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 Ahaadith.
In the book Al-Adab al-Mufrad, there is a narration that states, “Part of respect for Allah 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 Allah says in the Quran,
وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوٓا۟ إِلَّآ إِيَّاهُ وَبِٱلْوَٰلِدَيْنِ إِحْسَـٰنًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ ٱلْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَآ أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا
وَٱخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ ٱلذُّلِّ مِنَ ٱلرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ٱرْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِى صَغِيرًا
“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” (Al Israa 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 behaviour towards them.
It is important to note that the above Quranic verse begins with a command from Allah, 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 Allah that created the Heavens and the Earth, and sustains His creation and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the last and final Messenger. With that being understood, it is inextricably impermissible to worship other than Allah. When one commits such a deed they are committing the gravest sin known to mankind. Allah 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 RA: The Prophet ﷺ said,
مَنْ لَمْ يَرْحَمْ صَغِيرَنَا، وَيَعْرِفْ حَقَّ كَبِيرِنَا، فَلَيْسَ مِنَّا
“Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realize the rights of our elders are not from us” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 354).
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 fulfil their needs. This goes also for those without children, it falls upon the Muslim community to find means of caring for them.