Mesnevi (Mathnawi) Lessons


An old man started to complain to his doctor about his disorders:

He said, “My mind is weary and I can”t concentrate.”

Doctor: “That is caused by old age.”

The old man: “I am also suffering from defects in my sight.”

Doctor: “This suffering is also due to old age.”

The old man: “There is a terrible pain in my back.”

Doctor: “My poor friend it is caused by old age.”

The old man: “Whatever type of food I eat, I have a digestion problem.”

Doctor: “Weakness of the stomach and digestion problems are also caused by old age.”

The old man: “I am suffering from shortness of breath.”

Doctor: “Shortness of breath is also because of old age. When people get old, two hundred different problems begin.”

The old man shouted at the doctor angrily, “O fool, know you not that God has ordained a remedy for every malady?  Why did I ask you?  Because you obviously don”t know anything.  You have no idea and no knowledge except for how to act like a parrot and repeat the same words over and over?”

The doctor answered smiling, “O my friend of a ripe old age, your anger is also due to old age” (Masnavi, book 2, 3088-3097)


In the continuation of the story, Hz. Mevlâna states that “When one gets old, the parts of the body get weak and lose their vigor such that even a glass of water might not easily digest. Old people become less patient and can fly into passion at every word.”

“However, an old person that is drunk with divine love is an exception.  He experiences a taintless life.  He looks like an old man but in essence he is young like a child.  Likewise God”s prophets and messengers, they are spiritually strong but look weak due to their old age.”

In the story, the age of sixty is referred to as an indicator of an old age.  This may have been the case in the thirteenth century, but today the life expectancy of people has increased because we have plentiful sources of food and better health care compared to previous times. Perhaps now the age of seventy can be considered as a ripe old age.

With the help of this story, now we will first focus on ageing, old age, and positively adjusting to old age, and then secondly about the positive aspects of spiritual strength in avoiding the negative effects of a worn-out physical body.

The human body has such a physical structure that ageing and breaking down is inevitable. Though they are known as extremely durable materials, even steel and concrete lose their strength in time.  In metal engineering there is even a term “metal fatigue”.  Similarly, with time the human body gets physically weak or even incapable of performing the most simple routines such as hearing, seeing, or moving.

The most important question here is how we would respond? Anger and regret would only worsen the situation, whereas acceptance and adjusting ourselves for the changes would bring us happiness.  We should remember that every age has its unique taste.  Even though an old person will lose some of his or her abilities with time, there are other abilities that get stronger such as knowledge, experience, and decision making skills. Also, there are many elderly people that consider themselves very happy as they can spend their time with their sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters.

Truly, ageing is very natural and healthily sustaining this process is possible.  Our bodies were entrusted to us and safekeeping them is our religious duty.  Today with the advent of health industry, it is possible for doctors to diagnose most disorders in their early stages and get rid of them.  To a certain degree, staying healthy, even at an old age, is in our own hands if we obey the recommendations of our doctors and have regular examinations.

Our prophet said in a hadith that, “Allah has not created any disease without also creating a medicine or a remedy for it.” (Buhari, tıb,1).


At the end of the story the significance of spirituality in one”s old age is mentioned. Looking weak physically but feeling strong spiritually is also stated.  In fact, spirituality is necessary at every stage of life; however, the need for spirituality may go unnoticed due to the strength of youth.  In old age faith becomes a strong foundation. There are many people suffering from sicknesses or disabilities, but at the same time with big smiles on their faces, and hope in their hearts.  These are enviable people and they always give off positive energy.

We can think this way: This body was entrusted to me.  I am very grateful that it has carried me thus far, but I am not as strong as I used to be and one day my life will come to an end.  However, I do not consist only of a physical body.  My real essence and existence is in my soul, and that is eternal.  It comes from The True and will again go to Him**.  What I have to do is take good care of my spiritual health.  When my spirit detaches from my physical body, it will reach to The Creator, so I have to make it ready for this reunion.  I should not fly into a passion at every word as the old man in the story.  When feeling weak with weariness and at hard times I should seek refuge in Allah and ask for strength and patience.  He is the All-seer, and He protects me as long as my attitude and actions are worthy of Him.

Allah says in the Holy Qur”an that, “Whoever does good whether male or female and he is a believer, We will most certainly make him live a happy life, and We will most certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did.” (Nahl 16/97)

Let”s finish up with a prayer from our prophet.  “O Allah, I seek refuge with You from incapacity, laziness, cowardice, becoming old and decrepit, and from the evil of the affliction of wealth.” (Müslim, zikr, 50)

**Translator”s Note: Here, the author refers to a verse in the Qur”an, “So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down making obeisance to him.”  (Hicr 15/29)


HadîS (A; pronounced in A, Hadîth [derived from HaDDaTHa, to
narrate (about)]; spelling in T, hadis; plural in A, aHâdîS): a saying
or doing of the Prophet Muhammad as related by his companions
down though a “chain” of narrators until written down.