“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 un-Nahl: Ayat 70)

Ageing is a process of growth then deterioration, progressing then retrogressing in time. It is biological and psychological, as it is metaphysical and spiritual.

The quote above says it all: our lives begin when we are created by God, and this signifies conception, which predates our birth. It involves ensoulment which is the element taken from us when we die, and the breathing of God’s Spirit into our soul which is what distinguishes us from the rest of the animate creations.

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Then we grow and mature, and learn in the process. Like young plants growing sprouts, leaves and branches; and young animals learning to hunt for food. Unlike the plants and the animals, however, there is something else that grows in us: the spiritual Force that links us to the Divine. It is a natural Force that wells and swells within us, guided by inspiration and revelation and Messengers who lived inspired lives and relayed the revelations to their communities.

During this process of growing and maturing, before we reach “a feeble age” (ardhali l-‘umuri), we are expected to “know much” (‘ilmin shay’an) because that is how and why we were created. Thus, Suratu l-Ghaafir, Ayat 67 says:

“It is He who created you from dust, then from a sperm drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does He get you out as a child, then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old — though of you, there are those who die before — and lets you reach a term appointed in order that ye may learn wisdom.” (la’allakum tahqeelun)

Thus, after enumerating the process of conception and growth of a child in the womb of the mother, as well as the child’s birth and growth to full strength in the outside world, the verse reiterates the need for a person to “learn wisdom” or acquire aql. The purpose of this aql is for man to lift the lowest level of his soul (Nafs Ammara or the Inciting Soul) to its highest degree towards perfection (Nafs Mutma’innah wa r-Raadiyata m-Mardiyyah or the Soul at Rest, Well-pleased and Well-pleasing), befitting one who received the Breath of God’s Spirit at conception.

Informed Muslims, especially the elderly, subscribe to this view and engage in this quest for knowledge, before such knowledge is taken away from their senses by either death or senility. As we grow old, we usually lessen our mundane concerns and deepen our spiritual yearning and learning. This should be part of our reason for existing, the why of our creation after Allah has shown us how we were created. This is the message of the two verses earlier quoted, and the meaning of our life on earth. (MKS)

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