At this time of the year, many celebrate Father’s Day to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices, efforts, and love which our parents give to us without asking for any reward or return. The concept of honoring our parents has been heavily emphasized in the Holy Qur’an as well as traditions of the Immaculate Imams (peace be upon them)
In a tradition, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says that two types of sinners will remain miserable. They are those who make fun of a believer, and those who disrespect their parents. By this narration, Imam Ali lifts the attention of the Ummah to the fact that “believers” and “parents” both hold a very special status. With that in mind, we can imagine that if a person is both a parent and a believer, then they certainly deserve a greater degree of respect by others. Furthermore, if a believer is so important in the eyes of Allah, then what is the status of a person who is the Chief of Believers? And if our parents hold such a special status, then what about the parents who play the role of parenthood over the whole Muslim nation?
In fact, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) declared, “Ali and I are the fathers of this Muslim nation.” To begin understanding the implications of this verse, we must first understand what it generally means for a person to act as a “father” or “parent”. In our common understanding, a father assumes the role of guardianship, protector, adviser, caretaker, and guider. If the child needs help or guidance, the father is there to offer it to him. The father offers his help and support out of love and concern for the welfare of the child and is ready to sacrifice everything for his child, even if it is his own life.
Applying this meaning to the above prophetic narration, we can now recognize that since Muhammad and Ali assume the role of parenthood and fatherhood over the whole Ummah, that means that they are the caretakers, guardians, protectors, and advisors of all Muslims. This idea of universal parenthood in fact agrees with the concept of Wilayat and Imamate over this nation. The difference between our biological parents and the Infallible Imams is like that of the body and the soul; the parents give life to the body while the Imams give life to the soul. Our biological parents gave life to us in this world; however, our spiritual parents give life to us in the Hereafter! The body dies in this transient world and along with it dies the blood relations. However, the soul never dies; hence, the spiritual relationships like that of spiritual parenthood will continue to exist eternally!
Hence, when we celebrate the service of our parents, we should also recognize our real and true parents who are represented in the Messenger of God and Imam Ali, as well as the Imams from their Purified Progeny. If we respect our own parents to a certain degree, we should certainly be venerating our spiritual parents a billion times more than that. In light of the narration of Imam Ali mentioned earlier regarding the two sinners, we can now comprehend that he was not only referring to the obvious meaning which is any believer and any parent. Another underlying meaning behind this narration points to the importance of esteeming and venerating the Prince of Believers and the spiritual parents of this nation, the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them)! After all, if a person doesn’t respect his/her own parents, then surely (s)he will not respect the parents of this Ummah. Thus, we can understand that those who fail to give due regards and obedience to the Chief of Believers and the Ahlul Bayt, Allah will not forgive them, and they will subject themselves to misfortunes and misery in this life and the Hereafter.
We can now apply the meaning of parenthood in verse 17:23 and comprehend the order which Allah gave in the Qur’an regarding our obligation to express Ehsaan (good behavior) to the parents who are not any parents, but rather the spiritual parents who gave us the divine guidance and instructions and are our true role models! With this in mind, we will further realize that just like we can never pay back the service which our biological parents offer to us, we certainly can never ever pay back an atom of the service which the Ahlul Bayt have given graciously to mankind! They do so out of love and commitment to the divine religion emanating from God so that we as humans can benefit from it and better ourselves to reach the stage of perfection. They give up their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, just like Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) did so in Karbala for the sake of watering the tree of Islam eternally.
Reflecting on the words of the Infallible Imam when he explained the word Ehsaan to mean giving to your parents before they ask you, we can also apply this meaning to our spiritual parents. In the context of these words, we don’t have to wait for the Prophet or Imams to tell us to celebrate their birthdays in their honor or commemorate their martyrdoms. Nor do we have to wait for them to instruct us to mourn over their tragedies or express our sorrow. We should take that initiative ourselves, knowing well that doing so pleases our “parents” even more so since they didn’t have to ask us to do so.
There is no better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to recognize the best of fathers, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. And what better opportunity to recognize the importance of the role of fatherhood which he enjoys than on the day of his blessed birthday on the 13th of Rajab! In the words of Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) in his supplication for parents as cited in his Sahifah, we direct this supplication first and foremost in honor of our spiritual fathers, the Holy Prophet and Imam Ali: O God, fill me with awe of my parents, the awe one has toward a tyrannical sovereign, and let me be devoted to them, with the devotion of a compassionate mother! Make my obedience and devotion to them more gladdening to my eyes than sleep to the drowsy and more refreshing to my breast than drink to the thirsty, so that I may prefer their inclination to my inclination, set their satisfaction before my satisfaction, make much of their devotion to me though it be little, and make little of my devotion to them though it be great.