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.
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.
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?
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.”
💎 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.