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Are Muslim Parents Overbearing or are Their Children Disobedient?

As I was formulating my thoughts on this post, I finally got around to burning a certain lecture by Yasir Qadhi on CD and listening to it in the car. I finished listened to it. I was blown away. Then I listened to it again with my wife, and this time I wished that somehow my 2 year old could be made to understand, appreciate, and implement all of what was said in that talk. Needless to say, his refusal to stop screaming or start sleeping on time hasn’t subsided. The original direction of this post though, has changed.

There is no denying the status of our parents. Period. There is no dispute on the rights due to them, but isn’t it rough sometimes?

I feel that many first-generation Muslims in the West face an especially tough time with doing birr al-walidayn (i.e. being of the utmost good to your parents at all times). Before we get into that though, let’s look at some history.

Most immigrant parents came here to go to school, to work, or open businesses. While some studied engineering, others studied business, some opened up gas stations, and yet others came for the ultimate prize of Medical School. In all of these cases though, they left home at a young age and went overseas. After studying, establishing themselves as professionals, buying a car, and buying a house like good Muslim children, they went back home, got married, and brought their wife over here. Then they lived happily ever after.

They would go back home once a year, or once every other year and visit family. Email wasn’t around back then, so they would make short phone calls every month to check in, and not run up the long distance bill (how else can one afford the American dream?). They weren’t sure what they were going to do long term, but for now they were living a better life than back home and had more opportunities. Then they had kids, and those kids grew up. Now those kids were going to college, experimenting with the culture around them, and well, living the American dream as well.

Then a funny thing happened.

Instead of going out and finding their own way as their parents did, they were all of a sudden faced with the ultimate fitnah for a young person: the overbearing parent. The parent decided what the child was going to study (medicine, engineering, law, or “computers”), and who they were going to marry (your first cousin, or that girl you met when you went to Pakistan 6 years ago that lives on the street behind you).

For the “less practicing” of the Muslim youth, this is too much to bear. I know of countless people who lost their way due to this type of overbearing parent. These are the kids that run away from home at the first opportunity and jump headfirst into experimenting with their newfound freedoms.

These types of parents come in a wide variety. You know the types. The mom who sends her kid off to college, and then asks him if she can come live in his dorm with him. Or the parents who call you every day when class gets out to make sure you are coming straight home.

For those kids who are trying to be good to their parents though, it creates a dilemma. Obviously they love their parents, and would be willing to do anything that is halal to please them. Most of these kids will study subjects they don’t want to. They even marry people they don’t want to marry. But at some point down the line, the frustrations will boil over and they will break.

So the question now is, where is the line drawn? The problem, it seems, is that most parents have not dealt with the overbearing parent – because they got themselves on a 24 hour plane ride and got the heck out at that age. So they sometimes don’t know what the situation is like. They might not realize when they are being over-demanding.

For others though, the situation is not necessarily an overbearing parent, but a clueless parent. This is the parent that has not integrated in society. You know the types, they have been here for 20 years still can’t speak 2 full sentences of English. The only thing that they watch on TV is satellite from the homeland. They’re the ones who show up at their 5th graders PTA meetings and tell the teacher, “My son very smart, he become doctor.”

This is the type of parent who doesn’t know even know how to turn on a computer, much less find pictures of their kids on Facebook and Myspace clubbing and drinking. Then when they got a call from the ER because their kid OD’ed on something, they overreact and lay down the gauntlet.

Of course, not all our parents are clueless/overbearing. Many of them are quite level headed and understanding. But to their kids they will still see them as being of one of those two categories.

Back to the original point though, what defines over-demanding? How do you cope with it?

What about education? Marriage? How to raise your children, or where to send them to school? What is the line of allowing parents to ‘interfere’ but at the same time living your own life and with your own family?

What are the limits of obedience? There is a distinction between strict obedience (aside from what is Haram), and actually doing birr towards them. Oftentimes though, the two are intertwined. Not ‘listening’ to something, even though you may disagree with it heavily, can be taken as the ultimate sign of disrespect.

Regardless of what type of parent you have, there will be a clash. Firstly, because its the nature of kids to go against their parents sometimes, but for this first generation of people born here, there is a big culture clash as well. How do we get our parents to understand what we go through? How can we set up communication with our parents to discuss these issues without offending or disrespecting them?

How does the first generation of Muslims balance between trying to live their lives in goodness to their parents, even though their outlook on many fundamental issues may be radically different due to their upbringing?

The more people I talk to, it seems the more people I find who are facing these tests. It’s a unique situation given the background, so I pose the question: Is being good to our parents one of the tests that can define our generation?

I realize that this question can be even tougher for those brothers and sisters whose parents are not Muslim. Whenever I read the ayah that says be kind to your parents, and if they ask you to commit shirk, then do not listen to them in that – I feel relieved that alhamdulillah no matter what frustrations I have, at least this is one test I do not have to face.I believe that some of these questions that are posed are tough questions, and the answers are even tougher. We all realize that no matter what frustration we feel, we can never make up for the difficulties we put our parents through. Sometimes even getting a gift for your parents – no matter how nice – can feel somewhat embarrassing when one reflects on all the acts of kindness you have received from your parents.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on the hadith about the one whose parents are alive, and yet he does not earn Jannah through them. As Sh. Yasir mentioned in his talk, we cannot show even the slightest disrespect to them even though we feel natural frustration. The question is, how do we deal with that frustration, and are our frustrations significantly greater than those of other generations or nations?

Oh Allah have mercy on my parents, as they raised me when I was young.

Photo by Shazron via Flickr


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