Islam provides a system that regulates family life as well as the life of the community as a whole. In every respect of its legislation and in its regulation of relations between various groups and individuals in society, Islam maintains justice, fair treatment, and a balance between rights and responsibilities. In this way it provides a solid basis for a strong, closely knit community.
Thus, we must differentiate here between two things: being kind to parents and total obedience to them. Obedience must be discriminating. We obey our parents only in what is right and what is calculated to please Allah. But we should be kind to them in all situations. Elaborating on this issue, we’d like to cite for you the following fatwa:
The first point is that every son and daughter is required to be kind to his or her parents and to ensure that their wishes are properly observed or complied with, as far as that is practical, useful or beneficial. Whatever a son or a daughter can do to please his or her parents, he or she should do, provided that it does not involve any disobedience to Allah or injustice to other people.
Almighty Allah has emphasized that kindness to parents is one of the most important qualities of believers. He says in the Qur’an: “Thy Lord hath decreed, that ye worship none save Him, and (that ye show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them to attain old age with thee, say not ‘Fie’ unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little.” (Al-Isra’: 23-24).
Kindness to parents is mentioned as a duty of believers several times in the Qur’an. There are many Hadiths that encourage us to be very kind to our parents. However, such kindness does not require a son or a daughter to obey his or her parents in whatever they may require of him or her. Suppose that a father asks his son to tell a lie, give false testimony, or drink or do something forbidden. If the son complies with his father’s wish, then he commits a sin that will not be less grave simply because he is carrying out his father’s orders. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “No creature may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience to the Creator.” That applies even in simple matters. Suppose a father arrives from abroad, having bought a bottle of some expensive alcoholic drink and he asks his son to deliver it to a friend or a neighbor. If his son complies with his wishes and simply takes the bottle to the person concerned, he commits a sin, because carrying an intoxicating drink to someone who will drink it is forbidden. The son must refuse to obey his father in such a situation.
Parents are also responsible for what they demand of their children. It is not right of a father to require his son or daughter to do something that is contrary to Islamic principles, relying on the fact that his son or daughter should obey him. Indeed, if the father does that, he fails in his duty to help his children choose only what Islam approves. Not only so, but he forfeits his rights to be obeyed by his children. We must differentiate here between two things. Being kind to parents and total obedience to them. Obedience must be discriminating. We obey our parents only in what is right and what is calculated to please Allah. But we should be kind to them in all situations. Allah Almighty says that if parents try hard to persuade their son to associate partners with Allah, then he must not obey them, but he should “… bear them company in this world’s life with kindness.” (Luqman: 115). When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was told by one of his female Companions that her mother, a non-believer, had come to visit her, he told her: “Be kind to your mother.”
Such kindness may not go as far as disobeying Allah for a parent’s sake. In this particular case, when a father is asking his son to divorce his wife, what should the son do? The first thing to remember is that just as he has obligations toward his parents, he has obligations to his wife, too. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) enjoined us to be very kind to our women, saying: “Take good care of women.” Even on his deathbed, the Prophet continued to enjoin his followers to be kind to women. He also told us: “The best among you are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.” This statement is highly important, as it sets a rule and gives it a practical application. It is not an ideal situation that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was describing, b
ut he was telling us that when we try hard to be good to our wives, then we are following his example.
The first thing about taking good care of women and being kind to them is to ensure that we do not do them any injustice. There is no doubt that a man who divorces his wife without a valid reason may very well be guilty of doing injustice to her. Hence, he must be very careful lest he actually does her that injustice. If his father demands that he divorces her, and the divorce involves such injustice, then his father’s request involves disobedience to Allah. Moreover, he must weigh up his duty to be kind to his father and his other duty to be kind to his wife.
Moreover, it is wrong to give the example of the Prophet Ibrahim when he advised his son, the Prophet Isma`il, to divorce his wife. It is not right to cite this example because this implies that it is within the authority of the father to give his son such instruction and expect it to be acted upon. Perhaps it is useful to remind ourselves here of the story of Ibrahim and his daughter-in-law. According to an authentic Hadith, related by Al-Bukhari, Ibrahim visited his son when Isma`il was out on his business. He spoke to his daughter-in-law, who did not know his relationship to her husband. He asked how they were and she started complaining, saying that they were going through hard times and she went on complaining. Ibrahim then told her to give his greetings to her husband when he returned home and tell him to change his doorstep. Isma`il understood his father’s recommendation and divorced his wife. Later Ibrahim paid a second visit to Isma`il and met his new wife when Isma`il was away. When he asked her how they were, she praised Allah for His blessings and said that they were having plenty. Ibrahim asked her what they ate and drank, and she answered that they had meat to eat and water to drink. He prayed Allah to bless what they had and told her to greet her husband on his behalf and to tell him to retain his doorstep.
In neither case, was Ibrahim making his recommendation on the basis of personal like or dislike of the woman concerned. He felt in the first case that a woman who complains to any stranger and tells him about their hardship is not a good wife. Certainly she was not the one to give support to her husband when he needed to fulfill his task as a prophet and a messenger, as Isma`il was later to become. Indeed, a wife who complains to every stranger or passerby is certainly not a good wife to any husband. In short, Ibrahim was looking after his son’s interest.
My advice is that the husband must not divorce his wife without a valid reason. At the same time, he should try to be as kind to his parents as possible and to explain to them that it is his own responsibility to be fair to his wife and to take good care of her. Breaking up a family is not a simple matter that is taken at someone else’s behest, even though that someone is one’s own father. If he feels or suspects that his parents are unfair to his wife, then he must certainly support her, trying all the time not to offend his parents.
I will conclude with this little story. Some years back, a man came to one of my teachers and put to him this very same question. His father wanted him to divorce his wife, citing the example of the Prophet Ibrahim. My teacher told him: If your father is as Allah-fearing as the Prophet Ibrahim and if he has attained the same knowledge of what is good and what is bad and what is likely to please Allah and what causes His anger, then you should comply with his wishes in the same way as the Prophet Isma`il complied with his father’s.