The Elder in the Qur’an
There are several words indicating the elder in Islam, they are: asy-Syaikhasy, Syuyukh, al-Kibar, al-Ajuz, dan ardzalil-’umur. Firstly, the word Asy-syaikhasy as mentioned in al-Muhith means the people who get old around 50 to 80 years old or until they pass away. Secondly, asy-Syuyukh (in plural form) has synonyms with the words Syiyukh, Syiikhah, Asyyaakh, Masyyakhah, and Masyayikh (Aliah B Purwakania Hasan: 2008). This term refers to the aged prophet mentioned in the Qur’an. Several of them are mentioned in Q.S. Yusuf: 78 referring to the prophet Ayyub who has reached old age.
قَالُوْا يٰٓاَيُّهَا الْعَزِيْزُ اِنَّ لَهٗٓ اَبًا شَيْخًا كَبِيْرًا فَخُذْ اَحَدَنَا مَكَانَهٗ ۚاِنَّا نَرٰىكَ مِنَ الْمُحْسِنِيْنَ
“They said: O exalted one! Behold! He has a father, aged, and venerable, (who will grieve for him); so take one of us in his place; for we see that thou art (gracious) in doing good.”
Quraish Shihab in his tafsir al-Misbah explains this verse concerning the capture of Bunyamin (the prophet Yusuf’s sibling) by Yusuf who at that time was a king. Yusuf met his brothers who asked for help because of the famine that struck the country. Bunyamin’s brothers have promised their father (the prophet Ya’kub) to take care of their brother. They persuaded Yusuf to release Bunyamin, but Yusuf refused to do so. In their request, they used the term syaikha for Yusuf to be considered as their reason so that Yusuf attended to their request. Several reasons they offered are, first, the love of the aged father; second, the respected position of their father in the community; third, the pride of the community to help their respected leader (M. Quraish Shihab: 2002).
The term Syaikh is also stated in Q.S. Hud: 72 referring to the prophet Ibrahim and in Q.S. Al-Qashas: 23 referring to the prophet Musa. The term indicated the aged prophet. In Q.S. Ghafir this term emerged in the plural form Syuyukh indicating the same meaning.
Meanwhile, the word al-Kibar is derived from the word kabira – yakbaru – kibaran, which means old age (kabira fi sinnihi) (Muhammad ibn Mukrim: 1995). The term al-Kibar means the person who reaches old age. These terms appear in the Qur’an in Q.S. Al-Hijr: 54 referring to the elderly who experience malnutrition and have lost their strength. This verse also explains the good news of the birth of the baby, the prophet Ishaq, son of the prophet Ibrahim and his wife Siti Sarah who granted a child in her old age. This phenomenon was unusual and they are very grateful to God for the miracle. In Q.S. Al-Isra’: 23 describes the elder people who are weak and should be taken care of and protected (M. Quraish Shihab: 2002). This verse contains the ethical and moral aspects related to the child over the parents, especially the elders. The verse of Maryam: 8 describes the parents who reach old age (M. Quraish Shihab: 2002). These three verses depict the condition of the prophet Ibrahim who received the good news and was blessed with a child in his old age. The term al-Kibar is also stated in Al-Baqarah: 266, Q.S. Ali Imran: 40 and Q.S. Ibrahim: 39.
The word al-‘Ajuz means the elderly woman (al-Mar’ah al-Kabiroh). The verses in the Qur’an that contain this term refers to the prophets’ wives who reach old age. This term appears in the Qur’an in Q.S. Hud: 72 and Q.S. Adz-Dzariyat: 29 refers to Siti Sarah, the wife of the prophet Ibrahim who comes to her old age and has no heir. The term also emerged in the Qur’an Q.S. ash-Shaffat: 135 and Q.S. asy-Syu’ara: 171 referring to the wife of the prophet Luth (M. Quraish Shihab: 2002).
The word Al-Ardzal al-’Umur that appears in the Qur’an surah an-Nahl: 70 indicates a very old person. In Q.S. al-Hajj: 5 discusses the elderly and the loss of memory, in Q.S. al-Anbiya: 44 and Al-Qashas: 45 explain life long as a blessing.
The Qur’an also illustrates the signs of the elderly, several of them are as follows, (a) physical loss of strength and forgetfulness (Q.S. Al-Nahl: 70, Al-Hajj: 5); (b) elderly women will experience menopause when a menstrual cycle ends (Q.S. ath-Thalaq: 4 and Q.S. an-Nur: 60. A woman who attains menopause will no longer be able to get pregnant as mentioned in the Qur’an Q.S. Ali Imran: 40 and Q.S. Maryam: 8; (c) Bone loss mass or density, weaknesses and hair change into grey hair (Q.S. Maryam: 3 – 6 and Q.S. Ar-Ruum: 54); (d) With aging, the potential to exhibit sensitivity (Q.S. al-Isra: 23).
The Islamic Support for the Elderly
Islam gives special attention and support to the elderly. The prophet Muhammad emphasized that respect toward the elderly in Islam is part of obedience to God. Allah commands the children to respect their parents especially when they are getting older and forbid the children to say inappropriate words or snap at them. It is stated in the Qur’an Surah al-Isra ayat 23:
وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوٓا۟ إِلَّآ إِيَّاهُ وَبِٱلْوَٰلِدَيْنِ إِحْسَٰنًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ ٱلْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَآ أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا
“Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in their life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.”
This verse confirms that the children, either daughter or son, should do a good deed toward the parents especially when they are old. One of the good deeds to the parents includes giving love and attention and should never hurt them. Islam also gives the solution for the elder people to experience their time in their old age with happiness. The Qur’an Surah al-Hijr: 54-55 indicates that when one gets old to remain enthusiastic, optimistic, and positive toward life. The elderly should build positive thinking towards life, boost intellectual wellness, eat healthy food and encourage staying connected with the loved ones of their family and friends. Research shows that to remain productive and beneficial for the family and the community in older age could keep longevity. The story of Khaulah inspired the elder women to keep enthusiastic, critical, and precarious toward the injustice to gain happiness in life. Wallahu a’lam.