Caring between Generations: Islam against Elder Abuse

An elderly man died in his flat in London; he had five children but not one of them knew of his death until six months later. Why we are not surprised! We read it or hear it daily? Do you know someone like in your own family?
Are you an elder abuser? Are you mistreating your elders in the family, your mother, father or other relatives? You might fear to answer ‘no’ once you know how Islam define elder abuse and how Allah asks us to treat our elders.
The United Nations Assembly officially recognized June 15, as the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) in December 2011, following a request by the INPEA and WHO, who first established the commemoration in June 2006. The day represents voices against elder abuse, which is a global social issue affecting the human rights of millions of older people around the world.

What does statistics say?

Search for statistics data on elder abuse, you might not find much, though you see it happen at your own home. The lack of statistics suggests reflects the low priority given to the issue. Existing figures hints that around 6% of elder abuse is being reported. Experts estimates that there may be as many as five cases unreported.
In a report (2013) released by Help Age India around 23% of elder population have claimed to have had an experience of being ill-treated. The report also suggests that 70% elderly abuse cases are not reported. In America an estimated 4 million older person are victims of elder abuse in every year. It is 4 and 5 million in Australia and UK respectively.

What is elder abuse?

Elder Abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which cause harm or distress to an old person” says WHO, 2002. It can be of various forms: physical, which may include beating, burning, spitting on, restraining using rope, belts, drugs and other chemicals; emotional, which include verbal and non- verbal behavior affecting self-esteem or dignity; financial, which includes theft, fraud, forgery, extortion sales of assets, wrongful use of power of attorney; sexual, including assault, harassment or exploitation; neglect, which might be the worst of all, includes intentional or unintentional failing to meet the needs; and systematic, which include rules, regulations, policies of discrimination.

Various organizations under UN have adopted plans of action to solve the problem of elder people through the world. The increasing rise in elder abuse, unfortunately, suggests that, sweet promises and plans without actual applications were the only outcome of these schemes.

Quran defines elder abuse

Allah says in the Quran “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be kind (Ihsaan) to your parents. If one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and don’t speak to them in a harsh manner but address them in terms of honor. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility out of mercy, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they brought me up when I was young.” (Quran 17: 23-24)

Though, the verse teaches kindness to parents, it can be extended to other elders too. Kindness is the advice in the verse. What does kindness means? The word in Arabic at the place of kindness is Ihsaan. Some Arabic scholar says that it is not an action, rather it is a state of mind, a frame of relationship, in which you give the most that you can, and you expect the least in return or nothing at all.

Then the Allah commands not to say ‘uff’, an expression in Arabic to show the slightest expression of frustration. Scholars of Quranic exegesis has explained that had there been a word that was less trivial, Allah would have used it here. Did your mom called you while you were reading a novel and you got a slight irritation losing your attention and you said “ou” or some mildest word of disrespect you could possibly think of? That is elder abuse according to the message of God.

“Don’t speak to them in a harsh manner, but address them in terms of honor” the Quran continues, reminding the response of the Islamic scholar named Sa’id ibn Musayyib (Died Hijra 90) when asked for an explanation on the above statement; “It means that you should address them as a servant addresses their master”.


Why should care the elder?

Islam teaches to treat elders with a sense of responsibility and unfailing compassion, courtesy and respect. It sees the opposite a despicable act. The following teachings from the Quran and prophetic tradition (Hadith) explicitly states the reason why someone should care and respect parents.

1. Allah commands kindness to parents

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be kind (Ihsaan) to your parents.” (Quran 17: 23)

One might think that the command is regarding kindness to parents. It is your parents who are more nearest elder to meet with may be daily. Secondly, surveys prove that the most elders are ill- treated by their own sons and daughters towards their parents. National council on Ageing explains that 90% f all reported elder abuse is committed by on older person’s own family member, and children top the list. Helpage India illustrates that ‘children have emerged as the largest group of perpetrators at 47. 3% of all cases of abuse.’

2. Command to care is preceded by worshipping Allah alone

The purpose of human beings life according to Islam is that you worship Allah alone (Quran 51: 56). The Quran testify that ascribing partners along with Allah in worship is the gravest sin, which Allah does not forgive, unless one repents it from it (Quran 4: 48). The command to honour one’s parents is accompanied with the command to believe in Allaah alone. Allah said:
“Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents,….” (Quran 4: 36)

3. Sign of respect and awe to Allah

Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (R) narrated that the Prophet (S) said, “It is out of reverence to Allah to respect the white-headed (aged) Muslim.” (Abu Dawud; Classed hasan by Albanee)

4. Brings Allah’s mercy

Anas ibn Malik (R) narrated that the Prophet (S) 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; Classed authentic by Albanee)

5. Most Beloved act to Allah

‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood (R) said: I asked the Prophet (S), “Which deed is most beloved to Allaah?” He said, “Prayer offered on time.” He said, “Then what?” He said, “Then honouring one’s parents.” He said, “Then what?” He said, “Jihad for the sake of Allaah.” He told me that if I wanted to ask him more, he would tell me more. (Bukhaari)

6. Human beings are honoured

“And indeed We have honoured the Children of Adam,..” (Quran 17: 70)
Children of Adam refer to all human beings and elders are one among them.

7. Muslims are a society of mutual compassion and kindness

“And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion.” (Quran 90: 17)

8. Muslims are a people of co- operation and mutual assistance

Ibn Abi’l-Dunya (R) narrated from Ibn ‘Umar (R) that the Prophet (S) said: “The most beloved of people to Allaah is the one who brings most benefit to people, and the most beloved of deeds to Allaah is making a Muslim happy, or relieving him of hardship, or paying off his debt, or warding off hunger from him. For me to go with my Muslim brother to meet his need is dearer to me than observing i’tikaaf in this mosque – meaning the mosque of Madeenah – for a month… whoever goes with his Muslim brother to meet his need, Allaah will make him stand firm on the Day when all feet will slip.” (Classes hasan by Albaanee in Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb)

9. A major sin

“Prophet (S) said: “Of the major sins are: to ascribe partners to Allah, disobey parents, murder someone, and to take a false oath (intentioanlly)”. (Sahih Bukhaari)

10. Curse from Prophet (S)

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (R) said: The Prophet (S) ascended the minbar and said: “Ameen, ameen, ameen.” It was said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, you ascended the minbar and said, ‘Ameen, ameen, ameen.” He said: “Jibreel (A) came to me and said: ‘If Ramadaan comes and a person is not forgiven, he will enter Hell and Allaah will cast him far away. Say Ameen.’ So I said Ameen. He said: ‘O Muhammad, if both or one of a person’s parents are alive and he does not honour them and he dies, he will enter Hell and Allaah will cast him far away. Say Ameen.’ So I said Ameen. He said: ‘If you are mentioned in a person’s presence and he does not send blessings upon you and he dies, he will enter Hell and Allaah will cast him far away. Say Ameen.’ So I said Ameen.” (Ibn Hibbaan,; classed as saheeh by Albanee in Saheeh al-Targheeb)

11. Disgrace upon one who is dutiful

Abu Hurayrah (R) narrated: Allah’s Apostle (S) said: Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: Allah’s Messenger, who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise.” (Sahih Muslim)

12. An abuser is not among the believers

Prophet (S) said “He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and esteem to our elderly.” (At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad; Classed authentic by Albanee)

13. Elders have a respectful status in Islam

And Prophet (S) said: “Shall I not tell you who is the best of you? The best of you is the one who lives the longest life, if he is righteous and does good deeds.”(Classed hasan li ghayrihi in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah by Albanee)
The Prophet (S) said: “Part of glorifying Allaah is honouring the grey-haired Muslim.” (Abu Dawud; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abu Dawud)


Special care to Mother and elderly women

Abuse against elderly women (Social Gerontology) is the most severe among elder abuse. Around 24% of elder abuse is towards older women. Along with their physical weakness, psychological fragility, economic dependency, the politics of power also plays a great role in subjugating and violating elder women. Quran and Prophet Muhammad (S) taught to look after women more than any other persons, especially mother. Allah says:

“And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.”(Quran 31:14)
Prophet Muhammad (S) said:

“A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Elder Care in their life

Prophet Muhammad (S) did not just sit there and uttered such principles, nor did his companions just give their ears. But they practiced it in their life. We saw how Sa’id bin Musayyib talked with his parents. Now let us see a few more.
Abu Hurairah (R) narrated that the Prophet (S) 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)

It was narrated that the Prophet (S) said,”Jibreel ordered me to give priority to the elderly.” (Al-Fawa’id, AbuBakr Ash-Shafi`i; by Albanee). He said this when he was serving a drink. A similar narration from Abu Ya’la, classed hasan by Albanee states that Prophet (S) ordered Muslims to start with the elderly when serving a drink or the like.

Malik ibn Al-Huwayrith (R) narrated that the Prophet (S)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)

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 (S) said, “Let the eldest (among you) speak first” (Al-Bukhari).

The Prophet (S) once rebuked Mu`adh ibn Jabal when he led people in prayer and prolonged it.
The Prophet 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)

An old man came wanting to see the Prophet (S) and the people did not make way for him. The Prophet (S) said: “He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect our old ones.” (Tirmidhi; classed as hasan by Albanee in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi)

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Part of honouring (one’s parents) is to keep in touch with your father’s friend.” (Classed Sahih by Albanee in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah)

Narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar: that a man from among the Bedouin met him on the road to Makkah. ‘Abd-Allaah greeted him with salaam, made him ride on the donkey that he was riding and gave him the turban that he had been wearing on his head. Ibn Dinar said: We said to him, May Allaah guide you, they are just Bedouin and they are content with something simple. ‘Abd-Allaah said: The father of this man was a close friend of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab and I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say, “The best way of honouring one’s parent is for the son to keep in touch with his father’s friends.” (Muslim) Such acts help elders from being alone and isolated, for negligence is the severest form of elder abuse.

Ibn ‘Umar said, “The Messenger of Allah, (S) said, ‘Tell me which tree is like the Muslim? It gives fruits at all times by the permission of its Lord and its leaves do not fall.’ It occurred to me that it was the palm tree, but I did not want to speak as Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, (R), were both present. When they did not speak, the Prophet, (S), said, ‘It is the palm tree.’ When I left with my father, I said, ‘Father, I thought that it was the palm,.’ He asked, ‘What kept you from saying that? If you had said so, I would have preferred that to such-and-such.’ I said, ‘What kept me from doing so was that I did not see you or Abu Bakr speaks, so I did not like to speak out.'” (Adab al Mufrad)

Abdullah bin Sahl made a trip with Mahisa bin Masoud in Zayed to Khaibar. When they were to about to return, Mahisa found Abdullah had been murdered. He went to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم with his older brother, Howaisa and the victim’s brother, Abdul Rahman bin Sahl. Mahisa who witnessed the incident started to talk, but the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, ‘the elder, the elder.’ At that, Howaisa spoke and then Mahisa. (Bukhari, Muslim)

To conclude

The statements and examples and many other unwritten here, depicts the sublime Islamic code of ethics on caring elder; it’s humanistic approach; its universality and inclusiveness in living matters of life.
Let us conclude with the glad tiding for honoring, respecting and caring the elders.
Anas ibnMalik (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; classed hasan by Albanee)

Adulthood, youth, and old age are only matter of time in the cycle of life, for a young will grow old one day, for sure