The Weaknesses of Man
Man is created by Allah in a most complete state and equipped 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 for him.
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: 15)
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: 60)
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 fourth 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 an-Nahl: 30-31)
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 in Germany.
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 diminishes.
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, selfish feelings.
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?
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: 178)
The Later Years of Life
The 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 as follows:
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: 44)
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 endeavour.
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 alterations.
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.
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.
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 people?
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.
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: 16)
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.