Respect for the Elderly in Islam

By Dr. Ahmad H. Sakr


The subject of Elderly is very important in every society in the world and especially in the western societies. The elderly are not respected as it should be. Many of them are sent to senior citizen homes instead of keeping them in their own houses or instead of being cared for by their own children. Many of the elderly while in the nursing homes are either killed or attacked by different people. It seems that the elderly are unwanted by the new generation for one reason or another.

This type of life for the elderly is miserable and unbearable. Such type of a situation is considered to be a crisis in the society. It needs to be corrected as soon as possible or else the crisis would lead to a catastrophe.


Islam teaches us to respect the elderly whether they are parents, relatives or any old persons. The word elderly has been used in the Qur'an to mean: Shaikh, Kabeer, 'Ajooz, Arzalil 'Umur, Kibar, etc.

In all those cases, we are informed that the elderly may end up with the following characteristics:

  1.     Many of them may lose their biological potency.
  2.     The majority may lose their physical vitality
  3.     Some of them may lose their mental capacity.
  4.     A large number of the elderly may increase their emotion feelings beyond limits.


As far as the loss of biological potency is concerned, Allah gave us two examples in the Qur'an about Prophet Zakariah and Prophet Ibrahim. Concerning Prophet Zakariah's wife, the Qur'an states the following about her biological impotency in Surah Al- 'Imran (The Family of Imran):

He said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son, seeing I am very old, and my wife is barren?' 'Thus,' was the answer, 'Doth God accomplish what He wills.'     [3:40]

While in Surah Mariam, Zakariah is said to have asked the following (in surprise) about getting a child:

He said, 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?'     [19:8]

Concerning Prophet Ibrahim, Allah informed us that he was also shocked when he was told about having a child. In Surah Al Hijr (The Rocky Tract) the Qur'an states the following about his biological impotency:

He said: 'Do you give Glad tidings that old age has seized me? Of what , then, is your good news?'    [15:54]

The wife of Prophet Ibrahim was even shocked when she was informed about having a child. She knew that she was an old lady and she could not bear children anymore. In Surah Hud (The Prophet Hud), the Qur'an states the following:

...Seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!    [11:72]

The wife of Prophet Ibrahim reconfirmed her biological impotency is Surah Al Zariyat (The Winnowing Winds). The Qur'an states the following:

But his wife came forward laughing aloud: She smote her forehead and said: A barren old Woman!    [51:29]


As far as the loss of physical vitality is concerned, an old person can't do much of the hard work that a young man is able to do. The Qur'an informs us about Prophet Shu'aib who was an old person. He could not do the hard work anymore. His daughters has to take the animals to the spring for water and also to raise them. In Surah Al-Qasas (The Narration), the Qur'an states the following:

...They said: We cannot water our flocks until the shepherds take back their flocks: and our father is a very old man.    [28:23]

The Qur'an also informs us about Prophet Zakariah who admitted his old age and his lack of physical ability. In Surah Mariam, Allah says:

Praying: O my Lord! Infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head does glisten with grey...    [19:4]


As far as the loss of mental capacity is concerned, Allah (swt) informs us, in the Qur'an, that any old person may lose most of his mental capability. Hence he may become senile. In Surah Al-Hajj (Pilgrimage) and Surah Al-Nahl (The Bee), Allah (swt) informs us about the senility of the elderly ones. In Surah Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage) Allah (swt) says the following:

...And some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known so much...   [22:55]


As far as the emotional feelings are concerned, Allah informed us about Prophet Yacoub (Jacob) and his sentimental feelings toward his two last sons: Yusuf and Benjamin. His emotions, his love, his concern, his sympathy, and his sentiments were too high to the extent that he cried and wept extensively until he lost his sight. The climax of this anecdote is summarized in Surah Yusuf as follows:

And he turned away from them, and said: how great is my grief for Joseph! And his eyes became white with sorrow, and he fell into silent melancholy.     [12:84]

When he was blamed for his continuous crying

He said: I only complain of my distraction and anguish to God, and I know from God that which you Know not...    [12:86]


In all these cases we are taught as Muslims, that we should respect the elderly even if they are senile. Our respect to the elderly is more confirmed toward our parents. In Surah Al-Isra' (Night Journey), Allah says to us:

... and that you be kind to parents. Where one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor.    [17:23]

Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) instructed us to respect all those who are old and at the same time we are to have mercy on the young. In one Hadith, it is said:

I advise you to be good to the elderly, and to have mercy on the youth. [El Dailami]

It was reported by Aisha that Prophet (pbuh) instructed us to respect people according to their position. The Arabic text is as follows:

We are informed that any young person who respects the elderly, is to be respected when he becomes old. In one Hadith, the following is reported:

Narrated by Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) saying that the Prophet (pbuh) said:

Any young person who is kind to an elderly because of his age, Allah will send him someone who will be kind to him when he becomes old.   [Tarmazi]

In another place, our beloved Prophet (pbuh) denounces the young if they don't respect the elderly in as much as the elderly are denounced if they don't have mercy on the young. the Hadith is as follows:

Narrated by 'Amr Ibn Shu'aib through his father and from his grandfather (May Allah be pleased with them), saying that the Messenger of Allah said:
He is not of us, the one who does not have mercy on our young ones, and the one who does not know the respect of our old ones.    [Dawood & Tarmazi]

The respect that the Prophet (pbuh) instructed us to give to the elderly is also in the field of prayer itself. We are to feel sympathy and concern for the elderly while we are performing the prayer. We should not extend or prolong the congregation prayer especially if there are elderly among the faithful. In one Hadith the Prophet (pbuh) said:

Narrated by Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (pbuh) said:

When a person leads a congregation prayer, let him make it short, as there may be around the weak, the sick and the elderly. However, when a person prays by himself, he may extend his prayer as much as he wishes.    [Agreed]

I wish to mention here that Allah Himself gives, among other things, respect to the elderly Muslims. The Prophet (pbuh) says in this regards:

Narrated by Abu Musa (May Allah be pleased with him) saying that the Messenger of Allah said:
Among the respect that Allah bestows is to the one who is elderly, gray-haired Muslim, the one who memorized the Qur'an without bragging or deserting it, and the respect to the just ruler.    [Abu Dawood]


I hope and pray that we Muslims should do our best to respect the elderly and especially our parents. It is a bad habit to send our elderly to senior citizen homes. It is also bad to get rid of our parents and send them to nursing homes. The presence of our parents in our own houses is a blessing from Allah (swt). Their presence will bring peace, happiness, concord, tranquility, mercy and reward from Allah. We should try our best to request our parents to stay with us at our own houses so as to receive the blessings of Allah. We should give a good example to the non-Muslim to do the same with their parents. If we take the initiative and practice this good habit in the American society, we will establish a better society where there is no generation gap. There won't be animosity between the young generation towards the elderly. Instead, there will be kindness, respect, sympathy, concern, and love toward one another. We feel sorry for the elderly who are living in nursing homes, that they are not wanted in the society, that they are deserted, and that arson is committed on them to get rid of them. Poor are the elderly in this society! Many of them are being attack while walking on the streets, robbed and killed. Others are killed while asleep in the nursing homes. Still others are strangled for no reason.

I want you to think seriously about yourself when you will be old. Think seriously abut what is going to happen to you in this part of the world when you will become a senior citizen. I am sure none of us want to be deserted, unwanted or to be thrown away in those nursing homes. None of us want to think that he is a liability when he still an asset to the society.

I wish to request that you visit some of the nursing homes and see for yourselves the life habitat of the elderly. Try to see the type of treatment they receive, the type of food they eat, the type of atmosphere they live in, and the type of feeling they have. Many of us will run away from those places. However, if anyone wishes to live in the open society, he will not feel safe either. We hope and pray, that we will do something good as of today to improve the situation. Once it was said:

Treat people the way you like to be treated.

Also it was once said:

The way you treat people, you will be treated.

Let me end this chapter with this Hadith:

Were it not for the elderly who are praying, were it not for the nursing infants, and were it not for the youth who are praying night Tahajud, people would have been destroyed.

Let us pray that Allah guide us to the straight path. Let us ask Allah's guidance and forgiveness. Ameen.

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