Eldest Son's Responsibility in Islam

Family responsibilities are often given to the eldest son in Islamic societies.
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In Islam, family responsibility is a highly esteemed value. Although all members of the family are charged with taking care of one another, in some contexts, it is culturally appropriate for certain responsibilities to fall on the eldest son. Demonstrating parental respect and assisting the family in daily life are the primary responsibilities of the eldest son in many Islamic societies.

1 Islamic Law

The custom of assigning certain responsibilities to the eldest male child varies widely according to different Islamic states, societies and individual families. It is a function of a cultural normality more so than a religious creed, as there are no specific stipulations in Islamic law regarding the responsibilities of the eldest son.

2 Sibling Care

As is normative in most cultures, the eldest child is charged with helping the parents care for the younger siblings in a family. In Islam, this duty often falls on the eldest son due to Muslim societies’ patriarchal nature. Sibling care can entail physical care and protection or serving as a guide and a mentor for a younger brother or sister. In the case of female siblings, the eldest son is often charged with caring for her safety and security, particularly in societies where the public sphere poses more challenges for women.

3 Parent Care

Although all children are charged with ensuring their parents are cared for in their old age, the eldest son assumes the greatest responsibility. In the majority of Islamic societies, It is not considered acceptable to put parents in a home for the elderly unless they are in need of intensive medical care. Children are responsible for taking care of their parents’ needs, financial or otherwise, in the later years of their life. Often it is the job of the eldest son to ensure this happens. Stories in the Quran and the Hadith outline the blessings bestowed upon children who care for their parents.

4 Family Inheritance

In the event of the death of one or both parents in a Muslim family, the Quran states that assets should be divided such that each male son receives a share equal to that of two females, after the surviving spouse has taken his or her share. There are no specific stipulations about the eldest son. Having said that, if the father in a Muslim family dies, it is most culturally normative for the eldest son to take on the father’s roles and responsibilities in the family.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.