The Status of the Elderly in Islam

On a visit to a post office in San Diego, California, I noticed an elderly lady struggling to get out of her car. Alone and probably in her mid seventies she held the door with a trembling hand as she stepped out of the driver’s seat.

“May I help you Ma’am?”, I said, stepping out of my own car with an outstretched hand.

“No, Thank you”, she replied, politely and with a smile, perhaps reluctant to take help from a stranger.

I watched her as she proceeded towards the building with difficulty. Her dignified refusal, despite the difficult situation she was in, moved me immensely. She was clearly too old to be running errands, and perhaps too old to drive safely.

I realized that the situation of this old lady was not unlike millions of other elderly the world over, who are deprived the love and care they need and deserve in their old age.

The American Pscychological Association reports: Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. Those statistics may not tell the whole story. For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported.

Even in countries that are known for relatively stronger family structures, the elderly are increasingly getting short shrift. According to HelpAge India, most elders are ill-treated by their own children, who have emerged as the the largest group of perpetrators at 47.3 per cent of all cases of abuse! .

The Status of the Elderly in Islam While Islam emphasizes respect for all elders in society, children have a special responsibility towards their parents.

The Glorious Qur’an says:

“Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” [Translation of Al-Qur’an 17:23-24]

In these verses, kindness towards parents is mentioned along with belief in One God. These two verses reflect the compassion, respect and sense of responsibility that Islam requires the believers to have towards their parents.

“A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father”

  • God is more loving and kinder than a mother to her dear child
  • Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity and putting some water in your neighbors bucket is a charity
  • On the Day of Resurrection, nothing will be heavier in the scale (of good deeds) of the believer than good conduct. God hates the one who swears and hurls obscenities.(Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi)
  • The believers with the most perfect faith are those with the most perfect conduct and manners. And the best ones amongst you are those who are best to their families.(Al-Tirmidhi)
  • None of you truly believes until he loves for his (believing) brother what he loves for himself.(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
  • God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.
  • None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
  • He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer.
  • The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets the saints, and the martyrs
  • Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.
  • God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds.
  • A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action.' The Prophet was asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every living thing.
  • The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character. The best of you are those who are the best to their women
  • Among the things that people have found from the words of the previous prophets was:If you feel no shame, then do as you wish."
  • On every person's joints or small bones (i.e. fingers and toes), there is charity every day the sun rises. Doing justice between two people is charity; assisting a man to mount his animal, or lifting up his belongings onto it is charity; a good word is charity; every step you take towards prayer is charity; and removing harmful things from pathways is charity."
  • The Prophet (pbuh) said "Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a traveler/wayfarer."
    Ibn 'Umar used to say:
    "When evening comes, do not expect (to live till) morning, and when morning comes, do not expect (to live till) evening. Take from your health (a preparation) for your illness, and from your life for your death
  • Allah the Almighty has said: 'O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and hope in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds in the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I shall forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with an earthful of sins and were you then to face Me, without having associated anything with Me, I shall grant you an earthful of pardon
  • Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day either speak good or be silent. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his neighbor. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his guest.

The Prophet declared that parents have the right to be obeyed by their children. In one of his narrations, the Prophet stated that the major sins are to believe that God has partners, to disobey one’s parents, to commit murder, and to bear false witness [Bukhari, Muslim].

Islam makes it mandatory for children to be responsible for the maintenance of their parents once the children have become independent.

Dignity – A Basic Human Right

In the last few years, there has been a renewed interested internationally in the plight of the elderly. Many conferences and symposia have emphasized that often the elderly are not accorded the respect and dignity that every human being needs, even if they are provided basic maintenance.

Compassion and respect towards the elderly is an essential element of Islamic conduct. The Prophet of Islam stated clearly:

“He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to the young and who does not show respect to the elder.”

  • God is more loving and kinder than a mother to her dear child
  • Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity and putting some water in your neighbors bucket is a charity
  • On the Day of Resurrection, nothing will be heavier in the scale (of good deeds) of the believer than good conduct. God hates the one who swears and hurls obscenities.(Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi)
  • The believers with the most perfect faith are those with the most perfect conduct and manners. And the best ones amongst you are those who are best to their families.(Al-Tirmidhi)
  • None of you truly believes until he loves for his (believing) brother what he loves for himself.(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
  • God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.
  • None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
  • He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer.
  • The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets the saints, and the martyrs
  • Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.
  • God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds.
  • A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action.' The Prophet was asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every living thing.
  • The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character. The best of you are those who are the best to their women
  • Among the things that people have found from the words of the previous prophets was:If you feel no shame, then do as you wish."
  • On every person's joints or small bones (i.e. fingers and toes), there is charity every day the sun rises. Doing justice between two people is charity; assisting a man to mount his animal, or lifting up his belongings onto it is charity; a good word is charity; every step you take towards prayer is charity; and removing harmful things from pathways is charity."
  • The Prophet (pbuh) said "Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a traveler/wayfarer."
    Ibn 'Umar used to say:
    "When evening comes, do not expect (to live till) morning, and when morning comes, do not expect (to live till) evening. Take from your health (a preparation) for your illness, and from your life for your death
  • Allah the Almighty has said: 'O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and hope in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds in the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I shall forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with an earthful of sins and were you then to face Me, without having associated anything with Me, I shall grant you an earthful of pardon
  • Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day either speak good or be silent. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his neighbor. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his guest.

Far from the abuse and neglect that we see in present day society the elderly have a protected and dignified status in Islam. Traditionally Muslims have accorded their elders this lofty status, and the decline in this practice we see in some Muslim countries is concomitant with the overall decline in adherence to Islamic principles.

In the cycle of life, the youth and old age are only a matter of time, for one who is young, must surely grow old one day. Islam reminds the young of this basic truth of the human condition, through a narration of the Prophet in which he stated “If a young man honors an elderly on account of his age, God appoints someone to honor him in his old age.”

  • God is more loving and kinder than a mother to her dear child
  • Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity and putting some water in your neighbors bucket is a charity
  • On the Day of Resurrection, nothing will be heavier in the scale (of good deeds) of the believer than good conduct. God hates the one who swears and hurls obscenities.(Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi)
  • The believers with the most perfect faith are those with the most perfect conduct and manners. And the best ones amongst you are those who are best to their families.(Al-Tirmidhi)
  • None of you truly believes until he loves for his (believing) brother what he loves for himself.(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
  • God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.
  • None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
  • He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer.
  • The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets the saints, and the martyrs
  • Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.
  • God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds.
  • A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action.' The Prophet was asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every living thing.
  • The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character. The best of you are those who are the best to their women
  • Among the things that people have found from the words of the previous prophets was:If you feel no shame, then do as you wish."
  • On every person's joints or small bones (i.e. fingers and toes), there is charity every day the sun rises. Doing justice between two people is charity; assisting a man to mount his animal, or lifting up his belongings onto it is charity; a good word is charity; every step you take towards prayer is charity; and removing harmful things from pathways is charity."
  • The Prophet (pbuh) said "Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a traveler/wayfarer."
    Ibn 'Umar used to say:
    "When evening comes, do not expect (to live till) morning, and when morning comes, do not expect (to live till) evening. Take from your health (a preparation) for your illness, and from your life for your death
  • Allah the Almighty has said: 'O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and hope in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds in the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I shall forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with an earthful of sins and were you then to face Me, without having associated anything with Me, I shall grant you an earthful of pardon
  • Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day either speak good or be silent. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his neighbor. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honor his guest.

May God help us all, to fulfill our duties towards our elderly, to love and respect them as they ought to be loved and respected, and to set a good example for our own children.