In this counseling answer:
• Care for your mother, but don’t let her decide your life.
• Living in a society that is or is not Islamic, this question is tricky, too. I agree with your friends: it is the same everywhere—and sometimes worse in “Muslim” countries!
As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu Dear Brother in Islam,
Thank you for your question.
Care for our parents is vital in Islam. But what is care? Care is a feeling – a metaphysical thing, not a material thing like a chair. One way to care for someone is to provide them with their material needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. However, those physical things do not even feel like care if they are not done out of love —which is yet another elusive thing to define because it too is ethereal.
We cannot define these sorts of feelings because they are our likes and dislikes. They are our personal tastes that come from our personalities (our soul), and not from logic. For example, why do we feel attracted to one person but not another when both people have the same credentials? It’s called “chemistry”, but it has nothing to do with the kind of chemistry we identify in laboratories. We just like one person and not the other, and we often cannot explain why.
Because care is this sort of ethereal thing, I cannot pinpoint for you how to care for your mother. Of course, send her money or things to make sure you take care of her material needs if she does not get them from her husband or the government. But, if she does not feel loved in the bargain, you may still have a major duty for her to fulfill.
Also, if you did not provide your mother with her cultural or Islamic expectations (be they her true rights or not, according to Islam), you still may be at fault for not caring for your mother’s particular needs. What makes a person feel cared for is hinged to a slew of other elusive ideas, like cultural norms and family routines.
Beyond that conundrum, I will tell you my personal opinion on the matter. But please, ask the scholars on this website what your Islamic duty is. I do not want to misguide you regarding this issue because it is so important!
I live in a culture (America/the west) that puts its elderly in nursing homes when they are no longer needed or useful—out of sight, out of mind, and out of our way. In the West, people’s friends are more important to them than their mothers. Every day, I witness the devastating effects of this lack of care for our mothers: loneliness, worthlessness, being unloved, and unsafe. These feelings of fear and sadness feed disease, provoking and accelerating illness!
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Happiness promotes healing. That said, to make ends meet in today’s world, both people in a couple usually need to work. No longer is a wife at home as a homemaker available to care for her mother or mother-in-law. So, we have a real conundrum there too!
I don’t want to scare you away from my answer. I only want you to know that the contexts of your question make it a very difficult subject to pin down. We have to try care for our mothers—for fear of Allah (swt). But, how? We need a win-win situation. With Allah’s (swt) help and guidance, we can find that solution. To start down that path, aim to do both, not one to the exclusion of the other. When a mother is allowed to dictate her son’s life, many problems arise, and most for her daughter-in-law who becomes a scapegoat. This is not okay!
My solution to this problem is: care for your mother, but don’t let her decide your life. In other words, make sure she has food, clothing, and shelter—in a loving way—, but her need for food, clothing, shelter, and love does not include letting her dictate your life and how you meet your own needs.
We (and our mothers) get it all mixed up when we forget in which direction the “care” is supposed to go. Our mothers often think that care for them means to give them control because that is what makes people happy, i.e., to get what they want. Letting them dictate our lives, where we live, what we study, and who we love is not caring for them; it is something very different. I heard of one mother who told her son to divorce his wife, and he did! This was not cared for the mother, in my opinion.
Our mothers can arrange our marriages, but they cannot force us to marry that person. We have the right to say no if we do not feel what we need to feel to marry that person. Strangely, dictating our children’s adult lives has become the major ideas in the non-Western world of how to care for our mothers. This is a serious problem, especially for wives who need their own marital relationships and lives with their husbands. A couple needs to build their own life and make their own decisions together about how to raise their children and other issues. When a mother inserts herself in that realm in her son’s life, ruling his life as her own, that is a violation of his right to have his own life—which goes against the very nature of the test of life.
That said, out of respect for her age and experience, a mother should be consulted by her son. Islam orders leaders of any process to consult. But her voice does not trump anyone else’s voice just because she is older and/or more experienced, or because she is “the mother”. Her ideas should be taken on their own merit, like everyone else’s, and not used to rob her son of his right to life. He needs to decide his own path in life and be his own person in his marital relationship, or work/job choices, etc. Those choices come from our unique personal inclinations and tastes. They have nothing to do with our mother’s own unique personal inclinations and tastes. Beyond that, it is important to keep the care going in the right direction—from you to her, not the other way around.
Could you move her to where you live overseas? She could be near you and cared for by you without you derailing your whole life.
In regards to living in a society that is or is not Islamic, this question is tricky, too. I agree with your friends: it is the same everywhere—and sometimes worse in “Muslim” countries!
The Prophet (saw) lived for 13 years under persecution in Makkah and spread Islam. That said, Allah (swt) says His earth is spacious enough to get away from harm. See my point: there are benefits and harm on both sides. You’re on your own on that one. I suggest you never transplant yourself without first checking out a place to see if it will work for you.
May Allah (swt) make it easy for you!
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.