Allah (swt) uses beautiful metaphors in the Quran to explain broad concepts in a few words. Such a metaphor can be found in the verse about parents. Let us look at this metaphor and the lessons we can derive from it about our treatment of 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. 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.” (17:23-24)

“And lower to them the wing of humility…”

Two meanings can be extracted from the metaphor of lowering the wings of humility.

1. A bird lowers its wings despite having the ability to keep flying.

Just because you can walk doesn’t mean that you have to keep walking 24/7. There used to be a time in our life when we were completely dependent on our parents for our survival – food, clothing, hygiene, and protection. As we grew up, we slowly learned how to take care of ourselves till there came a time when we learned “how to fly” on our own. Now that we are educated, we have a job and a family of our own, our own houses and cars, and a bank account. And as a result, we have become busy; we are so busy that we don’t have the time to look back at the nest from where we began our life. This is the time when we should stop flying for a bit and go back to that nest. Just because we can take care of ourselves doesn’t mean we forget all about our parents: the two people who took care of us before we learned how to fly.

“Lower to them the wing of humility” means “be humble towards them in your actions.” (Ibn Katheer) We don’t need to show off to our parents how well we can fly. We shouldn’t emphasize the point that we don’t need them anymore, that “you can’t treat me like that; I’m an adult.” We should be so humble that they forget the fact that now we can fly and they can’t.

Dutifulness to Parents - IIPH

2. A bird lowers its wings to protect its nest.

When a snake or any other predator comes towards its nest, the mother bird protects its chicks or eggs by folding its wings all around the nest, so that in case of an attack, the attacker will only get the mother bird and not its offspring. This incredible level of love exists in the hearts of all parents, whether they are birds or human. But in the case of this metaphor, the case is reversed. Just like our parents used to protect us when we were young, we are now asked to protect them in turn with the same level of love and mercy.

“… Out of mercy.“

Rahmah (mercy) comes from same root as rahm, which means the womb of a mother. When we were in our mother’s womb, the womb was our whole world. It gave us everything we needed – love, protection, food, and drink. Now that we’re grown-ups, we must reciprocate with that same kind of mercy towards our parents. It is this feeling of mercy which should propel us to lower our wings of humility in front of them. And this beautifully leads us to the dua at the end of the verse:

“My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (17:24)

Reference: Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan; Quran Aur Hum.

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