I knew that I would never see him conscious again. So before the doctors placed my father on the life support machine, I deliberately lagged behind as my family left the room. As soon as my mother, brother, sister and husband stepped out the door, I turned and darted back to my father.

You see, I had something important to tell him. I had to tell him that I loved him.

I stroked his hand and whispered the words in his ear. I kissed him and then I had to leave him.

I’ve often agonized over that final moment. Did my father hear me? Did he know that I meant it with all of my heart?

The Lord’s Pleasure is Connected to the Parents’ Pleasure
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala speaks about the importance of honouring one’s parents in the Qur`an, placing it second only to the worship of and pleasing Him.

“Worship Allah and join not any partners with him; and do good to parents…” [An-Nisa 4:36]

“Your Rabb has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to your parents…” [Al-Isra’ 17:23]

“And we have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command) ‘Show gratitude to Me and to your parents – to Me is (your final) Goal.'” [Luqman 31: 14]

The Example of the Prophets & Salaf
How do we love, respect and revere our parents? We should take the cue from the Prophets `alayhimus salaam and the righteous Salaf (pious predecessors) who fully understood our parents’ exalted position and strove hard to fulfil their rights.

Allah praised Yahya `alayhis salaam for he was kind to his parents in their old age – “And (Prophet Yahya was) dutiful towards his parents and he was neither arrogant nor disobedient (to Allah or to his parents).” [Maryam 19: 14]

He also singled out `Isa `alayhis salaam who was devoted to his mother – “…And dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, unblest.” [Maryam 19:32]

Asir ibn Jaabir radhiallahu `anhu narrated: Whenever people would come from Yemen, `Umar radhiallahu `anhu would ask them, “Is Uways Al-Qaranee amongst you?” until, one year, he met Uways. He said, “Are you Uways Al-Qaranee?” He said, “Yes.” `Umar continued, “From Muraad, then Qaran?” He said, “Yes.” `Umar then asked, “Were you once afflicted with leprosy and your skin healed except for a dirham’s area?” Uways said, “Yes.” `Umar finally asked, “Do you have a mother (that is alive)?” He said, “Yes.” `Umar then said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah – sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam – say, ‘Uways ibn Aamir will come to you with the delegations from Yemen, from Muraad, then from Qaran. He was once afflicted with leprosy and his skin healed except for a dirham’s area. He has a mother, and he treats her kindly. If he was to ever swear by Allah (for something) Allah would fulfill his oath. If you can, request that he ask forgiveness for you.'” `Umar then requested from Uways, “Ask forgiveness for me.” And Uways Al-Qaranee did.

Look at how Allah honoured Uways – he fulfilled his every du`aa because he was dutiful to his mother.

Beware of `Uquq!
Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “Birr towards parents entails obeying their orders, except when what they order is in disobedience of Allah. In contrast, `Uquq entails neglecting parents and withholding one’s kindness from them.” [Ad-Durr al-Manthur]

In fact, disobeying our parents is a grievous sin – Abu Bakrah Nufay’ ibn al-Harith said, “The Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam asked us three times, ‘Shall I tell you the greatest sins?’ We said, ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah!’ He said, “Associating partners with Allah and disobeying one’s parents.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam reminded us not to incur our parents’ displeasure when he said, “The Lord’s Pleasure is connected to the parents’ pleasure and the Lord’s Anger is connected to the parents’ anger.” [Kitabul-Kabair]

Look at this narration of Abdullah ibn Abu Aufa about the man who had wounded his mother’s feelings:

A man said, “O Allah’s Messenger! There s a young man who is dying and is commanded to recite La ilaaha illallah, but he is unable to recite it.” The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam went to the young man and ordered him, “Say La ilaaha illallah!” He replied, “I cannot.” The Prophet asked him why and he said, “Every time I want to recite it, my heart is prevented from doing so.” The Prophet asked him why and he said, “Because of my `uquq (undutiful treatment) towards my mother.”

The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam sent for her and asked her, “What if I commanded that a great fire is started and you were asked to invoke Allah to forgive your son, or else he would be thrown in it?” She said, “In that case, I will invoke Allah for him, O Allah’s Messenger!” The Prophet then said, “Then bear witness to Allah and then to me that you have forgiven him.” She said, “I bear witness to You (O Allah) and then to Your Messenger that I have forgiven my son.”

The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said to the young man, “Say La ilaaha illallah!” The man said, ” La ilaaha illallahu wahdahu la sharika lahu! (There is no deity worthy of worship but Allah Alone without partners)” The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said thrice, “All praise is due to Allah for saving you from the Fire.” [At-Tabarani]

The fact of the matter is that no matter what and how much we do, we can never fully repay our parents for all that they have done for us. Ibn `Umar saw a Yemeni making tawaf of the Ka`bah, carrying his mother. The man said, “I have carried her more than she carried me. Do you think that I have paid her back, O Ibn `Umar?” He replied, “No, not even one contraction. However, you have done good and Allah will reward you tremendously for the little that you could do.” [Al-Kaba’ir]

Birr Towards Our Parents
There are many ways in which we can be dutiful to our parents. This list is by no means exhaustive:

1. Go to every extent to please them
We should make our parents’ happiness and comfort a topmost priority. Dhibyaan ibn `Ali ath-Thawri radhiallahu `anhu used to travel with his mother to Makkah. When they rested, he would dig a little pool, fill it with cool water and invite his mother to sit in it so she could be protected from the searing heat.

Mu`awiyah ibn Qurrah used to praise his son saying, “What an excellent son, he took care of my life affairs for me and that allowed me to concentrate on matters of the Hereafter.” [Hilyatul-Auliya’]

2. Protect their feelings
We should never cause our parents grief or hurt them even by a fraction. Allah said, “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them, ‘Uff’ nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young’ …” [Al-Isra’ 17: 17:23-24]

Ibn `Umar also said, “Bringing tears to parents is a part of `Uquq and a major sin.” [Bukhari]

3. Address them respectfully
When asked how one can address one’s parents in “terms of honour”, Sa`id ibn Musayyab radhiallahu `anhu said, “It means that you address them as a servant addresses a master.”

Indeed, the Salaf were so respectful that they were almost submissive and obsequious to their parents, no matter how high a status they themselves had attained. Abu Bakr ibn Ayyash said, “I used to sit with Mansur (a scholar) in his house and would hear his mother, who was loud and rude, shout at him, “O Mansur! Ibn Hubairah (governor of Iraq at that time) appointed you to the post of judge but you refuse.’ Mansur would not even look her in the eye out of respect.” [Al-Birr was-Silah by Ibn al-Jawzee]

Ibn Sirin used to speak to his mother in such a soft voice that it seemed as though he were ill.

4. Visit them regularly
Remember that severing ties of kinship is a major sin. For those of us who do not live with our parents, we would do well to look in on them regularly. Abu Hurairah radhiallahu `anhu had a beautiful relationship with his mother. He lived in the house next to hers and would make it a point to stand at her door whenever he went out and say, “Peace be unto to you, my mother, and Allah’s mercy and blessings.” She would reply, “Peace be unto you and Allah’s mercy and blessings.” He would then say, “May Allah grant you His Mercy for raising me when I was young,” and she would reply, “May Allah grant you His Mercy for being dutiful to me when you grew up.” Abu Hurairah would often repeat this statement when he went in or out. [Bukhari]

5. Make du`aa for them
Abu Dardaa radhiallahu `anhu has reported that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “The du`aa of a Muslim for another Muslim (in his absence) is responded to, as long as he makes du`aa for goodness and blessings. And the angel says, “Aameen! And may the same be for you too!” [Muslim]

6. Continue doing good for them even after they die
The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “When a person dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: sadaqah jaariyah (ongoing charity, e.g. a waqf or endowment), beneficial knowledge (which he has left behind), or a righteous child who will pray for him.” [Tirmidhi]

We should not cease to seek forgiveness for our deceased parents for the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “A man’s status will be raised in Paradise and he will ask, ‘How did I get here?’ He will be told, ‘By your son’s du’aa’s (prayers) for forgiveness for you.'” [Ibn Maajah]

We can also perform acts of charity on their behalf. Ibn `Abbaas radhiallahu `anhuma reported that the mother of Sa’d ibn `Ubaadah radhiallahu `anhuma died when he was away from her. He said: “O Messenger of Allah, my mother has died and I am away from her. Will it benefit her anything if I give in charity on her behalf?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then I ask you to be my witness that I am giving my garden al-Mikhraaf (so called because it bore so many dates) in charity on her behalf.” [Al-Bukhari]

I’ve grown to understand that the best kind of love is the love for the sake of Allah. No one really belongs to us. They are ‘on loan’ to us from Allah and we are grateful for the time they are present and we are patient when they are taken back.

Now, I try not to think about whether my father heard me that day. Maybe he did and maybe he did not… but that is not important anymore. I have too much to do… supplications to make, charity to give and projects to run… may Allah make all this possible, ameen.

I have to work hard because I hope that in so doing, on the Day of Judgement, my father will know for sure that I love him…