Thu. Dec 5th, 2019

Mercy Towards The Elderly

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat, Intizar Ahmad

The world has witnessed a remarkable interest in the care of elderly in the last few years. 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. Holy Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) started the message of Islam in Arabia at a time when human rights had no meaning, might was right and the society was entrenched in paganism. In this environment, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) taught a message of justice, peace, human rights, animal rights and even environmental rights as ordained by God, the One True Creator of all that is in the universe. He (peace and blessings be upon him)taught caring for the elderly irrespective of sex, color, or religion, and he himself set a great example in practicing the principles he taught. In this article we highlight Islamic teachings related to treating the elderly, and gives glimpses of how the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) put them in effect.
Regarding Duty of the Young towards elders, Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (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). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) here advises the young, 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 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “By Him in Whose Power 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 (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Not only that each of you has mercy upon the other, but to have mercy also upon all people.” A Sign of Reverence for Allah is to respect elders, Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (SAW) said, “It is out of reverence to Allah to respect the white-headed (aged) Muslim.” (Abu Dawud). In this hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) considered respecting the elderly a way to show reverence for the Almighty. He (peace and blessings be upon him) 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 (peace and blessings be upon him) 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). Prophet Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with him) gave some practical examples as Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (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 this hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) told that 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.” The Prophet also ordered Muslims to “start with the elderly” when serving a drink or the like. In addition, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) 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 Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Let the eldest (among you) speak first” (Al-Bukhari). Shari`ah always adopts leniency and ease with persons having excuses, such as the elderly. This can be noticed in expiations and obligations required from them.
The best evidence of easing expiations for the elderly is the story of Khawlah bint Tha`labah, which was mentioned at the beginning of Surat Al-Mujadilah. Her aged husband, Aws ibn As-Samit, who was also her cousin, pronounced zhihar (declaring her unlawful to him as a wife, while at the same time not divorcing her so she can remarry). Thereupon the general Islamic ruling concerning zhihar was revealed: “Those who put away their wives (by saying they are as their mothers) and afterward would go back on that which they have said, (the penalty) in that case (is) the freeing of a slave before they touch one another [that is, have intercourse]. Unto this you are exhorted; and Allah is Informed of what you do. And he who finds not (the wherewithal), let him fast for two successive months before they touch one another [that is, have intercourse]; and for him who is unable to do so (the penance is) the feeding of sixty needy ones.”(Al-Mujadilah 58:3–4)
After this revelation the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke to Khawlah: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to Khawlah, “Let him free a slave.” She said, “O Messenger of Allah, he does not have the means to do that.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Then let him fast for two consecutive months.” She replied, “By Allah, he is an old man; he is not able to do that.” So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told her, “Then let him feed sixty poor people with a wasaq (a measure equal to approximately 132.6 kilograms) of dates.” She said, “O Messenger of Allah, he does not have that much.” The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) then promised to help him by giving him an amount of dates; after all this he did not forget to advise the lady, “Take care of your cousin properly.” (Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, vol. 8) Concerning obligations, Islam exempts the elderly who cannot bear fasting the month of Ramadan from observing this obligation, but requires them to feed a poor person for each day that they miss. Also, the elderly who cannot pray standing up are allowed to pray sitting down; if they cannot pray sitting down, they are allowed to pray lying on a side. In addition, it is authentically reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once rebuked Mu`adh ibn Jabal when he led people in prayer and prolonged it: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to him,“O Mu`adh! Are you putting the people to trial? [Thrice] It would have been better if you had recited Sabbihisma Rabbika-l-a`la [Surah 87], Wash-shamsi wa duhaha [Surah 91], or Wal-layli idhayaghsha [Surah 92], for the old, the weak, and the needy pray behind you.” (Al-Bukhari) Also, Islam allowed the elderly who cannot perform Hajj to delegate another person to perform it on their behalf. Al-Fadl narrated that a woman from the tribe of Khath`am came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said,“O Allah’s Prophet! The obligation of Hajj has become due on my father while he is old and weak, and he cannot sit firm on the mount; may I perform Hajj on his behalf?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Yes, (you may)” (Muslim). Treating the elderly gently, Ibn Kathir tells the following in his biography of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) entered Makkah in Ramadan AH 8 (January 630) and entered the Sacred Mosque, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) brought his father, Abu Quhafah, to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to embrace Islam. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saw him, he said to Abu Bakr (peace and blessings be upon him),“Why didn’t you leave the old man at his house and I would’ve gone to him there?” Abu Bakr said, “You are more deserving of him coming to you than he is of you going to him.”The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) seated Abu Quhafah in front of him and honored him. Then he (peace and blessings be upon him) passed his hand on Abu Quhafah’s chest and asked him to embrace Islam and Abu Quhafah did. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), noticing that Abu Quhafah’s hair was white, directed that his hair be dyed. Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) showed respect to those troubled him a lot, We can see one of the most patient and tolerant aspects of the Prophet’s character in the incident of an old woman who made a habit of throwing trash in the way of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) whenever he passed by her house.
One day, when he walked out of his home there was no garbage. This made the Prophet inquire about the old woman and he came to know that she was sick. He (peace and blessings be upon him) went to visit her and offer any assistance she might need. The old woman was extremely humbled and at the same time ashamed of her actions in light of the concern that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) showed her. She became convinced that Islam must be a true religion that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was preaching. History is witness that Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) treatments the elder prisoners of war politely. We have at present many elders like people of Taif, Munafik Abdullah Bin Ubi and Abu Jahl.
It is better we follow our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in dealing them. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made Duas (supplications) for misguided people on a regular basis: “O God! Guide these people, for they know not,” he would pray, as he and his followers were tortured, humiliated, scorned and mocked. These are just few examples of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) gentleness, mercy, and respect towards the elderly. These examples, and many others, translate the sublime Islamic code of ethics for treating the elderly and provide Muslims, generation after generation, with a practical model that they should follow. Research studies show that society is failing to value and harness older people’s skills, knowledge and experience. Public view older people as a drain on society, a bundle of problems and service-needs. Their strengths, skills and knowledge are not appreciated in a society infatuated by the cult of youth. In short, Islam principles helps us to create a society where people aren’t so worried about getting old, where there’s less stereotyping of older people, more inter-generational contact, and more opportunities to see older people as assets.

(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. Their views are personal)

Loading...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Kashmir Horizon

FREE
VIEW