By Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rahmat Allah ‘alayh)
The responsibility for care of the aged is gradually shifting to the state. Care of the aged represents a heavy burden on the national economy. However much a state is ready to spend, it can never buy them peace and contentment. The most terrible feeling of having been rejected, left out and abandoned, and the most painful realisation, of a growing void of loneliness within are problems beyond the reach of many to resolve. To consider that a comparatively remote relative would ever be taken care of by the rest of the family has become almost impossible to imagine.
In such societies, the need for homes for the aged grows with the passage of time. Yet, it is not always possible for a stage to apportion enough money to provide for them even the minimum requirements of a decent life. Physical ailments are much easier to cure or alleviate but the deep psychological traumas from which a considerable number of elderly members of modern societies are suffering, are far more difficult to treat.
In predominantly Muslim countries, however much values may have deteriorated, the condition which prevails in the rest of contemporary society, is unthinkable. It is considered a disgrace and dishonour for the old and aged to be treated with such disrespect and callousness. It is a matter of shame for most Muslims to hand over the responsibilities of elderly relatives to the state even if the state is willing to look after them.
As such, the role of a Muslim woman amidst her home and family is far from over with the coming of age of the children. She remains deeply bonded to the past as well as to the future. It is her kind and humane concern, and her innate ability to look after those who stand in need of care, which comes to the rescue of the older members of society. They remain as precious and respected as before and continue to be integral members of the family. The mother plays a major part in looking after them and providing them with her company, not as drudgery and tedium, but as live natural expression of human kinship. Thus, when she grows older she can rest assured that such a society will not eject her nor leave her abandoned as a relic of the past.
Of course, there are exceptions in every society and there are old remnants of the past considered as tiresome burdens in some Muslim families living under the influences of the so-called modern trends. But one the whole, Muslim societies are relatively free of homes for abandoned parents unlike other societies.
This reminds me of a joke which may make some people laugh yet move some others to tears. Once a child observed with much pain and unease the ill-treatment of his grandfather at the hands of his father. He was gradually transferred from a well-provided and comfortable main bedroom to a smaller and less convenient accommodation until it was finally decided to remove the grandfather to the servant’s quarters. During an exceptionally severe winter, the grandfather complained of his room being too chilly and his quilt being too thin to make him feel warm and comfortable. The father started looking for an extra blanket from a stock of old, useless rags. Observing this, the child turned to his father and requested: `Please do not give all the rags to grandpa. Keep some for me so that I may be able to give them to you when you grow old.’
In this innocent expression of a child’s displeasure is concentrated all the agony of the older generation in modern times.
In Muslim societies, it is as rare to find such exceptions, as it is rare and becoming more rare to find exceptions in modern societies amongst relatives in their treatment of the old. Muslims are taught:
Thy Lord has commanded, `Worship none but Him, and show kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but (always) address them with excellent speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness.’ And say, `My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me (when I was) a little child.’ (17:24,25)
These verses are the most significant on this subject. After the Unity of God, human beings should, through their attitude of love, affection and kindness, give priority over all other things to their parents who have reached an old and difficult age.
Further, the verses speak of situations when the behaviour of one or both of the parents becomes extremely trying and sometimes offensive. In response to that, not even a mild expression of disgust or disapproval should pass one’s lips. On the contrary, they should be treated with profound respect.
The emphasis on the most excellent relationship between one generation and another slowly passing away guarantees that no generation gaps appears. Such gaps always interrupt the transmission of traditional moral values.
Islamic social philosophy, therefore, teaches that no generation should permit a gap to appear between it and the outgoing generation and between it and the future generation. Generation gaps are totally alien to Islam.
As stated earlier, the family concept in Islam is not limited to members of a single home. The following verse instructs Muslims to spend not only on their parents but also their kith and kin who are mentioned next to parents in order of preference so that their sense of dignity is not injured and mutual love is promoted.
Worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, orphans, the needy and to the neighbour who is a kinsman and the neighbour who is a stranger, and the companion by (your) side and the wayfarer and those who are under your authority. Surely, Allah loves not the arrogant (and) the boastful. (4:37)
If contemporary society learns the lesson from those injunctions, many problems which it faces today and which represent a blemish on an advanced society, would cease to exist. No elderly homes or homes for the aged would be needed, except for some aged people who, unfortunately, have no close relative to look after them. But in an Islamic society, the love between parents and children is so repeatedly emphasised that it is impossible for a child to abandon his or her parents when they grow old for the sake of his or her own pleasure.