How do Muslims treat the elderly?

Introduction

Islam is a comprehensive way of life and one of the characteristics through which it is distinguished from many other religions is that it encompasses every aspect of a Muslim’s life. Islam teaches Muslims to respect the elderly whether they are parents, relatives or any other old person. This is because caring for the elderly ones is considered an important obligation through which one seeks closeness to Allah.  

Status of the elderly

There is no doubt that Islam has given the elderly a special status, as there are several texts, which urge Muslims to respect and honour them. An elderly person has a high status before Allah and His Prophet particularly if he is a believer.

In the Quran, Allah says:

And whomever We give a long life, We cause him to regress in creation.  ; ?”(36:68)

From the verse, it is obvious that the inception of old age is a period of decline – decline comes partly from physical and partly from psychological factors. Thus, at this critical stage of life, Islam recommends adequate caring for them because they are like a prophet in a family and a blessing in the society. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:

“The elderly among his family is like a Prophet among his community” [1]

elderly, respect, Muslims, Islam

Moreover, honoring the elderly  is synonymous to honoring Allah and His Prophet. In this regards, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was reported to have said:

“Honour the elderly because honoring them is part of honoring Allah” [2]

Meanwhile, Imam Sajjad (AS) while describing the right of the elderly in his book ‘Treatise on rights’ said:

“The right of him who is older than you is that you show reverence toward him because of his age and you honour him because he entered Islam before you. You leave off confronting him in a dispute, you do not precede him in a path, you do not go ahead of him, and you do not consider him foolish. If he should act foolishly toward you, you put up with him and you honour him because of the right of Islam and the respect due to it”[3].

Similarly, Islam commands a Muslim to honour and respect senior citizens because honoring the elderly will guarantee the protection against every calamity on the Day of Resurrection. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Whoever honors the grey hair due to an old age, Allah will definitely save him from the panic of the Day of Judgment”[4].

Manners of handling the elderly

Islam is the fountain of mercy, sentiments, and sympathy. Hence, it is not strange to see Islam paying attention to the elderly and instructing a Muslim to give them compassion. There are texts from the Quran, the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his pure Household (AS) on how a Muslim should treat an elderly person. These include:

  1. Always honour and be merciful to the elderly. For respecting them is considered a form of worship in the sight of Allah while disrespecting them is absolutely rebuked and it is against the pristine teachings of Islam.
  2. In case of necessity, always render assistance to the elderly [5].
  3. Consult the elderly for guidance on personal and collective decisions, for they are guides in a family and in the society similar to a Prophet of God.
  4. Never insult or scold an elderly. Because a disrespect to them is reprimanded by Allah, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his pure Household (AS).
  5. Allow our elderly to live with us. It is a bad habit to send them to nursing homes just because they are considered as nuisances to the society.

elderly, Muslims, Islam, respect, honor

Conclusion

Respecting the elderly and honoring them are among the characteristics of a Muslim society. Therefore, it is expected of every Muslim to imbibe the culture of respecting old people whether they are parents, relatives or not. Likewise, we should always acknowledge and appreciate their presence within us especially our parents. The presence of the elderly either in the family or in the society is a blessing from Allah. Their presence will bring peace, happiness, concord, tranquility, mercy and reward from Allah. It is indeed an un-Islamic practice to consider our elderly a public nuisance and eject them from our midst.

References:

[1]  Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 72, P. 137.

[2] Wasail al-Shiah, Vol. 12, P. 100.

[3] Treaties on Rights, Right 44 (i.e. The right of the one older than you)

[4] Mustadrak Wasail, Vol. 8, P. 391.

[5]  Al-Kafi, Vol. 2, P. 165; Jami at-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1919.