One issue close to my heart is the way we treat our old people. I mean as young people, as an Ummah, as Brits. More and more we are hearing our elderly complaining about not being able to afford to live, of being ignored or treated as fools and of being written-off, of being alone and fearful of dying in a home surrounded by strangers.
My first job after I graduated involved helping families look after the property and finances of people who were no longer able to do so. Many of theses were people who were mentally ill, had learning difficulties or had brain damage, but the vast majority were elderly people who had lost sentience to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. I will always remember the words of one poor man who was now taking care of his very ill wife. Despite having accounts and property in joint names and having prepared for this stage of life he was struggling. “Mrs, can I give you one piece of advice?” “Of course” “Just don’t grow old”. It really did make my heart sink into my stomach thinking that this is what we have to look forward to.
I think of my grandfather who returned to Pakistan after 30 years in Britain and refused to come back to us, indignantly stating “I’m not going back home in a box”. He tended the land he cherished and took care of the people of his village. He died suddenly, avoiding the long drawn-out illness and slow death our old people so fear.
I think of my grandmother who refuses to go back to Pakistan saying she cannot live there now, she’s too comfortable here and everyone she loves is here, but still adamant she will be buried in her home country. She moans about how terrible old age is and how she is just waiting to die and prepares through her constant ibadah (worship). Then my children walk in and she comes to life feeding and cuddling and squabbling with them. Her children and grandchildren visit and she is vibrant with her scheming again – who needs to be married off? Who needs to be reconciled? Who needs to be kept apart until her plan works out? As long as she is here, she will keep our family together; you can see the razor-sharp lucid mind working away in her broken arthritic body.
I think of my gran’s best friend who died recently, having spent most of her life with a very strict husband, and then caring for a mentally disabled daughter alone. In order to get her to sign her property over, her only son’s wife cut the water supply off from her portion of the house and refused to speak to her until she got her way. She returned to the UK penniless and with a word in her ear from her daughter-in-law about sponsoring them all to come to Britain . But when I think of her presence during childhood and teenage I remember this pious woman’s kind exhortations to “pray, read Quran and cover your hair my child”
I think of an old lady I met at a friend’s house who lived with her son and said that all she owned was her mattress and two changes of clothes in her rented house – this was her choice at how she wanted to live and it freed her.
I think of the old man I see every evening on the way home from work. Walking briskly to the mosque despite his age, his beard purest white and his face radiant.
I wonder what kind of old woman I’ll be (still 21 in my mind I think). Generous like my granddad I hope and lucid like my gran. I often think that by the time I die, I would like to have given away everything I own bit by bit to lessen the burden of what I have to account for and to be nearer to the sunnah of the Prophets. But who gets that much time to prepare? I hope I will still love to play, to have everyone’s children around me and tubs of Lego and play-dough (I hope I’m never too old for those two). I hope more than anything my hubby stays with me and continues to recite bad urdu poetry to me to the rolling of eyes and grins from our children. That we annoy our children with our silliness and provide a heart and base for the family to come back to and rest and recover from this world. I hope the legacy we leave behind is one of love for Allah, love for his beloved Prophet, love for this beautiful faith and love for this wonderful, struggling Ummah.
I have long held a picture in my mind of myself and my better half sitting on a swing chair in a big garden with a horde of young people and children around us talking and laughing. Who knows how we will end up, but it’s a lovely thought.
...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 so much... (Surah Al-Hajj - 55)
... and that you be kind to parents. Where one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Al-Israh - 23)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "He is not of us who does not have mercy on young children, nor honor the elderly"(Al-Tirmidhi)