Monday, July 14, 2008

Longevity : A Muslim's Perspective

Friends ,

A few years back ,while visiting Tokhapi Palace in Istanbul , I was amazed to see the sheer size of Prophet Muhamad's sword from amongst the few remaining original Islamic memorabilia shown within the palace museum .At least a good 6 feet of glistening , heavy , solid metal .I could in my mind's eye imagined the Prophet leading a big group of shahabats riding on his favourite arabian steed Al Bariq in the hot summer sun towards the north [which is now the Saudi- Syrian border] to face a possible invasion by the massive army of the then Eastern Roman Empire.He was then nearing 63 !The battle did not materialise as expected as the Romans did not show up .

Shortly after that ,after completing his last pilgrimage to Mekkah ,Prophet Muhamad was called to his Lord at a ripe old age of 63 .By 2008 standard 63 is a relatively 'young' old age but put yourself 80 years ago when the average life expectancy of a Malayan male hardly reach 60 ! 1400 years ago the average life expectentcy in the desert of Arabia could well be just 45 or may be lower .

To put things into proper perspective ,Alexander of Macedonia started his world conquering feat at the age of 17 or 16 and died at a fully matured age of 25 !Not surprising ,if the average life expectantcy during his time was 30, for example ,for a boy at 15 you are no longer considered mummy's boy ,as what is generally considered today .You are expected to fight wars ,drink and be merry and die at 30 .Napolean Bonapart ,in 17th century France died at the ripe old age of 40 plus !

Taking this into account Prophet Muhamad lifespan was well beyond average for his time and period .By 21st century standard his 63 years of age could be translated as beyond 90 in 2008 . Allahualam !Riding ,fighting defensive wars and spreading the Message at that age ,Prophet Muhamad was a very fit ,healthy man right up to the end .His demise followed a short febrille illness ,and from the full description I read from Muchtar Holland's biography of the Prophet , "Muhamad " ,I gather with my limited medical knowledge that our prophet could have succumbed to Typhoid .A water and food borne disease fairly common at that period .Allahualam !

Let us examine his Sirah :He slept very little ,prayed tahajjud at the 2nd third of the night every night right up to Subuh ,Imam the Subuh prayer and then like the rest of his congregation ,disperse shortly after that to earn a mussel here ,a mussel there .Ate when he felt hungry , and stop well before he felt satieted [ remember the Okinawan 'hara haci bu' ] .He fast at least 2 days a week and when he fast his 'sahur' consist of just a couple of dates [high carbohydrate ,low calorie ] and water , breaking fast again some 12 hours latter with some dates and dry bread .His days consist of movements all the time .Presided over community dispute .Imam over all obligatory prayers of the day and myriad other activities a head of State has to do . Never fail to visit all his 9 wives daily during the day and settle at night accordingly to a preset time table .Sayyiditina Aishah[ his favourite] was given an extra night above the rest as Ibu Salamah [if I am not mistaken] , a senior by age ,gave her share of her 'nights' to the much younger Aishah .

Low caloric diet ,continuous movement and activity ,close relationship with the people around him and his community ,a life of piety and continuous connectivity with Allah :in short Prophet Muhamad ,we can see from his Sirah ,was a man who 'celebrate life fully' .

A life of piety ,a generous heart ,not in the material way it is usually meant today ,but a heart ready to forgive and forget ,a kindly smile to a stranger perhaps ,a heart that 'accept trials and tribulations as readily as easily forget feats of success ,that kind of old fashion heart not easily found these days . We Muslims encompass it in one word : RIDHA .In my humble view the missing link between the robust ,stressful , lonely physical world ,oftentimes depressing and the 'spiritual' cushion as mentioned earlier on .A philosophical- neuro-humoral linkage ,a final safety outlet which act as a major de-stressor .

A life of moderation in satisfying one's need for physical and spiritual pleasure .An active life .You see that expounded from Surah 1 to 114 in the Holy Quran .As Saiyiditina Aishah aptly put it Prophet Muhamad's life itself was a living Quran .A celebration of life.. ....longevity if at all is just an added bonus !

In the Prophet we Muslims already have a template for 'Longevity' .But even if some of us , in our lives fall short of the four scores and ten , do not feel disheartened for in 'Lailatul Qadr' Allah has ready a very special gift for us :

"We have indeed revealed This [ Message ] ,In the Night of Power :[1] And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is ?[2] The Night of Power is better than a thousand months .[3] Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission ,on every errand [4] Peace ! This until the rise of Morn ![5]"


Dr Nik Howk





4 comments:

Angie McGhee said...

Forgive me if I seem to post 2 comments. I posted one earlier and it never appeared. So I went to all the trouble to re-write. However, considering your date says I am posting this tomorrow, right now, maybe it's in a time warp of some kind and will show up.

Interesting thoughts Dr. Nik. Since you approached it from a Muslim perspective, I thought I’d get out my Bible and see what my Christian perspective was. At first I looked up Paul’s comments on gluttony, but then I remembered the topic was LONGEVITY with eating habits as a side note. So, I went to Genesis.

In Genesis 1:29-30 it appears all living creatures were created vegetarians:

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food,” And it was so.

It appears that the fellows eating this diet in the generations between Adam and Noah lived between 800 years (Adam) and 969 (Methuselah, our champion). We will remove from the equation my personal favorite, Enoch, who never died, he simply “lived 365 years and then one day was “not”.

Noah was the last of the vegetarians by command. In Genesis 9:3 God said to Noah, (post-flood) “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Noah had his sons at age 500, then lived another 450 years for a total of 950. His son Shem became a father at age 100 (1/5 his dad’s age at time of fatherhood) and lived only 500 years. (he’d been a vegetarian pre-flood and all). His son, the first post-command to eat meat generation became a father at 35! Then lived 403 years (1/2 the previous expectancy) His son Shelah became a father at 30 and lived 403, but 2 more generations later the life span dropped to 207, then 200, then Nahor, grandfather of Abraham (where you and I separate) only lived to be119! (Genesis 11: 10-27)

So, I think you may have something with this meat shortening life span theory and we Christians can agree. However, what I may disagree with you about is whether this is in fact a *problem*. Sure, if it’s *me* who is next to go it’s a problem for *me*...but what about earth as a whole? Honestly, can you imagine being around 969 years? Think how many people would expect you to show up at their birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries...Ugh! Who could even remember the Gr-gr-gr-grandchildren’s names anyway? Next we have to look at it from an environmental perspective. That’s just too many people for the earth. So...why did God tell us to start eating meat? I think it’s obvious, to move us along through the out door. Does this put the Seventh Day Adventists in a state of rebellion? (Perhaps you should show a little more respect towards smokers?), but then I read in Romans 14:2

“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak , eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him”.

So, sounds like the Adventists won’t get in trouble for trying to stay longer than they’re supposed to. There happen to be lots of Seventh Day Adventists in my neighborhood, probably as big a hot spot as your place in CA. They have a teaching hospital and campus a mile away and so we cross paths a lot, mostly on foot. They walk a lot; a *whole lot*. I don’t think the Apostle Paul commented on extreme walking, but since I read once that Jesus averaged (my memory fails me exactly) but something like 17 miles a day?? according to his listed travels, I don’t think we could fault them for walking themselves into long lives. We really cannot have a longevity contest between Jesus at 35 & Mohammed at 63 since Jesus died of unnatural causes, however I cannot but think that I would have put my money on the man who walked 17 miles a day outliving the man with 9 wives.

Personally, I eat low fat, lots of fruits & vegetables, drink lots of water, go for long walks, always take the stairs...and chances are I’ll be killed by a low limb at a gallop. :-)

Angie McGhee

Pearls & Gem said...

I have to agree with you Angie on the prospect of us endurance riders dying from our horses .I nearly got killed last year when my horse Kun Fayukun did a zorro at the start of a 160 km event .Instead broke my facet joint at L3 . Having some sciatica now but still aiming for a place in the next WEC .
Prophet Muhamad had 9 wives ,most his "marriages" were political.You know the tribal nature of that time , it serve the purpose of cementing the community and having peace with neighbours.One of his wives was a Jewish lady ..
Interesting for you to note he also was a horse lover and natural 'endurancer' .

Pearls & Gem said...

As an addendum Angie :
All progressive Christians,Jews and Muslims can accept the premise that God ,Allah or whatever the Jews call Him ,is a 'scientific' God who made rules from the particulate to the non particulates ie a proton ,neutron etc etc behave this way and that way , when a body goes up and when release against gravity it falls down etc etc .

Jesus and Muhamad in the history of Time are quite contemporary ,only some 600 earth years separates them .Abraham and Lot [they were contemporaries]was some 5000 years earlier .The variables that affect longevity probably are similar within those 5000 years .Probably within the last7 millenium people's diet has changed from mainly plant based to slowly mixtures slowly but progressively .

The other variables are also operative :increasing 'sedentariness' in life style ,for want of better expression ,mutation of genes within the microbes and virus populations to produce more virulent ones , life stress ,etc etc etc and don't forget pollution

Beyond Abraham ie Noah upward to Adam when people lived a few years short of a milleneum ,we have to rely only on Biblical sources and even then more from the older Testaments .They are beyond the study of the scientists in us .Otherwise gerontology would have a field day .I am sure it is more than 'vegetarianism ' , probably the air itself ,earlier microbes may be more 'man friendly' or at that time so friendly they prolonged life !,etc etc.

Of course the non thinkers amongst us would just say what the heck ,God need to just say " KUN" [ Be] , and presto , "Fayakun" [ So it be ] . But again we all believe in A scientific "God" who only reserve that when He establish the Universe out of nothing .The rest has to follow His "rules" except for those special miracles given to His beloved prophets .Jesus can cure the blind and brought alive the dead .By the time of Muhamad ,He just give him the Quran ,that was Muhamad's Miracle .

Allahualam [ meaning only God knows ]

Pearls & Gem said...

As an addendum Angie :
All progressive Christians,Jews and Muslims can accept the premise that God ,Allah or whatever the Jews call Him ,is a 'scientific' God who made rules from the particilate to the non particulates ie a proton ,neutron etcetc behave this way and that way , when a body goes up and when release against gravity it falls down etc etc .

Jesus and Muhamad in the history of Time are quite contemporary ,only some 600 earth years separates them .Abraham and Lot [they were contemporaries]was some 5000 years earlier .The variables that affect longevity probably are similar within those 5000 years .Probably within the last7 millenium people's diet has changed from mainly plant based to slowly mixtures slowly but progressively .

The other variables are also operative :increasing 'sedentariness' in lifestlye ,for want of better expression ,mutation of genes within the microbes and virus populations to produce more virulent ones etc etc etc

Beyond Abraham ie Noah upward to Adam when people lived a few years short of a milleneum ,we have to rely only on Biblical sources and even then more from the older Testaments .They are beyond the study of the scientists in us .Otherwise gerontology would have a field day .I am sure it is mopre than 'vegetarianism ' , probably the air itself ,earlier microbes may be more 'man friendly'.

Of course the non thinkers amongst us would just say what the heck ,God need to just say " KUN" [ Be] , and presto , "Fayakun" [ So it be ] . But again we all believe in A scientific "God" who only reserve that when He establish the Universe out of nothing .The rest has to follow His "rules" except for those special miracles given to His beloved prophets .Jesus can cure the blind and brought alive the dead .By the time of Muhamad ,He just give him the Quran ,that was Muhamad's Miracle .