Islam teaches us to show affection towards those who are younger than us and have lower rank and status than us. It also teaches us to show respect to those who are older than us, more knowledgeable than us and possess a higher rank and status than us. Almost every day, we surely contact and communicate with our elders. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) says: “He isn’t of us who isn’t kind to our youngsters, and shows no respect to our elders…” To grow old is rightly said to pass from passion to compassion. In the words of a Western scholar, “About the only good thing you can say about old-age is that it is better than being dead!’” Hence, in a society where elders aren’t respected and properly looked after, the social fabric will tear apart. The edifice of Islam stands on the foundation of virtues which are concerned in relation to: society and God. The former class embraces habits, and the latter comprises different forms of worship. Paying respect to elders falls within the first category of virtues afore mentioned. Islam attaches so much importance to it that it is equated with glorifying the Almighty Allah. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said: “Of the glorification of Allah, certainly it is the honor shown to an old Muslim, the bearer of the Qur’an (by heart) without treachery therein and keeping aloof from it: and the honor shown to a just king.” From the above tradition, it follows that to honor an old-man, is to honor Islam; to honor a reciter of the Qur’an by heart (Hafiz) is to honor the Holy Qur’an; and to honor a just king is to honor justice.
So, practically honor is shown because of their traits and not their physical selves. This world is a preparatory ground for the next world. It is here that one has to attain perfection in order to realize the mission of his existence. However, he cannot achieve perfection except through his interaction with society, that is, by living with other human beings of all ages. Knowledge, wisdom, experience and observation are the attributes of old-age. Before a human being gets completely senile, he is possessed with these qualities which in fact is testified by the following Qur’anic Verse: “It is Allah who creates you, then makes you die; and some reach the age of dotage, so that having acquired knowledge they don’t know a thing. Allah is indeed All-Knowing and All-Mighty”(16:70).
The contents of Surah Luqman in the holy Qur’an clearly shows the knowledge and wisdom of the elderly people. Wisdom of the elderly is universally recognized. H. I. Hayakawa asserted: “There is only one thing that age can give you, and that is, Wisdom.” Hazrat Ali (R.A) maintained: “The advice of old-men is dearer than the bravery of young men.” Therefore, in the first place, it is this distinction (of wisdom), which makes the elderly among us worthy of reverence. Anas (R.A) reports from the Holy Prophet (SAW), as saying: “If a young man shows respect to an old-man on account of his old-age, Allah will create for him at his old-age someone who will show him respect, too.”
Our elders’ include parents, paternal and maternal uncles, elder siblings, other relatives, teachers, spiritual guide, scholars & Mashaaikh and all those who are honourable and have a greater status and position than us. Allah (swt) has said in Surah Bani Israel, part 15, Ayah 23 to 24: Translation from Kanz-ul-Iman: Treat your parents with goodness; if either of them or both reach old age in your presence, do not say ‘uff’ (any expression of disgust) to them and do not chide them, and speak to them with respect. And spread for them the arms of humility with tender heart, and say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they brought me up when I was a child.’ (Part 15, Surah Bani Israel, Ayah 23-24) When your parents have grown weak and have lost strength and health – as you were weak and powerless in your childhood – so you do not even say ‘uff’ to them; nor any other word indicating that you consider them to be a burden. And do not rebuke them and talk to them gracefully, politely and kindly. (Khaazin vol. 3, pp. 170-172; Siraat-ul-Jinaan, pp. 443) Great rewards have been promised for those who perform their duties towards parents in a befitting manner.
There are only three things in the world just a loving sight of which begets Allah’s pleasure to a true believer, viz.: The Holy Ka’bah, the Holy Qur’an and parents. In the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “No dutiful man gives his parents a kind look without Allah recording to his credit an approved pilgrimage for every look.” Our Beloved Rasool (pbuh) has ordered us to show respect and reverence towards elders. Blessed saying of the Beloved Rasool (pbuh): Show respect and reverence towards the elders and have mercy upon the young ones, you will attain my company in Jannah. (Shu’ab-ul-Iman, vol. 7, pp. 458, Hadees 10981) It shows that respecting the elders is a means of getting salvation and the [blessed] company of the Beloved Rasool (pbuh) in Jannah. How deep respect our pious predecessors would show towards their elders! Sayyiduna Ba-Yazeed Bistami (RA) said, ‘During a very cold night, my mother asked me to bring water.
I went to bring a glass of water but she had fallen asleep when I came. I did not feel it appropriate to wake her up. Therefore, I stood near her holding the glass of water and waiting for her to wake up so that I would present it to her. I stood for quite a while. Meantime, some water spilled over my finger and froze, turning into ice. When my mother woke up, I presented her the glass of water. My finger had adhered to the glass because of ice. As I detached my finger from the glass, its skin came off, causing bleeding. Seeing it, my mother asked, ‘What is this?’ I told her the whole story. Listening to it, she raised her hands and made Du’a, ‘O Allah (swt) I am pleased with him. You also get pleased with him.’ (Nuzha-tul-Majalis, vol. 1, pp. 261) Remember! In old age, parents act like children. Sometimes, extremely old parents wet and defecate in bed, usually causing the offspring to get deeply upset. But remember that it is obligatory for offspring to serve their parents even in this condition.
“It is Allah who creates you, then makes you die; and some reach the age of dotage, so that having acquired knowledge they don’t know a thing. Allah is indeed All-Knowing and All-Mighty.” (16:70)
Look! The mother also looks after her child and keeps him clean from dirt and filth especially in his childhood after urination and defecation. Therefore, even if they get extremely peevish [i.e. easily annoyed] and quarrelsome due to their old age and diseases, you still have to be patient, patient and nothing but patient with them, treating them with respect. Do not even say ‘uff’ to them, let alone being rude to them and shouting at them or else you may suffer a great loss, meeting doom in the world and in the Hereafter. Sometimes the one who hurts the feelings of his parents is humiliated and disgraced in the world and deserves torment of hellfire. The rights of parents don’t end even after their death. Once a man of the tribe Banu Salemah came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and asked him if there were any rights of parents after their demise.
“Yes,” the Prophet replied and advised him to pray for them seeking forgiveness for them, to fulfill their instructions after their death, to keep affinity with those who aren’t connected except through parents and to respect their friends. Islam has not only described the rights and respect for parents, teachers, elder siblings, spiritual guide and other elders but also the rights of close relatives. The relations with close relatives are usually by virtue of our parents, and behaving gracefully towards them is also a form of the respect of our parents. Respect and reverence of relatives does not just lie in this that the younger ones come in the presence of relatives with lowered eyes and kiss their hands etc., rather showing good behaviour to our relatives and preventing ourselves from cutting ties with them is also called an act of respect.
Remember! Our relation with our parents requires that we must also show respect towards our maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather. In fact, we should treat every aged person with respect. Islam attaches great importance to the respect and honour of the elderly people. This is a unique quality and feature of Islamic society. Islam does not allow anyone to turn out the elderly people considering them to be a burden and to send them to any ‘old people’s home’. This is a distinguishing feature of Islam that it teaches and encourages the young people to show respect and reverence to the aged, and to preserve their honour. In the past era, if any young person walked ahead of any old person, Allah (swt) would make him sink into the ground (due to disrespect). (Ruh-ul-Bayan, vol. 9, pp. 62).
The teacher is blessed with the status of spiritual father; therefore, students should seek knowledge from their teacher whilst keeping the respect of teacher in view. It is stated in Tafseer Kabeer: Teacher is more affectionate to his student than his parents because the parents protect him from fire of the world and troubles whereas teachers save him from the hellfire and the calamities of Hereafter. (Tafseer Kabeer, vol. 1, pp. 401) If a person displeases his elders especially his parents hurting their feelings, showing disrespect to them and treating them badly, so such a person becomes a great sinner and deserves torment in the world and in the Hereafter. He is not also considered an honourable person in society. It is stated in a narration: The young person who reveres an elderly person due to his age, in exchange for it, Allah (swt) will make anyone else respect him [i.e. the young person]. (Sunan-ut-Tirmizi, vol. 3, pp. 411, Raqm 2029) We should show respect to our elders, and obey their orders immediately so that we can attain respect in the world and save ourselves from disgrace [i.e. disrespect] in Hereafter. Our pious predecessors would advise their followers and admirers to show respect and reverence towards the elders.
Showing respect to the close relatives, behaving gracefully towards them and maintaining ties with them forever is surely a privilege but alas! At present some people either maintain ties due to some compulsion or due to any vested interest whereas naïve Muslims, due to their personal reasons, get displease with their relatives unnecessarily and do not like to meet them for many years, and if, ever, they come across at any time, they even dislike to see one another and some even comment: ‘We are good to those who are good to us and those who are bad for us we are bad for them.’ It is for the reason, some people invite only those relatives who invite them or they have any vested interest in it.
On the contrary, poor relatives are not invited due to their poverty and they also do not like to maintain ties with them even to the extent of saying Salam etc. Thus even the relatives deserving Zakah are constantly ignored. Showing respect to the elders and giving affection to the younger ones, in the light of Glorious Quran and blessed Hadees, is the best act. Those who show respect to the elders are considered honourable in the society. The noble deeds of our pious predecessors also guide us that we should always show respect to the elders and show affection to the younger ones. Showing respect to the elders is the outcome of good upbringing of parents and the virtuous character of human. Respecting the elderly is the source of obtaining the neighbourhood of the Beloved Rasool in Jannah. Make intention that from today we would show respect to our parents and will also show affection to our siblings. May Almighty Allah (swt) grant us privilege to show respect to our elders and show affection to our younger ones.
(The author a teacher at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology-SKUAST Srinagar writes on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. The views of the author are his personal)