Islam pays special attention to the elderly. It considers them to have a right to be cared for in repayment for the sacrifices that they have made to ensure the prosperity of the generation that they raised and nurtured. The responsibility of children to care for their parents and treat them kindly is compulsory. If elderly people do not have children, the responsibility to care for them is transferred to society. This is further strengthened by the abundance of texts that encourage doing good to others, especially those who cannot take care of themselves like many of the elderly. This inspires a believing soul to naturally expend effort to do good voluntarily.
Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author states: “Islam is the religion of compassion and justice, a religion that teaches perfect morals and forbids bad conduct, a religion that grants man his dignity if he adheres to the laws of Allah. There can be no doubt that Islam has given the elderly a special status, as there are texts which urge Muslims to respect and honour them. Care of the elderly in Islam is based on a number of focal points, including the following:
1. Man is an honored creature and has an honorable status in Islam. Allah says: “And indeed We have honored the Children of Adam, and We have carried them on land and sea, and have provided them with lawful good things, and have preferred them above many of those whom We have created with a marked preferment” (Al-Israa’: 70). So the elderly, as children of Adam, are included in this high status, based on the general meaning of this verse.
2. Muslim society is the society of mutual compassion and coherence. Allah says: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. And those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves” (Al-Fath: 29). And Allah says, describing the believers: “Then he became one of those who believed (in the Islamic Monotheism) and recommended one another to perseverance and patience, and (also) recommended one another to pity and compassion. They are those on the Right Hand (i.e., the dwellers of Paradise)” (Al-Balad: 17-18).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) described the believers as being like a single body. He (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The likeness of the believers in their mutual love, mercy, and compassion is that of the body; if one part of it complains, the rest of the body joins it in staying awake and suffering fever” (Muslim). The Prophet
is also reported to have said: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Al-Bukhari). He also said: “The Most Merciful has mercy on those who are merciful. Be merciful to those who are on earth so that the One Who is in heaven will have mercy on you” (At-Tirmidhi).
3. The Muslim society is a society of cooperation and mutual support.
Ibn Abi Ad-Dunya narrated from Ibn `Umar that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The most beloved of people to Allah is the one who brings most benefit to people, and the most beloved of deeds to Allah 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 (retreat) in this mosque [meaning the mosque of Madinah] for a month.… Anyone who goes with his Muslim brother to meet his need, will be made by Allah to stand firm on the Day when all feet will slip.”
4. The elderly person has a high status before Allah if he or she adheres to the laws of Allah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) 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” (Muslim).
5. Respecting the elderly and honoring them are characteristics of the Muslim society. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Part of glorifying Allah is honoring the grey-haired Muslim” (Abu Dawud).
6. These are the way in which the Muslim society takes care of the elderly.
a. Enjoining good treatment of parents
This is one of the ways in which the elderly are cared for in Islam because parents are usually elderly. The command to honor one’s parents is accompanied with the command to believe in Allah alone and the prohibition on associating others with Him in many verses. For example, Allah says: “Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents.” (An-Nisaa’: 36). “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents” (Al-Israa’: 23).
It was narrated that `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud said: I asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “Which deed is most beloved to Allah?” He said, “Prayer offered on time.” I said, “Then what?” He said, “Then honoring one’s parents.” I 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 (Al-Bukhari).
b. Enjoining honoring one’s parents’ friends, even after the parents have passed away, and regarding that as part of honoring one’s parents.
Muslim narrated from `Abdullah ibn `Umar that a man from among the Bedouin met him on the road to Makkah. `Abdullah greeted him with salam, 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 Allah guide you, they are just Bedouin and they are content with something simple.” `Abdullah said, “The father of this man was a close friend of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) say, ‘The best way of honoring one’s parents is for the son to keep in touch with his father’s friends.’”
This is one of the forms of elder care in Islam. When the members of the Muslim society visit the friends of their parents they help to include the elderly in society and put an end to the isolation they feel, which in turn reduces the impact of the social and psychological changes that the elderly go through.
This is unlike what happens in non-Muslim societies. From time to time we hear news of what happens to some of the elderly there and the extent of the isolation in which they are living.”