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Middle Eastern Countries - Role Of Islam In Policies And Practices Related To Aging

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Although they differ ideologically, almost all Middle Eastern countries except Israel have laws based, to some extent, on the holy book of the Qur'an. The influence of Islamic teachings and recommended practices is most notable in family law. Hammudah Abd al Ati, after reviewing definitions of family in an Islamic context, suggests the following: "The term family will be used to designate a special kind of structure whose principals are related to one another through blood ties and/or marital relationships, and whose relatedness is of such a nature as to entail 'mutual expectations' that are prescribed by religion, reinforced by law, and internalized by the individuals" (p. 19). In cultural and traditional norms as well as Islamic teachings and laws, the family is regarded as an inclusive and supportive unit whose success and well-being are connected to the well-being of other members of the unit. Islamic teachings emphasize honor and respect for parents and older members of the family, comparing respect for elders to the honor offered to God.

The old-age pension/benefits programs in Middle Eastern countries define family very broadly. Not only a pensioner's surviving spouse and children but also the parents and siblings are defined as survivors eligible to receive benefits. The benefits for daughters continue as long as they are not married, reflecting the conditions in nations where only a small percentage of females are employed. The eldest son in the household has the acknowledged responsibility of caring for his parents and sibling(s) if necessary. This most often begins with coresidency, when a newly widowed parent moves in with the son's family. In the beginning, while this relative is still in good health, she or he assists in household chores, introduces the children to traditional and cultural values, and often cares for the younger children, teaching them a skill or a trade. This cultivated relationship later is reversed, when older family members need assistance in caring for themselves. Yet the arrangement is always viewed as mutually beneficial; caring for a disabled grandparent, aunt, or uncle is not viewed as a burden but as a natural extension of family life.

This is not to say that Middle Eastern countries have no agencies or institutions that provide daily care to disabled older people. In Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, an increasing number of women in the urban areas seek employment outside the home, which limits their availability for caregiving. In addition, some elders have no family members and no financial means of their own to hire domestic workers. To serve these isolated cases, a few institutions, mostly in urban areas, are available in the larger countries. It is more common, however, to hire a domestic worker to help care for the older persons in the family.

SHAHLA MEHDIZADEH

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABD AL ATI, H. The Family Structure in Islam. Lagos, Nigeria: Islamic Publication Bureau, 1982.

LOPATA, H. Z. Widows: The Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific. Vol. 1. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987.

The Middle East Information Network. Available on the World Wide Web at www.mideastinfo.com/maproom

MOGHADAM, V. M. Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Riener Publishers, Inc., 1993.

National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics. "Land Area, Borders, Coastlines and Exclusive Economic Zone." Available on the World Wide Web at www.inegi.gob.mx

SMITH, J. I. Women in Contemporary Muslim Societies. London: Associated University Presses, 1980.

Social Security Administration. "Social Security Programs Throughout the World." Available on the World Wide Web at www.ssa.gov/statistics

United Nations. World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision. Vol. 3, Analytical Report. New York: United Nations, 2000.

United States Bureau of the Census. "International Database." Available on the World Wide Web at www.census.gov

United States Bureau of the Census. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998, 118th ed. Washington, D.C.: United States Bureau of the Census, 1998.

WORMSER, M. D., ed. The Middle East, 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1981.

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