother.

Also, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said one of the ways we can show respect to the parents and to fulfill their rights after they have moved on is – and this is something hardly anybody does – meet the friends and relatives of our parents who we would not have met otherwise.  In other words, our parents have their circle of friends, and because they were alive, we would also go to those friends and distant relatives.  When they have moved on, we have no reason to communicate with them.  We have nothing much in common.  The only thing we have in common is our parents.  The Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “A part of being a good son and a good daughter is that after your parents have moved on, go to those relatives and family members and acquaintances and friends for the sake of your parents.”

Some scholars have derived the wisdom behind this, and they say one of the wisdoms is that when you go to these people, and of course they will be of a different age and generation than you, you don’t have much in common except one thing:  your mother, your father.  What will the topic of discussion be?  Your mother or your father.  What do you think will happen when this person reminds you of how they interacted and what your mother did?  How will you feel after that?  You will feel so much love and tenderness and want to go home and give ṣadaqah on her behalf and make duā for her.  That love will be rejuvenated and revived.  Therefore, by visiting the friends and relatives of our deceased parents, the love of our parents is once again rekindled within us.  This is one of the wisdoms some of the scholars derived from this particular legacy of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam).

Let me conclude by quoting a very interesting and beautiful tradition that is reported from the famous companion Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍyAllāhu ‘anha).  It is narrated that once a man was doing ṭawāf around the Ka‘bah and had his mother on his back.  He saw Ibn ‘Abbās in the distance, so he came running over to him and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, this elderly lady on my back is my mother.  She has been asking to come for Ḥajj for as long as I can remember.  She has always wanted to go for Ḥajj, and I could not afford to buy an animal to bring her, so this year I decided to carry her on my back and do Ḥajj with her on my back.  Have I now fulfilled the rights of a son to his mother?”  Ibn ‘Abbās smiled and he said, “You have done good, but you have not even done a fraction of what you should.”  In other words: “Alḥamdulillāh, you are a good son, but don’t come and tell me ‘Have I fulfilled the rights of my mother?’”

The man said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, I have come from the city of so-and-so [me mentioned a far-away city] carrying my mother on my back, and you are telling me I haven’t done even a fraction?”  Ibn ‘Abbās said one thing, and wallāhi this shows their understanding of human psychology and human nature.  The ṣaḥābah are at a different level than us completely.  Ibn Abbās said, “You haven’t done a fraction of what your mother did to you because when your mother took care of you and did everything that she did for you, her goal was to give you life.  She did it out of love and to see you flourish.  She did it genuinely for your own nourishment and flourishing.  Now when you are paying her back, you are doing it as a duty and burden.  You are doing it out of a sense of guilt and duty, and you are waiting for the day that she dies.  You are not wanting to see her flourish and live.  You are simply doing it as a dutiful son.  You don’t have the same genuine, selfless love that your parents had for you when they did what they did.”

Simply one psychological statement:  your parents did for you everything to see you live and flourish.  When you become old and they are now the ones being taken care of, you are not doing it in the same philosophy.  You are doing it as a burden and to pay back.  How can you compare the two?  One is selfless love and the other a sense of gratitude and duty.  How can you possibly compare?

Brothers and sisters, parents are the best blessing that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) has given us after īmān.  Parents are the largest door to Jannah and the easiest way to get to Jannah.  In the famous ḥadīth of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam), and with this ḥadīth we will conclude, as he is climbing the steps of the minbar in front of hundreds of thousands of ṣaḥābah and each time he climbs, he says, “Amīn! Amīn! Amīn!”  Then he turns around and says, “I will explain to you why I said, ‘Amīn.’  Jibrīl came to me and he told me three things.  Every time he told me one thing, he said, ‘Say, “Amīn,”’ so I said, ‘Amīn.’  The last one that he said was, ‘O Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam), any person of your ummah who manages to catch a parent [in other words: whose parents live to old age] and they still are not capable of having their sins forgiven and entering Jannah [in other words, if Allāh blesses you with an elderly parent and you still cannot earn Allāh’s Pleasure] then may that person perish.”

In other words, if you have elderly parents and you are not able to earn Allāh’s Pleasure through them, you will not earn it through any other means.  “Say ‘Amīn,’ ya Rasūlullāh.”  So the Prophet (ṣallallāhu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Amīn.”

Brothers and sisters, simple point.  Bottom line.  If your parents are alive, the only way to be a pleasing servant to Allāh and the only way to be a good Muslim is to have your parents love you.  If your parents are angry with you or if your parents are not happy with you and you are not trying to change that situation, it doesn’t matter what you do in the Eyes of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla).  The parents have ultimate priority in this world.

May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) allow us to be righteous servants.  May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) allow us to be dutiful and loving sons and daughters.  May He give us the patience and the īmān and the tawfīq to take care of our parents the way that they deserve and the way that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taāla) has commanded from us.  May He allow us to live as Muslims, to die as Muslims, and to be resurrected as Muslims.

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.



  1. Avatar


    December 9, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    I’m always reminded of certain situations when I read articles and listen to lectures on rights of parents.

    What are the duties of parents? Especially, regarding adult children and their marriage?

    One thing we all have so common like a well-rooted virus is – cultural and ethnic bias. God forbid if a son wants to marry a girl from another culture – where this culture belongs to the same country mind you, families reside in the same city, and have done so for 25+ years, children have been to similar schools … all! It is not the case of immigrants in US or anything. A Muslim country and original residents of the Muslim country very much. Yet.. a son tries. Personally. Through friends. Through mosque imams. But the parents always remind of their rights to sustain their decision and their decision is, ‘all else may be fine. But community is different we will not agree.’..

    Another case. Post marriage, mothers are impossible mothers in law in certain communities. So much so, the husband and wife don’t have any privacy. The schedule of the man’s mother must be followed. The wife/daughterinlaw is supposed to limit her meetings with her own parents significantly because it is the norm and the mum-in-law desires this. Oh yes, but when the wife gets pregnant then she MUST go to her parents house and stay there till the child is born. And all this happens because it is endorsed by the parents, demanded by them in fact as a cultural requisite. The son… then has to keep doing ihsaan and comply because yes the parents rights are second to God only.

    So when articles come on rights of parents.. I do wonder again.. of the duties of parents.

    • Avatar


      December 10, 2011 at 10:12 AM

      I hope someone sheds some light on the concern highlighted in my comment above.

    • Avatar


      December 10, 2011 at 7:29 PM

      This is an extremely difficult question and I’ve heard a variety of answers from many teachers. InshaAllah I will bring this concern up to our writers and hopefully someone with more cultural experience can tackle the topic.

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    December 9, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    mashaAllah this is fantastic. I love the practicality of the advice.

    I’m glad he mentioned how reminders are good – because I actually just finished writing an article on this topic :) Alhamdulillahi Rabbil alamin.

  3. Avatar


    December 9, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    What if your parent neglected you and withheld love in treating you? Do you still owe them all these duties?

    • Avatar


      December 9, 2011 at 4:07 AM

      Asalaamu Aliakum

      In the name of Allah the most merciful, Did our mothers neglected us when giving birth? did she not keep us in the womb for 9 months? Did she not give us her milk to drink when we would cry with hunger? Go back to the first memory you have of your mother… And you will find that she has you in her arms or lap and singing a lullaby to make you go to sleep, she herself needs rest but will not go to sleep until you have.

      Fathers teach us how to make decisions in life… There way of showing love may not be exactly the way mothers show… fathers teach us to be brave in life, They might not give us a hug but they still love us… I have yet to meet a father or mother who have not prayed for their son or daughters success, health, well begin or had not thought about them, smile at them, loved them once in their lifetime.

      Mothers can never neglect a child… Allah the most forgiving gave that thought and feelings in the mothers to love and care for her babies.

      My Anonymous friend lets hope and wish our parents become the pathway to paradise… the only way to ensure that is to obey and respect them and full fill our duties towards them.

      And Allah the creator knows best

      Jazak ALLAH khairum

    • Avatar


      December 9, 2011 at 1:26 PM

      The state of iḥsān as defined by Al-Rāghib Al-Asbahani and many of the famous commentators of the Arabic language means that you give everything you possibly can to the other party without expecting anything back from them. This is what the state of iḥsān is. You give everything you can – your heart and your soul, your body and your efforts – and what do you want in return? Absolutely nothing.

      hope this helps.

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      December 9, 2011 at 4:35 PM

      Wa alaykum salaam Anonymous,

      I would suggest asking this question (in detail) to an imam who has an understanding for child abuse and neglect. Posting questions here will not only result in an answer you do not want but also one you may not need or deserve. InshaAllah one day imams/scholars may begin to discuss the topic of parents’ obligations and childrens’ rights.

      Peace to you!

    • Avatar

      Umm Muslima

      December 9, 2011 at 8:13 PM

      As Salaamu Alaikum;

      Ibn ‘Abbas said, “If any Muslim obeys Allah regarding his parents, Allah will open two gates of the Garden for him. If there is only one parent, then one gate will be opened. If one of them is angry, then Allah will not be pleased with him until that parent is pleased with him.” He was asked, “Even if they wrong him?” “Even if they wrong him” he replied.”

      There is more on the treatment parents at this link from SunniPath:

      There are times when we can only see the wrong or mistakes that our parents make instead of the good that they have done. We sometimes worry only that we didn’t get the hugs, love, and encouragement while we still were brought up in Islam, had food, clothes, and shelter Alhamdulillah. We sometimes only look at our parents as people who “owe us” whatever type of childhood we wanted and expected when it’s possible that they did the absolute best that they could.

      There is a saying(though I don’t think it was an authentic hadith?) that if we see some bad in our brother that we should make 70 excuses for him. If we cannot find an excuse then the flaw is in our own perception. If we should be so lenient with our brothers, then how should we be with our parents who raised us?

      May Allah SWT have mercy on our parents and help us to treat them with ihsan. Ameen.

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    December 9, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum to all.

    Dear Sh.Yaser Qadhi,

    I am very much humbled by your authoritative speech(quoting Allah,His Rasul,Scholars, and your own inputs-you simplified it for me and others).

    I have my mother with me. I pray and hope Allah accept my efforts. My dad passed away 3 years ago.
    Thanks very much.

    May Allah accept our efforts-ameen salaam
    nazradeen from new york

  5. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    December 9, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I say this because people usually quote the Ulema as back-up for their actions, even if they are very familiar with the particular proofs used by the Ulema.

    Umm Sulaim

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    December 9, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    That was definitely a much needed reminder for all of us. I hardly know what to say. That was just beautiful MashAllah.
    JazakAllah Khair Sameera for the transcript. (:

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    December 9, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    JazakAllah Khair Sheikh!
    and may AllahSwt bless sister Sameera. She has transcribed quite a number of lectures.

    SubhanAllah, I really do consider this as a Mercy from AllahSwt for reminding me about this topic. And there were some things that I was confused about but this lecture got those points cleared!

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    December 10, 2011 at 2:59 AM

    Great article. I love my parents, and particularly my mother, endured so much pain and suffering (from in-laws) as well as raising us. But since marrying, they totally turned against my husband (and have spread lies about him amongst other things), all this started from comments from my sister in-law. I stopped contact with my parents, but my father worsened things, so what can one do in such a situation?

    • Avatar


      December 11, 2011 at 3:04 AM

      Can anyone please suggest how I can deal with my parents in this situation?

      • Avatar

        Hena Zuberi

        December 14, 2011 at 11:47 PM

        One way to handle difficult people who are a part of your life, is to think that maybe this is your Test. Most of us are are not tested by extreme poverty, by lack of necessities, by disease, war or other harsh realities that millions of other humans suffer everyday. So maybe that person is THE means that will bring you closer to God.

        Think about the person, they may not even realize how much sorrow they are causing others and if they do realize it and do it anyways, praise God for not making you like them and seek protection from becoming like them. Pray for them, every time that they hurt you, pray for God to change their hearts.

        This is definitely not easy. How can we find the strength to do this practically: find your happy place- even if the difficult person is a part of your everyday life there must be someplace in your physical surroundings, or in your heart, in your mind that you can go to and leave the negativity behind. If we continue to dwell on it, it will overcome our thoughts and we will take that negative energy out on someone else.

        Obviously you know your situation best, and loyalty to your husband is paramount, however, maybe you could have a frank discussion with all your family members (face to face if possible). Many times we assume things others may have said or felt and the only way to get past the negativity is to talk it out. Most parents are fiercely possessive of their children and even though you are married, you are still their child, and anyone who may try to hurt you or they feel is a threat to you or to any of their other children, is a threat to them. I don’t know if you have children, I understood many things after having children of my own.

        Parents are not perfect. We place them on a pedestal and think they can never fall but when they show us their cracks of humanity, we are so quick to throw them off the pedestal and shatter them (and our relationship with them) into pieces.

        • Avatar


          December 15, 2011 at 10:30 AM

          Thank you for the advice. To be honest this is the way it’s been in my five+ years of marriage, but to list everything is way beyond the scope of this forum, and I understand this is not an advice column. I agree with you that parents are not perfect, but honestly my father has hurt my husband beyond limits. The muslim community in my home town turned against my husband, after I stopped contact. They spread lies and just believed that my husband was the bad guy. This is what prompted us to move 200 miles away from my family! I have children aged 3 1/2 and 2, and I do understand how you would do anything for your children. Definitely this is a huge test, I realise that now more than ever and I love my parents more now that I’m further away. I am torn between my husband and parents, it’s such a difficult balancing act. My father doesn’t want anyone to know that he hurt my husband, whereas my husband wants an honest talk with everyone and this is the dilemma. I pray to Allah to help my family, and I cry to Allah all the time. How do I reconcile the two?

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            December 18, 2011 at 4:51 PM

            Things are so bad that I haven’t seen my family for two years. I have no one to talk to because everyone is on one side. Please, I would really appreciate any feedback.

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            December 19, 2011 at 2:34 AM

            Salam sister, i can understand you predicament, though you would obviously be the only one to knwo how much you are suffering. I would try to meet my family more often if i was you, i visit mine as much as i can though sometimes i hear extremely outrageous stuff from them.
            I am interested in what would your parents’ reply/ attitude if you claim that by hurting your husband they are hurting you ?
            I am assuming your husband treats you well, dont your parents appreciate that ?

  9. Avatar

    Amman Abdul Adl

    December 10, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    I just read the comment that posted earlier today. My apologies for the grammatical mistakes. I was typing it on my smart phone so the auto correct tends to mess everything up…

  10. Avatar


    December 18, 2011 at 6:36 PM

    MashaAllah, beautifully written and inspiring piece. JazakAllahu Khair.
    Ameen to all the du’as.

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    December 18, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    Not sure about the last sentence. If a person dies as a Muslim, would he/she not be resurrected as a Muslim?

    p.s. Why don’t you wear a Islamic cap?

  12. Avatar


    December 19, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    Wasalam, thank you for understanding. Are you going through the same thing? My father does know this is hurting me, but unfortunately his family all have similar mindset, (and hence my mother endured pain and suffering from her in-laws) and so this is how he behaves. I think the problem is, as someone said earlier, that parents feel threatened by those who pose a threat to/hurt their children. My sister in-law and her husband, made comments (about me and my mother) which they shouldn’t have and this is where the problems began (this is why I sympathize with my parents). Because we were living together in the family home, my father was directing his feelings of mistrust and suspicion about them, at my husband. My husband does treat me well, although we have had our moments and misunderstandings, but he is a reasonable and honest man, alhamdullilah. You’re right about visiting my parents, and I know that it’s sinful to break family ties but I really felt I had no option and was compelled to do so. In hindsight I regret it because it has caused so much frustration and pain, although it has been best for my husband, but I don’t know how to reconcile with my parents.

    • Avatar

      Umm Sulaim

      December 19, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      One word: technology. These days, we do not have to live with our parents to maintain links.

      There has never been a time in Islam when Muslims had to live close to their parents to fulfill the rights of parents. Muslims travelled for years in search of knowledge, unless someone says they travelled along with their parents. Yet, no one will deny they are candidates for Jannah.

      Please keep in touch with your parents while keeping your husband happy. When you do wish to visit them, bring it up gently.

      Umm Sulaim

    • Avatar


      November 24, 2016 at 6:44 AM

      The answer you seek is in the lecture. It just isn’t an easy answer. I am a parent, I am a child and a grandparent. As well as care for my very ill father in law in my home in which I contribute financially for 9 years, as our mother Khadijah may Allah be pleased with her. I am far from perfect. My good deeds basket is know where as full as I would like it to be because I am human. So please accept this from a humble sister, from my experience, I have had more pain from my child that doesn’t follow Quran or Sunnah when it comes to me. She isnt an evil or a bad person, but she doesnt understand if one doesnt submit in the most maditory in the Quran her Foundation in life is altered. My wounds will heel instantly and she would benefit more in this life and in the hereafter. Make dua to reach out to them ask their forgiveness even if you think you were right. You dont have to take blame for anyone elses wrong doing, but saying you are sorry for their pain might go a long way in their hearts. Pray for direction and keep reading your deen to find the words you feel will be effective. You were the center of their world when you didn’t know you needed food, or to be rocked to sleep, or all the diapers they changed. Countless nights of worry and they never left you or you wouldnt be here worrying about them. I worry more that my daughter is a wife and mother more than I did when she was under my roof. The worrying never ends for parents. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is the right thing to do. Look at the life of the Prophet may peace and blessings be upon him. He did the hardest things and he did it because it was right, not because it was easy. Much of his life was very very hard. May Allah give you the courage to pray to do the right thing and the strength to carry it out, ameen.

      • Avatar


        November 24, 2016 at 7:35 AM

        Assalamu alaukum
        My Dear Brothers and Sisters I have made a grave mistake. I am not well versed in the world wide web. I have a face book page, but only because my daughters set it up. I dont use it. I was sitting in my hospital bed at 4am, sick, weak, overly emotional and should have been making dua instead of trying to help others because in my intentions to help a sister I unknowingly made one of my daughters appear bad. Since not following the Quran and Sunnah statement I made was so subjective it leads the reader to judge and I have back bit my own daughter on the world wide web in ignorance. So let me try to fix this on the best way I can. I am not a perfect mom. Far from it and my daughter has been a very loving a kind daughter. She is my eldest and has always done her best to please me, but sometimes her life choices make me nervous so I give her my advice and sometimes she takes it and sometimes she leaves it. So, the best thing I can do is say, My loving, kind, generous daughter please forgive me. I was only trying to help another mother and another daughter so when the grandchildren come the family can have some peace and good times. I am proud of you and I love you and consider myself blessed to have you as my daughter. I am not the best daughter. My parents gave me their advice. Sometimes I took it and sometimes I didn’t, but the older I get the more often I take their advice because it almost always benefits me. Who wants better for us in this world, but our parents. May Allah guide us all to do the most righteous things and may He forgive us our sins, ameen.

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  14. Pingback: The Etiquette of Dealing with Parents and the Elderly « Words of love.. words for love…

  15. Avatar

    rema needdeiyhum

    December 25, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    This was one of the most moving articles I have ever read. The level of understanding and depth of intellect that you have is awe-inspiring ya shiek. This article was short and hit the point directly and quite powerfully. InshAllah I enter paradise through the largest and middle door. Ameen.

  16. Pingback: Arranged Marriage is not Forced Marriage - Islamic Blog - Articles On Muslims, Islam In uk

  17. Avatar


    December 31, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Parents are the most beautiful & valuable gifts for us from Allah swt, even if they are wrong ………… their love is always unparallel, their duas are great for us ……….. we understand them better only after loosing them for ever ………………. May Allah swt kindly forgive us all ……….
    May Allah swt bless my mom to recover from her illness, with a good health, long life & Iman. And May Allah bless my dad & all the Muslim citizen of hereafter with comfort & peace of Paradise of highest rank, ameen

  18. Avatar

    Sara R

    March 15, 2015 at 4:38 AM

    Hi, I’m not a Muslim, but I have a question about this topic. When Muslims care for their parents as commanded in the Qur’an, how does this play out differently in a western culture compared with a culture in an Islamic country?
    I am writing an essay on Islamic family values, and your help would be appreciated.
    Thank you, Sara

  19. Avatar


    July 13, 2016 at 5:17 AM

    Asslamoalaikum WRWB

    What if the parents are old and son is busy to earn livelyhood for the family , work for 10 hrs daily then who would take care of them when daughter in law has no such obligation in islam .

  20. Avatar


    December 3, 2016 at 6:53 PM

    Excellent lecture – although I would like to hear more about the practical strategies in dealing with difficult parents which rarely lectures on this topic address. I recognize it’s a very tough test and that we have to be patient and not say anything, etc. but it’s really much easier said than done in real life situations. I think one reason is that as we age (and I suppose it will happen to me as well), we start losing our logical and reasoning abilities. There is medical research that proves this. There are even reports out there that show how many senior citizens are scammed as compared to younger folks. Several senior citizen scams exist only because such scammers know senior citizens are an easy target. But they don’t admit it and yet it’s our responsibility to protect them.

    Should we then simply bow down to their wishes even when we know this will result in a financial/ family relationship loss to them/us or will result in an objective failing, regardless of whether they realize it or not? Should we follow their wishes even when we believe it’s not an appropriate wish keeping in mind the interests of other family members? As children, we get frustrated because we are still attempting to apply logic. Does the answer then lie in attacking an illogical theory with another illogical theory? Probably not. I have not concluded on this yet (as I am no expert) but after years of living with my parents I have realized that one has to do the right thing even if it upsets them. No lecture out there explains these practicalities. Eventually Allah (swt) will judge us and know that what we did was in their best interests, or in the general best interests of the family. May Allah (swt) forgive us if we make a small mistake in achieving such overall best interests.

    That’s my take on this unless someone has a better strategy which I would love to hear.

  21. Avatar

    Mohammed ismailjee

    December 8, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    I want to improve my ikhlaas. I will appreciate very much if you would kindly help me improve my manners and ikhlaas

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Podcast: Prayer is a Work in Progress | Shaykh Abdullah Ayaaz Mullanee

Zeba Khan


Many of us have been Muslim for our entire lives, and despite praying regularly for years, can still never feel like we’re never doing it right. Why is it so hard to focus in salah? And what should someone do if they feel like they are AWFUL at it?

Join Zeba Khan as she asks Shaykh Abdullah Ayaz Mullanee, who not only struggles with his prayers too, but is also the dean of Mishkah Institute, and author of the books “A Ramadan With the Prophet ” and “The Poetic Words of Sayyiduna Ali رضي الله عنه.” To take a free short course on the meaning of Salah, visit this link.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.




Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

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Continue Reading


An Ashura Message: Proclaim Good And Refrain From Evil, Always And At All Costs!

Shakeel Syed


Light coming through the stone lattice window

“If you do not march forth, Allah will chastise you grievously and will replace you by another people, while you will in no way be able to harm Him. Allah has power over everything”. (The Holy Quran – 9:39)

No people can live successfully, fruitfully and triumphantly without a strong memory of their past. Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, is one such milestone.

Muslims attempt to recall the tragic event that took place around the 60th year after Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) migrated from Makkah to Madinah. This time it was his family led by his noble grandson Imam Hussayn ibn Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Reciting Divine words, reflecting Prophetic advises and studying history enables us to crystallize our insights. However, when we attempt to draw the imagery of Karbala, no heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with sadness while replaying the Day of Ashura. Words cannot do justice to the sacrifices made that day.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

They kept their heads high, faces flowing with blood and tears, looking one upon another. Others stood in dolorous pain, looking up to the highest heavens, fixing their eyes upon it, crying out, asking help from the Only Helper; while others made lamentations in the manner of dirge.

Today we try to recall their pain, suffering and sacrifices, as they happened, to inspire ourselves and to understand the concept of sacrifice for a noble cause.

Regrettably, sacrifice as it is generally understood today, is to give up something that should not have been touched in the first place. Selfless and unasked giving is a rarity and unheard of. Giving one’s entire self and offspring for His pleasure is unimaginable. Muslims must spiritually survive from the unparallel yesterdays of the Prophet’s progeny.

We have been largely overwhelmed by a culture that has emptied our memories, made us apologetic for who we are, and stripped us along the way of the sheerest hope of self-definition. We alone are presumed past less and are left to repair our self-esteem. Imperative it is for us today, to define ourselves by our ongoing tribulations and those who mete them out to us. Otherwise, we cannot be collectively successful if we have no idea or, worse that we have the wrong idea of who we were and who we are.

The intent of this writing is to stimulate, not to sate — to pose the question and to invite reflection — to cause ourselves to act for an almost forgotten legacy of the sacrifices made by our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)and his progeny.

O Allah! Bestow upon us the courage to enjoin, proclaim and enforce the good and the patience and perseverance to forbid and stop the evil for and by all.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

Sharada Nizami, Guest Contributor


Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

The Centering Exercise 

Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

  • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
  • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
  • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
  • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
  • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

Say “Ameen!”

Divine Reminders

Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

Say “Ameen!” 

Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

Practical Strategies

When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

  • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
  • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
  • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
  • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
  • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
  • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
  • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

  • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
  • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
  • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
  • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
  • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

Divine Reminders

Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

Closing Du’a

Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

Say “Ameen!” 

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