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 in Islam is considered an important obligation through which one seeks closeness to Allah.
There is no doubt in the special status of the elderly in Islam, as there are several texts, which urge Muslims to respect and honor 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&HP) said:
“The elderly among his family is like a Prophet among his community” 
Moreover, honoring the elderly is synonymous with honoring Allah and His Prophet. In this regards, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was reported to have said:
“Honor the elderly because honoring them is part of honoring Allah” 
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 honor 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 honor him because of the right of Islam and the respect due to it”.
Similarly, Islam commands a Muslim to honor and respect senior citizens because honoring the elderly will guarantee the protection against every calamity on the Day of Resurrection. The Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) said:
“Whoever honors the gray hair due to an old age, Allah will definitely save him from the panic of the Day of Judgment”.
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&HP) and his pure Household (AS) on how a Muslim should treat an elderly person. These include:
Always honors 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.
In case of necessity, always render assistance to the elderly .
Consult the elderly for guidance on personal and collective decisions, for they are guides in a family and the society similar to a Prophet of God.
Never insult or scold an elderly. Because a disrespect to them is reprimanded by Allah, the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) and his pure Household (AS).
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.
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 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.
- Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 72, P. 137.
- Wasail al-Shiah, Vol. 12, P. 100.
- Treaties on Rights, Right 44 (i.e. The right of the one older than you)
- Mustadrak Wasail, Vol. 8, P. 391.
- Al-Kafi, Vol. 2, P. 165; Jami at-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1919.
Today, one of the Islamic regulations that is the cause of many prejudgments about Islam in western countries is the law of polygamy in Islam. This practice refers to a form of marriage that allows a man to have two, three, or four wives at the same time, but, on the contrary, never ever allows a woman to have more than one husband simultaneously.
In this article, you will read the philosophy behind this law from different perspectives and finally see Islam’s recommendation on that.
Polygamy was practiced long before Islam among different nations and was considered as an acceptable common deed in the history of some other faiths including Christianity and Judaism, although it is frowned upon and forbidden in their cultures now.
According to the Jewish encyclopedia: “While there is no evidence of a polyandrous state in primitive Jewish society, polygamy seems to have been a well-established institution, dating from the most ancient times and extending to comparatively modern days” .
In Christianity also, polygamy does not contradict their Scripture: “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy” .
Islam did not invent the system of polygamy, neither did it ban this tradition which was practiced unlimitedly by Arabs. Instead, it restricted it to four wives and gave it specific conditions and terms.
It is explicitly stated in the Holy Quran that:
“If you fear that you may not deal justly with the orphans, then marry [other] women that you like, two, three, or four. But if you fear that you may not treat them fairly, then [marry only] one, or [marry from among] your slave-women. That makes it likelier that you will not be unfair” (4:3).
This verse was revealed in regard to the Arabs in the period of ignorance, who were seldom free from wars and fighting, and among whom death by killing was a common occurrence. So, there was always a great number of orphans and widows among them.
Usually, the leaders of tribes and people of power and influence took the orphan girls (with their properties) as wives and behaved with them unjustly. They would often turn them out after swallowing their property; the helpless girls would become poor; neither they had any money to live on, nor was there anyone willing to marry and maintain them. The Quran, then, has reproached those Arabs very severely for this evil habit and prohibited very strongly doing any injustice to orphans or devouring their property. Allah says in the previous verse:
“Give the orphans their property, and do not replace the good with the bad, and do not eat up their property [by mingling it] with your own property, for that is indeed a great sin” (4:2) [i].
On the whole, Allah urges them to be careful regarding the orphans, so much so that if they are afraid that they would not be able to treat the orphan girls equitably and therefore do not like to take them, wives, then they had better not marry them; instead they should marry other women- two, three or four .
Both the Quran and Sunnah (the Prophet’s (PBUH&HP) and infallible Imams’(AS) tradition) clearly indicate the legitimacy of polygamy in Islam and most of Islamic Jurists and Scholars agree with that. It is noteworthy, however, that Quran’s recommendation to marry two, three, or four does not in any way imply an obligation; neither has it been seen as a necessity in any of the Islamic sects. Now we will shed light on the reasons why Islam did not absolutely abolish this tradition.
There are two different stances among Muslim scholars about polygamy in Islam; some have denied it as a general Islamic law by saying that it was suited to that specific time -i.e., the time and occasion in which the verse (4:3) was revealed- in history. The others, on the other hand, make any attempt to defend this law by reasoning it and saying its benefits; some of their arguments are:
Men’s sexual desire is stronger and lasts longer than women’s.
Women are not capable of fulfilling men’s sexual desire fully because of the restrictions they have, viz. menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, etc.
There are usually more marriageable women than men due to women’s longer lifespan and men’s more frequent fatal casualties because of the dangerous incidents that happen to them, etc.
Among these reasons, the third one -if we suppose that it existed in the past or continues to be common in the present day- is of great importance in justifying polygamy in Islam. Not only that, but it creates a right in favor of women and duty and responsibility for men and society.
Clearly speaking, if, in any case, the number of women fit to be married exceeds the number of marriageable men, then a group of women would be left without husbands and would remain deprived of the right to family life, so the law restricting marriage to monogamy will be inconsistent with this natural right. Accordingly, it is only by the provision of the law of polygamy (of course with special conditions) that this natural right is revived.
What’s more, Islam disagrees with the belief that man is a born polygamist and that his nature is at variance with monogamy. Islam, also, is against the idea that loyalty is impossible for men, and that one woman is created for one man, and one man for all women.
Polygamy, in the Islamic perspective, rises from a social difficulty and is not due to the innate nature of men. If there did not exist in society the problem of an excess of the number of women in need of marriage over the number of marriageable men, the custom of polygamy would have ceased to exist or would have rarely existed .
Now read the second part of this article to see the Islamic restrictions on the law of polygamy in Islam.
Almost all religions have recommended the maintenance of family ties, but in the Islamic family, it has taken to unprecedented heights. Various Qur'anic verses and narrations (Hadiths) have emphasized maintaining the bonds of kinship (called Silatur-Rahim in Islam) and instruct Muslims to be kind, merciful, affectionate and caring towards parents and relatives; even to non-Muslim relatives or to those who are harsh to them. Why has so much importance been given to family ties in Islam? Who are concerned? What consequences does ignoring this important Islamic advice bring about? Here these and many similar questions are answered.
According to definitions with regard to Islamic family, Rahim [i] is anyone who becomes a relative through blood ties with one’s father, mother, uncle, and aunt, or through marriage . And, Silat means kindness and affection. Simply said, Silatur-Rahim means being kind to family and relatives, and keeping a good relationship with them .
Family kinship, with respect to the structure of Islamic family, is of paramount importance and is known to be the fastest-paid prayer. It brings about a quick reward in this world as well as an afterlife reward. Even the members of a family who are all sinful acquire more wealth by maintaining family ties, and their lives will last longer by doing good to each other .
In Surah Nisa it is said: “Be wary of Allah, in whose Name you adjure one another and [of severing ties with] blood relations.” (4:1). In another verse of the Quran, the pledge taken from the Children of Israel that includes worshipping God and being good to relatives is reminded (2:83). Muslims are also told to worship God and be good to parents and the relatives in another verse (4:36). The command to keep family ties right after the instruction of piety and worshipping God in these verses demonstrates that Silatur-Rahim is almost as important as piety in Islam.
In a narration, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said that: “I command all the people of my followers (Umma), whether present or not, and those generations which are to come till the Day of Judgement (Qiyama), …, to maintain family kinship even if they live at a distance of a year's journey.” . In another narration, Prophet (PBUH) states that the best of people in morality and behavior are the ones who resume their relationships with a relative who has cut the relation with them .
These verses and narrations about family kinship in the Islamic family together with many other ones illustrate the importance of this matter in Islam.
Being a moral and divine duty over every human being, keeping family ties concerns both faithful and unfaithful relatives. Hence, even if parents and other relatives are not religious, one should respect them and try to fulfill their needs.
Imam Sadiq (AS) was asked about the rights of the relatives over one, he (AS) answered: “If they are of the opposite religious ideas, they have family rights that nothing can stop it; and if they are of the same religious believes, they have two rights: family rights and Islamic rights". When a man asked Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about how to treat a relative who had harmed and insulted him, the Prophet (PBUH) answered: “Resume your relationship with the one who has broken family bonds with you, grant the one who has deprived you and forgive the one who has harmed you. Whenever you do so, God will protect you against them” .
However, the relationship with unfaithful and irreligious relatives, according to the Islamic family, can be maintained as far as it does not lead to committing an unlawful (Haram) act or disobeying other divine commands, otherwise, keeping family ties with unfaithful relatives is not even allowed .
One might have numerous relatives and need to know who should be visited first or whose rights are more important than others’. The priorities are as follows in Islam: parents (and mother is the priority between them); sisters and brothers; relatives through blood ties (uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.); and, relatives through marriage (in-law family, etc.) .
To indicate the importance of this ranking, Prophet (PBUH) said: “If one gets five loaves of bread, or five dinars or five dates and wants to consume them, the best way is to donate them to parents. Secondly to use them himself and his family, and then giving them to poor relatives. Then donating to poor neighbors and finally voluntarily giving in the way of God; which is least rewarded.” . It means that these five kinds of donations will be all rewarded since they are in obedience to God’s commands and in His way, but voluntary charity (Sadaqah) is less paid .
Imam Hussain (AS) has narrated from Prophet (PBUH) that: “to pay family rights, begin from your own family: first your mother, father, sister, and brother; then other relatives depending on how close they are to you” .
Continues Reading: What Does Islam Say about Maintaining Family Ties: Part 2
[i] Rahim is a word derived from Allah's special quality, Ar-Rahman (The Compassionate One).
- islamic family
- Ibn Babawayh, “Al-Khisal”, p. 124.
- Shaykh al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 2, p. 151.
- A. Javadi Amoli, “Mafatih al-hayat”, p. 212.
- Shaykh al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 2, p. 157.
- Shaykh al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 2, p. 150.
- A. Javadi Amoli, “Tasneem Tafsir”, vol. 2, p. 560-561.
- A. Javadi Amoli, “Mafatih al-hayat”, p. 219.
- Shaykh al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 5, p. 65.
- A. Javadi Amoli, “Mafatih al-hayat”, p. 220.
- Shaykh al-Mufid, “Al-Ikhtisas”, p. 219.