A Reflection on Aging Parents

Like most children, I thought my parents were superheroes. My mom could open the tightest of jars and could carry us around while she finished her chores. My dad could come back from a long business trip and still have the strength to play and take care of all 6 of us.

I was in denial about my parents’ aging until my dad asked me to take a basket of laundry down the stairs for him because he wasn’t able to carry it. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that they no longer had the strength I thought they’d always have.

The hardest part of witnessing our parents age is seeing a regression in their strength and capabilities. The two people who we turned to for a helping hand no longer have the physical strength to do so.

Yet when Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) speaks of their old age in the Qur’an, He (swt) does not advise us to offer physical help to them. Rather He (swt) says:

“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Qur’an 17:23)

While there are many verses in the Qur’an that instruct us to be good to our parents, this one specifically highlights how we should treat them in their old age. In his explanation of this verse, Shaykh al-Sha`rawi says that Allah (swt) mentions their old age here because it’s the time in their lives that they are in the most need of their children. He further explains that when parents are younger and stronger, their children rely and depend on them because they are able to help them. But as they age, the roles are reversed – the parents go from giving to being needy, from breadwinners to dependants.

One thing we all notice as our parents age is the change in their character. As we become more independent, they may become demanding, forgetful, irritable, and stubborn. Because of this change in character, Allah (swt) reminds us that especially during this time we have to show the utmost kindness and respect to them.

We are told in this verse to not treat them even with the slightest form of anger. The term “uff” is the smallest expression of dissatisfaction. For us today, this can be rolling our eyes or a slight tone of annoyance in our voices. Shaykh al-Sha`rawi mentions how hard it is to keep ourselves from expressing “uff” because sometimes we do it subconsciously. He advises that we as children should be vigilant in keeping ourselves from expressing these small gestures of annoyance and anger because of how hurtful they can be to our parents.

In the following verse, Allah (swt) goes on to explain further how we should treat them:

“And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.'” (Qur’an 17:24)

“Lowering the wings” is a saying used to express humility. It means that you have a chance to show your power, but you refrain out of humbleness. Similarly, the word “rahmah” or “mercy” gives a connotation of someone, despite having the upper-hand, still showing kindness.

Some of us may consider our parents to be difficult. We may have given up hope that our relationship with them can improve. The beauty of Islam is that God will reward you for your intentions and efforts just as He rewards for good actions. We have to put in effort before we see change. It is important for us to remember that there is no magic pill for good character. If we are truly sincere in improving our character then Allah (swt) will put us in difficult situations with difficult people. We learn good manners through these trying experiences.

We have been given an opportunity to improve our character through our parents.  As our parents age, we should speak in a kind and gentle manner. We are merciful to them. We cover their faults. We overlook the things they may do that annoy, irritate or hurt us. We reciprocate with love.

Easier said than done, right? Allah (swt) has given us the answer to why we may not have a strong relationship with our parents:

“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Qur’an  17:23)

This verse allows us to gauge our relationship with our parents by first looking at our relationship with Allah (swt). Essentially, if we are not fulfilling our duties to Allah (swt), then we will not be able to treat our parents in the best manner1 .The Prophet ﷺ  (peace be upon him) taught us, “Righteousness is good character,” (Muslim) so a righteous and God-fearing child will treat their parents with good manners.  Allah (swt) has placed such great importance on parents that even their religion does not warrant their child to behave improperly to them.

Now that we are older, stronger and more capable than our parents, this is the time to really show our compassion to them. Our emotions will be stirred by what they say and do, which is why Allah (swt) reminds us that instead of getting angry, frustrated or annoyed at them, we should restrain ourselves and be humble.

The Prophetic tradition provides us with motivation when we find it hard to deal with our parents:

In a famous narration, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Ameen,” to three supplications made by Angel Gabriel. One of them was, “Far away is the person whose parents, one or both of them, reach old age during his lifetime but he does not enter Paradise!” (Muslim)

This person was given a chance to enter Paradise by being good to their parents, but they let the opportunity slip away. This person lost out because of how easy it can be to gain reward for helping them or staying in their company. The Prophet ﷺ called out this person because it is the ultimate lack of mercy to leave your parents in their old age.

Similarly in another narration, the Messenger ﷺ  said, “A parent is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, keep to the gate, or lose it,” (Tirmidhi). The scholars explain this narration to mean that entering Paradise through being good to your parents is of the best ways to enter it. It not only shows the honor that lies in being good to your parents, but also that it is up the person to take advantage of this gate.

Shaykh al-Sha`rawi says, “Just as they showed you ihsan (the best form of kindness), you must do your best to do the same. But your mercy alone is not enough to compensate for what they did for you. Therefore seek the best form of mercy for them from Allah, the Most Merciful. [by saying] ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small,’ (Qur’an 17:24).”

Just as they still loved us when we said or did things to hurt them as children or youths, we in return do the same in their old age. Don’t wait until you see your parents carried out of the masjid in a box to realize how much better they deserved from you. Don’t wait until that largest gate of Paradise is closed in your face to realize how easy it could have been to enter through it.

May God have mercy on our parents.

  1. Summarized from Br Nouman Ali Khan: []

About the author



Amatullah is a student of the Qur’an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta’leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur’an, Tajweed (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has completed her undergraduate degree in Social Work and will be completing a Masters program in 2014. Her experiences include working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement, and accessibility for people with disabilities.


  • I needed this article desperately.It’s literally talking to me…Jazak Allah khair Amatullah.May Allah forgive my immense shortcomings and not miss this opportunity of reaching Ihsan with Allah with Ihsan to my aging demented parent who lives whith me. God knows how I needed this reminder.Subhan Allah, believers for sure remind each other with truth and remind each other with patience.

  • This was a gem of wisdom: “If we are truly sincere in improving our character then Allah (swt) will put us in difficult situations with difficult people. We learn good manners through these trying experiences.”

  • Jazakallah khair for this important reminder! Sometimes I may lose patience and say something harsh to my parents but this post really reminded me of the elevated status of parents in the holy Quran!

  • An important reminder indeed.

    However,how do you treat kindly to a father who has not acted as a father nor a husband his whole life.

    • salam, still be kind as long as he is still alive. only God knows how dissapointed a son or daughter was but kindness is what God teaches us.

  • As’Salaamolaikum Paradise.

    I hope you’re doing well. The first thing to remember is that a parent will always be your parent no matter what. As for your question regarding the treatment towards a parent (in your case your father as you mentioned); who was not indicative of what you feel a father/husband should be..the first thing is to have patience and compassion with them all while exemplifying kind actions and caring words towards them as much as can be done. The only time you are not obligated to heed a parent (whether the parent be non-Muslim or Muslim) is when they are asking/expecting of you to go against the guidance of Islam. If that exists; even that should be let it be known to them in a respectful and explained manner.

    The compassion part is the understanding that they perhaps have a roadblock set inside of them towards better treatment towards you and your mom..because of adverse experiences/ideology they may have had growing up. Perhaps that may or may not be it and perhaps a different reason or a host of different reasons may be contributing to it.

    Fighting fire with fire will only exacerbate/increase ill treatment from your father towards you and your mother. And you never know just when the right action or word(s) sparks a healthy realization to him of what his soul may be blind to…which is showing itself in his ill treatment. Prophet Abraham (pbuh) rebuked him and cursed him even until he was on his death bed…but Abraham (pbuh) never gave up.

    Insha’Allah may your father become guided and may we all implement the teachings and guidance of Allah (swt) and the examplea of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

    • My apologies. In my above post when I made reference to Prophet Abraham (pbuh); I meant to say “Prophet Abraham (pbuh)’s FATHER rebuked him and cursed him even until he was on his death bed…but Abraham (pbuh) never gave up.”

  • As’salaamolaikum.

    Well seeing as how ‘in-laws’ are someone else’ parents too; the ‘rights’ are that they be shown respect, patience, care, love and compassion too just as for example; your parents are obligated to be shown that by the spouse towards your parents.

    However with the case with both sets of parents; for example your parents and his parents…if either set suggests/urges/displays/compels the couple (whether individually or mutually) to do something that is against Islam’s guidance; they should respectfully,kindly; and in an explained manner be told they are incorrect as per Islam’s guidance, Allah SWT’s teachings and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s examples.

  • For example…Surah Isra (Surah #17, verses 23-24) discusses the depth and level of respect that should be shown to parents (regardless of whether they are your own or through marriage and become in-laws).

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “He who does not show mercy and tenderness to the young, and respect to the elder; is not one of us.”

    Therefore parents have rights over the children and children have rights over the parents. Allah SWT is indeed fair and knows best.

  • jazak’allah khair for this article. but how do you deal with parents who hate their children because they lived their entire marriage in bitterness, then divorced, and continue to take out their mistakes on their adult children – with cruel harsh words? not so easy now, right!

    • As’salamolaikum lost hope.

      The guidance from Allah SWT and examples/sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) towards the treatment and dealings with parents…are most often counseling to apply towards our approach to parents during times of tests, difficulties, trials and tribulation.

      Prophet Abraham’s own father (who was not only an idol worshipper, but also sculpted the very idols he and his community worshipped…would curse and talk vile to Abraham for Abraham trying to tell his father that there is only One God Almighty…no partners, no intercessors.) Yet that did not hinder Abraham (pbuh) from being kind to his father and talking with mercy and compassion regardless…all while telling truth with sincerity of course. Convenience of inaction because it’s easier to do so…is not compassion towards even the harshest of parents in thoughts/actions.

      Because ultimately the parents may come to guidance and realization…therefore we should never give up.

      Insha’Allah may patience and understanding be granted to all of us towards our parents and them towards us. Ameen.

  • thinks a lot for this remind may Allah protect them from the evils and guide them to his paradise and guide us to help them A’ameen

  • An amazing article and reminder especially when times are testing and signs of qayamah are becoming more and more common… Jazak Allah and keep up the good work.

    Allah Hafiz

  • I love it ….jazakum Allah kair 🙂 I’m proud parent and I wish as I make doaa to grow and keep my strength ….

  • My parents ,helped us in improving our character,&took care of all of us . In turn we all could not really do much for them.May ALLAH forgive all our shortcomings & bless them with jannah.Amin !!!!!

  • jazak’allah khair for this article. I’m saying this because although my difficulties are not as enormous as others may have, they are still my trials and the advice given in this article will insha Allah, help me to stay on a straight path.

  • What if your parents are holding you back from a legitimate goal? My father always felt threatened by my desire for happiness that extended beyond working and caring for my parents. In other words, marriage and motherhood wasn’t a goal he helped me with. As a dutiful daughter I did not insist. But I am now at an age where I feel I would like a companion. I am 41 so maybe I won’t have children. But, once my parents are gone I won’t have anyone to help me, care about me, etc.

    I struggle daily with the idea that f I want a family of my own, I likely have to leave this city and try to establish myself elsewhere. It may even mean marrying someone they don’t approve of. At this time my parents are old. They may become ill at anytime. Do I sacrifice my chance at happiness by staying with my parents? Or do I trust their care to my older brothers and try o venture out into the world so I can establish a circle of friends and perhaps even a husband? My father does not like o burden my brothers (who are married) because he comes from a male-dominated culture and as such the happiness of girls is not of prime importance.

    There is something wrong with this picture. I feel like I’m “damned if I do” and “damned if I don’t”.

    Does Islam really require that the daughters surrender their lives to their parents?

  • It is a duty for the parents to get their children married isn’t it? and it is all the KIDs duty to look after the parents NOT just the girls from what i understand.

    if your father wont find you a good muslim spouse then your brothers need to do that as they are your mahrem. maybe they could help you get married?

    • No, no – my brothers would not do that for me. As I said above, my family does not support the idea of my marriage or even establishing a life that does not revolve around them. My brothers are busy with their own spouses and children anyway, and they are not very religious so they would not know the first thing about finding a muslim spouse. Everyone has written me off as “too old”. But, I wonder if as a muslim I am required to accept my parents’ will for me. It seems a bit unfair.

  • Dear Brother, this is such a wonderful reflection. May ALLAHUSUBHAANAHUTHALAH have mercy on you and increase his guidance on you.

  • This article was just what I needed.
    So beautifully written and explained!
    May Allah bless you for this! Thankyou

  • Assalam Alaikum. jazakallah khair very inspiring post. may Allah bless you I’m a muslima and both my parents are muslim we all have our shortcomings as human beings I know my parents can not be perfect they are only human I try most of the times to be understanding… but my father he always makes it impossible he is a good father he takes very good care of us he provides and he loves us very much to the extent that he is too over protective of us like he doesn’t let me go on educational trips at school he doesn’t let me visit my friends in another city or attend ceremonies just 2hours drive if I have to travel to any part of this world he must accompanied me like a kid (I’m 23yrs old) and must of the times he is busy with his own life if I request to travel anywhere and he can’t take me himself means I’m not going all I ever do in my life is try to please him and live by his rules I dont disobey him because I want Allah to have mercy on my soul… we can never have a conversation with him in the name of trying to understand each other he will get angry and insult us when you try to explain you are talking back he will make you feel like you are the worst child in the world for as long as I know my father he always puts his interest first he doesn’t care much about how I feel if I cry in front of him I’m being disrespectful.. I can’t like ask him twice about attending a friends wedding in another city again I’m being disrespecful.. he will tell us loud and clear we don’t respect his feelings we don’t respect his opinion he said no d first time like why are we insisting.. its so damn hard dealing with him like I’m always crying in my room & i’m always sad!! I really really wished he isn’t this difficult as of my mom she is an angel what can she do we are all seeking janna under him.

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