The Plight of Abused Muslim Parents

Posted by Zerqa Abid
6/11/2013 3:53 PM  RssIcon

Have you ever seen an elderly mother/mother-in-law become a free maid for cooking, babysitting and taking care of the household while the couple is resting, watching TV, going out and partying?

Have you ever seen adult children and grandchildren yelling at and abusing their parents and grandparents all the time.?The forms of abuse might include physical, emotional, financial and social abuse.

Have you ever seen an old parent dumped into a nursing home for 10 years or more where nobody understand their language, halal food is not served, and family members and friends are not allowed to or unable to visit?

Have you ever seen adult children picking on their elderly parents' weaknesses, digging into their past, putting them down in front of others including their grandchildren, making fun of them, accusing them of things that they never did, and then calling them liars?

Unfortunately, I have seen all of the above and more.

Of course, I have also seen scores of families taking care of their elderly with the ultimate care and gentleness regardless of the situation of the person under care. I have seen my aunts and uncles taking care of their mom with Alzheimer's when she did not even recognize them for the last six years of her life, but in this particular post, I am not talking about the lucky folks like my great aunt. This post is about elderly who are abused within our community and need our help.  

Elderly abuse is a very touchy topic within the Muslim community. As a community, we take pride in taking care of our parents and other elderly members. Islam teaches us to be kind and gentle with our family members, especially with children and the elderly. We would hope that all Muslim families practiced that kindness,  but unfortunately, it is not the case in a growing number of American Muslim families.

According to my research with Sheikh Google, there are no statistics available about elderly abuse within American Muslim community that could be listed here though the professionals on the grounds have been reporting a steady increase in elderly abuse cases every passing year. More elderly are being abused by their children and grandchildren then we would like to ever admit.  

To me, the most disturbing is the case of young couples exploiting and abusing their parents. This even includes educated, financially well-established couples. I have been observing two types of prominent cases in this regard.

There is a group who would load all the household chores and childcare on their elderly parent. This is the case with the most abused elderly women in their sons' homes. In a few cases, one would see similar at a daughter's place too. These elderly are being intimidated and forced to do house labor just to feel that they are home. I have known elderly women in this category who would still try to cover their situation as much as they could, but it does not work all the time. One wonders why would this women cook food for entire family while dealing with her own serious health issues.  Perhaps she feels like she has no choice.

I truly pity those children who gather sins for mistreating and abusing their parents instead of gathering blessings from their stay with them. There are certain things that they need to understand in this regard.

Firstly, in my opinion, household chores and babysitting should only be conditioned with their health situations and willingness.  Such contribution should be phrased as help not as a duty. Limits should be placed on the amount and hours, with the understanding that our parents are not our servants, and are doing this out of kindness. Most importantly, this should not be a requirement to justify the shelter and the food they received at their children's home. Instead, It should only be of many options  to pass their time. They are already done with their job in raising their own children. Now, they should be able to rest and spend time however they would like, even if it means watching TV all day long. They might have not watched TV at all when they were raising their own children. It's their party time now.

Secondly, although most grandparents do not ask for any kind of payment, it should still be clearly discussed with them.  If one goes to Sitter City, one can find that a babysitter is paid anywhere from $15-$25/hour. Are our parents worth less than a stranger? After all, they deserve some kind of financial stability for themselves. In the case of elderly who are not in the social security system yet, this might be their only way to secure some money for their little shopping or other needs.  Payment or no payment, they also deserve proper healthcare, some social life and the most importantly respect and appreciation for their ongoing contribution to the family.

I also pity those children who emotionally abuse their parents in different ways. Emotional abuse include all kinds of denial of parents' love, refusal of spending quality time with them, keeping their grandchildren away from them, putting them down in front of others, and keeping them away from their own children. How unfortunate it is for those abusive children. They lose all of those blessings, the family fun time, and the prayers that their parent would make for them if they were happy with them. They also miss the opportunity to teach their own children how to take care of an elderly parent. Do they not anticipate their own old age?

I have personally known parents who are suffering through severe depression and other health issues due to negligent or abusive children. I have wiped tears off of some faces and have offered my shoulders to others.  Some of these people are financially independent. They are in good health over all. All they need is some respect, some love, some assurance from their children that they belong and they are needed.  I pity their children as I reflect on the Islamic teachings.

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has observed : “Let that man be disgraced, and disgraced again and let him be disgraced even more.” The people inquired : “O Prophet of God (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon you) who is that man?” The Prophet of God (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) affirmed: “I refer to the man who finds his parents old in age – both of them or one of them – and yet did not earn entitlement to Paradise by rendering good service to them.“ [Muslim]

Every time, an elderly parent is abused by their children, I see that as an opportunity for the extended family members, neighbors and community members to step in and help stop the abuse as effectively as possible.  It is incumbent upon all of us Muslims to stop abuse and to help the oppressed. In Islam, once someone is violated by a family member, it does not remain as a private family matter. Rather it becomes a larger family issue or community issue. Most of the time that abused elderly is someone's aunt or uncle, someone's friend, someone's neighbor. It's their right upon us to step forward and do whatever is needed to be done to stop the abuse.  

With my own personal experience, I can assure all readers that rewards of helping such helpless souls are huge. I have been taking care of my own uncle for about ten years. He was being cheated by his in-laws and was being  abused by his own daughter. He was shaky and weak when I brought him to my home. Today, he is as happy as he could be. My brother and I are his family. Our children are his grandchildren. As we lost our own father 20 years ago, this itself is just greater than any other reward that we could imagine. His prayers and love have simply blessed our lives in many ways. I pity for his daughter who is missing all of these blessings. At the same time, I am grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala for granting me with the wisdom and resources that I needed to help my uncle 10 years ago.


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