Honor elders and oppress the young?
“He who does not show compassion to our young, nor honor our elders, is not from us” (Prophet Muhammad, pbuh)
What a strong statement this is, no? It makes you really want to figure out what the Prophet means by honoring elders so we can fulfill this duty well.
What does honoring elders mean exactly? What do we need to do and not do so we are honoring elders?
Before discussing what I think it means, let me share with you what it does NOT mean: honoring elders does not mean that the young should do everything elders ask them to do! In this case, young could be your kid or teenager. Or it could be you as an adult parent towards your elderly parents.
In my experience, many cultures have skewed this hadith in two ways:
- They interpret honoring elders as young must obey us. Period.
- They focus mostly or solely on honoring elders part of the hadith and ignore the ‘showing compassion to our young’ part.
As a result of the first mistake, we end up with super authoritative parenting styles, which lead to insecure kids and generations who cannot be themselves, cannot shine their creativity, and end up despising their parents (and if they do obey or take care of them it is out of fear of hell).
As a result of the second mistake, we end up with a huge disease of the heart in adults: EGO/ARROGANCE. I am an adult, you better obey me. I control you. I am more important than you…etc.
Does this ring a bell? Who said this?
Yes, you are right. Satan said this. It is what made him the cursed Satan. Vanity.
So you see, it seems like a cultural thing. We respect our elders… That’s our culture, our religion.
Well, yes it is. But they way we understand and apply it has taken it way, way out of balance. And a prophetic teaching that is meant to make us better human beings (insan-i kamil) has been twisted into making us into arrogant adults, almost oppressing our youth (zalim and mazlum).
You might be thinking, well she is exaggerating it.
Well, I have seen this many, many, many times.
Parents hushing their kids.
Putting them in their place.
Showing them who the boss is.
Stopping them from questioning their decisions.
Forcing them to kiss the hand of an elder person, when the kid dreads doing so.
Restraining their childhood to accommodate adults’ wishes.
The list goes on…
So in my view, honoring the elders in conjunction to showing compassion to the young mean:
- Helping them when they need help (depending on the kid’s age and personality)
- Using respectful language at all times (being reminded kindly, taught what respectful language means in detail)
- Questioning the elders’ decisions with respect (having the right to question, having reasonable autonomy over their life – safety and healthy decisions may be left to the parent based on kid’s age)
- Being grateful for the elders’ efforts to take care of them (which does not mean being obliged to them because the elder is doing this for God’s sake, not to own the kid by expecting anything in return)
- Balancing the needs and wants of the young and the elder (young are individuals with rights as much as the adult)
What makes a person qualify as an ‘elder’ in this hadith cannot be mere age of the person. What makes a person deserve to be honored is their wisdom, their generosity with their time and care for the young, and their exemplary role model character, etc.
So as long as the elder gives due ‘showing compassion for the young’ trust me, the young would want to ‘honor the elders’… This cannot be demanded or forced. It has to be earned.
So next time you lose it because your kid “disrespected” you in front of your friends, stop and think how you disrespect your spouse in front of your child, which sets the example for your kid…
Sorry if this sounds harsh but the young need advocates. You can obviously stand up for your rights but they need someone to give them breathing space in this adult-dominated world!