Question: What constitutes disobeying one’s parents (‘uquq al-walidayn)? Does one have to literally do everything they tell one to do?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that if we do not thank others for what they have done for us, we have not thanked Allah. (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and others) The greatest blessing in our life is our life itself, so those who gave it to our life—our parents—deserve the most thanks and appreciation.
For this reason, we have been told to show respect and kindness (Ihsan) to them, and we have also been forbidden to be rude and heartless towards them (‘uquq al-walidayn). That said, we haven’t literally been commanded to obey them.
We will try to summarise the concept of disobeying one’s parents as follows:
Rudeness is culturally, relationally, and contextually relative, but there are things that we could all label as outright rude. Not doing what someone asks one to do can often be clearly rude. If one’s parent asks one to do something, we cannot say that it is unconditionally obligatory to do it. It is obligatory to do it if it would clearly be offensive not to do, and one did not have some valid excuse. (al-Fatawa al-Kubra, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)For example, Zayd’s father asks him to pass him his phone, and Zayd does not. Is Zayd sinful? We look at the context, the difficulty involved, the relationship between the two, etc. If we get the sense that he was clearly rude, then it would be sinful. But if Zayd doesn’t have that relationship with his father, and his father really doesn’t mind, it is not sinful. (The son would nonetheless be missing out on being kind.)
Disobedience that does not clearly offend is not sinful. That said, within reason, and not to the detriment of anyone else, one should try one’s best to please them.
It is also important to note that parents are expected to be logistically and emotionally reasonable. The mere fact that one’s parent is offended by something one did does not mean that one has sinned. If they are just unreasonable, querulous, oversensitive in nature, one should try one’s best not to hurt their feelings, but one will not be damned for their unreasonable and almost childlike expectations. (al-Fatawa al-Kubra, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)
A classic example of this is that a man is not expected to divorce his wife just because his parents tell him to do so. (Al-Zawajir, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)
Imam Ahmad was asked about this by a man whose father was telling him to divorce his wife. The man cited the story of Umar telling his son to divorce his son and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) telling him to obey him. (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, and others) ‘No,’ said Imam Ahmad, ‘not unless your father is like Umar (Allah be well pleased with him).’ (al-Adab al-Shar’iyyah, Ibn Muflih)
Risking one’s life
Disobeying one’s parents is something that is a risk to one’s life or limb is sinful. (al-Fatawa, Bulqini)
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked by someone for permission to go on jihad. He asked the questioner whether his parents were still alive, and he replied in the affirmative. ‘In support of them,’ said Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘let you “striving” (jihad] be.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
So, if one wanted to do something dangerous, such as becoming a Formula 1 driver, and one’s parents forbade one, one would have to obey them.
Traveling away from one’s parents when it would hurt them and when it is neither an obligation nor for work nor beneficial knowledge is sinful. (al-Fatawa, Bulqini)
To give an example, if one lived next door to one’s parents and wanted to live in another country for no particular reason, and one’s parents forbade one to do so, one would have to comply with their demands. This would also apply to going on a merely recommended Hajj or ‘Umra.
However, if one was traveling to learn about Islam, get a degree, or traveling for work, one could still go even if they explicitly forbade one. (al-Fatawa, Bulqini)
Being rude to one’s parents is sinful, and any contraventions of their wishes that would clearly be rude are sinful. Abandoning them for no reason and risking life and limb against their wishes is also sinful.
Whenever one has a genuine reason to do what one is doing, one is not sinful for disobeying them. So too, if they wouldn’t be offended, then it is not sinful.
Ibn Hajar closed his discussion on this, saying, ‘With all the foregoing in mind, a son should still be cautious of disobeying his parents, and should not be fooled by the outward purport of what we have just mentioned. Rather he should double-check a thousand times [that he is indeed allowed to disobey them] and seek the advice of those who are both religious and truly wise.’ (al-Fatawa al-Kubra, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)
I pray this helps
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years, he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.