The Weaknesses of Man
Allah created man in a most complete state and equipped him with superior
characteristics. His superiority over all creatures – as shown by his
distinctive intellectual skills of thought and comprehension, and his
readiness to learn and develop cultures – is unquestionable.
Have you ever thought why it is that despite all these superior features
man has such a fragile body, which is always vulnerable to external and
internal threat? Why is it exposed to the attacks of microbes or bacteria,
which are so tiny they are invisible to the naked eye? Why does
he have to spend a certain part of each day keeping himself clean? Why
does he need bodily care? And why does he age in the course of time?
People assume that these needs are natural phenomena. Yet, being in need
of care as a human serves a special purpose. Every detail of the needs
of man is specially created. The verse "man was created weak" (Surat
an-Nisa: 28) is the manifest statement of this fact.
Man's infinite needs are created on purpose: to make him understand that
he is a servant of Allah and that this world is a temporary residence
Man has no influence whatsoever on the date and place of his birth. Likewise,
he never knows where or how he will die. Moreover, all his efforts to
eliminate the factors negatively affecting his life are vain and hopeless.
Man has indeed a fragile nature requiring a lot of care to survive. He
is intrinsically unprotected against, and feeble in the face of, abrupt
and unforeseeable incidents that occur in the world. Equally, he is exposed
to unpredictable health risks, no matter whether he is a resident of a
high civilisation or of a remote, undeveloped mountain village. It is
quite likely that at any moment man can develop an incurable or fatal
disease. At any time, an accident may happen dealing unrecoverable harm
to one's bodily strength or one's most enviable charms.
Furthermore, this applies to all people: status, rank and race, etc.,
know of no exception to such an end. Both the life of a celebrity with
millions of fans and that of a common shepherd may well be completely
altered one day by an unexpected incident.
The human body is a weak organism of bones and flesh averaging 70-80
kilograms in weight. Only a frail skin protects it. No doubt, this sensitive
skin can easily be hurt and bruised. It becomes cracked and dry when exposed
to too much sunlight or wind. In order not to surrender to natural causes
man always has to be on guard against the effects of the environment.
Although man is equipped with marvellous bodily systems, the "materials"
– the flesh, muscles, bones, nervous tissue, cardiovascular system and
fat – are prone to decay. If man were of a different material, rather
than flesh and fat, a material that gave no access to external intruders
such as microbes or bacteria, there would be no chance of becoming sick.
However, flesh is the frailest ‘substance': it becomes rotten and even
worm-eaten when left at room temperature for some time.
As a constant reminder of Allah, man
often feels the fundamental needs of his body. Exposed to cold weather,
for instance, he runs health risks; his immune system gradually "collapses".
On such an occasion, his body may fail to maintain the constant body temperature
(370C) that is fundamental to good health.1
His heart rate slows, the blood vessels contract, and arterial pressure
increases. The body starts to shiver as a means of regaining heat. A lowered
body temperature of 350C accompanied by a depressed pulse and
contracted blood-vessels in arms, legs and fingers signals a life-threatening
condition.2 A person with a body temperature
of 350C suffers severely from disorientation and constantly
falls asleep. Mental functions slow. A slight decrease in body temperature
can cause such consequences, but even more exposure to cold weather, bringing
body temperature below 330C, causes loss of consciousness.
At 240C, the respiratory system fails to function. The brain
is damaged at 200C and finally the heart stops at 190C
bringing on the unavoidable end: death.
This is only one of the examples upon which will be further expanded
in the remaining pages of this book. The purpose in providing these examples
is to emphasise that, due to the inexorable factors endangering his being,
man will always fail to find profound satisfaction in his way of living.
The aim is to remind the reader that man should avoid blind attachment
to life and stop spending all his life running after dreams and, instead,
always remember Allah and the real life, the Hereafter.
There is an eternal Paradise promised to man. As readers will have the
opportunity to see from the pages that follow, paradise is a place of
perfection. In paradise, man will be entirely insulated from all the physical
weaknesses and imperfections that surround him on earth. Everything he
desires will be within easy reach. Furthermore, fatigue, thirst, exhaustion,
hunger, and injury do not exist in paradise.
Helping people reflect on their real nature and consequently have a deeper
understanding of the infinite superiority of the Creator is another purpose
of this book. In addition, comprehending that man is in need of the guidance
of Allah is surely of great relevance to everyone. Allah states this in
the following verse:
O mankind! You are the poor in your relation
to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (Surah al-Fatir:
Man is exposed to many physical risks. Keeping one's body and environment
clean and taking painstaking care of them are life-long burdens with which
one has always to be occupied in order to minimise health risks. What
is even more striking is that the amount of time spent on such tasks is
considerable. We have often come across surveys that have been conducted
to find out how much time is spent shaving, bathing, hair-care, skin-care,
manicuring etc. The results of such surveys are astounding, and reveal
how much precious time such daily tasks consume.
In the course of our lives, we encounter many people. At home, in the
office, on the streets or in the shopping-mall, we see many smartly dressed
people in their best states. They are people with shaved faces, clean
hair and bodies, ironed shirts, well-polished shoes. However, such careful
grooming requires time and effort.
From the moment one wakes up in the morning until the time one goes to
sleep, one has to involve oneself in endless routines to keep clean and
fresh. Once we wake up, the first place we head for is the bathroom; during
the night, the proliferation of bacteria causes a bad taste and unpleasant
odour in the month, forcing us to brush our teeth immediately. However,
in order to get ready for the new day, the essentials are not limited
to brushing teeth. Neither does washing just the face and hands suffice.
During the day, hair becomes greasy and the body becomes dirty. At night,
in the midst of a dream, it might not be possible to stop sweating. As
the only way to get rid of unpleasant body odours and sweat, one feels
the urgent need of a shower. Otherwise, it would not be pleasant to go
to work with greasy hair and a bad odour coming from the body.
The variety of materials used to make one's body clean enough to face
others is surprisingly wide. This is, surely, enough evidence of the body's
endless needs. Besides water and soap, we need numerous essentials to
clean the body: shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, tooth polish, dental
tape, cotton buds, body powder, face cream, lotions; the list goes on
and on. Apart from these essentials, there are hundreds of other products
developed in laboratories to enhance body care.
As well as bodily care, everyone must also spend a considerable amount
of time cleaning clothing, house, and surroundings. No doubt, one cannot
keep oneself clean unless one is in a clean environment.
In brief, a certain part of life is spent solely to provide for the needs
of the body. Moreover, we need many chemicals for this end. Allah created
man with many weaknesses, yet He also provides the methods to temporarily
conceal these weaknesses and hence remain in good condition without making
other people conscious of these weaknesses. Besides, man is endowed with
intelligence enough to find the best ways to cover his "weaknesses". If
we neglect to apply these methods staying clean and fresh, we may in a
very short time begin to appear repulsive.
Furthermore, one cannot remain clean for a long time. After a few hours,
nothing remains from the refreshment a shower gives: we can only stay
clean for a relatively short time. We need to take a shower at least once
a day. Likewise, we need to brush our teeth regularly: bacteria quickly
turn the mouth into its former state. A woman who spends hours in front
of a mirror putting on make-up wakes up next morning with no trace of
that beautiful make-up on her face. Moreover, if she does not remove it
properly, her face may look even worse due to the remains of cosmetics.
A clean-shaven man needs another shave the next morning.
It is important to understand that all these needs are created for a
specific purpose. An example makes this point explicit: when body temperature
rises, we sweat. The odour accompanying sweat is disturbing. This is an
unavoidable process for anyone living in this world. However, this need
not have been the case! For instance, plants never sweat. A rose never
stinks despite the fact that it grows in soil, is fed with manure, and
remains in an environment of dust and dirt. Under all conditions, it has
a delicate fragrance. We need hardly mention that it needs no body-care!
However, no matter which cosmetics are applied to the skin, few human
beings can achieve such a permanent fragrance.
Besides all the needs of the body pertaining to hygiene, nutrition is
also essential for health. There is a delicate balance of proteins, carbohydrates,
sugars, vitamins and various minerals essential for the body. Once this
balance is impaired, serious damage may arise in the functioning of bodily
systems: the immune system loses its protective abilities, leaving the
body weak and exposed to disease. Therefore, the same attention shown
to body-care should also be paid to nutrition.
An even more essential requisite for life is, of course, water. A man
can survive without food for a certain period, but a few days without
water will have fatal consequences. All the chemical functions of the
body take place with the aid of water; water is vital for life.
The foregoing are the weaknesses that one can observe in one's own body.
Yet a question remains: are we all aware that these are weaknesses? Alternatively,
do we think that these are 'natural' since human beings all over the world
have such weaknesses? However, we should keep in mind that Allah could
have created man perfect without any of these weaknesses. Each human being
could have been as clean and as fragrant as a rose. Nevertheless, the
lessons drawn from such a state lead eventually to wisdom, summoning us
to clarity of mind and consciousness; man, seeing his weaknesses in the
presence of Allah, should understand why he is created and try to lead
an honourable life as a servant of Allah.
Fifteen Years Without "Consciousness"
Everyone has to spend some of his daily time sleeping. No matter how
much work he has or how he struggles to avoid it, it is inescapable that
he will fall asleep and remain in bed for at least a quarter of the day.
Hence, man is conscious only eighteen hours a day; he spends the remaining
time – a minimum of six hours a day on average – in complete unconsciousness.
When assessed from this standpoint, we come across a striking picture:
one quarter of an average 60 years of life is spent in total unconsciousness.
Do we then have an alternative to sleep? What would happen to someone
who said, "I do not want to sleep?"
First, one's eyes become red and one's skin colour pales. If the duration
of sleeplessness extends, loss of consciousness results.
Closing the eyes and the inability to focus attention are the initial
phases of falling asleep. This is an inevitable process, and beautiful
or ugly, wealthy or poor, everybody experiences the same process.
Similarly to death, just before sleep the body starts to become insensitive
to the outer world and gives no response to any stimulus. Senses that
were exceptionally keen a while ago start to fail. In the meantime, perceptions
are altered. The body reduces all functions to a minimum, leading to disorientation
in place and time and slower body movements. This state is, in a way,
a different form of death, which is defined as the state in which the
soul leaves the body. Indeed, while sleeping the body lies in bed where
the spirit experiences totally different lives in completely different
places. In one's dreams, one may well perceive oneself on a beach on a
hot summer's day, unaware that one is sleeping in bed. Death, too, has
the same outward appearance: it separates the soul from the body which
the soul uses in this world and carries him away to another world in a
new body. For this reason, Allah, in the Qur'an, the only remaining authentic
revelation which guides humanity to the true path, repeatedly reminds
us of the similarity of sleep to death.
It is He who takes your souls by night, and has
knowledge of all that you have done by day: by day He raises you up again;
that a term appointed be fulfilled; In the end unto Him will be your return;
then will He show you the truth of all that you did. (Surat al-An'am:
It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death;
and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He
has passed the decree of death, He keeps back, but the rest He sends (to
their bodies) for a term appointed. Verily in this are Signs for those
who reflect. (Surat az-Zumar: 42)
Totally deprived of all the functions of the senses, in other words,
"in a dead faint", a person spends up to a third of his life in sleep.
Yet, he little contemplates this fact, never realising that he leaves
behind everything deemed important in this world. An important exam, huge
sums of money lost on the stock exchange or a minor personal problem,
in brief everything that appears to be of crucial importance during the
day fades away as one falls asleep. This simply means having no relationship
with the world at all.
All the examples that have been presented so far give a clear idea about
the shortness of life and the huge amount of time spent on "compulsory"
routine tasks. When the time spent on such "compulsory" tasks is subtracted,
one realises the scarcity of moments left for the so-called joys of life.
In retrospect, one feels astonished at the long time spent on nourishment,
body-care, sleep, or working to attain better standards of living.
The calculations of the time spent on routine tasks necessary for survival
are, undoubtedly, worth thinking about. As stated earlier, at least 15-20
years of a 60-year life are spent asleep. The initial 5-10 years of the
remaining 40-45 years, however, are spent in childhood, another period
that is also spent in an almost unconscious state. In other words, a sixty-year-old
man will have spent perhaps half of his life without consciousness. Regarding
the other half of life, many statistics are available. These figures,
for instance, include the time spent preparing meals, eating, bathing
or caught in traffic jams. This list can be further extended. In conclusion,
what remains from a "long" life is only 3-5 years. What is the importance
of such a short life in comparison to an eternal one?
It is right at this point that a huge gulf yawns between those who have
faith and disbelievers. Disbelievers, believing the only life to be here
on this earth, struggle to make the most of it. Yet these are useless
endeavours: this world is both short and its life is beset with "weaknesses".
Furthermore, since the disbeliever does not put his trust in Allah, he
lives a troublesome life, one fraught with concerns and fears.
Those who have faith, on the other hand, spend their lives remembering
Allah and in His presence at each instant, during all of the minor and
troublesome occupations of bodily care, eating, drinking, standing, sitting,
reclining to sleep, and seeking livelihoods, etc. They spend their lives
only to attain the contentment of Allah and thus lead peaceful lives,
isolated completely from all worldly sorrows and fears. In conclusion,
they attain paradise, a place of eternal happiness. Similarly, the ultimate
purpose of life is stated in the verse:
To the righteous (when) it is said, "What is it
that your Lord has revealed?" they say, "All that is good." To those who
do good, there is good in this world, and the home of the hereafter is
even better and excellent indeed is the home of the righteous. (Surat
Disease and Accidents
Disease also reminds man how prone he is to weakness. The body, highly
protected against all types of external threats, is seriously affected
by mere viruses, disease-producing agents invisible to the naked eye.
This process seems unreasonable, since Allah equipped the body with very
complete systems, especially the immune system that could be described
as a "victorious army" over its enemies. However, despite the body's strengths
and defences, people often fall ill. They little ponder the fact that
having been equipped with such excellent systems, Allah might never have
allowed disease-producing agents to cause suffering. Viruses, microbes
or bacteria might never have affected the body, or these tiny "enemies"
might never have existed. However, still today, anyone may well become
the target of serious disease arising from insignificant causes. For instance,
a single virus entering the body through a slight cut on the skin may
in a short while spread to the whole body, taking control of vital organs.
Despite advanced technology, a simple influenza virus may become a life-threatening
factor for huge numbers of people. History has frequently been witness
to influenza cases that changed even the demographic structures of countries.
For instance, in 1918, twenty-five million people died of influenza. Similarly,
in 1995, an epidemic claimed thirty thousand lives, the worst losses concentrated
Today the danger persists: a virus may strike at any time and easily
become life-threatening for anyone, or a rare disease may reappear after
lying dormant for nearly twenty years. Accepting all these incidents as
natural happenings and not reflecting on them would be a serious mistake.
Allah gives mankind diseases for a special purpose. This way, those who
are arrogant may well find an opportunity to grasp the truly limited extent
of their power. Besides, this is a good way of understanding the true
nature of this life.
Apart from diseases, accidents pose serious threats to man. Every day
newspapers run headlines about traffic accidents. Accidents also constitute
a considerable part of radio and television news. Yet, despite such familiarity
with accidents, we never think we might face an accident at any moment.
There are thousands of factors around us that may suddenly divert the
flow of our lives. One may lose one's balance and fall in the middle of
the street, for instance. A haemorrhage in the brain or a broken leg may
well be traced back to such an ordinary accident, or while eating supper,
one may choke to death on a fish-bone. The causes may sound simple, but
every day thousands of people around the world face incidents such as
these which are difficult to imagine.
These facts should make us understand the futility of devotion to this
world and conclude that everything that has been given us is but a temporary
favour to test us in this world. It is unfathomable how a human being,
still unable to combat an invisible virus, dares to display arrogance
towards his Almighty Creator.
No doubt, it is Allah who created man and He is the One who protects
him against all dangers. In this respect, accidents and disease show us
who we are. No matter how potent one assumes oneself to be, except by
the will of Allah, one cannot prevent any disaster from befalling. Allah
creates all disease and other situations to remind man of his weaknesses.
This world is a place to test man. Everyone is held responsible for trying
to attain His good pleasure. At the end of this test, those who have a
clear unitary knowledge of Allah without ascribing partners to Him and
obey His prohibitions and orders will reside in paradise for all eternity.
Those who do not change their arrogance and prefer this world and their
desires will thus lose an eternal life of bliss and ease in exchange for
eternal suffering and will never be free of troubles, weakness and sorrow
either in this world or in the Hereafter.
The Consequences of Diseases and Accidents
As stated earlier, disease and accidents are the events by which Allah
tests man. Facing such an incident, a faithful person immediately turns
to Allah, praying and seeking refuge in Him. He is well aware that nothing
and no-one except Allah can save him from grief. He is also aware that
his patience, devotion and trust in Allah are being tested. In the Qur'an,
the prophet Ibrahim is praised for his exemplary attitude. His sincere
prayer is one that should be repeated by all believers. It is related
in the Qur'an as follows:
"…Who gives me food and drink, and when I am ill,
it is He who cures me; Who will cause me to die, and give me life
(again)." (Surat ash-Shu'ara: 79-81)
The prophet Ayub, on the other hand, set a good example for all believers
as he sought patience only from Allah when faced with a bitter illness:
Commemorate Our slave Ayyub. Behold he cried to
his Lord: "The Evil One has afflicted me with distress and suffering!"
(Surah Sad: 41)
Such distress strengthens the loyalty of believers towards their Creator
and establishes them in maturity. That is why each suffering is a "fortune".
Disbelievers, on the other hand, perceive all types of accident and disease
as "misfortune". Not realising that everything is created for a specific
purpose and that patience shown during troubles will be awarded in the
Hereafter, disbelievers fall into great grief. Indeed, since in a system
based upon the denial of the existence of Allah, people adopt a materialistic
standpoint, disease and accidents bring other sorrows to those who have
no faith. The moral values and point of view of materialist society dictates
that after accident or disease what they generally experience is the sudden
disappearance of close ‘friends' even if they have not died. Such an attitude
is assumed simply because they perceive being friends with, or taking
care of a sufferer as trouble. No matter how much love and care he gave
in the "good old days", once somebody becomes ill – bedridden for instance
– or disabled, all affection felt for him vanishes. Another reason which
makes people change is the loss of looks or of certain skills. That is
also what is expected from materialist society, since in such a society,
people assess others according to their physical traits. Consequently,
when a physical defect appears, the value attached to that person also
For instance, the spouse or close relatives of a physically handicapped
person, immediately start complaining about the difficulties of looking
after a disabled person. They often lament about how unfortunate they
are. Most express that they are still very young and that being faced
with such a disaster is not something they deserve. This is only self-justification
for why he or she does not pay proper care and attention to his or her
disabled relative. Some, on the other hand, assist the patient or disabled
just because they fear what others might think about them in the event
that they leave them. The rumours, which are likely to spread, simply
prevent them from such behaviour. In such times of trouble the promises
of loyalty given during happier days are suddenly replaced by egotistical,
Such incidents should not surprise us in a society where some forms of
behaviour, such as loyalty, are only shown when there is benefit to be
derived from them. No doubt, in a society where materialistic criteria
are well established and, more importantly, where people have no fear
of Allah, it is impossible to expect someone to remain loyal to somebody
else for no price. After all, we cannot expect someone to be sincere and
honest to others unless he believes he will receive punishment in return
for his failure to act so or reward for doing so. Such behaviour is believed
to be "idiotic" in materialist society. That is because there is no sense
in showing loyalty to someone who will, when death befalls him possibly
in a few decades, cease to exist for all eternity. Considering the situation
in a system in which both parties are convinced they will live for a short
time then die, such a mentality seems reasonable. Why, then, should they
not prefer the comfortable and easy way of doing things?
Diseases, such as those that are illustrated next,
are often trials from Allah. Such incidents are rare opportunities
for believers to show their patience and devotion to Allah. Yet,
those who limit their understanding to this world alone hardly comprehend
this essential secret.
Yet, the facts are otherwise. Those who trust Allah, who, in His presence,
are aware of their weaknesses and fear Him, assess other people in the
way Allah wants them to. The most precious feature of a person who is
in the presence of Allah is his fear, respect and, hence, the noble behaviour
he displays arising from these qualities. If the one who fears Allah displays
moral perfection in this world, he will attain physical and mental perfection
for all eternity. Knowing this fact, the physical defects of this world
lose all significance. This is the promise of Allah to the believers.
That is also the basic reason why believers show respect and affection
to each other and consideration for each other's physical handicaps, and
demonstrate lifelong devotion to one another.
This big gap in perception between believers and disbelievers and the
different states of mind they experience are quite important. While grudges
and anger are eliminated from the hearts of believers and peace and security
prevail instead, feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction and unhappiness
create anguished states of mind for disbelievers. This is as if it was
a punishment from the materialist society surrounding the disbelievers,
but, it really is a misfortune from Allah for those who do not believe.
Those who assume that they will not be judged for their misdeeds will
be stunned on the day of judgement when their misdeeds – cruelty,
disbelief, and disloyalty – will be judged:
Let not the disbelievers think that Our respite
to them is good for them: We grant them respite that they may grow in
their iniquity: But they will have a shameful punishment. (Surat Ali-'Imran:
The Later Years of Life
destructive effects of the passage of years are observable in one's own
body. As the years go by, the body, the most precious possession a human
being has, goes through an irreversible process of destruction. The changes
a human being experiences throughout his life are recounted in the Qur'an
It is Allah Who created you in a state of (helpless)
weakness, then gave (you) strength after weakness, then, after strength,
gave (you) weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is
He who has all knowledge and power. (Surat ar-Rum: 54)
The later years of life are the times most neglected in the future plans
of an adult, except in the anxious process of saving for old-age pensions.
Indeed, being too close to death, people usually develop a hesitant approach
to this period. When someone tries to talk about old age, others feel
concerned and attempt to change this "unpleasant" topic as soon as possible.
The routine of daily life is also a good way of escaping from the thought
of these potentially miserable years of life. So, it is postponed until
the day one inevitably meets it. No doubt, the main reason for such avoidance
is the assumption that one has endless time until death comes upon one.
This common misconception is described in the Qur'an:
Nay, We gave the good things of this life to these
men and their fathers until life grew long for them. (Surat al-Anbiya:
This mistaken idea often leads to great grief. That is simply because,
no matter how old one is, the only real possessions remaining from one's
past are dimly-recalled memories. One barely remembers childhood. It is
even hard to recall exactly what happened during the last decade. The
greatest ambitions of a young man, important decisions, and the goals
to which he is most committed, all lose their significance once they are
experienced and done. That is why to tell a "long" life story is a vain
Whether a teenager or an adult, this should prompt man to make an important
decision about his life. For instance, if you are forty and expect to
live until your mid-sixties – and of that you have no guarantee – those
remaining twenty-five years will surely pass as quickly as the preceding
forty years. The same holds true even if your life is prolonged a great
deal, since the remaining thirty or forty years will, likewise, pass before
you even notice. This is, surely, a perpetual reminder of the true nature
of this world. One day every living soul on this earth will leave this
world and there is no return.
Hence, man should set aside his prejudices and be more realistic about
his life. Time passes very quickly and each day brings on further physical
weakness and more impaired thinking rather than fresher dynamism and a
younger figure. In brief, growing old is a manifestation of man's inability
to control his own body, life and destiny. Time's adverse effects on the
body become visible during this period. Allah informs us about this in
the following verse:
It is Allah Who creates you and takes your souls
at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age,
so that they know nothing after having known (much): for Allah is All-Knowing,
All-Powerful. (Surat an-Nahl: 70)
In medicine, advanced old age is also called "the second childhood".
Hence, during this latter stage of life, elderly people just like children
need care, since their bodily and mental functions go through certain
As one grows older, physical and spiritual characteristics pertaining
to childhood become more apparent. Elderly people fail to do many tasks
requiring physical strength. Changes in judgement, impaired thinking,
difficulties in walking, maintaining balance and speech, impediments,
memory impairment and gradual memory loss, and changes in mood or behaviour
are only a few symptoms of diseases commonly seen in old age.
In short, after a certain period, people often regress to a state of
childish dependency both physically and mentally.
Life both begins and ends in an infant-like state. This is evidently
not a random process. It is possible that man could remain young until
he dies. Yet Allah reminds man about the temporary nature of this world
by making the quality of his life deteriorate at certain stages of life.
This process serves as a clear reminder that life is slipping away. Allah
explains this matter in the verse below:
O mankind! If you have doubt about the Resurrection,
(consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of a drop, then out
of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and
partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our power) to you; and
We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then
We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that you may reach your age
of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent
back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known
(much), and (further), you see the earth barren and lifeless, but when
We pour rain down on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts
forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs). (Surat al-Hajj: 5)
Age-related Physical Problems
No matter how much money you have or how good your health, everyone eventually
faces disabilities and other age-related complications, some of which
are described below:
Skin is truly an important factor determining how somebody looks. It
is an essential component of beauty. When tissue of a few square millimetres
is removed, one inevitably comes across a picture which squeamish people
find disturbing. This is solely because, apart from offering protection
from exterior threats to the body, skin also provides a smooth and aesthetic
appearance to the body. This is, no doubt, quite an important function
of skin. After all, if someone assumes herself good looking, that is solely
because her skin, a piece of flesh weighing in total around four and a
half pounds, covers her body. Yet to one's astonishment, this is the only
organ that becomes visibly damaged when one gets old.
Jeanne Calment, the oldest French woman. There is a period of
a century between these two photographs.
Naty Revuelta, in youth and old age.
Everybody experiences the changes seen in these pictures.
The process of ageing is the clearest evidence that we are living
in a temporary world. Man comes into this world, grows to adulthood
and old age and then dies. Yet, only the body experiences this
irreversible process. The soul, on the other hand, lives forever.
As one grows old, skin loses its elastic structure since structural proteins
making up the "skeleton" of its bottom layers become sensitive and weak.
That is also why wrinkles and lines, a nightmare for many people, appear
on the face. The functioning of the oil glands in the top layer of the
skin slows down, causing acute dryness. In time, the body is exposed to
external influences since the permeability of skin increases. As a result
of this process, elderly people suffer seriously from sleeping disorders,
superficial wounds, and an itch called "the itch of old age". Likewise,
damage occurs to the bottom layers of the skin. Renewal of skin tissue
and substance-exchange mechanisms fail to function to a great extent,
preparing and laying the ground for tumours to develop.
Strength of bones is also of great importance to the human body. Efforts
to achieve an erect posture rarely meet with success for old people, while
it is much easier for the young. Walking with a bent posture, one loses
all one's loftiness and arrogance, giving the message that one no longer
has the ability to exercise control even over one's own body. Therefore,
this is also a loss of one's "airs and graces".
The symptoms of ageing are not limited to these alone. Elderly people
are more likely to develop loss of sensation since nerve cells cease to
renew themselves after a particular age. Elderly people suffer from spatial
disorientation due to weakening eyes in response to the intensity of light.
This is quite important since it means a limitation of eyesight: the vividness
of colours, the positions of objects, and their dimensions become blurred.
These are, no doubt, difficult situations for the elderly to adapt to.
Man might never have experienced the physical destruction of ageing:
he might simply have grown stronger and healthier as he grew older. Though
we are not familiar with such a model, living longer might have offered
unprecedented opportunities for personally and socially fulfilling lives.
Time might have improved the quality of life, making it much more enjoyable
than ever. Yet, the system ordained as good for mankind is one based on
a declining quality of life as one grows older.
This is one more evidence of the temporary nature of this world. Allah
repeatedly reminds us of this fact in the Qur'an and commands believers
to think about it:
The likeness of the life of the present is as
the rain which We send down from the skies: by its mingling arises the
produce of the earth – which provides food for men and animals: (It grows)
till the earth is clad with its golden ornaments and is decked out (in
beauty): the people to whom it belongs think they have all powers of disposal
over it: There reaches it Our command by night or by day, and We make
it like a harvest clean-mown, as if it had not flourished only the day
before! Thus do We explain the Signs in detail for those who reflect.
(Surah Yunus: 24)
After a certain period of life during which man assumes himself to be
physically and mentally strong and perceives the whole world from his
own viewpoint, he suddenly goes through a period during which he loses
many things he had previously enjoyed. This process is inevitable and
irreversible. That is only because Allah created this world as a temporary
place in which to live and made it imperfect in order that it serve as
a reminder for the Hereafter.
Lessons to be Drawn from the Old Age of Celebrities
Growing old is unavoidable. Nobody, without exception, can escape it.
Yet seeing celebrities becoming older has a deeper influence on us since
their physical deterioration is openly observable. Witnessing the ageing
of people renowned for their fame, wealth and beauty is surely a reminder
of the shortness and insignificance of this life.
Every day it is possible to observe this fact from hundreds of examples
around us. An intelligent, healthy and famous person, once a symbol of
beauty or success, one day appears in newspapers, magazines and on television
with a physical or mental disability. This is the end that almost everybody
will meet. Yet celebrities hold a special place in our minds; the way
they grow old and lose their charms appeals to the emotions more deeply.
In the pages that follow, you will see photographs of some celebrities.
Each one is the clearest evidence that no matter how beautiful, successful
or young you are, the inevitable end for human beings is old age.
| Brigitte Bardot
| Marlon Brando
| Charlie Chapline
The Death of Man
Life slips away second by second. Are you aware that every day brings
you closer to death or that death is as close to you as it is to other
As we are told in the verse "Every soul shall taste
death in the end; to Us shall you be brought back." (Surat al-'Ankabut:
57) everyone who has ever appeared on this earth was destined to
die. Without exception they all died, every one. Today, we hardly come
across the traces of many of these people who passed away. Those currently
living and those who will ever live will also face death on a predestined
day. Despite this fact, people tend to see death as an unlikely incident.
Think of a baby who has just opened its eyes to the world and a man who
is about to breathe his last. Both had no influence on their individual
birth or death whatsoever. Only Allah possesses the power to inspire the
breath of life or to take it away.
All human beings will live until a certain day and then die; Allah in
the Qur'an gives an account of the attitude commonly shown towards death
in the following verse:
Say: "The death from which you flee will truly
overtake you: then you will be sent back to the Knower of things secret
and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that you did!"
(Surat al-Jumu'ah: 8)
The majority of people avoid thinking about death. In the rapid flow
of daily events, a person usually occupies himself with totally different
subjects: what college to enrol in, which company to work for, what colour
of clothing to wear next morning, what to cook for supper; these are the
kinds of major issues that we usually consider. Life is perceived as a
routine process of such minor matters. Attempts to talk about death are
always interrupted by those who do not feel comfortable hearing about
it. Assuming death will come only when one grows older, one does not want
to concern himself with such an unpleasant subject. Yet it should be kept
in mind that living for even one further hour is never guaranteed. Everyday,
man witnesses the deaths of people around him but thinks little about
the day when others will witness his own death. He never supposes that
such an end is awaiting him!
Nevertheless, when death comes to man, all the "realities" of life suddenly
vanish. No reminder of the "good old days" endures in this world. Think
of everything that you are able to do right now: you can blink your eyes,
move your body, speak, laugh; all these are functions of your body. Now
think about the state and shape your body will assume after your death.
From the moment you breathe for the last time, you will become nothing
but a "heap of flesh". Your body, silent and motionless, will be carried
to the morgue. There, it will be washed for the last time. Wrapped in
a shroud, your corpse will be carried in a coffin to the graveyard. Once
your remains are in the grave, soil will cover you. This is the end of
your story. From now on, you are simply one of the names represented in
the graveyard by a marble stone.
During the first months or years, your grave will be visited frequently.
As time passes, fewer people will come. Decades later, there will be no-one.
Meanwhile, your immediate family members will experience a different
aspect of your death. At home, your room and bed will be empty. After
the funeral, little of what belongs to you will be kept at home: most
of your clothes, shoes, etc, will be given to those who need them. Your
file at the public registration office will be deleted or archived. During
the first years, some will mourn for you. Yet, time will work against
the memories you left behind. Four or five decades later, there will remain
only a few who remember you. Before long, new generations will come and
none of your generation will exist any longer on earth. Whether you are
remembered or not will be worthless to you.
Before disintegration begins in the corpse
Eyes turning purple after death
A corpse consumed by worms in a grave
A burnt corpse
Wherever you are,
death will find you out,
even if you are in towers built up strong and high!
(Surat an-Nisa, 78)
While all this is taking place in the world, the corpse under the soil
will go through a rapid process of decay. Soon after you are placed in
the grave, the bacteria and insects proliferating in the corpse due to
the absence of oxygen will start to function. The gasses released from
these organisms will inflate the body, starting from the abdomen, altering
its shape and appearance. Bloody froth will pop out the mouth and nose
due to the pressure of gasses on the diaphragm. As corruption proceeds,
body hair, nails, soles, and palms will fall off. Accompanying this outer
alteration in the body, internal organs such as lungs, heart and liver
will also decay. In the meantime, the most horrible scene takes place
in the abdomen, where the skin can no longer bear the pressure of gasses
and suddenly bursts, spreading an unendurably disgusting smell. Starting
from the skull, muscles will detach from their particular places. Skin
and soft tissues will completely disintegrate. The brain will decay and
start looking like clay. This process will go on until the whole body
is reduced to a skeleton.
There is no chance of going back to the old life again. Gathering around
the supper table with family members, socialising or to having an honourable
job will never again be possible.
In short, the "heap of flesh and bones" to which we assign an identity
faces a quite nasty end. On the other hand, you – or rather, your soul
– will leave this body as soon as you breathe your last. The remainder
of you – your body – will become part of the soil.
Yes, but what is the reason for all these things happening?
If Allah willed, the body would never have decayed in such a way. That
it does so actually carries a very important inner message in itself.
The tremendous end awaiting man should make him acknowledge that he is
not a body himself, but a soul "encased" within a body. In other words,
man has to acknowledge that he has an existence beyond his body. Furthermore,
man should understand the death of his body which he tries to possess
as if he is to remain eternally in this temporal world. However this body,
which he deems so important, will decay and become worm-eaten one day
and finally be reduced to a skeleton. That day might be very soon.
Despite all these facts, man's mental process is inclined to disregard
what he does not like or want. He is even inclined to deny the existence
of things he avoids confronting. This tendency seems to be most apparent
when death is the issue. Only a funeral or the sudden death of an immediate
family member brings this reality to mind. Almost everybody sees death
far from himself. The assumption is that those who die while sleeping
or in an accident are different people and what they face will never befall
us! Everybody thinks it is too early to die and that there are always
years ahead to live.
Yet most probably, people who die on the way to school or hurrying to
attend a business meeting shared the same thought. They probably never
thought that the next day's newspapers would publish news of their deaths.
It is entirely possible that, as you read these lines, you still do not
expect to die soon after you have finished them or even entertain the
possibility that it might happen. Probably you feel that it is too early
to die because there are many things to accomplish. However, this is just
an avoidance of death and these are only vain endeavours to escape it:
Say: "Running away will not profit you if you
are running away from death or slaughter; and even if (you do escape),
no more than a brief (respite) will you be allowed to enjoy!"(Surat al-Ahzab:
Man who is created alone should be aware that he will also die alone.
Yet during his life, he lives almost addicted to possessions. His sole
purpose in life becomes to possess more. Yet, no-one can take his goods
with him to the grave. The body is buried wrapped in a shroud made from
the cheapest of fabrics. The body comes into this world alone and departs
from it in the same way. The only asset one can take with him when one
dies is one's belief or disbelief.
| It is Allah Who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness,
then gave (you) strength ofter weakness, then after strength, gave
(you) weakness, and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it
is He Who has all knowledge and power
(Surat ar-Rum, 54)