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Consigning Parents to Homes for the Aged

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Q: Are the home service persons and homes for the aged parents allowed in Islam?
The holy Quran does not mention about these. Allah commands the children about their duty and responsibility towards their aged parents. The verses are 31: 14 and 15, 17:23.
The contents of the verses can be noted here: “Show kindness to your parents; the mother bears you in hardship upon hardship and weans you for two years; thank her; do not utter words of contempt for the parents; do not rebuke them; speak always gently to them; treat them with humility and tenderness; pray to God for His mercy on them. The direction of Allah refers to the personal services of children to their parents, These services of the children to their parents requires their hands, tongue, language, mind sacrifice, sympathy, consolation love and affection for the parents. Here the physical the mental, the moral and the financial help and support of the children for their parents are meant. It is repaying the gratitude and all the suffering and sacrifice undertaken by the parents. Hence these services of the parents and particularly of the mother cannot be repaid by the purchased, shifted, exchange and the substituted services as those of the home service persons and the old age homes. This amounts to the negligence of duty and responsibility on the part of the children towards their parents who are not destitute. In their love for materialism and freedom, some children when they receive a phone call from the old aged homes about the death of their parents, simply and easily reply, “Bury them. We will arrange for the cost of the burial and we have no time to spare.”
The parents pass away from this world unwept and unsung with an unfulfilled desire to have a last glimpse of their near and dear for whom they sacrificed their own desires and labored hard. How can the children expect the reward of Allah?

These Homes Do Serve Some Purpose
But these do not absolve one of his/her duties towards Parents

Maqbool Ahmed Siraj replies:

Dear Sir,

Your question raises several issues which need to be dealt with elaborately.
There can be no two opinions about duties towards parents. One has to obey, serve, support, respect and assist his or her parents. The Quranic commandment is very categorical about this. You have yourself quoted the verses. They should be treated with kindness and extreme respect. One should not talk back at them, nor should exhibit any bitterness, cussedness while conversing with them.
In the light of the above verses, it appears that Islam favours children (who have grown up and are on their own) should stay with, or close to parents when they are aged, or are infirm/sick, invalid or disabled. They should be at hand when any help is needed. Unless it is inevitable, the parents should not be consigned to Old Aged Homes. More than funding their needs and maintaining them, it is children’s sympathy, compassion, kind words and physical assistance (if they need any) that are required by the parents who have reached an advanced age. It is for the children to realize this and not to be demanded by the parents. A Muslim individual should be aware enough of the Quranic verses pertaining to the duties towards parents.

Life’s Complexities
Moving to the modern context, one feels that the age we are living through is a complex one with life expectancy having risen and family sizes having shrunk. Livelihood pattern too has undergone a massive change. Most educated children have moved to the cities, and families have acquired a nuclear pattern i.e., husband, wife and kids. Independent houses have been replaced by flats and apartments. Joint family system has crumbled. Employed people have social security system for support during the post-retirement life. Diversity of professions and skills has imparted mobility to jobs. People do not merely move from village to cities or from one city to another, but seek lucrative jobs beyond their own countries and continents. Similarly, children being few””most urban families have two or three kids””there is less likelihood of some of them remaining with parents for long. Yet modern means of communication enable them to stay in touch with their children. They could have their kind and compassionate words or wiser counsels, can expect their company on short notice and keep supplied with their needs. These of course, do not compensate for the kin’s physical absence, but largely reduce the physical distance. RFID devices even enable monitoring of sick people at home and surveillance against intruders.

No Yardsticks
Situation could be summed up thus: Continuous virtual presence is ensured and physical presence could be had any time. These recent changes have allowed the children to pursue their careers in a carefree manner. The new age liberalism too discourages parents from being intrusive into the lives of the gen. next. Similarly, the children on their part do not feel any qualm in moving or staying away if their presence is not all that integral to the parents’ life. Cases may vary from family to family and it is for the two sides to work out the physical proximity as demanded by their specific circumstances. If indeed, it becomes inevitable, the parents should demand children to be at their side and the latter should also assess the criticality of the demand. In any case, it for the parents and children to decide how proximate should be their presence. A third party is least likely to pass any judgment. There are no absolute yardsticks in human relationships.

Homes for Old Aged
As for Old Aged Homes, let it be said that these institutions have come into existence in response to modern day needs. While one should not abdicate his/her duties towards parents, there can be circumstances wherein these become a necessity. There may be old people without anyone to look after them. It may be because they remained unmarried, or were childless or the children predeceased them. There may be old aged destitutes too. Old aged homes or Assisted Living Centres as they are now called, may be a boon for such people. The Quran talks about the duties towards orphans. But these have not come in the way of setting up orphanages and destitute children homes by the Muslims societies. It will be really sad, if old aged people are forced to take refuge there for denial or lack of emotional security of a home despite their having children close by. There is simply no moral justification for consigning old or sick parents to such homes by way of discharging one’s duty.