Recognize the status of the elderly and give them due respect. When walking with them, walk slightly behind, to their right. Let them enter and exit first. If you meet them, greet them properly and respectfully. If you discuss something with them, let them speak first, and listen to them attentively and graciously. If the conversation involves debate, you should remain polite, calm, and kind-hearted and you should lower your voice. Never forget to remain respectful.
Let me review with you some of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)’s sayings and traditions that uphold these polite manners.
Imam Bukhari and Muslim reported that Abdullah bin Sahl (r.a.) made a trip with Mahisa bin Masoud in Zayed (r.a.) to Khaibar. When they were to about to return, Mahisa (r.a.) found Abdullah (r.a.) had been murdered. He went to the Prophet (s.s.w.s.) with his older brother, Howaisa (r.a.) and the victim’s brother, Abdul Rahman bin Sahl (r.a.). Mahisa (r.a.) who witnessed the incident started to talk, but the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said, ‘the elder, the elder.’ At that, Howaisa (r.a.) spoke and then Mahisa (r.a.).
Another story emphasizes this behaviour further. When he was young, Abdullah bin Omar (r.a.) was at a gathering of the Prophet (sallellahu alaihi wa sallam) and his senior companions like Abu Bakr (r.a.) and his father (Omar (r.a.)). The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) asked his companions: “Tell what is the tree that does not shed its leaves and which is like the Muslim.” The companions started suggesting names of desert trees. Abdullah bin Omar (r.a.) thought it was the date-palm. Since he was the youngest, and seeing Abu Bakr (r.a.) and Omar (r.a) silent, he shied away and said nothing. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) told his companions: ‘It is the palm tree’. Later, Abdullah told his father that he knew the right answer but shied away. Omar (r.a.) said to his son ‘For you to have said it right then, would have been worth a lot to me.’
Imam Ahmad, Al-Hakim and Al-Tabarani reported that ‘Ubada bin Al-Samit (r.a.) stated that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said: ‘Whoever does not respect our elders is not one of us.’ Another version reported: ‘Whoever does not respect our elders, is not compassionate to our youth, and does not give our scholars due honour, he is not one of us.’
This should not be taken to belittle the youth or look down on them. Imam Bukhari reported that Ibn Abbas (r.a.) narrated that Omar (r.a.) was allowing him to attend his court with seniors who attended Badr. Some of them felt uneasy and asked, ‘Why are you permitting him to attend when he is as young as our children?’ Omar (r.a.) replied, ‘He is [knowledgeable] as you well know.’ Another version elaborates that Omar (r.a.) asked the seniors to explain Sura Al-Nasr and only Abdullah in Abbas (r.a.) explained it correctly. Ibn Abbas (r.a.) said: ‘I thought he asked the question just to demonstrate my knowledge to them.’