Obedience to parents and their order to divorce

Q410 :Since I came to work in Saudi Arabia, my father has been writing me asking to divorce my wife on grounds that she does not obey his orders. He says that unless I obey him and divorce her, I will not be allowed to enter his home. Indeed, on my last vacation, he told me to get out of his house and never to come again to see him until I have agreed to divorce my wife. He supports his demand by saying that the Prophet Ibrahim did not like the Prophet Ismail's wife and he ordered him to divorce her, and Ismail complied. Please clarify whether this is true. Is it obligatory that I should obey my father in this particular matter when I wish to keep my wife?


A410 : The first point which I would like to make in answering this question is that every son and daughter are required to be kind to their 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 their parents, they should do, provided that does not involve any disobedience to God or injustice to other people. God has emphasized that kindness to parents is one of the most important qualities of believers. He says in the Qur'an: "Your Lord has ordained that you shall worship none other than Him; and that you be kind to your parents. Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in your care, never say 'ugh' to them or scold them but always speak to them with reverence, and spread over them humbly the wings of your tenderness, and say: 'My Lord, bestow Your grace on them, even as they cherished and reared me when I was a child'." (17;23-24). Kindness to parents is mentioned as a duty of believers several times in the Qur'an. There are many Hadiths which encourage us to be very kind to our parents. However, such kindness does not require a son or a daughter to obey his parents whatever they may require of him. Suppose that a father asks his son to tell a lie, give a false testimony, or drink or do something forbidden. If the son complies with his father's wish, then he commits a sin which will not be less grave simply because he is carrying out his father's orders. The Prophet says: "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 God. But we should be kind to them in all situations. God says that if parents try hard to persuade their son to associate partners with God, then he must not obey them, but he should "bear them company in this world's life with kindness" (31;115). When the Prophet was told by one of his lady 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 God 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 has enjoined us to be very kind to our women. He says: "Take good care of women." Even on his deathbed, the Prophet continued to enjoin his followers to be kindly to women. He has 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 is describing, but he is 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 God. Moreover, he must weigh up his duty to be kindly to his father and his other duty to be kind to his wife. In the case of my reader, his father gives the example of the Prophet Ibrahim when he advised his son, the Prophet Ismail, to divorce his wife. I am afraid that his father is wrong when citing this example because he is implying that it is within the authority of the father to give his son such instruction and expect it to be acted upon. I have already explained that not every order by a parent need to be obeyed and I have made it clear that a son is responsible for his actions even though he is complying with a parent's order. 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 Ismail 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 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. Ismail understood his father's recommendation and divorced his wife. Later Ibrahim paid a second visit to Ismail and met his new wife when Ismail was away. When he asked her how they were, she praised God 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 God 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 Ismail 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 reader's father has certainly different grounds for his request. He complains that his daughter-in-law does not obey him. But my reader seems very reluctant to carry out his father's request probably because he sympathizes with his wife. Maybe the father is asking too much or mistreating his daughter-in-law. My advice to my reader is that he must not divorce his wife without a valid reason. At the same time, he should try to be as kind to his father as possible and to explain to him 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 father is unfair to his wife, then he must certainly support her, trying all the time not to offend his father. 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 God-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 God and what causes His anger, then you should comply his wishes in the same way as the Prophet Ismail complied with his father's. All our readers may learn something from this answer.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )