Rights of Elders in Islam
By Dr. S. M. Moin Qureshi
The Holy Prophet (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)
Wisdom of the Elderly:
The contents of Surah Luqman in the Qur’an also clearly shows the knowledge and wisdom of the elderly people. This Chapter `Luqman’ embodies the exhortations of Luqman the sage. These sermons which he delivered to his son, cover a wide range of behavioral aspects of a man’s life. If truly acted upon, these can go a long way in strengthening ties between various strata of society.
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.”
Imam Ali (AS) 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 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.”
Manifestation of respect for elders may take different forms, like: helping them in their day-to-day chores, speaking to them with a greater degree of politeness, ignoring their harshness, following their advice, looking after their socio-economic needs, saving them from physical hardship.
Abu Umamah reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) one day came out leaning on a staff. We all stood up for him. However, Islam condemns a person who wishes that others should stand up for him to show respect. The Prophet (SAW) warned: “Whoever is pleased that people should show him respect by standing, let him seek his abode in the fire.”
Rights of Parents:
Among all the elders of a man, the rights of his parents enjoy the most distinguished place. The Bible and Torah, require that parents should be respected. In addition, the Qur’an provides detailed instructions in the matter. In Islam duties towards parents rank only next to duties towards Allah. This fact is abundantly clear from the following Qur’anic Verse in which commandments about worshipping Allah have been immediately followed by emphasis on showing kindness to parents. It says: “Your Lord has decreed that you should worship none but Him, and show kindness to your parents...” (17:23)
Duties towards Parents:
Duties towards parents consist of maintaining them, giving them gifts, speaking to them gently, and taking their permission before going abroad. Even the difference of faith and religion doesn’t absolve the progenies from their duties towards parents. These duties are the natural corollary of the back-breaking, unrequited struggle that the parents have to undergo in bringing up their children.
Whereas Allah is the real Creator of the world and whatever rests in it, parents are the immediate cause of a man’s birth. They bear all sorts of hardship and sacrifice their own comforts for the sake of their children providing them with: food, clothing, education, medical-care, good manners, and finally marrying them off with utmost care and diligence.
But for the sincere and selfless efforts of the parents in bringing up their children, life for the latter would be simply impossible, let alone a well-placed position in society. Hence, 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.”
Gratitude towards Allah and towards parents has been urged in the Holy Qur’an side by side. It says:
“... thank Me as well as your parents...” (31:14)
Maltreatment of parents has on the other hand been deplored severely. See Chapter Al-Ahqaf, Verses 17-18).
The Holy Prophet (SAW) cautions: “The Almighty Allah may pardon all sins He pleases except disobedience to parents; and He hastens (punishment) in this life before death for one who commits it.”
No Muslim is allowed to join the battlefield without parents’ permission. Once a companion of the Prophet (SAW) came to him and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I intend to join holy war (Jihad) and have come to you for consultation.” The Prophet (SAW) asked him: “Have you got your mother’s permission?” The companion replied: “No.” At that the Holy Prophet (SAW) advised him: “Then keep yourself near your mother, because Paradise is under her feet.”
Rights of Parents:
The rights of parents don’t end even after their death. Once a man of the tribe Banu Salemah came to the Holy Prophet (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.
In order to maintain peace, cordiality and fraternity in a society, Islam advocates a system of social inter-action in which juniors are loved and seniors are respected. The Holy Prophet (SAW) explained this cardinal principle of his teachings in the following immutable words:
“He is not with us who is not kind to our juniors and shows no respect to our elders...!”