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Spiritual Meditations ( 21 Apr 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Of Parents and Promises

By S.G. Jilanee

April 20, 2012

DUTY towards parents and sanctity of the given word are among the values held in high regard from time immemorial, especially in eastern traditions, philosophies and religions.

Not only do the Abrahamic faiths, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, place due emphasis on duty towards parents and keeping to the promises made or agreements signed, faith systems such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, also embrace these finer human values.

Take, for instance, the emphasis placed on obeying, respecting and attending to the needs of parents as illustrated in the Ramayana, which narrates stories of devotion to parents, especially in their advanced years. Here is a particularly touching episode:

A young boy, Shravan Kumar carried his blind, old parents on his shoulders from one pilgrimage to another. Like scales of a balance, he put each in an open basket. He hung the baskets with a rope at each end of a long flat bamboo, which he carried on his shoulders.

It was during one such journey that Rama’s father, King Dasrath of Ayodhya, accidentally killed Shravan as he was filling his pitcher from a stream in the jungle. Covered by foliage he was invisible to Dasrath. The latter mistook the gurgle of water rushing into the pitcher for a deer drinking at the stream and shot an arrow.

The shaft hit Shravan. At his cry of pain, Dasrath rushed to his side. But, even as the young boy breathed his last, his thoughts were for his parents. Shravan, requested the king to take the water he had collected, to his thirsty and helpless parents, and died.

Similarly, when Abraham told his son Ishmael of having dreamt that he must sacrifice Ishmael and asked the latter’s view, the son promptly told his father to go ahead with fulfilling his dream. “Father,” said Ishmael “do that which you are commanded, God-willing you shall find me patient” (37:102). And Joseph “raised his parents high on the dais…” (12:100) as a mark of reverence when they went to Egypt.

As to the importance of the given word, though there are anecdotes galore of how people would lay down their lives to stick to their promise, here is one, again, from the Ramayana to illustrate the point.

King Dasrath once promised his third and youngest, wife, Keykeyi that he would grant her two wishes. After many years, when the time came to nominate his successor Dasrath decided to choose his eldest son Rama from his first wife Kaushilya. At this point Keykeyi decided to cash in on his promise and named the two boons; one that her son Bharat be nominated as the successor to the throne and, two, that Rama be sent for 14 years in exile.

Dasrath was devastated, because Rama was his most beloved son. But having given his word he was not one to back out. Bharat was appointed to succeed him and Rama was exiled.

When some people counselled Rama to refuse going into exile, he answered that it was the tradition of his Raghuvangshi dynasty that a life may be lost but a given word must not be retracted (Raghukul reet sada chali aayee/ Pran jaye varu vachan na jaye).

A similar example is in Abraham’s prayer to God seeking forgiveness for his father, who was an idolater. He prayed because he had told (promised) his father; “Peace be on you. I will pray to my Lord to forgive you” (19:47).

Islam takes these noble values to celestial heights by sanctifying them as divine injunctions. Believers are ‘enjoined’ to give respect to their parents and be kind to them. Time and again they are reminded of the travails their mothers suffer in bearing them and giving them birth.

“And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents — his mother bears him in weakness upon weakness…,” says Allah (Luqman:14). In Al Ahqaf:15 the message is repeated: “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship and brings him forth with hardship….”

Sura Al Asra lays down filial duties in greater detail: “Your Lord has decreed … be kind to parents. If one or both of them attain old age with you, do not say to them a word of contempt, nor repulse them and speak to them a gracious word. And out of kindness lower to them the wing of submission and say, ‘Lord, bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in my childhood’” (17:23-24).

The message is that if parents are infirm and their voice is frail, the offspring should bow (if required) in order to hear them properly.

As to fulfilling promises, Surah Al Maeda, begins with the words, “O you, who believe, fulfil your pledges” (5:1). Next, in Sura Al Asra, there is the command “Keep the covenant”, followed by a warning about accountability. “Surely every covenant will be inquired into” (17:34).

In Al Mominoon the injunction adopts a hortatory note to induce believers to abide by their promises; “Those who faithfully observe their trusts and covenants … these will … inherit Paradise (23:8; 10-11).

But abiding by covenants and adhering to the word given is not all. Even contradiction between word and deed is strongly deplored. “O you who believe, why say you that which you do not,” says Sura Al Saff.

The essence of the message in the Quranic verses cited is that frivolous conduct, where pronouncements have no value, is conduct unbecoming in one who aspires for the office of Allah’s vicegerent on Earth.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi