The Islamic View on Elderly Abuse
29 SEP 2017
Family is the essential building block of the ummah (Muslim community) and as such its members--including the elderly--are all highly valued. Islam teaches that elderly individuals are to be treated with unfailing courtesy and respect by all members of the community, not just family members. In accordance with these teachings and Quranic admonitions to care for elderly relatives, the Islamic view on elder abuse is that it is a despicable act.
1 Elders in the Quran
The Quran repeatedly teaches that aging parents and the elderly in general should always be treated deferentially. For example, Surat Al-'Isrā' 17:23-24 states: "If one or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them a word of disrespect, or scold them, but say a generous word to them. And act humbly to them in mercy, and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them, since they cared for me when I was small.'"
2 Elders in the Hadith
The Hadith, a collection of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings, also warns against mistreating the elderly. The prophet is quoted as saying, "May he be disgraced, whose parents, one or both, attain old age during his life time, and he [is not dutiful toward them]." Another hadith says, "Anyone who does not ... acknowledge the right of our old people is not one of us." With regard to the veneration of the elderly, the Hadith holds, "If any believer grows a grey hair in Islam, he will have light on the Day of Resurrection."
3 Children's Responsibility to Elders
In predominantly Muslim societies, such as in the Middle East, nursing homes do not exist. It is considered a blessing and a privilege to care for one's aging parents in the comfort of one's home. Many Muslims regard it as an unparalleled opportunity for growing spiritually and gaining God's favor. Even becoming impatient or irritated with the elderly for being difficult or slow is considered utterly contemptible; instead, Islam commands younger individuals to treat the old with compassion.
4 Elders' Role in the Family
It is common within the ummah for three generations to live together under one roof, both for convenience and so the younger family members may benefit from their elders' wisdom and guidance. Within the family, elder members play a significant leadership role. Oftentimes, the family patriarch (frequently a grandfather) has the final say in major family decisions and usually has a lot of influence over his grandchildren's choice of spouse. The family matriarch has less overt influence but is even more important; in fact, the Hadith states that "Paradise lies at the feet of mothers."