Twenty-First Letter: It explains the importance of treating one’s old parents or relatives compassionately and mercifully.
The Twenty-First Letter
In His Name, be He glorified!
And there is nothing but it glorifies Him with praise.
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. * And out of kindness, lower the wing of humility, and say: “My Sustainer! Bestow on them Your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” * Your Sustainer knows best what is in your hearts: if you do deeds of righteousness, indeed he is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again [in true penitence].1
O heedless one in whose house is an elderly parent or an invalid or someone no longer able to work from among his relations or brothers in religion! Study the above verses carefully and see how on five levels in different ways it summons children to be kindly towards their elderly parents. Yes, the highest truth in this world is the compassion of parents towards their children, and the most elevated rights, their rights of respect in return for their compassion. For they sacrifice their lives with great pleasure, spending them for the sake of their children’s lives. In which case, every child who has not lost his humanity and been transformed into a monster honours those respected, loyal, self-sacrificing friends, serves them sincerely, and tries to please them and make them happy. Uncles and aunts, maternal and paternal, are like parents.
So understand from this how base and lacking in conscience it is to be contemptuous towards those blessed elderly people, or to want their deaths. Know what a wicked wrong and iniquity it is to want the lives to pass of those who sacrificed their lives for yours.
O you who struggles to secure his livelihood! The means of plenty and mercy in your house, and the repeller of disaster, is that elderly or blind relative of yours, whom you belittle. Beware, do not say: “My income is little, I have difficulty in making ends meet,” for if it was not for the plenty resulting from their presence, your circumstances would have been even more straitened. Believe this fact which I am telling you; I can prove it most decisively and can convince you. But in order not to prolong the discussion, I am cutting it short. Be content with this much. I swear that this is absolutely certain; my evil-commanding soul and own devil, even, have submitted to it. You should be convinced of a fact which has smashed my soul’s obduracy and silenced my devil.
Yes, the All-Glorious and Munificent Creator, Who, as the universe testifies, is infinitely Merciful, Compassionate, Bountiful, and Generous, provides infants with the finest of sustenance when His sends them into this world, causing it to flow into their mouths from the springs of their mother’s breasts. So too, He provides, in the form of plenty, the sustenance of the elderly, who are like children though even more in need and deserving of kindness and compassion. He does not burden the avaricious and miserly with their livelihood. All living creatures, all their species, declare through the tongues of their beings the truth expressed by the following verses:
For Allah is He Who gives [all] sustenance,-Lord of Power and Steadfast [for ever].2 * How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is Allah Who feeds [both] them and you;3
they state this munificent truth. In fact it is not only elderly relations, certain creatures like cats, who are a friend to man-their sustenance also comes in the form of plenty, sent within the food of the human beings. An example which corroborates this and I myself observed is as follows: my close friends know that for two to three years my appointed lot every day was half a loaf of bread, the loaves in that village were small, and very often this was insufficient for me. Then four cats came and stayed with me as my guests, and that same portion was sufficient both for myself and for them. There was frequently even some left over.
This situation has recurred so often that it has made me certain that I was benefiting from the plenty resulting from the cats. I declare most definitely that they were not a load on me. Also, it was not they who were obliged to me, but I to them.
O man! If an animal which is as though wild is the means of plenty when it comes as a guest to the house of a human being, you can compare for yourself what a means of plenty and mercy will be man, the noblest of creatures; and the believers, the most perfect of men; and the powerless and ailing elderly, the most worthy of respect and compassion among the believers; and relatives, the most worthy and deserving of kindness, love, and to be served among the ailing elderly; and parents, who are the truest and most loyal friends among relatives, if they are present in a house in their old age. According to the meaning of, “If it was not for the elderly, bent double with age, calamities would be visited on you in floods,”4 you can see what an important cause they are of disasters being repelled.
O man, come to your senses! If you do not die earlier, you too will become old. If you do not honour your parents, in accordance with the meaning of, “the punishment is similar to the act that required it,” your children will not be dutiful towards you. If you love your life in the hereafter, this is an important treasury for you: be dutiful towards them and gain their pleasure. While if it is this world that you love, still try to please them, so that through them your life will be easy and your sustenance plentiful. For if you are contemptuous of them, wish for their deaths, and wound their sensitive and easily hurt hearts, you will manifest the meaning of the verse,
They lose both this world and the hereafter.5
If you want the mercy of the Most Merciful One, be merciful towards those in your house whom He has entrusted to you.
There was someone called Mustafa Çavuş, one of my brothers of the hereafter. I used to observe that he was very successful both in his religious life and his worldly life. I did not know the reason for this. Then I later understood that the reason for his success was that he had understood the rights of his elderly parents and he observed them to the letter; due to them he had found ease and mercy. God willing, he repaired his life in the hereafter as well. Those who wish for good fortune should try to resemble him...
O Allah, grant blessings and peace to the one who said: “Paradise is beneath the feet of mothers,”6 and to all his Family and Companions.
Glory be unto You! We have no knowledge save that which You have taught us; indeed You are All-Knowing, All-Wise.
1. Qur’an, 17:23-5.
2. Qur’an, 51:58.
3. Qur’an, 29:60.
4. al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’ ii, 163; Suyuti, Kanz al-Ummal ix, 167; Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din 341.
5. Qur’an, 22:11.
6. Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, 3642; al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’ i, 335; al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami’ al-Saghir wa ziyadatuhu 1259, 1260.