Domestic violence: a harsh reality that continues to permeate many households in Singapore. On 21 January 2021, The Straits Times published that 5,135 family violence cases were reported in 2020. Centres specialising in family violence also reported receiving 57% more enquiries in 2020 compared to 2018.
The definition of violence differs from one country to another. This article refers to the definition used in the Singapore context as listed in the Women’s Charter as follows:
Willfully or knowingly placing or attempting to place a family member in fear or hurt
Causing hurt to a family member by an act which he or she ought to know would cause and result in hurt
Wrongful confinement or restraining a family member against their will
Causing continual harassment with intent to cause anguish to a family member, including verbal, psychological or emotional abuse
This definition shows that domestic violence is violence that occurs to family members in a legal relationship. It could therefore happen to the husband, wife, children or even the elderly. This article will be focusing on domestic violence towards the elderly and what Islam has to say about it.
Elder abuse is any action or lack of action that puts the health or well-being of an elderly person at risk.
Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said that cases of abuse involving vulnerable adults aged 65 years and above have been rising steadily in recent years, and are now a key issue at the family service centres. In 2019, there were 232 cases, 2020 saw 283 cases, and the figure rose to 338 cases in 2021.
Abuse as we know it comes in many forms, some more prevalent than others. All the same, these forms of abuse cause hurt and fear in their victims. Types of abuse may include:
Emotional and psychological abuse
The elderly are vulnerable to all these types of abuse. Victims of domestic violence might be undergoing one or more signs of abuse. While these may be mere symptoms and may not necessarily indicate abuse, it is important to recognize the signs to enable us to act accordingly.
Physical abuse includes aggressive behaviours such as beatings, torture and being locked up. Amongst the signs of physical abuse:
History of previous injuries, untreated old injuries, and multiple injuries especially at various stages of healing
Delay in reporting injury/illness and seeking treatment
Unexplained cuts and/or bruises
Unexplained burns and/or fractures
As for emotional and psychological abuse, they refer to verbal or non-verbal acts which cause pain and distress to the elderly family member. Signs of this type of abuse include:
Drug / Alcohol abuse
Headaches, chest pain, palpitation
Social withdrawal or isolation
Suicidal behaviour / tendency
Neglect is the deliberate refusal to meet the elderly’s needs such as failing to provide food, access to housing, clothing, medical care, supervision, and financial support which is required for the elderly’s safety and welfare. It differs from abandonment which stems from the family member purposely rejecting the elder. Signs of neglect or abandonment:
Unexplained cuts and scratches
Poor hygiene and nutrition
Unexplained rashes and pressure sores
Soiled / unsuitable clothing
Misuse of medication / over-medication
Constant lack of supervision, especially in dangerous activities or for long periods
Financial abuse is the illegal, unauthorised, or improper use of an older individual’s resources. Signs of financial abuse can show up in the form of:
A pattern of missing belongings or property
Cancelled cheques or bank statements that go to someone other than the elder
Changes to an older person’s power of attorney or bank accounts
Evidence of unpaid bills
Withdrawals the elder could not have made
Victims of elder abuse often do not seek help. This may be due to them feeling ashamed or embarrassed, and may also be due to wanting privacy and not wanting any legal action taken against their alleged abuser. Some feel that they deserve the ill-treatment, and resign themselves to it. For the mentally incompetent, they may not even be able to take any course of action.
Effects of abuse take root in different ways. The most visible of course, comes in the physical form, however, the mental and emotional effects should not be trivialised.
Some effects may include depression, fear, withdrawal, confusion, anxiety, low self-esteem, helplessness, shame and guilt.
Elder abuse can also cause early death, destroy social and family ties, cause devastating financial loss, and more.
If you observe or suspect anyone being a victim of elder abuse, here are the steps you can consider taking:
Call the National Anti-Violence Helpline (NAVH) at 1800-777-0000.
Refer the elderly and caregiver to community-based services to address caregiving issues such as day care centres.
Refer the elderly to a social worker at the Family Service Centre (FSC) for counselling and practical assistance (casework).
Refer or accompany the elderly to make a Protection Order at the Family Court.
Refer the elderly person to Community Development Councils for financial aid.
Refer or accompany an elderly person who has no other means of support to the Tribunal of the Maintenance of Parents to secure maintenance from his children for food, clothing and shelter.
Refer to Asatizah Solace Care Pergas at 6436 9350.
Continue to provide support for the elderly person and monitor the situation. If you are unsure about what to do, call the FSC in your area for advice.
If you are a victim and would like to seek help:
Speak to family members, neighbours or friends that you can trust.
In life-threatening situations, call the police immediately or ask someone you trust to help you do so.
Talk to doctors, social workers or other professionals about your experience and problems.
Maintain an active social life, such as calling your friends to chat often and connecting with people in your community to increase your visibility.
Islam Grants a High Status to the Elders
In Islam, the elderly are granted a high status. Respecting the elderly is a characteristic that should be embodied by every Muslim. Of course, the elders closest to us are none other than our parents. Every individual has to fulfil their filial obligations to their parents.
The importance of treating our parents well is emphasised a lot in Islam. Even those whose parents are non-Muslims must always obey, love and care for them. Our parents have brought us up with unconditional love, and made many sacrifices to provide us with the best life they can. As our parents grow older, we should look after them and ensure that all their needs are met. Allah s.a.w. said:
“They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, “Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveller. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is All-Knowing of it.” (Al-Baqarah 2:215)
Part of treating parents well is speaking to them with kindness, helping them wherever possible, and tending to their needs. We should empathise with our parents if they experience the difficulties that come with age such as ailments, limited mobility, and more. It may not be easy but we should always remember our parents’ sacrifices and refrain from doing anything that might hurt their feelings. Allah s.a.w. said:
“For your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And honour your parents. If one or both of them reach old age in your care, never say to them even ‘ugh’ nor yell at them. Rather, address them respectfully.” (Al-Isra’ 17:23)
Islam Forbids Abusing The Elders
Islam does not only encourage respect and care for the elderly, but Islam also condemns any mistreatment or abuse towards them.
A Muslim should always strive to make the people around him feel at ease, and not the opposite. Traits such as empathy and mercy should be displayed to the elderly, instead of resentment or irritation. Ibn ‘Umar said:
Making parents weep is part of disobedience and one of the major wrong actions.
This shows how strongly Islam condemns the mistreatment of parents to the extent that it falls under a major sin.
The Prophet s.a.w. once told a very interesting anecdote to his companions about three men. According to him, the three men were once travelling when heavy rain began to fall. They took shelter in a cave.
Suddenly, a big stone came hurtling down and blocked the opening of the cave. All the three travellers lost the hope of their survival. One of them told the rest not to lose hope and pray to Allah s.w.t., by describing the most virtuous deed of their lives, to enable them to get out of the cave.
One of them addressing Allah s.w.t., submitted that he had old parents and several small children. When he would come back home after grazing the goats he would first offer the milk to his old parents and then to his children. Once when he came home quite late, his parents were asleep. He milked the goats as usual and taking the cup of milk went to his old parents, but did not disturb their sleep. The whole night he stood near his parents (to give them milk whenever they get up).
He prayed to Allah s.w.t. to enable them to come out of the cave. Allah s.w.t. was pleased with the act of this man and the stone moved a little. Similarly, after the other two related their tales, the stone was fully moved and they were able to come out of the cave.
Another form of mistreatment towards parents that we should refrain from committing is demeaning and cursing them. We should always keep in mind that hurtful words may not leave a visible scar, but will instead incur emotional wounds, which is why Islam forbids us from hurling verbal abuse towards the elderly. ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr narrated that the Prophet s.a.w. said:
Cursing one’s parents is one of the great wrong actions. They asked, “How could he curse them?” He said, “He curses a man who then in turn curses his mother and father.”
In conclusion, elder abuse has no place in Islam. In fact, ill-treatment, harming, and neglecting our parents are considered as major sins in Islam. Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘As narrated that the Prophet s.a.w. said:
(Of the) major sins are: to ascribe partners to Allah, disobey parents, murder someone, and to take a false oath (intentionally).
It is important that we always show our care and concern for the elderly around us, especially our parents. Visiting them or making a phone call will go a long way towards having a good relationship with them, and keeps us aware of their well-being.
May we be amongst those whose actions towards their parents make Allah s.w.t. pleased with them.