– Member of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association
In the last years, the world has witnessed a remarkable interest in the elderly. Many international conferences and symposiums were held to deal with the issues and problems they encounter. In 1982, the first initiative to care for the elderly was declared as the United Nations declared the ninth decade of the 20th century “the decade of the elderly.” In 1983, the World Health Organization adopted the slogan “Add Life to Years.” In addition, the UN conference held in Madrid in 2002 adopted a plan of action to solve the problems of the elderly in various countries around the world. The outcome of these conferences, however, was just sweet promises and plans without any actual application.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), on the other hand, was a pioneer in this field. He taught caring for the elderly irrespective of sex, color, or religion, and he himself set a great example in practicing the principles he taught. This article highlights Islamic teachings related to treating the elderly, and gives glimpses of how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) put them in effect.
A Duty of the Young
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If a young man honors an elderly on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honor him in his old age.” (At-Tirmidhi; ranked hasan by Al-Albani)
The Prophet here advises the young of the Muslim society, who will be tomorrow’s elderly, to honor the elderly. Continuous application of this Prophetic advice helps bridge the gap between generations and spreads an atmosphere of love and understanding between the young and the old. Consider here also the generalization in the Prophet’s words: “If a young man honors an elderly;” the hadith requires honoring the elderly regardless of their color or religion.
In another hadith Muslims are told to be merciful to all people, Muslim and non-Muslim:
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “By Him in Whose hand my soul is, Allah does not bestow His mercy except on a merciful one.” They (the Companions) said, “All of us are merciful.” The Prophet replied, “Not only that each of you has mercy upon the other, but to have mercy also upon all people.” (Abu Ya`la; authenticated by Al-Albani)
A Sign of Reverence for Allah
Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “It is out of reverence to Allah to respect the white-headed (aged) Muslim.” (Abu Dawud; ranked hasan by Al-Albani)
In the hadith above, the Prophet considered respecting the elderly a way to show reverence for the Almighty. He linked reverence for the Creator and His creatures with veneration of the All-Powerful and the weak elderly. The hadith implies all kinds of respect and care for the elderly: Health care, psychological care, social care, economic care, ending illiteracy, providing education, and other forms of care that the international community calls for today.
In one hadith, the Prophet disavows those who do not venerate the elderly and considers them alien to the Muslim society:
He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and esteem to our elderly. (At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad; authenticated by Al-Albani)
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The young should (initiate) salutation to the old, the passerby should (initiate) salutation to the sitting one, and the small group of persons should (initiate) salutation to the large group of persons.“ (Al-Bukhari)
In the hadith above, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gives practical examples of Islamic etiquette and starts with a token of respect to the old. Thus the young should take the initiative toward the aged in greeting and also helping, showing kindness, visiting, advising, phoning, and so on.
Similarly, giving priority to the elderly in different situations is a token of respect and honor to them:
It was narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Jibreel ordered me to give priority to the elderly.” (Al-Fawa’id, Abu Bakr Ash-Shafi`i; authenticated by Al-Albani)
The Prophet also ordered Muslims to “start with the elderly” when serving a drink or the like (Abu Ya`la; authenticated by Al-Albani).
In addition, the Prophet ordered that priority be given to the old concerning leading prayers:
Malik ibn Al-Huwayrith (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, “When the time for prayer is due, one of you should announce Adhan and the oldest among you should lead the prayer.” (Al-Bukhari)
This hadith does not contradict the other hadith that gives priority in leading the prayer to one who is distinguished in recitation and memorization of the Qur’an. The two criteria are to be considered, as reported in the hadith of Mas`ud Al-Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him):
The Prophet said, “The person who is best versed in the recitation of the Book of Allah should lead the prayer; but if all those present are equally versed in it, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah; if they are equal in that respect, then the one who has immigrated (to Madinah) first; if they are equal in this respect, then the oldest of them.” (Muslim)
Furthermore, according to Prophetic guidance, the elder are worthier to start conversation. Once, Huwayyisah and Muhayyisah, the sons of Mas`ud ibn Ka`b, and `Abdur-Rahman ibn Sahl came to the Prophet to discuss a certain matter with him. `Abdur-Rahman, who was the youngest of them all, started talking. Thus, the Prophet said, “Let the eldest (among you) speak first.” (Al-Bukhari).
To be continued…
Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.onislam.net.
Muhammad Mus`ad Yaqut is an Egyptian preacher and researcher. He prepares and presents programs on the Egyptian TV and other Arab satellite channels. He is a member of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association.