How to Treat the Elderly
It really is fascinating how a thirty second commercial can speak volumes. It can tell someone what to buy and where to shop. What is in vogue and what will hopefully never come back in style. What it can also reveal, however, are attitudes. A commercial is effective in revealing the value messages and beliefs of the advertiser, but if one looks close enough, it can also depict the values and the views of a society. In contemporary society, with the numerous commercials, advertisements and billboards devoted to selling anti-aging this, and correctional that, one would assume that we live in a society that finds aging to be something that should be abhorred, despised and only entered into with feelings of extreme wariness and reluctance.
One could only imagine how such a mindset could result in ostracizing and alienating the old. In addition, how do the people who live in such a society treat the elderly who supposedly should detest their aging and -by association- themselves? Judging by many other commercials, ads and billboards that glamorize and normalize the prospect of old-folks homes, one could safely say that the old are –quite literally- pushed off into the far and remote corners of society.
Muslims and the Old
Now, in the face of such utter disregard and blatant disrespect for the elderly, where do we as Muslims stand on the matter of treatment towards the old? In the face of a society where the elderly are made to feel useless, unbeautiful and weak, what does Islam preach on the matters of the elderly and their rights upon society?
First and foremost, we are an ummah, a people, whose foundations lie in good manners and respect. Our Prophet (SAW) is the greatest example of someone who is kind, modest, pious and respectful, and he preached these values for the believers to adopt. The Prophet of Allah (SAW) is an example for the ummah. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the Final Day, and who remembers Allah much.” [Quran- 33:21]. Therefore, our Prophet (SAW) is the best example of the good Muslim and hisSunnah should be followed as a part of perfecting our faith.
So what does the greatest example for Muslims preach about how we should act towards the elderly? It was reported by ‘Amr bin Shu’aib (RA) on the authority of his father who heard it from his father that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “He is not one of us who shows no mercy to the younger ones and does not acknowledge the honor due to our elders.” [At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud]. The words “he is not one of us” here mean that this person is not following the way of the Prophet (SAW), because our Prophet (SAW) was never disrespectful to his elders. In this short but powerful saying of our Prophet (SAW) we are given a glimpse into the importance of respecting and honoring the elderly.
As Muslims, we understand the necessity of following the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). We emulate the Prophet (SAW) in almost every aspect of our lives. What this hadith is telling us now, is that if we do not respect our elders; if we do not understand the importance of honoring and valuing the elderly of our ummah, then not only are we failing to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) correctly; but we are committing a grave error and a disservice to our ummah.
The Prophet (SAW) understood the necessity of an ummah that respected the old- and the young. Because really, if the young respect the old and the old are willing to listen to the young, is that not the picture of a society where everyone’s ideas are acknowledged and all are treated with tolerance, respect and good-will? This picture of mutual respect and understanding is pivotal for a society to function smoothly because when the roles of the elderly are marginalized; when the elderly are not treated with respect, are not listened to, and their contributions not taken into consideration; we end up with a good fraction of society feeling as if they are being dismissed. We end up with those who usually possess the most knowledge and understanding feeling as if they are being ignored and overlooked; and these are not the teachings of our beloved Prophet (SAW).[quote]Abu Musa (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “It is out of reverence to Allah in respecting an aged Muslim, and the one who commits the Quran to memory…and to respect the just ruler.” [Abu Dawud].[/quote]
Here, our Prophet (SAW) is saying that respect and honor towards the old is commanded by Allah, and by respecting the elderly, this is a type of worship of Allah (SWT), so do we really want to neglect this branch of worship? Moreover, as Muslims, it is a part of faith to believe that Allah (SWT) knows best. So if He (SWT) commands us to do something, we must believe in our hearts that this commandment is what is best for ourselves as Muslims, and for our ummah at large.
What we learn from the lives of the Companions (RA) and our Noble Prophet (SAW) is that it is a part of iman, faith, to honor and respect our elders. We learn that it is a commandment from Allah (SWT) and that by honoring our elders, we are following a commandment of Allah (SWT) and we are building a more respectful and strongly-bonded ummah. As Muslims, following the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) is just as important as following the Quran, so it is with the utmost care and attention that we should regard the words of the Prophet (SAW) urging us to respect the old and honor them. More often than not, it is very easy to dismiss the elderly as senile, slow and “not entirely there”, but we learn from our Prophet (SAW) that while this may be very common, it is not the way of the pious Muslim. In every aspect of our lives, our goal should be to emulate the manners and actions of our Noble Prophet (SAW), and Insha’Allah, that will be an endeavor that will pay off greatly on the Last Day.
Halla Ahmed is an avid reader with a passion for justice, writing and Islam who believes that all the bad in the world is countered by great people with great minds and stupendously great actions. She lives in Toronto, Canada where she hopes to change the world around her by starting with herself.