How the Prophet treated old? What Allah says about old age?
(Those who do not show mercy to their youngsters nor respect their elders, are not one of us.” Tirmidhi, Birr, 15)
Old age is one of the natural laws of Allah the Almighty and it is the last step of life journey. Old age is inevitable, everyone must experience it after passing through childhood, adolescence and maturity. In the final chapter of life, weakness replaces strength; ugliness replaces the beauty; regress supersedes progress; illnesses take the place of health. The Holy Qur’an notes this fact as follows:
“He it is Who created you from dust, then from a drop (of seed), then from a clot, then brings you forth as a child, then (ordains) that you attain full strength and afterward that you become old men – though some among you die before – and that you reach an appointed term, that haply you may understand.” (al-Mu’min 40; 67)
“And Allah has created you, then He causes you to die, and of you is he who is brought back to the worst part of life, so that after having knowledge he does not know anything; surely Allah is Knowing, Powerful.” (al-Nahl 16; 70)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) took refuge in Allah the Almighty from the hardships of old ages praying:
“O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from incapacity, from indolence, from cowardice, from senility, from miserliness…” (Muslim, Dhikr, 50)
“O Allah! … I seek refuge in You from being brought back to a bad stage in old life…” (Bukhari, Jihad, 25)
In fact, throughout human history many doctors and scientists studying the human anatomy have sought every means to solve the problem of old age or at least to find a way to slow it down, however, they were not able to succeed. Today even though some alterations and improvements can be made in people’s appearance through plastic surgery, decadence of the body and drying of the tree of life cannot be stopped. Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) emphasized this reality as follows:
“Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease except old-age without appointing a remedy for it.” (Abu Dawud, Tibb, 1; Tirmidhi, Tibb, 2)
Since everybody who has a life-span will get old, one should use his life wisely and do good and righteous deeds before reaching old-age. As stated in the following saying of the Prophet (pbuh), those who have been given a long life but did not use it wisely until the end of their lives will have no excuse:
The Prophet said, “Allah will not accept the excuse of any person whose instance of death is delayed until he is sixty years of age.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 5)
Even though people’s body grows old, their wish for eternity is always alive. In the nature of the inner self there is a rebellion against mortality. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that: “The heart of an old person is young for two things: for long life and love for wealth.” (Muslim, Zakat, 113, 114) The Devil also abused humans’ natural desire for eternal life and deceived Adam (A.S.), which is stated in the following verse: “But the Devil whispered to him, saying: O Adam! Shall I show you the tree of immortality and power that wastes not away?” (Taha 20; 120)
When human beings get old, like all the other feelings, their desire for an eternal life and love for the world are supposed to recede. Yet on the contrary, their reaching old age is closely related to the natural inclination to desire eternity. For those who are ready for the eternal life of the Hereafter, death means the soul’s escape from the cage of the body and its rescue from the problems of the world. Old-age are the last step before this meeting.
When we think about the social status of the old with an Islamic sensitivity, we need to show them more care than we show for children. One should not offend them due to their weakness; one should tolerate their behavior which is caused by old age and get their prayers. One should not forget that existence of the elderly causes an increase in Allah’s blessings and becomes a shield in the face of calamities and troubles. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) noted that:
“Take good care of your weak and needy people, for you are provided means of subsistence and are helped through your weaklings.” (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 69)
“Calamities and torments would fall upon you if there were not the helplessly old, the nursing babies, and the grazing animals.” (Haythami, X, 227)
This is why there is no place in Islamic morals for a lack of tolerance towards the old, their abhorrence, and wishing their speedy death. Therefore, it cannot be imagined that a true Muslim place his elders especially his parents in a nursing home or leave them in homeless shelters. On the contrary, he should do his best to ensure that they spend the rest of their lives happily and comfortably. Today’s young men, if Allah gives them time, will become the elders and will see the fruits of their services. The Prophet (pbuh) stated:
“Allah the Almighty will bestow upon the young people who serve their elders, folks who will serve them in their old-ages.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 75)
In a prophetic saying, it is expressed that showing respect to the old comes from the respect and reverence felt for Allah the Almighty. (Abu Dawud, Adab, 20)
Moreover the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) advised to make things related to this world and the Hereafter easier for the old people. Old people are referred in one of the prophetic traditions as the Prophet (pbuh) was warning an imam who extended the prayer:
“So whoever leads the people in prayer should shorten it because among them there are the sick, the weak, the old, and the needy (having some jobs to do).” (Bukhari, ‘Ilm, 28)
In another saying narrated by Anas b. Malik (r.a.), one day an old man who wanted to meet with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) came. People dawdled to give him a passage. Upon this Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) warned them saying:
“Those who do not show mercy to their youngsters and respect their elders are not one of us.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 15)
During the conquest of Mecca when Abu Bakr (r.a.) brought his old father, Abu Kuhafa, to the Prophet (pbuh) to proclaim his faith in Islam, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said:
“Why did you exhaust and bring this old man to us? I would go and visit him.” However Abu Bakr responded saying:
“O Messenger of Allah! It was more appropriate for him to come to you.” (Ibn Hisham, IV, 25)
Here we should know that the polite treatment of our Prophet (pbuh) to Abu Kuhafa was not just because his courtesy to Abu Bakr but also for his respect towards the old people.
Moreover when the Prophet (pbuh) was giving orders to the soldier of his army, he told them not to touch the old along with women and children. (Waqidi, Maghazi, II, 758)
How happy are those old people who know themselves and meet their Creator in their hearts! And how happy are those who know the value of their elders and show them love and respect!