Islamic perspective on old age & elderly care
THE 1st of October is globally celebrated as the International day of older people. In 1990, UNGA decided to devote this day to the old-aged to draw public attention to the problems that they are facing.
People celebrate this day with great enthusiasm, organize seminars and conferences, and post relevant content on social media to make an impression as if the whole world is concerned about older people and only a meagre population exists that needs to be enlightened.
However, the ground reality is contradictory. We see there has been mushrooming of old-age homes everywhere. The idea of old-age homes is not bad.
They protect a vulnerable group of elders, particularly those who remained single without marriage, and those who have no one to take care of.
But, the swell in the number of old-age homes unveils another grim reality that the rights of old-age people are being trampled on.
Because not all the elders enrolled in OAHs are, single or do not necessarily lack caretakers.
In most cases, elders are sent to the old-age house, as their family does not want them. They are maltreated, do not get what they deserve and are considered a burden.
In point of fact, a rapid increase in the number of Old age homes is not a sign of progress. It indicates our moral decadence and dead conscience that allows us to skirt the responsibilities towards parents, who had a major role in bringing us up.
It exposes our level of regrettable forgetfulness. We forget their sacrifices and no longer bring to our memory that these were people who would not sleep to make us sleep, who would strangulate their desires for ours, would kill their hunger for feeding us on time.
In addition, would work hard to ensure our education, proper guidance, and best future etc. It is also important to note that their least or zero – contribution towards our growth does not warrant their disrespect.
Also, there are many elders who neither land in old-age homes nor are respected in their own homes.
They suffer and face the worst. They find none to share their woe. They are literally voiceless.
Their shocking tale remains unspoken and unheard and they eventually leave this world with a heavy heart.
Moreover, being a relative is not a prerequisite for respecting elders/ old-aged. Whether a family member or not, did they play any role in our nurturing or not, are they familiar to us or not, every elder deserve esteem at any rate.
In the Indian subcontinent majority of people believe in religion and to be factual, every religion denounces the act of dishonoring others, parents, and elders.
The religion of peace and compassion i.e, Islam, also guides us on this matter. It has made it obligatory for Muslims to revere older people. Quran clearly explains the status of Parents. Almighty Allah says; ‘Treat parents with benevolence’ (17:23).
This is a general command. However, when Allah talks about old-aged parents, He elucidates the ‘way of treatment’ and says; ‘If either or both of them attain old age in your presence, then do not say even ‘ugh’ to them, nor reproach them. And always speak to both of them submissively (17:23).
This verse illustrates the special station that old-aged parents hold. It states that if your parents reach old age, you should not utter a single word of contempt before them, regardless of whether you are pleased or annoyed with their saying and no matter how hurtful it is.
It becomes evident that treating parents kindly is obligatory but extra care needs to be taken when they are old. Any sort of contempt is tantamount to Allah’s disobedience.
Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) also stressed respecting elders and said; He is not one of us who is not merciful to our youngsters and does not respect and honor our elders’ (Tirmidhi-1919).
Prophet (pbuh) outrightly excludes the people from believers who do not show reverence for elders.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted that elders should be valued in social matters. Their opinion must be primarily considered and youngsters must respect their age, maintain a reverent silence before them, and allow them to speak first.
Sahl Abu Hathma and Rafi’ b.Khadij reported that once Muhayyisa bin Mas’ud and ‘Abdullah bin Sahl went towards Khaibar and they separated near the palm trees.
‘Abdullah bin Sahl was killed. They accused the Jews (for this act). The brother of the slain person ‘Abd al-Rahman and his cousins Huwayyisa and Muhayyisa; went to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and talked to him about the murder of his brother.
Since Abd al Rahman was the youngest among them, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said; ‘show regard for the greatness of the old and let the eldest begin speaking’ (Sahih Muslim 1669).
According to Allah’s apostle (pbuh) honoring the elders is part of Allah’s glorification. Abu Musa al-Ashari narrates that the Prophet said: Glorifying Allah involves showing ‘honor to a grey-haired Muslim’ (Abu Dawud 4843).
Truthful Messenger, Muhammad (pbuh) assures youngsters that if they will respect the old-aged person they will certainly be honored in their old age.
Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘If a young man honors an elderly on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honor him in his old age (Tirmidhi 2022).
In the contemporary world, the old-aged are generally treated as a botheration, but the teachings of the Prophet (Pbuh) should wake us up.
Holy Prophet (pbuh) related them with benediction and declared, ‘Elders are a source of ‘blessing’, so he who does not show mercy to young and respect ‘elders’ is not among us (Tibrani 7895).
In another Hadith, the Last Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said; Allah grants you respite, however, If there are no prostrating old-people, humble youth, infants, and animals present among you; you will be caught in deep trouble (Tibrani 7085).
Tailpiece: – When exhibiting mercy towards elders/ old-aged is a religious obligation and has become the need of the hour, then people must understand its significance.
Especially we Muslims, who believe that Islam provides a complete and perfect code for them to live, need to abide by its principles and teachings.
Elders/ Old-aged should get due respect from us. We must serve as role models for others in this case as well. This will not only result in our success but will also help in social reformation. And through this, we can uphold the glory of Islam.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.