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The Elderly - a forgotten class

Is it not wholly shameful that sections of the elderly community in Britain are suffering from malnutrition? We send satellites into orbit. We invade far flung countries and stockpile nuclear warheads. We can tell African nations how to feed their people. But the older man or woman who is our neighbour could be malnourished. How shameful is that?

A recent report from Help the Aged (12/2/2009) has highlighted this problem. What it does not ask is why this happens? How can it be that the elderly in Britain, even at the peak of economic prosperity can go hungry?

These people may have reached an age when they need to be looked after, but if their family does not look after them, and the community services or government run institutions don’t notice them, then they are left to fend on their own. Were the report to be about animals being malnourished we might feel ashamed. But we are talking about human beings and the most senior people in society, who have contributed for the longest!

Can it be that the elderly are simply abandoned by society in a relatively ‘rich’ and ‘prosperous’ first world country? There may well be an economic crisis now, but the research was conducted in boom time.

Some years ago, a character in a TV advert told his mother to go to an old people’s home, so that he could turn her bedroom into a snooker room and because his children are scared of her. Although this was supposed to be a humorous advert, it is nevertheless a dark reflection of how people think and what people do.

Islam never allows the abandonment of the elderly. As they looked after us when we were children, so should we look after them when as they grow older.

“And your Lord has commanded you not to worship other than Him and to be kind to your parents. If one of them or both of them reach old age then do not say Uff (meaning words indicating one’s irritation or impatience) to them and do not turn away from them with angry words, and address them with kind words. And lower the wings of humility in mercy and say ‘O Lord be merciful to them as they cared for me when I was a child’” (Quran chapter 17, verse 23)

The Prophet taught that “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”. This responsibility is not a favour being returned, but a privilege to do, for Islam places much reward at those who look after their family members, whether they are not old, and whether Muslim or not!

The financial burden of looking after elderly family members is overlooked in Islam simply because the greater outlook of life is not about grabbing more money, but being accountable for responsibilities. This mentality flowers because in Islam weight is given to the family as well as the individual. In other words, responsibilities are both familial and community based as well as individually based. Islam views the elderly in a position of honour and respect, valued for their wisdom and experience and even though sometimes
infirm, can still have a major role on the family. It does not end there. When children see their mother and father looking after their parents, and the young help in this responsibility, is this not the best practical lesson a child can receive?

Islam teaches a wholly different approach to the most senior people in our families and communities. This approach works properly when working with a whole new outlook in life, one which encompasses a spiritual outlook on life, and how it affects the life we live today and tomorrow. The older family members should live their later years in happiness and care, surrounded by the family and extended family, so much so that they still have roles to play, that of the grandparents/great grandparents who help, advise and guide younger members of the family. Left alone their wisdom, experience and is not only wasted but it brings a collective shame and begs the question about how civilised society really is.