22 نوفمبر, 2017 - 3 Rabi' al-Awwal 1439

Caring for the Elderly

Caring for the Elderly

 
The Command
The world has lost its respect for the old. To be more precise, societies now have a growing culture that views the older generation as a burden upon them. Nursing homes have become the staple for the older generation and some children look for alternative means of caring for their parents, such as assisted living. Fortunately, Islam came with a strong stance on caring for the old which can be found throughout the Quran and the Sunnah.
In the book Al-Adab al-Mufrad, there is a narration that states, “Al-Ash'ari said, "Part of respect for God is to show respect to an old Muslim.” Islam highlights the importance of caring for the old, and that this is to be done as a means of attempting to repay the countless hours spent serving in the growth of the child. As God says in the Quran, “Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If one or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them a word of disrespect, or scold them, but say a generous word to them. And act humbly to them in mercy, and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them, since they cared for me when I was small” (Quran 17:23-24). This verse shows us that our role towards the old is one of service and when they reach this tender age, we should be aware of our behavior towards them.
It is important to note that the above Quranic verse begins with a command from God, indicating that whatever is to follow is an obligation from the Most High. The first command is one that is well-known among the Muslim population, the testimony of faith a pillar of the Islamic religion. It is that short sentence which highlights the theological belief of the Muslim community, that there is no god aside from the one God that created the Heavens and the Earth, and sustains His creation and the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is the last and final Messenger. With that being understood, it is inextricably impermissible to worship other than God, or as known in the Arabic language, Allah. When one commits such a deed they are committing the gravest sin known to mankind; shirk or placing the worship that belongs to God alone, somewhere else. God knowingly utilized this order in this verse to teach the readers a lesson, immediately after mentioning the most crucial theological point in our religion, He then commands the just, loving treatment of our parents and by extension, those of old age. This extension is understood because scholars have stated that if one’s parents have passed on then it is upon the child to look after their parent’s next of kin (aunts, uncles), whom presumably would also be of old age.

Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realize the rights of our elders are not from us” (Sunan Abu Dawud).

One may ask, what are the rights of the elders? As the verse from the Quran states, it is to treat them well and to give them the respect they deserve. Also, because we understand this act as an attempt to reciprocate what they did for us as small children, it is to be understood that as they reach this delicate age where they become dependent on others, that their children fulfill their needs. This goes also for those without children, it falls upon the Muslim community to find means of caring for them.
Abu Hurairah (may God be pleased with him) reported:
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "May he be disgraced! May he be disgraced! May he be disgraced, whose parents, one or both, attain old age during his lifetime, and he does not enter Jannah (by being dutiful to them)" (Muslim).
Solutions
There are possible alternatives to this growing issue of disrespect and lack of care for the elderly. First, it should be clear that Islamic holistic education is needed. Both the old and young need to be reminded about who God is, and why it falls upon them to follow these injunctions set by the Divine. If people are unaware of what it means to follow the will of God then they cannot be blamed for their nonsensical attitude towards the elderly. Yet education alone will not solve the problem.
In addition to education, people must be assisted in their goals to help the elderly. It is not uncommon to find spouses that disagree with each other on how their parents will be cared for. It may be that a wife refuses to allow her husband’s parents to move into their home although he has no other siblings able to assist in this regards. What then is to be done? Scholars have stated that in such a case the couple should sit and discuss with each other in a calm manner the immensity of care for the elderly and specifically for parents. If one is still unable to receive the support of one’s spouse then they should attempt to pay for hired help. One should note that this hired help should of course not be a source of the deterioration of the elder’s health as one can find in many nursing homes and in some cases of assisted living.

There is also a role of setting up endowments to assist in this regard and finding people in the community who wish to set up means of caring for the elderly or helping those that are attempting to do so on their own. One may even create scholarships or jobs in communities for well trained individuals to assist with the elderly in their homes in light of the Quran and Sunnah.
Most importantly, people must be brought up upon the premise that respect for elders is essentially Islamic. When a young person grows up not only being taught that care, love, and affection towards the elderly is incumbent upon them, but sees their parents, their friends and those around them practicing this, they will find it within themselves to live their lives according to this noble act. We ask God that He facilitate this within us all and cause us all to enter Paradise through our care for the elderly.