Lower your wings (DW#597)

Today’s verse is also from Sura Israa [The Night Journey] where Allah says:

Lower unto them the wing of humility out of compassion and say, "My Lord! Have mercy upon them, as they cherished me when I was little." [Quran 17:24]

As we said yesterday, Islam lays great emphasis on the courtesies towards parents, especially as they age. This verse also expresses the abundance of mercy, affection, and humility with which adult children should aspire to treat their parents.

Here, a beautiful image is evoked of a bird that lovingly spreads its wings over its offspring to shelter and protect them in the nest.

Scholars explain that this metaphor of a high-flying bird which lowers her wing out of tenderness to her offspring is apt because when the parent was strong and the child was helpless, parental affection was showered on the child and so when the child grows up and is strong, and the parent becomes increasingly helpless, the child must do the same for the parent. However, the child needs to do so with humility because nothing that he or she can do can ever compensate for that which he has received as the selfless nature of parental love cannot be matched.

The scholars further explain that this kind of humility before parents is much more than simple human gratitude. Rather, parental love is, in a way, a human manifestation of the Divine Cherishing and Nurturing Love, and therefore deserves the appropriate reverence and humility.

The verse ends with a beautiful supplication "My Lord! Have mercy upon them, as they cherished me when I was little". This is both a reminder to children of the reverence due to parents as well as an invocation to God to have rahma (compassion, loving-kindness, mercy) on us as this is the quality that they brought us up with.

Lastly, our spiritual stature is measured by how we treat our parents: we cannot expect Allah's forgiveness if we are negligent, rude or unkind towards those who brought us up.

A narration from Imam Sadiq (as) gives us some practical tips on what respect and devotion towards parents looks like: "That is, do not look at them except with compassion and kindness; do not raise your voice when talking to them above their voice; and do not raise your hand above theirs, and do not go before them when walking."

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