Quran Difficulty

Should Muslims Show Kindness to Parents?

The Quran exhorts believers, in fact mankind in general, to be kind to parents:

Say: ‘Come, I will tell you what your Lord has made binding on you: that you shall serve no other gods besides Him; that you shall show kindness to your parents; that you shall not kill your children because you cannot support them (We provide for you and for them); that you shall not commit foul sins, whether openly or in secret; and that you shall not kill – for that is forbidden by God – except for a just cause. Thus God exhorts you, that you may grow in wisdom.’ S. 6:151; cf. 4:36

Your Lord has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age in your dwelling, show them no sign of impatience, nor rebuke them; but speak to them kind words. Treat them with humility and tenderness and say: ‘Lord, be merciful to them. They nursed me when I was an infant.’ S. 17:23-24

The fact that the command to be kind to one’s parents is repeatedly listed right after the central command of Islam, to worship none but Allah, gives special emphasis to it and can only mean that this command is to be taken very seriously. Furthermore, the Quran repeats this command in various ways in several other passages:

(We enjoined man to show kindness to his parents, for with much pain his mother bears him, and he is not weaned before he is two years of age. We said: ‘Give thanks to Me and to your parents. To me shall all things return. But if they press you to serve besides Me deities you know nothing of, do not obey them. Be kind to them in this world, and follow the path of those who turn to Me. To Me you shall return, and I will declare to you all that you have done.’) S. 31:14-15; cf. 29:8

We have enjoined man to show kindness to his parents. With much pain his mother bears him, and with much pain she brings him into the world. He is born and weaned in thirty months. When he grows to manhood and attains his fortieth year, let him say: ‘Inspire me, Lord, to give thanks for the favours You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and to do good works that will please You. Grant me good descendants. To You I turn and to You I surrender myself.’
Such are those for whom We will accept their noblest works and whose misdeeds We shall overlook. We shall admit them among the heirs of Paradise: true is the promise that has been given them.
But he that rebukes his parents and says to them: ‘For shame! Do you threaten me with a resurrection, whom generations have passed away before me?" – he that, when they pray for God’s help and say: ‘Woe to you! Have faith. The promise of God is true,’ replies: ‘This is but a fable of the ancients’ – S. 46:15-17

The interesting thing about this is that some of the above passages expressly mention the fact that some parents will be disbelievers who will even try to dissuade their children from following Islam. Yet Muslims must, nonetheless, still be kind to their parents.

Yet, the foregoing instructions directly conflict with the following verses which prohibit Muslims from loving and befriending unbelievers, even if they happen to be their own parents:

Let believers not make friends with infidels in preference to the faithful – he that does this has nothing to hope for from God – except in self-defence. God admonishes you to fear Him: for to Him you shall all return. S. 3:28

Believers, do not befriend your fathers or your brothers if they choose unbelief in preference to faith. Wrongdoers are those that befriend them.
Say: ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribes, the property you have acquired, the merchandise you fear may not be sold, and the homes you love, are dearer to you than God, His apostle and the struggle for His cause, then wait until God shall fulfill His decree. God does not guide the evil-doers.’ S. 9:23-24

It will not help to claim that the term befriend (auliya) in Q. 3:28 and 9:23 actually means protectors, i.e. that Muslims are not to seek the protection of unbelievers even if they be their parents, since this word is used in specific contexts to denote friendship:

Behold! verily on the friends of God (auliya Allahi) there is no fear, nor shall they grieve; S. 10:62 Y. Ali

Unless Muslims want to argue that even Allah has people who protect him, this passage should make it clear that auliya refers to taking someone as a friend.

And as if this weren’t enough to show that the obvious meaning of Q. 9:23 is that Muslims are not to take their unbelieving parents as friends, Q. 58:22 takes it a step further by saying that true believers do not love their own parents who reject Muhammad:

Thou wilt not find any people who believe in God and the Last Day, loving those who resist God and His Apostle, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. And He will admit them to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow, to dwell therein (for ever). God will be well pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the Party of God. Truly it is the Party of God that will achieve Felicity. Y. Ali

With these points in mind, it is very hard to see how Muslims are able to show kindness to their parents when they cannot even befriend or love them! After all, what type of kindness is this, which actually prohibits Muslims from even loving, let alone befriending, their parents?

Note, as well, that Q. 58:22 says that "For such He has written Faith in their hearts" which implies that the Muslims not loving even their parents is "the mark of a true believer," being a sign that Allah has put faith in their hearts! Basically, this means that faith in Islam results in a believer receiving strength and determination to hate anyone who opposes Muhammad, even if they happen to be the closest of relatives! It forbids them to love them, to honor them, to treat them in friendship. And the Islamic source materials show how far this can go in extreme instances:

They (the narrators) said: The Apostle of Allah sent a force under al-Dahhak Ibn Sufyan Ibn ‘Awf Ibn Abu Bakr al-Kilabi, against al-Qurara. Al-Asyad Ibn Salamah Ibn Qart was with him. They encountered them at al-Zujj, the Zujj of Lawah and invited them to embrace Islam. They refused, so they attacked them and forced them to flee. Then al-Asyad met his father Salamah who was on his own horse, in a pond of al-Zujj. He invited his father to embrace Islam promising him amnesty. He (father) abused him and his creed. Consequently al-Asyad hamstrung the horse of his father. When the horse fell on his hoofs Salamah reclined on his spear in water. He (al-Asyad) held him till one of them (Muslims) came there and killed him. His son did not kill him. (Ibn Sa’ad’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi - 110 002 India], Volume II, p. 201)

Thus, Muhammad’s religion destroys the relationship between Muslim convert children and their still non-Muslim parents.

In this case, the son puts before his own father the choice of embracing Islam now or death. He prevents his father from fleeing. The son is the direct cause that his father is killed by his fellow Muslims.

For contrast: Abu Talib, the uncle of Muhammad, protected him against the opponents of Islam in Mecca. Abu Talib remained a pagan until his death. He did not believe in Muhammad’s message, but he gave Muhammad the freedom to believe differently and even to preach his message to the people. Muhammad and his followers did not return this favor when they became powerful, but instead forced the alternative of Islam or death even upon their closest relatives.

Clearly, Abu Talib in his "unbelief" was nobler and more civilized than Muhammad and his followers.

Muslim sources report another instance where a Muslim son is willing to kill his non-Muslim father:

According to Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Muhammad b. Ishaq- 'Asim b. 'Umar b. Qatadah: 'Abdallah b. 'Abdallah b. Ubayy b. Salul came to the Messenger of God and said: "Messenger of God, I have been told that you want to kill 'Abdallah b. Ubayy because of what has been reported to you concerning him. If you are going to do it, command me to do it and I will bring you his head. By God, al-Khazraj know that there has never been among them a man more dutiful to his father than I. I am afraid that you may order someone else to do it and that he may kill him; and then my soul will not allow me to look on the slayer of 'Abdallah b. Ubayy walking among the people: I would kill him, killing a believer to avenge an unbeliever, and thereby enter the Fire [of Hell]." The Messenger of God said, "No, we will be gentle with him and associate with him on friendly terms as long as he stays with us." Thus, after that day whenever he did anything objectionable, it was his own tribesmen who reproved him, corrected him, censured him, and threatened him. When word of how they were behaving reached the Messenger of God, he said to 'Umar b. al-Khattab: "What do you think, Umar? By God, had I killed him the day you ordered me to kill him, prominent men would have been upset, who, if I ordered them today to kill him, would do so." 'Umar said, "Now by God I know that what the Messenger of God ordered had more of a blessing in it that what I would have ordered." (The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1997], Volume VIII (8), p. 55)

Being a devout Muslim, the son does not question Muhammad’s right to command that his father be killed.[1] He even seems to consider it meritorious to follow that order. He does not fear that killing his own father would send him to hell, but only that avenging the murder by killing the murderer would do so.

Both cases illustrate Q. 9:23 and 58:22. Just as they were commanded, their Muslim faith and devotion to Muhammad has suppressed in them the natural love and loyalty towards their parents.

To summarize the contradictory statements in the Quran regarding the treatment of disbelieving parents:

But this is not the end of problems for the Quran. Sura 58:22 leads to another contradiction, see the article Can one be a believer in God and oppose Muhammad at the same time?

Unless stated otherwise, all quotations taken from the N. J. Dawood version of the Quran.

Sam Shamoun and Jochen Katz


1. What was the crime of 'Abdallah b. Ubayy b. Salul that justified the death penalty? He was a tribal leader in Medina who had dared to oppose Muhammad when the latter intended to slaughter a Jewish tribe. He thwarted Muhammad's attempt of a genocide of the Banu Qaynuqa`, and saved many lives by his courageous intervention, see the detailed discussion in this article. Moreover, the above cited report assumes that this man was not to be judged in a fair and public trial, and then executed based on this open verdict, but to be murdered by sending a killer after him, the same way that Muhammad used to get rid of many of his other opponents, see many of the articles in the section Muhammad and his enemies.

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