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Islam Honors the Elders

Author : Dr Noah Ali Salman

Date Added : 16-03-2023

Grand Mufti of Jordan: Dr. Noah Ali Salman


All perfect praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. May His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.


Human dignity has three characteristics:


First: Cosmic Honoring:

Allah Has Referred to this in the verses: "We have indeed created man in the best of moulds." {At-Teen/ 4} and " We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation." {Al-Isra`, 70}.


There is a huge difference between the creation of man and other creatures as well as their life conditions. Man is honored in the sense that he walks upright on two legs while other creatures walk on four legs or crawl on stomach. Another point is that Allah The Almighty Has subjected to man what is in the heavens and the earth. In addition, they differ in the way they consume food.

The pious and the sinner as well as the believer and the disbeliever share this honor.


Second: Sharia honoring:

In His Sharia, Allah Has Given special rights to human being and Honored him by sending down a Sharia that guides him to the truth. Allah Says {What means}: "Surely this Koran guides to the way that is straightest and gives good tidings to the believers who do deeds of righteousness, that theirs shall be a great wage." {Al-Israa`/9}.


He, The Almighty Gave man the ability to choose some things, so he can do or not do while the rest of the creatures live their lives according to the instincts Allah Created in them.


Third: Honoring in the Hereafter:

Allah created man to live forever: either in lasting bliss in case he obeyed Allah and His Messenger or constant agony if he failed to do that. Do not be surprised, Allah The Almighty Says: "And God summons to the Abode of Peace." {Younis/25}. One who rejects this call should blame none but themselves. One proverb says: "One rejecting dignity is mean." Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: "Every one of my Ummah will enter Jannah except those who refuse". He was asked: "Who will refuse?" He (PBUH) said: "Whoever obeys me, shall enter Jannah, and whosoever disobeys me, refuses to (enter Jannah)". [Al- Bukhari].


The Quran states what Allah prepared for the believers in Jannah and for the disbelievers in Hell. The former will be greatly honored and rewarded while the latter will be severely punished.


In Quranic exegesis, the verse: "and the unbeliever shall say, ’O would that I were dust!’" {An-Naba'/40} is interpreted as follows: On the Day of Judgment, Allah Will Rule between the animals whereby the hornless goat will retaliate against the one with horns. After that, Allah Says to the animals: "Be dust" and they be. Then the one who deserves to be sent to Hell Says {’O would that I were dust!}. He wishes that he was an animal to be dust on that Day. 


After this introduction, I will tackle the main topic of this article, which is looking after the elderly to honor their humanity.


The elderly are people who are old; however, ageing is a relative matter, as a person may look younger than their actual age. Since this is a relative matter, there is love and mercy amongst all groups of society. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: "He is not one of us who shows no mercy to younger ones and does not acknowledge the honour due to our elders." {Tirmithi}. According to Islam, when a person gets old, they are entitled to two things:


First: Moral right

Second: Material right


Moral right encompasses several things:

1- Respect and reverence. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Glorifying Allah involves showing honour to a grey-haired Muslim and to one who can expound the Qur'an, but not to one who acts extravagantly regarding it, or turns away from it, and showing honour to a just ruler." {Abu Dawood}.

Moreover, the Messenger of Allah commanded that the oldest leads the people in prayer if they were of equal knowledge of the Quran, the Sunnah and the Hijrah.  When a group of people came to the Prophet (PBUH) and their youngest wanted to speak on their behalf, he said: "Give room to those who are older." {Agreed upon}.


This honoring entails a great reward from Allah and it isn`t delayed. The Messenger (PBUH) said: "No young person honors an elder due to his age, except that Allah appoints for him one who will honor him at that age." {Tirmithi}.


      2- Learning from experiences: 


Life teaches things that school itself doesn`t. Islamic literature is full of examples encouraging the youth to benefit from the knowledge and experience of the elderly as well as to steer the determination and strength of the youth in the right direction.  Therefore, in our country and other countries, there is a Council of Elders alongside the House of Representatives. As Muslims, our motto is : "Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers, who preceded us in belief, " {Al-Hashir, 10}.


All the texts of Sharia promoting dutifulness to parents apply to every old person since respecting the elderly is an obligation upon everyone, and not only their children.


The person most entitled to take care of the old person is the old person him/herself, but from a younger age. The Messenger of Allah Said (What means): "Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age…." {Al-Hakim}. One should take advantage of being young by doing beneficial things in the Hereafter and when old; one of which is treating people kindly to be loved and treated as such when old.


As for Material right:

This has to do with provision. If the old person has wealth then he/she can spend from that but if he/she doesn`t then his/her children are obliged to provide for him/her. According to Sharia, this provision covers what is sufficient for the old person in terms of food, drink, clothes, treatment and education, but in accordance with the financial status of the provider. Allah The Almighty Says {What means}: "God puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. After a difficulty, God will soon grant relief." {At-Talak, 7}.


In addition, scholars mentioned two differences between father spending on child and child spending on father: 


First: If the poor child reached the age of puberty, was healthy, discerning and able to earn, then his father isn`t obligated to provide for him, even if he (Father) was well off. It is not a shortcoming on either of them if he (child) went to make a living through lawful means. However, if he didn`t find a lawful means for making a living then he is a poor Muslim who deserves to be given from public funds as other poor people. As for the poor father who is able to earn, his rich child is obligated to provide for him and he isn`t responsible for making a living. This is according to the view of the Shafi'ee and Hanfi schools of thought.


Second: The father isn`t obligated to cover the marriage expenses of his son, even if he is well off and his son needs to get married. This is because marriage expenses aren`t an obligation upon the father. On the contrary, the rich child is obliged to pay the marriage expenses of his father if the latter needed that.


It is no secret that fathers help their children as much as they can. However, I wanted to clarify the degree of attention Sharia pays to the welfare of the elderly.


It is also no secret that children are keen on serving their parents and grandparents. Rather, they enjoy doing that following the commands of Allah Who Says {What means}: "Thy Lord has decreed you shall not serve any but Him, and to be good to parents." {Al-Isra`, 23}. He The Almighty also Says {What means}: "Is there any Reward for Good-other than Good?" {Al-Rahman, 60}.


Here, I would like to point out that it isn`t the duty of the daughter in law to serve her father in law and if she does so then she is among the good doers. Allah The Almighty Says {What means}: "no ground (of complaint) can there be against such as do right." {At-Tawbah, 91}.


However, if the old person is poor and has nobody to provide for him/her then it is an obligation upon the public treasury to provide for him/her. We all know the story of 'Umar Bin Khattab who waived the Jizyah for an old blind man whom he saw begging from people, and he allocated to him some money from the Bayt Al-Maal (public treasury). Providing for the poor has different names, such as retirement, social security and national aid. In addition, what the poor takes from Zakah, Kafarah, vows and the like is a form of caring for the elderly. If these resources are organized, they will pay off and have a good impact on society. They also bring a Muslim closer to Allah.


Homes for the disabled and the elderly are similar to hospitals in the sense that they are there for exceptional cases. If the son or daughter is busy earning for himself and his dependents and can`t afford a nurse or servant to care for them at home then sending them to such homes is allowed. However, it is if he/she visits them on regular basis, doesn`t desert them and doesn`t favor child, wife, friend or money over them. These homes, with proper care, are the best choice for the elderly who have no one to care for.


Ageing along with incapacity is a painful situation from which the Prophet (PBUH) sought refuge with Allah. He used to say, "O Allah! I seek refuge with You from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and geriatric old age, and seek refuge with You from the punishment of the grave, and I seek refuge with You from the afflictions of life and death." {Agreed upon}. Anas reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace he upon him) used to make this supplication: "O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from miserliness, from sloth and from decrepitude." {Agreed upon}. This is why Allah granted concessions to the old. For example, they are allowed to breakfast in Ramadan and feed a needy person for each day of missed fast. Allah Says {What means}: "For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent." {Al-Baqarah/184}. Ibn `Abbas said: "This Verse is not abrogated, but it is meant for old men and old women who have no strength to fast, so they should feed one poor person for each day of fasting (instead of fasting). {Bukhari}.


In addition, Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said: "Pray standing and if you are unable, pray sitting and if you cannot, pray lying on your side, [otherwise pray by signs]." {Bukhari}. This exemption includes the incapacitated because he/she is like the ill.


Moreover, scholars have allowed the old person who has difficulty maintaining purity for every prescribed prayer to combine Duhr with Asr and Maghreb with `Ishaa`.


In addition to taking care of the elderly through providing food, clothing, residence and treatment, it gave attention to the spiritual aspect and the human dignity. Rather, children and grandchildren can draw closer to Allah by caring for their parents and grandparents. The supplication of the latter for the former brings them good in this life and the next. Most importantly, Allah Never turns down the supplication parents make in favor of their children.


This attitude towards the elderly in this blessed country confirms the words of Allah Who Said (What means): "Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in God" {Al-Imran/110}. In fact, sending one`s parents, god forbid, to the homes of the elderly means getting sent by one`s children to the same place.


May Allah Keep this nation on the way of its noble Messenger (PBUH) where the young respect the old and the old is merciful to the young. May Allah`s Peace and Blessings be upon Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.


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