Granny. Amma. Naani. Daado. Whatever you call your grandmother, she probably is or was one of the most important people in your life. But with an aging population – both in the UK and worldwide – many older women in the Muslim community suffer isolation and health issues.
The Prophet Muhammed ﷺ made it clear the importance of respecting older people when, as observed by Anas bin Malik, an older man came to talk to the Prophet. People were hesitant to make room for him, but the Prophet said,
“He is not one of us who does not have mercy on young children, nor honour the elderly.”
So, here are 5 ways to respect and support the older women in your life, and in the Muslim community:
1) Spend time with your grandma – in an inclusive way
You might be thinking that you see your grandma all the time – that she’s a central part of all family gatherings. That’s great, but it’s worth considering whether the noise and hubbub of a family meal or occasion is always enjoyable for your grandparents. It’s estimated that 71% of individuals over 70 experience hearing loss, and so the noise of many people talking over each other can be overwhelming.
However, just paying attention to your grandmother in these situations can make sure she doesn’t feel left behind. One of my most treasured memories with my granny, Ros, started with our whole family playing a board game together. The game involved describing things extremely quickly, and I could see that Ros was struggling to hear what we were saying. My grandmother was a proud woman, and I knew she wouldn’t want to appear not to be following the game. So, I feigned boredom and dropped out of the game, asking Ros if she would come and read Little Women with me – one of her favourite books. We had a lovely time quietly reading together, and I knew she was pleased not to have to try to keep up with the game (even if she’d never admit it)!
So, whether it’s by arranging to meet your grandparents one-on-one or in small groups, planning to do activities which your grandma enjoys, or just noticing how they’re feeling, there is a way to spend meaningful time with your grandmother or other older people respectfully and inclusively.
2) Help older women get around easily
Without a driving licence and with reduced mobility and health issues, getting around can be a real problem for older people. This contributes to the loneliness and isolation experienced by millions of the elderly in the UK and worldwide. According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
So, call up your grandma, go and visit her and take her to see the family or to groups she enjoys. If you meet older women at the Mosque or in your community, offer them a lift to Friday prayers, or arrange one with someone else. Ask if the older women in your family and community need help getting to medical appointments. As people, we need each other, and older people are no different.
3) Take time to listen
The social isolation which many older people experience often leads to depression and a serious decline in both mental and physical wellbeing. In 2014, Age UK found that two-fifths of all older people said that the television was their main company.
As the old adage goes, you should always listen to older people’s advice… not because they’re always right, but because they have more experience of being wrong. Elderly people often have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.
By taking the time to listen to the older people in your life, you’ll be helping them fight isolation – and you’ll probably learn a thing or two whilst you’re at it.
4) Teach your grandma to love her phone or tablet
Technology has opened up the world, but older people – particularly older women – often get left behind. The best way to keep in touch with family abroad or at the other side of the country is through tools like FaceTime or Skype. Tablets are often easier for older people to use, as they’re easier to see and the buttons for typing are usually bigger. You can also install speech recognition on lots of devices if a touchscreen is difficult for people with arthritis in their hands.
I get it… helping parents and grandparents learn to use their TVs, phones and, well, every piece of new technology that comes out, can feel like an unending task. But libraries and community centres also hold training and courses for older people to learn basic computer skills, and Age UK also holds computer classes in some of their local branches.
This could help your grandmother connect with family and old friends, and even help her make some new ones. If you’re not sure on the positive impact of learning new technology on older people, watch the below video from Age Action.
5) Adopt a Gran
Our work supporting older women can go beyond our family or local area. Elders in developing countries don’t always get the care they need and deserve, and we should be stepping forward to help them, too. If you don’t have a grandmother, or you just want to help another older woman in a developing country, you can now Adopt a Gran with Penny Appeal!
You can give an older person everything they need, including nutritious meals, social opportunities and health care, all for just 33p a day. This means that an older person in Asia or Africa can enjoy quality care, just like our own loved parents and grandparents.
I’ll leave you with this quote from our ahadith:
“If a young man honours an elderly person on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honour him in his old age.”