A Moment with Our Prophet, Muhammad (S)
By Imam Zijad Delic
Day 245: The Elderly: Social & Religious Responsibility in Islam
Helping the Elderly Enjoy their Old Age! (Part 2)
Abdullah ibn Amr (r) narrated that the Prophet (S) said: “Whoever does not acknowledge the rights of our elders (does not show them respect) is not one of us.”
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍقَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ حَقَّ كَبِيرِنَا فَلَيْسَ مِنَّا
Source: Musnad – Ahmed
Transliteration: “Man Lam Ya’rif Haqqa Kabirina Fa Laysa Minna.”
Islam considers social responsibility to be one of its fundamental objectives of our Din.
And one of these objectives is caring for the elderly people of the community/society.
Indeed, Islam firmly emphasizes caring for the elderly and respecting them and all what they have done for us, the generation that follows them and the future generations.
Thus, Islam pays special attention to the elderly and their place within the society and demands from Muslims to give back to them once they attain the old age and are in need of someone else to take care of them.
Our faith teaches us to respect the elderly whether they are our parents, relatives or any other old persons.
Such approach certainly requires much patience and endurance; however, the benefits are immeasurable.
In Islam, the responsibility to take care of the elderly parents starts with the children.
God says in the Qur’an the following: “And we have enjoined on man/woman to be good and dutiful to his/her parents.” It further explains that “If one of them or both of them attain old age in your lifetime, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them, but address them in terms of honour.
وَقَضَى رَبُّكَ أَلاَّ تَعْبُدُواْ إِلاَّ إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلاَهُمَا فَلاَ تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ وَلاَ تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلاً كَرِيمًا
And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy and say: “My Lord, bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.” (Al Isra 17:23)
وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
In Islam, serving one’s parents is a duty second to prayer, and it is their right to expect it.
It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of their own, the old become in need of support.
When Muslim parents reach old age, they must be treated mercifully, with kindness and selflessness.
That’s what the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad (S) teach us.
In Islam, it is not enough that we only pray for our parents, but we should act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were helpless children and we were totally dependent on our parents for everything from food, shelter, love, etc.
Our parents sacrificed and selfishly preferred our needs to theirs.
Mothers are particularly honored.
If the elderly persons do not have family to take care of them, then they are the responsibility of the entire community/society.
The exhortations of the Muslim textual references on this subject are innumerable.
The discrepancy is not in the text of our faith…it is between our faith and deeds just as discrepancy is not in the laws of Canada but rather between the laws and the ways we chose to act.
One tradition of the Messenger Muhammad will suffice in this regard.
He (S) seriously warned those who do not care for the elderly of the community/society: “Those who do not care about the elderly do not belong to the community/society.” (Ahmed)
Even though Canadian seniors are in much better position than the most of the world’s seniors, still we are obliged to do better and make their lives comfortable.
It is not enough to only help them grow old.
We have to ease their conditions as Frank A. Clark stated: “We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it.”
Here are several challenges that the elderly in Canada face and from the human, social and faith perspectives, we, as a nation, must find time and resources to deal with these challenges: age of retirement; pension and benefits; state of poverty of many of them; since they are aged, illness factor is more serious; less mobile and dependent on others to go around; since families are spread across, more of them live without their children and families so there is no much help from the close family members; loneliness they feel if and when their spouse dies (well over 2 million of them live alone – mainly women) is another factor that adds to their difficult conditions; health care is another challenge they face in the country of plenty, etc.
All Canadians – Muslims, people of other faith traditions and those who do not subscribe to any faith at all – need to start owning up to our responsibility towards our elderly as human beings…after all caring for the elderly is an act of heart.
Anyone who possesses a pure heart can see that it is a self-perpetuating cycle.
He or she who respects will gain respect in the long run if death does not overcome us before the old age.
Reality is that all of us will age.
Likewise, our elderly have given us their time and the wisdom and paved the road for us and the least we can do for them is to be kind if not generous like them.
There can be no doubt that Islam has given the elderly a special status, as there are texts which urge Muslims to respect and honor them in their old age.
Ya Rabb! Guide us to be kind to the elderly so that we help them live their lives productively!