Islam has a very clear view on humans getting older; it is not something to fear or dread and at the same time it acts as a reminder of one’s deeds and misdeeds. The Prophet (SAW) said;
“No one of you should wish for death or pray for it before it comes to him, for when one of you dies, his good deeds come to an end, and nothing increases a believer’s lifespan but good.” [Sahih Muslim]
Those who have attained old age are an important aspect of the family and community; their right is to be treated with respect and to be looked after should the need arise. After all, the elderly were once young and hard-working people like the younger generation and should not be viewed with negligence or seen as a burden.
Islam emphasises the importance of looking after the elderly in the context of the family unit being the most fundamental Cohesion of social cohesion. The family unit is seen as the building block of human life, the local community and the wider society. If families are established and functioning in the way they should, this naturally leads to healthy and vibrant communities who care and look after each other.
To elaborate on this, the Islamic rules place a huge amount of responsibility on each and every person in relation to other family members as well as non-family members such as neighbours who live in an area. Looking after parents and elderly relatives is a duty on the younger members of the family, be it the son, daughter or other relatives.
Allah (SWT) says in the Glorious Quran;
وَٱعۡبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَلَا تُشۡرِكُواْ بِهِۦ شَيۡـًٔ۬اۖ وَبِٱلۡوَٲلِدَيۡنِ إِحۡسَـٰنً۬ا
“Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents…” [An-Nisa: 36]
It was narrated that Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said: I asked the Prophet (SAW), “Which deed is most beloved to Allah?” 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 Allah.” He told me that if I wanted to ask him more, he would tell me more. [Sahih Bukhari]
Islam placed the responsibility of looking after parents who enter old age on the children, namely the sons, and not to expect them to live on state handouts and benefits. If the elderly person has no children or relatives who are able to look after them it is then the duty of the Khilafah state to provide the basics for the person to live comfortably.
Allah (SWT) says in the Glorious Quran;
وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعۡبُدُوٓاْ إِلَّآ إِيَّاهُ وَبِٱلۡوَٲلِدَيۡنِ إِحۡسَـٰنًاۚ إِمَّا يَبۡلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ ٱلۡڪِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَآ أَوۡ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ۬ وَلَا تَنۡہَرۡهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوۡلاً۬ ڪَرِيمً۬ا (٢٣) وَٱخۡفِضۡ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ ٱلذُّلِّ مِنَ ٱلرَّحۡم وَقُل رَّبِّ ٱرۡحَمۡهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِى صَغِيرً۬ا
“Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. 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.” [Al-Isra: 23-24]
Not only that, Islam has made it compulsory on younger people to show respect and gratitude to the elderly, whether they are from their own relatives or simply people one comes across in day to day life.
An old man came wanting to see the Prophet (SAW) and the people did not make way for him. The Prophet (SAW) said: “He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect our old ones.” [Tirmidhi]
Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAW) 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.” [Sahih Bukhari]
The Prophet (SAW) said:
“Part of glorifying Allah is honouring the grey-haired Muslim.” [Sunan Abu Dawood]
He (SAW) also said:
“Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realise the right of our elders are not from us.” [Sunan Abu Dawood]
It can be seen from the above Islamic texts that Islam placed a clear view on how to treat the elderly and how to interact with them.
Even though the Islamic rules and laws are not applied in Muslim countries, the Islamic heritage and history of the Ummah shows how the old and infirm get treated with families often living three generations at a time in a single household. As parents age the children look after them, in a large number of the cases at least one son keeps the parents with him even after marriage and with his own children.
The Khilafah State’s Policy Towards the Elderly and the Needy
The second Khalifah of Islam, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA) once passed by an old ahl-dhimmi man (non-Muslim citizen of the Islamic State) begging at doors and said to him, “We have not done justice to you if we have taken jizya from you in the prime of your youth and neglected you in your old age.” He then ordered from the treasury what was suitable for him. [Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam in ‘The Book of Revenue’, translation of ‘Kitab al-Amwal, Garnet Publishing Ltd, p.42]
Because there is no concept of retirement or a pension in Islam, the Khilafah state will have a policy of actively engaging the older generation within society to benefit from their knowledge, skills and expertise in industry and wisdom in life’s affairs. This will be a true demonstration of how an Islamic system looks after and values its aged citizens.
Old Age in the West – Past Their Use by Date
Most people would agree that a measure of a nation’s progress is how well it looks after its elderly population. They are a vulnerable age group who cannot generate wealth or play an active role in society like the younger generation. The reality is often where those most in need being sidelined by a youth obsessed society, having to bear disproportionate costs and subject to high levels of neglect.
In August 2017, a utility company in the UK announced a 12% increase in its prices despite it being known that every year there are a high number of deaths amongst the elderly due to cold weather. This is because a large number of elderly live on their own and simply cannot afford their bills despite living in the one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Furthermore, they have little or no family members to visit them or look after them to help avoid illnesses or even help with their day to day chores.
In the UK, there are approximately 206 deaths a day during the winter. The Office for National Statistics states from the beginning of December 2015 until January 2016, there were 8,800 more deaths than the average of 25,000 due to the severe winter conditions. In addition to this, more than 2.3 million families are living in fuel poverty in England alone, equivalent to 10% of households in England (Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), a damning indictment of a society that is supposed to be an example for the rest of the world.
Elderly people are left to live on very little having to prioritise whether to buy food to eat over heating their homes, which ultimately can contribute to their death. Those who have life savings have to draw upon these to fund their care; for those who have neither the meagre state pension has to suffice.
It is not only the cold that kills old people in the West. In France, for example, during the summer heatwave of 2003 it is estimated 35,000 elderly people died. At the same time in the UK it was estimated between 2,000 to 3,000 elderly people died due to the heatwave. In the USA in 2013, hundreds of elderly people died from the heat due to lack of water and air conditioning. In addition to this there are other causes of deaths such as medical problems which go untreated due to the NHS waiting times or not being able to pay for private health care in the USA for example.
The question of who should be looking after the elderly is seldom raised. Instead of addressing the core issues of this problem, politicians, thinkers and the media discuss this matter from a policy perspective proposing more winter fuel payments for pensioners rather than addressing why so many of our elderly citizens are left alone in harm’s way.
Not only this, the elderly face other problems such as abuse and harassment. In the majority of cases the perpetrators are ‘carers’ who are supposed to be looking after them in the first place. A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed more than 2,000 allegations of sexual offences in adult care home in the UK were made to police forces from 2013 to 2015, with 70% of the elderly victims aged over 65.
In addition, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which monitors and regulates care homes in England, was made aware of more than 6,000 “safeguarding concerns and alerts” at care homes between 2013 and 2015. To make matters worse, the above figures are simply allegations and concerns raised to the police with the majority of these not leading to prosecution of the sexual perpetrators.
The old and needy are easy targets due to their physical weakness and social isolation. Coupled with the secular outlook on life that teaches people to think primarily of themselves, over others, even family members, leads to selfishness, an abdication of responsibility and discarding those in society who are most in need. Therefore, it is no real surprise to see the documented abuse handed out to the elderly.