The Elderly: Social & Religious Responsibility in Islam (Part 3 of 3)

A Moment with Our Prophet, Muhammad (S)

By Imam Zijad Delic

Day 246: The Commands of the Qur’an and the Sunnah about the Elderly (Part 3)

Abu Musa Al-Ashari (r) narrated that the Prophet (S) said: “You will never have faith until you love each other! Shall I tell you what will make you love each other?”

لَنْ تُؤْمِنُوا حَتَّى تَحَابُوا أَفَلا أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى مَا تَحَابُونَ عَلَيْهِ

They said, “Of course, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (S) said:

أَفْشُوا السَّلامَ بَيْنِكُمْ فَوَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لا تَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى تَرَاحَمُوا

“Spread peace between yourselves. By the one in whose hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you are merciful to others.”

They said, “O Messenger of Allah, all of us are merciful.” The Prophet (S) said: “Verily, it is not only mercy between yourselves, but rather it is mercy in general.”

إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ بِرَحْمَةِ أَحَدِكُمْ خَاصَّتَهُ وَلَكِنْ رَحْمَةُ الْعَامَّةِ

Source: al-Sunan al-Kubrá lil-Nasai

Transliteration: “Innahu Laysa Bi Rahmati Ahadikum Khassatahu, Wa Lakin Rahmatul ‘Ammah.”

Prophet Muhammad (S) was a pioneer in this field of honoring the elderly and their place in the society.
He (S) taught the lessons of caring for the elderly irrespective of gender, color, or religion, and he himself set a great example in practicing the principles he taught.

Simply put, he (S) walked the talk!

An old man once came to meet the Prophet (S), so the people were a bit slow in making way for him. Thereupon the Prophet (S) felt pity for him and was merciful to him; he said, “He who does not show kindness to the young ones and respect to the elderly is not among us.” (Muslims)

Muhammad (S)) stipulates in this Hadith that anyone who does not respect the old is not considered a Muslim as he/she does not act like one, nor does he/she have the attributes or manners of a Muslim.

Surely, one of the distinguished characters of a Muslim is his/her respect to the old.

Islam considers respect for the old as one of its fundamentals and that anyone who does not abide by this rule is not among the good Muslims.

Abiding by these morals was characteristic of Muhammad (S) during his lifetime.

Remember how great his words to Abu-Bakr as-Siddiq (r) were on the day of Conquest of Makkah.

That day, Abu Bakr (r) brought his father Abu Quhafa, a very old man then, to embrace Islam before Muhammad (S) at the Ka’ba.

Muhammad (S)) told Abu Bakr, “Why did you not keep the old man at home so that I would have come to him there?” (Ahmed)

Muhammad (S) was then a victorious leader and a conqueror of Makkah, whilst Abu Quhafa was an old man who embraced Islam after fighting it for twenty years.

Despite that, Muhammad (S) showed him great respect and felt that it would have been more appropriate if he – the great victorious Prophet (S) – had gone to the old man’s place.

This is the rank of the elderly in the eyes of Muhammad (S).

Moreover, he (S) would not approve of prolonging congregational prayers which he loved and valued highly.

This was for the sake of not exhausting the old and the unprivileged.

This indicates that the Messenger (S) had a comprehensive view of the meaning of mercy, was broad minded, and had a clear discernment of the nature of Islam.

In fact, he (S) was basically sent as a mercy to people and not for making things difficult for them or causing them to suffer.

All these facts could be perceived if we ponder on one unique incident narrated by Abu Mas’ud Al Ansari (r).

He said, “A man came to the Messenger of Allah (S) and said, ‘O God’s Messenger! By God, I keep away from the morning prayer, only because so and so prolongs the prayer when he leads us in it.’ I have never seen God’s Messenger more furious in giving advice than he was at that time. He then said, ‘Some of you make people dislike good deeds (the prayer). So whoever among you leads the people in prayer should shorten it because among you are the weak, the old and those with urgent needs.’” (Muslim)

Why should Muslims care for the elderly people?

Because, caring for the elderly in Islam is based on textual references that encourage taking care of the elderly, including the following:

  1. The elderly person has a high status before God if he/she do righteous actions.

Muhammad (S) said: “The best of you are those who live the longest and do the best deeds.” (Ibn Hibban)

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ أَلا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِخِيَارِكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَى يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ أَطْوَلُكُمْ أَعْمَارًا وَأَحْسَنُكُمْ أَخْلاقًا

  1. Respecting the elderly and honoring them are characteristics of the Muslim community and a Sign of Reverence to Allah.

Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (r) reported that Muhammad (S) said, “It is out of reverence to God to respect the white-headed (aged) Muslim.” (Abu Dawud)

In this hadith, Muhammad (S) considered respecting the elderly a way to show reverence for the Almighty.

He linked reverence for the Creator and His creatures with respect of the All-Powerful and the weak elderly.

The hadith implies all kinds of respect and care for the elderly: Health care, psychological care, social care, economic care, ending illiteracy, providing education, and other forms of care that the international community calls for today.

In another Hadith, Muhammad (S) renounces those who do not venerate the elderly and considers them alien to the Muslim society.

Once an old man came wanting to see Muhammad (S) and the people did not make way for him. The Messenger (S) said: “He/she is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect our old ones.” (Tirmizi)

  1. Respecting Elderly is A Duty of the Young persons.

It was reported by Anas ibn Malik (r) that Muhammad (S) said, “If a young person honors an elderly on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honor him in his old age.” (Tirmizi)

The Prophet (S) here advises the young of the Muslim community, who will be tomorrow’s elderly, to honor the elderly.

Continuous application of this Prophetic advice helps bridge the gap between generations and spreads an atmosphere of love and understanding between the young and the old.

Consider here also the generalization in the Prophet’s (S) words: “If a young person honors an elderly;” the hadith requires honoring the elderly regardless of their color or religion.

In another hadith Muslims are told to be merciful to all people, Muslim and non-Muslim: Anas ibn Malik (r) narrated that Muhammad (S) said, “By Him in Whose hand my soul is, Allah does not bestow His mercy except on a merciful one.” They (the Companions) said, “All of us are merciful.” The Messenger replied, “Not only that each of you has mercy upon the other, but to have mercy also upon all people.” (Nasai)

In short, Canadian Muslim community needs a natural support system for elderly.

What we normally would have if we had a full-fledged Muslim community with all the components like the extended family, like living geographically close to each other, all worshiping together.

We should be close enough to know when our brothers or sisters are in pain and when they need our help.

Seniors of all backgrounds are our collective responsibility – social and religious.

Ya Rabb! Guide us to follow the best of the examples – Muhammad (S) in regard to the treatment of the elderly and make our hearts soft for them!

Allahumma Amin!