Perhaps you missed this story. A 21-year-old Syrian “man” shot his 45-year-old mother in the head with a rifle and killed her. He was involved with ISIL, the Muslim terrorist organization. She wanted the two of them to leave the Syrian town of Raqqa, fearing for his safety as US-led troops neared the ISIL stronghold. He told ISIL leaders of his mother’s request. They insisted he publicly execute her. He complied.
I was telling one of my kids about the execution this weekend, and he asked a simple question. Don’t most world religions command followers to honor their parents? I told him I thought this to be the case, but I didn’t know about Islam, in particular.
Lucky for me, we had the good fortune Saturday morning to be invited to a Turkish friend’s home for breakfast. As we passed plates of delicious Turkish pastries, cheese, and olives around the table, I asked our hosts what the Qur’an and Hadith had to say about relationships between parents and children. The story goes, my hosts and their other guests told me, that the first three times Muhammed was asked this, the Prophet insisted that followers obey their mothers. The fourth time, they explained, Muhammed included fathers in the mix.
I pursued this line of inquiry over email with my host and received from her a comprehensive compilation of suras from the Qur’an and quotes attributed to Muhammed from the Hadiths, all having to do with parenthood. The teachings demand that children respect their parents. Even when parents are “infidels” who don’t follow the teachings of Islam, they are to be honored. My host included the following Hadith, whose meaning could not be more clear:
It was narrated from Mu’awiyah bin Jahimah As-Sulami, that Jahimah came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! I want to go out and fight (in Jihad) and I have come to ask your advice.” He said, “Do you have a mother?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet.” (The Book of Jihad, 6)
“Jihad,” my host explained, can be internal, metaphorical, a struggle with the self to do right — not just an external military battle or fight. In any case, she wrote, the first responsibility is to care for the mother.
Though I understand a bit better Islam’s guidance on parent-child relationships, I can’t fathom how a believer, someone claiming to be shaped by God’s word, could shoot his mother in the head. I felt similarly when a Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin and, more recently, when an apparently observant group danced at a wedding and celebrated the burning of a Palestinian toddler.
I haven’t anything profound to offer, here. I was relieved to read verses condemning the mother’s killing. What will it take to get extremists of all stripes to invoke scripture to impose basic rules governing decency? I don’t intend my question as a naive exercise in hand-wringing. I’m serious.