Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Ramadan and Compassion for the Elderly – A Tribute to Mandela
Ramadan Karim wa Mubarak!
Kullu `Am wa antum bi khayr ma`assalama was-sihha
We praise and give thanks to God for once again honoring us to witness and experience the manifold blessings of the sacred month of Ramadan. We pray that during this holy month of Ramadan the Rahma – i.e. the Graceand
Compassion of the Lord of Mercy and the Barakah – i.e. the infinite blessings of God, the Sublime, will flow throughout the Muslim Ummah and will rejuvenate its deepest sources of life and action.
This year the beginning of Ramadan coincides with a special time in the life of our nation, a time during which we are celebrating the 94th birthday of one of our country’s most eminent leaders, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. We thank God, the Giver and Sustainer of life, for the long and rich life of Tata Madiba. We ask that God, the Most High, inspires our current national and international leaders with the best virtues embodied byMandela, such as selflessness, social justice and magnanimity.
We are mindful that at this time Tata Madiba, who has been blessed to reach 94 years old, is frail and physically weak. We make du`a and pray that God, the Most Compassionate, grants Mandela’s family, his caregivers, and our nation patience and loving kindness as they care for him and make the twilight of his life easy and comfortable.
Islamic Teachings on Caring for the Elderly
The central message of my khutbah today, as a tribute to Mandela, is to urge each one of us to make a special effort in this Ramadan to show compassion and tenderness to the elders in our midst. For one of the hallmarks of the month of Ramadan is to intensify our acts of compassion. Moreover, in bearing witness to the Islamic message of compassion the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have exhorted us to show mercy, compassion and tenderness towards the elderly:
He is not one of us who does not show mercy, compassion and tenderness towards theelderly. (Tirmidhi)
In order to encourage us to make a special effort during this Ramadan to display acts of compassion and tenderness towards the elders in our midst, I would like to remind us about some of the physical limitations which accompany the human condition we call old age. First, it might be useful to briefly reflect on the depiction of the elderly within the most primary source of Islamic guidance – The Glorious Quran. In Surah Maryam, Chapter 19 aya (verse) 4, Prophet Zakariya acknowledges his physical limitations in the followingmoving supplication:
He (Zakariya) prayed: O my Lord and Sustainer
Indeed! My bones have become weak and infirm,
And the hair upon my head doth glister with grey.
But never my Lord have I my prayers not been blessed by you.
The physical limitations of weak bones and grey hair are the more obvious signs of old age. But what we tend to forget and neglect in our society is that the elderly need as much care and attention sometimes as infants and young children. The same people who once were the primary caregivers and providers of their families, in old age they become in need of love and care themselves. Not only do they become progressively frail, unable to move around easily, sometimes they become in need of assistance to be cleaned, to be fed and to be dressed. Taking care of the elderly in this way requires lots of compassionate love (rahma) and patience (sabr). And in a society where we are all consumed by the demands of our work and our children, it is not always easy to make the time to also pay attention to the needs of our elderly relatives and friends.
I would like to strongly urge you to read an interesting article that appeared in last Friday 13 July issue of the Mail and Guardian titled: ‘What it feels like to be old’ by Kate Connelly. The article describes the innovative attempts by a German Geriatric’s specialist, Dr. Rahel Eckardt, to sensitise a new generation of doctors to the medical and social needs of senior citizens. As part of their medical school training, Dr. Eckhardt gets students to climb into a specially designed Age Man Suit - an industrial-style futuristic boiler suit which weighs 10kg.This experience allows medical students a rare opportunity of experiencing the disabilities that the elderly experience on a daily basis. The ear protectors, makes hearing difficult, the yellow visor, makes it difficult to distinguish colours, the padded gloves stiffens the joints making movement difficult and the headgear is heavy and causes dizziness. According to one student, a walk up the stairs leaves her breathless and tired, trying to remove tablets from a blister pack is a fumbling disaster and the heaviness coupled with the stifled hearing and blurry vision is distinctly disorienting. The brief experience in the Age Man Suit has taught her that old age involves a great variety of illnesses, not just arthritis and dementia, and so it has encouraged her to consider specializing in the relatively new field of Geriatrics.
Since there is a dire need for more doctors to specialize in the field of geriatrics all over the world it should be regarded as a fard kifya – social obligation that needs to be encouraged.
How does Islam ask us to honour and show compassion to the elderly?
I would like to provide a one practical example of how we could display compassion to our elders. Imam Muslim narrated from `Abdullah ibn `Umar that an old man from among the Bedouin tribes met him on the road to Makkah. `Abdullah greeted him with salam, made him ride on the donkey that he was riding, and gave him the turban that he had been wearing on his head. Ibn Dinar said: We said to him, “May Allah guide you, they are just Bedouin and they are content with something simple.” `Abdullah said, “The father of this man was a close friend of my father `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) say,
'The best way of honoring one’s parents is for the child to keep in touch with his parent’s friends.’”
This is one of the unique forms of elder care in Islam. When we visit the friends of our parents it helps to include the elderly in society and puts an end to the isolation they feel, which in turn reduces the impact of the social and psychological changes that the elderly go through. This can be extended to include the friends of your grand-parents, so that you keep the bonds of friendship and kinship alive.
It is heart-warming to see how the Mandela family is caring for him. It is not surprising to hear that he enjoys the attention. Unfortunately, many of our elders are not as lucky as Mandela and are often left feeling lonely and abandoned. Let us this Ramadan try to make a small difference by reaching out to the elderly with acts of compassion and tenderness, as a fitting tribute to one our country’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela.
The Lord of Mercy, has exempted the elderly who find it difficult to fast, from fasting. Imam Bukhari relates on the authority of the companion Ata’ that he heard Ibn Abbas reciting the Qur’anic verse:
وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ
Those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear may compensate for it by feeding a needy person (2: 184)
He concluded by saying that verse is valid for an elderly man or an elderly woman who cannot fast. Theyexpiate their fasting by feeding a poor person for each day. And if even this may not be possible they are entirely exempted.
In conclusion, I advise myself and advise you to try our best in this Ramadan the month of rahma, to do something special to honour and display compassion to our senior citizens. If your parents or grand-parents arealive, utilize this Ramadan to do some extra-special acts of tenderness to serve and honor them. If your parents have passed into the life of the hereafter honour their memories by visiting one of their friends or relatives.
Please join me in a special prayer for our elders:
Supplication for the Elderly
We thank Allah, the Giver of life, for the long and rich life of Nelson Mandela.
We ask that you grant Mandela’s family, his caregivers, and our nation patience and loving kindness as they care for him and all of our elders.
Our Lord! Shower them with your mercy as they cherished us in our childhood.
O Allah those you have exempted from fasting by your divine grace due to ill-health, old age and infirmity or any other legitimate disability we ask that you embrace them with your mercy.
O Most Merciful of those who show mercy, accept their daily ransoms and expiations of feeding the hungry.
O Allah we ask you to grant them an even greater reward for their forbearance (sabr).
O Allah thou art the pardoner of our transgressions and shortcomings towards our parents and elders, for you are the Most Generous You love to Pardon.