Modern People Desperately Need Islam: The Sad Story of Susan

Brace yourself. This is one of the most tragic and shocking conversations I have ever had, and I’ve had a lot of bizarre conversations.

Last night I was talking to a Muslim woman I know who just moved out of her place in Boston. Let’s call her Rana. She was living with three non-Muslim roommates: a 30-year-old woman, a 38-year old man, and a 72-year old woman.

Each of the four roommates lived in a room within an old three-story Boston home, with a shared kitchen and bathroom on the second floor.

The 38-year-old man was deeply traumatized from some sort of childhood abuse and was unable to form relationships, and had just been working at Trader Joe’s for the past decade straight.

The 30-year-old woman was working two jobs and was almost never home.

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The most interesting inhabitant of the group house was definitely the 72-year-old woman, Susan. She lived alone on the third floor, which had the most space but no bathroom.

Susan had severe scoliosis so her back was extremely bent. Her core muscles were weak and she had a hard time walking, bent forward as she was at such a severe angle. She walked with a cane. But it was hard to climb up and down three flights of stairs to get to her room.

But this wasn’t the worst of her health problems. She had bladder issues and incontinence. She suffered from frequent UTI’s (urinary tract infections) and recently needed to be hospitalized for three days due to acute infection.

But this health issue led to her needing to use a chamber pot: a plastic jug with its top cut off. She used this makeshift chamber pot as her toilet because there was no toilet on the third floor where she stayed, and because of the urinary infections, she could not wait until she got down the stairs to make it to the bathroom.

So every day, she would need to empty her chamber pot into the toilet. This proved to be an almost insurmountable feat.

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How were a 72-year-old woman with severe scoliosis and zero core strength going to make it down a flight of stairs *while holding a cane* in one hand *and also holding a chamber pot filled with urine* simultaneously in her other hand?

She didn’t. Every day, urine sloshed everywhere. On her clothes, all over the stairs, on the second floor. When she’d finally reach the second-floor bathroom, she would often miss the rim of the toilet and spill the urine onto the bathroom tiles and the floor mats. Her sense of smell had faded with age, so she did not smell the results.

The smell got so bad that it finally permeated through the entire house. It reached all the way to the front door, such that a person opened the front door of the house and was immediately hit with a strong wave of the unmistakable smell of urine.

The Muslim woman Rana, when she lived there, would clean up after the elderly Susan. She would mop up the bathroom floor almost daily, and scrub the toilet. She’d take the bathroom mats with her to the laundromat weekly. Every now and then, she would take the sheets and bed linens off Susan’s bed to wash them for her.

Disturbed and appalled at the story thus far, I asked Rana the first question that popped into my head:

“Where are Susan’s children? Her husband?”

Rana replied, “Well…that’s actually another really crazy story! You won’t believe it. See, Susan was married for seven years, a long time ago. But her husband turned out to be gay! So she divorced him and never married again. And she never had any kids, either.”

So what did she do with her life instead?

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She worked. She pursued degree after degree, focusing her energy and attention on her professional life. She was an RN (Registered Nurse) at a big hospital in Boston for years. Then she got her Ph.D. in psychoanalysis. She then opened her own practice and saw lots of interesting patients. This was her life. It was fun until it wasn’t.

She got older and older, and with age, the health problems started to appear. At first, it was just mild scoliosis, which got worse with time. She was also an avid smoker. The lung problems starting setting in. Then the UTI’s and incontinence showed up, and she deteriorated quickly from there.

This is how she found herself sloshing urine over the rim of the plastic chamber pot she tried to carry in one hand as she trudged down the stairs with her cane, her body bent forward at a severe angle.

Speechless. I was completely speechless for a while.

Then I said, “She needs a nurse. Someone to help care for her. She can’t live by herself like this! Has she looked into one of those assisted living or nursing homes, since she’s got no family?”

Rana shook her head. “She is scared of those. She’d told me a few times that she was looking into state nursing homes, but they made her nervous. It’s hard to go somewhere new and put yourself in the care of hired people you don’t know. It’s kind of like voluntarily committing yourself to the state orphanage.”

Yes. Susan was right to be scared of getting care from the state, where she would be just a number to the cold, nameless, faceless powers that be.

Susan admitted to Rana once that she wanted to date. “I just want to try to find someone who might take care of me. But who’s going to take me at my age with all my health issues?? But the whole reason I need someone *is* my age and my health issues!!”

Dating at 72 years old.

At one point, on a different day, Susan told Rana, “Sometimes I want to pray. But I don’t know how or to whom.”

Dazed, I asked, “What is Susan going to do now? Who’s going to help her now that you’ve moved out?”

“I’m not sure,” Rana admitted sadly. “I’d make food and invite her to come to eat with me. If I was leaving for work, I’d make her a quick egg-and-cheese sandwich and give it to her to eat. She used to forget to get her meds sometimes and I’d pick them up for her. Often, her prescriptions would be totally expired and I’d refill them. She one day needed to mail a stool sample (fecal matter) to her doctor and was too sick to go to the post office, so I took it and mailed it for her.

None of the others will help her like that. Each of them is nice enough I guess, but just lost in their own little world. Nobody really stops to notice Susan and what she needs.”

“What about the smell and the mess? Did the other roommates miss the stench of urine all over the house? Why didn’t they ever try to clean it, or at least say or do anything about it?”

“Each person is inside their own tiny universe. They work at Trader Joe’s or Walgreens, then come home to lie on their bed in their little room with the door closed with their phone, Netflix, and Chinese takeout. That’s it. It’s like solitary confinement, self-imposed. Nobody has the time or energy or attention to really notice Susan, pee smell or no pee smell.”

For some reason, this added exponentially to the depressing picture.

Four human beings, all biologically unrelated but living in the same house under one roof, are thrown together by circumstance. Each one is locked in his or her own personal daily misery, utterly isolated and alone. Ignored and ignoring. Pursuing momentary pleasure wherever they can find it, at the bottom of a beer can, or the club on the weekends, or in weed or other mind-numbing drugs, or at the end of a Hollywood movie or a Netflix special, or through depression and anxiety meds.

Anything to alter their perception of reality. Anything to dull the pain of loneliness and to take the edge off the despair. Anything to add some kind of temporary meaning to the emptiness.

Anything to cope.

How tragic. Heartbreaking.

This is modernity. Progress. Enlightenment. Empowerment. Freedom. Independence.

An old woman in her seventies, withered beyond repair, with no family or husband or children, sloshing urine all over the rented house she lives in with complete strangers apathetic to her pain. Forced to rely on the aid of one kind-hearted stranger, who just left. Her longtime nursing career and Ph.D. were useless to her in her old age and desperation.

I wanted to cry and I wanted to fall into sajda for some reason, as I heard this unparalleled tragedy last night.

Alhamdulillah for Islam. Alhamdulillah a thousand times.

The blessings built in to the deen were running through my mind in a long list, unbidden. The timeless wisdom is the precise mechanism that help save us from the fate of poor Susan.

Allah knows us and knows what we need because He created us.

If we followed Islamic rules, Susan would be well cared for, respected, surrounded by the love and gentle help of her family and the laughter of her grandchildren. Islamic ethos guides us toward this.

💎 Goodness to parents, بر الوالدين.

وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا
وَٱخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ ٱلذُّلِّ مِنَ ٱلرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ٱرْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِى صَغِيرًا

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and to parents, excellent treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of loving mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (Surat Al-Isra, 23-24)

💎 The importance of marriage, النكاح .

وَأَنكِحُوا الْأَيَامَىٰ مِنكُمْ وَالصَّالِحِينَ مِنْ عِبَادِكُمْ وَإِمَائِكُمْ

“And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves…” (Surat An-Nur, 32)

💎 The reward for motherhood and fatherhood.

سأل رجل رسول الله -صلى الله عليه وسلم- فقال: “يا رَسولَ اللَّهِ، مَن أحَقُّ النَّاسِ بحُسْنِ صَحَابَتِي؟ قالَ: أُمُّكَ قالَ: ثُمَّ مَنْ؟ قالَ: ثُمَّ أُمُّكَ قالَ: ثُمَّ مَنْ؟ قالَ: ثُمَّ أُمُّكَ قالَ: ثُمَّ مَنْ؟ قالَ: ثُمَّ أبُوك.”

A man asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , “O Messenger of Allah, who is the most deserving of my kindness, good treatment, and companionship?”

He replied صلى الله عليه وسلم , “Your mother.”

“Then who?”
“Your mother.”
“Then who?”
“Your mother.”
“Then who?”
“Your father.”

💎 The importance of Islamic tarbiya of children, التربية الدينية.

قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: “اتقوا الله واعدلوا بين أولادكم.”

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Fear Allah and be fair / just with your children.”

💎 The centrality of family, الأسرة.

“كلكم راع وكلكم مسئول عن رعيته…”

“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock…”

💎 The emphasis on a stable extended family, lineage, and kin group, and keeping the ties of kinship, صلة الرحم.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” ومَن كانَ يُؤْمِنُ باللَّهِ واليَومِ الآخِرِ فَلْيَصِلْ رَحِمَهُ.”

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should keep his ties of kinship.”

💎 Patriarchy: males looking out for female kin so no woman flounders through life alone.
الرجال قوامون علي النساء…

“Men are qawwam over women…” (Surat An-Nusa, 34)

💎 No sexual deviance, no alphabet mafia or the acts of Qawm Lit.
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: “أَخْرِجُوهُمْ مِنْ بُيُوتِكُمْ.”

Referring to the men who imitate women and women who imitate men, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Get them out of your homes.”

💎 Community and communal interests over self-obsessed individualism,

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: “…فَإِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُ الذِّئْبُ الْقَاصِيَةَ.”

The prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “…For the wolf eats only the solitary sheep that strays away from the herd.”

💎 Respect for elders, احترام الشيخ.

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,

عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ شُعَيْبٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ قَالَ‏:‏ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ ” لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ لَمْ يَرْحَمْ صَغِيرَنَا، وَيُوَقِّرْ كَبِيرَنَا‏.‏” (حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود والترمذي)

“He is not from us, he who doesn’t have mercy on our young ones or show respect to our elders.” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi]

Susan really needs Islam.

America really needs Islam.

The modernized, secularized, liberalized, atomized world really needs Islam.

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Nazrul Islam

Really tragic. But what more tragic is that it’s spreading in the Muslim world too. Elderly people are being thrown into the nursing homes like trash or sometimes die alone in negligence. People have become individualists and want to live in their self-imposed solitary confinement.
Btw, I didn’t like the idea that the Muslim lady was sharing room with a male.

Baz (SL)

“If we followed Islamic rules, Susan would be well cared for, respected, surrounded by the love and gentle help of her family and the laughter of her grandchildren.”

But you never know, even if she followed what you call “Islamic rules”, anything could have happened which gets her still in exactly the same situation with no grandchildren. For example she could have never had children because of her or her husband being naturally infertile. He could have been much older than her and died naturally leaving her as a widow in her old age. Or her husband and/or children (assuming if she ever had them at all) could have all died or become disabled in some accident or tragedy. You should have at least added the word “most likely” or “if Allah wills” Instead of 100% guaranteeing that she would have never suffered this lonely miserable fate if she followed “Islamic rules”.

Out of all the Islamic Scripture references you quoted, there is one or two sunnah things missing here that you could have mentioned. One is the Sunnah of polygyny, and the other is the long forgotten Sunnah of marrying old elderly ladies as a charitable chivalrous deed to save them from poverty and miserable lonely old age. So if there are any Muslim men out there in her local region who are interested in reviving and practicing this long lost forgotten abandoned sunnah, that good Knight of a Muslim man can offer to marry at least 2 wives, one of them being the old health problems lady like the Susan mentioned here, the other one being a much younger nurse wife who can take care of Susan (and her husband may pay her wage to take care of his other elder wife in their shared home). Then the problem would have been solved even if she never had children and married late in her old age. So even now it’s not too late for her if such a polygynous and age-hypogamous man exists in her local region and is ready to marry her.

Ayesha

Salaam to everyone here,
Thank you for sharing Susan’s story with us. It was sad, even triggering to ead for me. It reminds me of the stories of toov elderly women that I know. They are not mere neighbors like in the story told above. They are my daadi and pupo respectively. It really all starts with my daadi: to be continued:

Ayesha

this. I wish y’all couldd have heard herMy daadi was born in pre-partition India. She made the long track across the newly created border to Pakistan when the great partition happened. Like many middle class girls of her generation, she married young at age thirteen. I’m sure her father believed that he was doing the best for her. She certainly lived a comfortable life at least for a while. She had five sons (among them my father), and a daughter (my puppoo). My daadi was a tough woman, tough as nails when I knew her. She doted on the sons in classic desi mother fashion. While not an ideal situation, it was all right for a while b/c my puppo was the apple of my daada’s eye. Daada gave my poppo everything a girl could want: love, attention, nice things, an education. I’m sure that had he lived long enough: she would have gone to university she wanted, that he would have been diligent when looking for her, that above al, her mental health woul have been a lot better than it is. And that if finding a husband wasn’t possible, that he would have made every effort to ensure that she was well cared for. Unfortunately, he died young. I don’t know how young my Baba and his sibling were when Dada he died. All I know is that Dada was in poor health when he died, and that the repercussions are ongoing and tragic for the family. Daadi ruledwith an iron hand, and with a lot of love (for her sons). She had little education herself. Much later, my aadi told me that she could have gone to high school and college like me. She sounded sad and wistful when she told h

Ayesha

I would question whether remarriage, even to a married man would have been of much help. Quite apart from the stigma of remarriage for widows and divorcees, there is also the matter of child custody. The fact the extended family is still strong in Pakistan tends to make this issue mor difficult not less. Quite possible if Daadi had remarried, her in laws (who were still alive) would have taken the children away from her. Most prbably, they would have argued that they had the right to do this. Maybe they would even have argued that Daadi remarried shewouldn’t need her sons anymore. Presumable, she would have a news husband and give birth to more sons! You know, as though one’s male guardian can be easliy replaced just like that! But Daadi was tough. She wasn’t someone who could be pushed around easily. She had little education so she earned money by sewing clothes for a living. My thaia became head of the house as a tenager. As they grey up, th

Ayesha

My thaia became man of the house as a teenager. As they grew up, the brothers all did their part to help out by doing as well as they could in school and then doing various odd jobs afterwards. They gave their pay to daadi like dutiful sons are supposed to be. But they also worried about securing their economic futures in an economically insecure country. Ad so some poeple’s needs got more priority than others. My daadi got the much vaunted idea Muslim family life in the ned. She did in a nice house surrounded by the love of children and grandchildren. The borthers acheived success in the professions, made stable marriages, and had children masha’allah! But in the midst of it all, one person’s needs got neglected: my puppo. I

Ayesha

I don’t know all the details. There is no question that puppo lost her father, her one protector and that no one came along to fill his shoes. Puppo spent all of her time helping her mother care for the house and the brothers. The brothers were too busy worrying about doing well school, working, or owrrying about the family’s problems to worry about her. Puppo wnet from being a bloved much wanted daughter to being an ecnomci urden/ unpaid hse help. She withdrew into herself and devloped th strong, probably correct, feeling that she worked all the time but none one cared about her or was in her corner. Then daadi found a husband for her. The marriage proved to breif and unhappy, and ended in divorce. She returned to her family’s houseand slwoly grew more mentally ill. I don’t know exactly why her marriage ended b/c it depends who you ask, and that’s if the subject ever comes up. To Baba’s credit,when the subject did come up he was pretty that he, his brothers, and Daadi were to bale for the situation Fist neglecting puppo when she was young, then marrying off to somoeone simply he had moeny and would be good for the family, and then continuing to neglect her further once she returned to the newly acquired family home. The brothers and possiblhy their wives could didn’t with her either. She currently lives alone in a mental assylum surrounded by strangers.Susan too much of her. The only differeence has (albeit sporadic) to relatives who know well what the deen about rsposnibilty to one’s that are mentally ill. If you’re gonna talk about the Susans of the worlds then please don’t forget the Saadias fo the world too! There is no question that the modern needs Islam but Muslims also need some of the institutional structures that available in the West like: social workers/ therapist for the depressed, good paliative care for people reaching the end of their lives, free health care, the possibility hiring servants (which arlardy exists in Muslim lands), and a social safety net for poeple who end up with incpetitent/ nonexistent guardians. I think that these things, used wisely, the best Islamic familism has to offer. The instituional structures and Muslim families can be complimentary to one another and act in tandom. And we had some of this in the past too. In Salalhu walsalam’s time, the loot caputred in conquest distributed to the poor and widows aka the social safety ent of tis day, and was later replaced by waqfs and zakaat. I think people should be careful when advocating for marrying a ounger second wife to be the nurse to high maintenance first wife. Women want to be wies not household help. It certainly isn’t going to be free since youthtends to come with desires, emotional needs, in laws, and if the purpose is to care for some other family memner than it all has to be public to say nothing of the mahr and the wedding. And also, if the pupose is so that wife NO. 2 can play nurse, are you planning to include a nursing degree/ professional skils that are nedded to care somone at home depending the wife’s needs. In fact, why should man deal with the baggage

Ayesha

In fact, why should any man put the serious baggage that fding a second wife, marrying her, and staying married to her util death do us part presumably, and deal with the consequent family drama when he could ire a home health aide to care for the wfie. . The home health aide is likely to be middle aged or older, and have useful professional skill plus already accustomed to the less pleasant of caring for an older woman. You could get the service through medicaid if you have it. And the quality of the care would be good whereas when looking for another wife, the same quality espedcially if coneected to emotional needs or jealousy or anger form the kids/ stepkids who refuse to accept new additions to family unit, may affect the quality of the care your first wife recieges in a seriously negative way. I don’t doubnt that it could work for some families but not for most.sorry about the many typos here, and the length of the post. My computer keeps shutting down after every 40 minutes but felt the need to share anyway. This story was very triggering for me becuase it reminded me too much of my aunt.