Parental Obedience: Religion vs Culture

Obedience to parents and goodwill towards them is not absolute without any rules; and the rule is not limited to disobedience to sin, as many think.

Obedience to parents and goodwill towards them is not absolute without any rules; and the rule is not limited to disobedience to sin, as many think.

All Muslims believe that God’s law never creates anarchy. If it creates anarchy, then it must be assumed that there is a problem with understanding that law and morality, or the enforcement of that law is disorganized. The provisions of Sharia that we will discuss here are the rules of obedience to parents and keeping good relations with them — the misuse and misunderstanding of this very important provision in some cases. 

Obedience to parents is a branch of faith, one of Shariah’s highest and most important provisions. This great duty and provision are mentioned in numerous places in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Muslims are obliged to respect and fulfill this moral duty. This is one such provision associated with the basic essential moral view of Sharia; God has also threatened severe punishment for neglect and disobedience to this duty. 

Even if the parents are disbelievers, they deserve respect and love — it is obligatory for the child to fulfill their rights and obey them in lawful matters. Like Allah says: 

“If they (parents) compel you to commit shirk, of which they have no knowledge, then disobey them in that matter. But treat them well in the world.” 

God has commanded obedience to parents and to keep good relations with them to maintain their rights and honor, and for worldly welfare and social benefits. But if we see that obedience to parents destroys the rights of others, damages lives, and creates anarchy in society, then we must understand that we have not properly understood this provision — and didn’t apply it correctly. 

Obedience to parents and goodwill towards them is not absolute without any rules; and the rule is not limited to disobedience to sin, as many think. Obedience does not mean that the child must accept everything, even if he/she faces real harm or suffering. Even if the parents order something capriciously or arbitrarily or order something to be done, which cannot be done by a sane person nor the commandment of anything contrary to piety-honesty – these cannot be obeyed. All these vices are completely contrary to the purpose of obedience commanded by Islam. 

Shariah requires the obedience of parents and also says that if the parents are believers, then they should respect the law of Allah. As a result, they will not command for any sin. In the same way, in the matter of commandment, they should take proper care of the disadvantage and benefit of the child and not be dictatorial – the dictation of rights is the use of legitimate rights in unfair situations (for example, ordering the child to commit sins, or ordering something contrary to the conditions of benefit and maslahat).

In our society, in many cases, the rights of others are destroyed while protecting the orders of parents. Many times we see that many people treat their wives unjustly by the orders of their parents. Yet, the Prophet, may God’s peace be upon him, said, “There is no obedience in misconduct, obedience is only in good deeds.” 

The same rule applies if the parent is non-Muslim. Parents should show respect for their child’s beliefs and moral philosophy. Thus, the child should also respect the identity of his parents and behave well with them. If the parent encourages or commands for sin, if they are morally dishonest and their dishonesty affects the life of the child, or if they become dictatorial, in that case, Sharia does not say absolute blind obedience to them. 

Because the concept of obedience is here conditioned on good deeds and being just, being just here does not mean being free from direct and obvious sin only. Rather, it also stretches from all harms, injustices, and arbitrariness, the details and elements of which do not constitute separate acts of sin. 

As Imam Shatabi said in his book Al Muwafaqat, some acts are permitted individually and partially, but as a whole and collectively it becomes an act of sin. In the same way, any commandment of parents may be individually valid on its own, but if collectively it is associated with sin, then collectively it will also become a sin or misdeed command. For example, if the parent refuses a child from doing a permissible act without any acceptable reason, and if there is a strong possibility of him getting involved in poverty, fornication, fear of life, and destruction of the rights of others for not doing that act which is contrary to the purpose and objective of Shariah, then those commands will not remain as mere natural, valid and necessary commands. 

Disobedience is the opposite of obedience. Classical jursits has discussed the definition and nature of disobedience. Here I will briefly outline their consensus points on this matter. One thing is clear, traditionally no one understood disobedience straightforwardly and unconditionally that many of us do. 

The early jurist of Islam did consider disobedience to cause any kind of harm to parents. It will undoubtedly be considered haram disobedience. There is consensus among scholars in this regard. This means anything from saying ‘Ufff’ to any physical injury etc. All these things are haram and a major sin. Under no circumstances should parents be treated this way, unless there is an urgent need to defend themselves from murder or sexual abuse.

It is also necessary to obey all the orders of the parents, in which there is real well-being for them and the child – like obeying them if they command for prayer, taking them to the doctor when needed,  or if they want to perform Hajj, and to help them financially throughout their life as much as possible. It is also necessary to obey orders where there is personal tolerable harm to the child, but if obeying the order would be of greater overall benefit to them, then it is still necessary to obey the parents in these matters. 

Things that do not include disobedience include: 

  1. If the parent’s order is completely foolish and harmful. Ibn Hajar Haitami said, if any order of the parents shows pure stupidity and harm, then that order cannot be given any importance. For example, ordering the child to divorce his wife. Ibn Taymiyyah was asked about a person whose mother orders him to divorce his wife. He said giving divorce is not permissible for him. He should get along well with his mother, but giving a divorce to his wife is not part of that.
  2. It is not necessary to obey parents’ orders if they deny things that have obvious welfare and if they forbid them without any good reason. For example, it is not necessary to agree with their order regarding things like living separately from the wife, keeping out of beneficial employment, refusing to acquire essential education, etc. Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Parents do not have the right to force their son or daughter to marry someone of their choice. As a result, if the child does not agree to the marriage, then he/she will not be called disobedient. For just as they cannot force a grown-up child to eat the food he dislikes when he is capable of eating good food, then marriage is a more important matter. Because the discomfort of disliked food is temporary, but the pain of a mutually disliked couple is eternal”. The purpose of Islam is to conduct marriage on the basis of mutual understanding and the choice of the child with his parents. But it is not permitted for parents to arbitrarily force their child into marriage against his/her consent.
  3. A child will not heed the orders of a parent who is hostile to his life, wealth, and honor. Rather, he will avoid them and stand against their hostility as much as possible.
  4. Parents’ misbehavior with children can be of different levels. The responsibility of a scholar is to guide people according to the different levels on how to maintain respect and good manners in spite of their misbehavior.

It is not permissible to mistreat even those which do not fall under disobedience. Rather try to please their heart with something else. If they are still dissatisfied after doing something right, then the child has no responsibility here, but he should try his best to bring back that satisfaction through something else. 

There is no doubt that misbehavior with parents has become a negative norm in our society. In the same way, many people are destroying the rights of others by obeying their unjust orders. This discussion has become very relevant due to various levels of moral degradation and corruption in our society, which is also touching many of our parents. At the end of the day, the main purpose of Sharia will be fulfilled if the concept of obedience and good behavior with parents is properly understood and applied – all of which are deeply connected with justice, fairness, and balance.


Majmuul fatawa by Ibn Taimiyah

Al muwafaqat by Imam Shatebi

Al fatawal al fiqhiatul kubra by Haythami

Al furuq by Imam Al Qarafi

Adabush shairah by Ibn Muflih

Advertise on TMV