One of the famous hadiths in Islam is the hadith about mother. This hadith stresses the importance of honouring one’s mother such that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) repeated the word mother 3 times before finally saying father. But this hadith does not necessarily focus on how Islam views the elderly. Because a mother, or a father is not necessarily old.
So how does Islam sees the elderly?
Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If one or both of them reaches 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 comprehensive commandment prohibits worshipping other than Allah, and at the same time to have an undivided loyalty to do what Allah has commanded us to do and to avoid everything Allah has prohibited us from doing.
We learn that after Allah’s rights, there’s our parents’ rights in this very verse. Their rights to be respected, served and obeyed. The morality we can learn from this verse is that children should be grateful to, and respectful of, their parents, and we should serve them as they have nursed us when we were little and helpless.
This command does not only apply to Muslim parents. If your parents are not Muslims, this command applies to them too as long as they do not ask you to do anything that is against Allah’s wills. This moral and mental attitude became part and parcel of the Muslim society.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
He is not of us who does not have mercy on young children, nor honour the elderly(Al-Tirmidhi).
Caring for elderly is one ibadah that is considered as charity in Islam. Ibn al-‘Arabi observes,
Support for one’s family and relatives fulfills the criterion of charity while upholding family kinship(Ibn al-‘Arabi, 1994, 2: 96).
As Muslims, it is in our culture to care for our elderly, and this doesn’t just stop at our own parents or parents-in-law. Muslim communities have been taking care of their elderly aunts or uncles too. This culture is in sync with the hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar:
Allah’s Apostle said: The finest act of goodness is the kind treatment of a person to the loved ones of his father after his death.(Sahih Muslim)
And the hadith :
Whosoever desires to have expansion in his sustenance and a prolonged life, should treat his relatives with kindness(Bukhari, 1987, 2: 728, 348).
May we be among those who care for our elderly and put their rights where they belong.