Chapter 5: Longevity
One of the unique characteristics of our belief in Mahadaviyat is that it is accompanied with the belief of long life of the divine saviour. Interestingly, he is more than eleven hundred years old. While when we look around us, we hardly find people living beyond hundred years. Thus, this long life of Imam Mahdi (a.s.) is something that baffles the mind and is not easily acceptable to the people. They wonder at the reason behind the long life of Hazrat (a.s.).
We will delve into this sensitive matter scientifically and support our views with well researched articles and theories so that the matter becomes clear to one and all.
If we understand the basic definition of “life”, then either the questions related to longevity will cease to exist or at least it will be understood easily. The science of biology is silent on this matter (of life) and has termed it as an named it as an unfathomable mystery. Till now, no concrete definition has been put forward for “life” which implies that no clear differentiation can be made between living and non-living cells of the human body.
An American professor and lecturer of George Washington University in his book ‘One, Two, Three, Infinite’ hinted towards the shortcomings of Biology and named a chapter of his book as ‘The Mystery of Life’. He acknowledged that the intellect and understanding of man is incapable to grasp the ‘reality’ of life.
The renowned surgeon and physician Dr. Alexis Carrel, Head of Organization of Rockefeller University in America, after concluding his researches brought them in the form of a book and named it, ‘Man, The Unknown’. He solemnly confessed in this book that “We possess a very superficial and incomplete knowledge regarding our existence.”
It is natural that when our knowledge concerning “life” - which is the essence of our existence - is so shallow and incomplete, then objections on ‘longevity’ should not be raised. It must be remembered that unless man derives accurate conclusion about life, it is improper to discuss longevity.
So far it is not known to biologists who of the two are natural - life or death. The eminent German biologist, Professor Wiseman gives a fitting reply to this question in his book “The Cognizance of Life” in these words:
“The thing which is natural for living being is life and not death.”1
According to the most recent biological discoveries, if the causes of ageing in a cell can be ascertained, then we may be able to overcome death. The main cause of man’s death is nothing but gradual suicide - which he invites due to his ignorance about food and eating habits as well as the harmful effects of the environment. All these steadily but surely take him towards his end.
In other words, we can never question anyone “why you are alive?” But whenever we hear about someone’s death - whether it is of a man, woman, young, old, child - we always ask keenly about the cause of his / her death. This in itself shows that death is unnatural. Thus it is death which always needs a reason and people ask for its cause. Reason is always required to justify death irrespective of whether it was timely or untimely. It would not be wrong to say that ‘whenever death occurs it is untimely since no particular time is fixed for death.2
If years ago astronomers would have said that the moon – which is the beloved of so many poets and about whom Socrates has written so many unheard ideas – will be under the feet of man then not many would have accepted this view. But today, the conquest of moon has become an indelible part of history. Similarly the strides made in the field of Biology through constant research and experiments compel us to believe that longevity is no longer a distant dream. As Dr. Alexis Carrel states:
“We yearn for a long life and are already heading towards it. The experiments made on animals regarding the changes of environment and food, convincingly shows that the cherished goal of longevity will be soon achieved.”3
Any wise person who has witnessed the rapid progress made by man in the various fields of science will never regard the problem of longevity as insurmountable. The patriarch of philosophers, Avicenna, suggests that:
کُلَّمَا قَرَعَ سَمْعُکَ مِنَ الْغَرَائِبِ وَلَمْ یَقُمْ دَلِیَلٌ عَلیٰٔ اِمْتِنَاعِہِ فَذَرْہُ فِیْ بُقْعَۃِ الْاِمْکَانِ.
“If you hear something very strange and wonderful, but cannot establish any reason for its impossibility, then let it remain in the realm of possibility.”4
In this discussion, we will delve into the successful experiments and present the latest theories of scientists regarding longevity and thus expose the baseless objections of the skeptics.
1. The contemporary man is striving relentlessly to find the means of overcoming old age. A large part of his life is spent in laboratories, and after extensive research and investigations finally, a glimmer of hope was sighted. Professor George Hamilton, a biochemist in Michigan University says,
“A drug by the name of Leostrol has been found to possess miraculous effects on the cells of the body and doubles their life.” He concluded that: “The life of human organs and consequently man himself can be doubled through hormones”.5
Dr. Pechnikov, an eminent biologist of East Europe holds another view. He opines that the primary cause of death is the alterations of certain germs near the intestines. This place is the centre, where the powers of attraction and repulsion roll into action and reaction.
Dr. Pechnikov traveled extensively in the world, especially in the Balkan regions since the inhabitants of that region were mostly centenarians. He wanted to investigate the cause of their long life. He found that the Balkan people were frequently consuming milk and its products especially curd. Curd contains lactic acid which suppresses the harmful effects of the poisonous gases found near the intestine.
Thus it can be deduced that the endeavours and investigations of man concerning longevity are bearing fruit. Thus his painstaking efforts to unravel the mysteries of longevity have yielded results
The foremost outcome of these intensive investigations is the possibility of doubling the age of man. It is expected that the future may produce still better results. The conclusive inference is that longevity and scientific discoveries are not contrary to each other. Instead the recent scientific discoveries reveal that day by day man is getting closer to longevity and is mentally prepared to welcome it now, than earlier.
Researchers in the field of Biology have also conducted an in-depth study on the factors of ageing and premature deaths and have listed many causes in this connection. The three prominent factors that curtail the life of an individual are environment, work and food. It is clear that a natural environment (like mountains and rural areas) free from pollution and human excesses, nutritious food which provides all the essential ingredients to the human body and work which does not drain his physical and mental energies are most effective in prolonging man’s life. A comparative study of those who are very much careful of their eating habits and those who are careless or those who work in normal conditions and those who work under stress and deadlines indicate that the average life of former outlasts the later. All this indicates the role and importance of these factors in prolonging man’s life.
As we have discussed earlier that scientific researchers have clearly proved that no limit can be set for human life - neither there is an average limit, nor an upper limit. According to science no limit can be claimed as final because any limit can be breached. A detailed analysis of the census of different countries indicates that the average age of the people varies from country to country. And it is due to different reasons viz. climatic conditions and geographical factors.
In England, in the year 1838-1854, the age of men was between 39 years (minimum) to 91 years (maximum) while that of women was between 40 and 66 years. Once again when the census was conducted in 1973, it was found that the ages of men had risen to 60 (min) to 81 (max) years, while that of women rose to 41 (min) to 85 (max) years.
Similarly in America in the earlier census of 1901 the age of men ranged between 23-48 years and that of women between 51-80 years. While in the year 1944, the average age of men increased and ranged between 50-63 years and of women 68-95 years.
The difference in average ages after a time gap indicates the improvement in public health and effective control of dangerous diseases.
In England, during the year 1838-1845, if someone would have declared that men couldn’t live more than 40 years, then surely the researchers of that time would have smiled and replied (1) No average age limit should be fixed which cannot be increased or decreased (2) even if some average age limit was stipulated, it was as per the maximum and minimum limit of that time.
Hence all fixed age limits will be proved wrong after a period of time. All such attempts to fix the age limit will become the object of mockery and ridicule. And this derision is the fate of all those who set a limit for age and forward such baseless ideas. It must be mentioned at this stage that the increase in the average age of man is in itself the best proof that human life cannot be fixed to a pre-determined value.
The incessant researches in biological science have revealed an increasing list of factors that increase the span of life. The scientists are working on ‘proportionate weight of brain’, which may become an effective cause of increasing man’s age and scientists have reached to a conclusion that the life of man can be prolonged up to 350 years in the near future.
Hence the conclusion of all these discussions is that no limit can be stipulated for the age of man. A manifestation of an uncommon phenomenon cannot become the proof of its non-existence.
Let us discuss longevity from another angle. Despite the significant advancement and admirable progress of human knowledge in unraveling so many natural mysteries, there is one intricate riddle that has frustrated man and has made him powerless. And that insoluble riddle is ‘the exception to natural laws’, which has astonished many experts in the diverse fields of knowledge arid science. The progressive man, who always seeks solution to his problems in the light of general scientific laws, is sometimes confronted with such circumstances where all the laws become void and all conjectures seem absurd. As a result, intellectuals had to admit the existence of ‘Exception in natural laws.’
For instance, according to the general laws (of Chemistry) under normal conditions the combination of two gases (even outside laboratory room) produces a third gas. Like water is the product of the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, which according to the said law, under the normal conditions and as per its molecular weight, should be only in the form of a gas (since hydrogen and oxygen are gases). But strangely it is found in the liquid form, while ammonia with the same molecular weight is found in the form of vapours. Hence water as per general laws should be similar to other compositions and should follow the same course. But water is an exception and even if all natural laws are accepted, this exception cannot not be rejected.6
Another example may be cited from the species of plants and vegetables. We all know that all the plants and vegetables bear fruits only when pollen grain of male plant comes into contact with the pollen of a female plant either directly or indirectly. This union may be established through wind, honeybees or by any other means. It is called ‘pollination’. Though it is a common natural law but still there, are some plants which do not need pollination and they bear fruits by themselves. This again supports the ‘laws of exception’.
At this juncture it must be emphasised that these exceptions in common laws should not become a source of rejection of scientific laws and principles. The people who make such ‘exceptions’ as a pretext for denying scientific researchers are grossly biased and are in clear error because these exceptional incidents are after all related to the system of the Universe. They are having special laws of their own but are somehow linked with other laws of this world. Hence to accept strange exceptions of nature is not contrary to science but is a step towards scientific research, nay an indication that if delved deeply then more such instances can be discovered. Thus in our usual course of daily life, if we cannot solve the enigma of longevity, we are not supposed to refute and reject it outright as science has always left a scope for exceptional cases - especially when many precedents of longevity are found in history. We shall discuss about it in a later chapter. Hence by no means longevity can be denied.
If we were to keep all these discussions aside and analyse the lives of people around us we will come across instances of people who have lived a considerable long life. Few years ago, an article was published in Reader’s Digest (which is published across the world) by the name of ‘Death is afraid of us’. The article was on the citizens of ‘Azerbaijan’ in Russia. These individuals had lived for 120 years to 150 years and in spite of their long lives were engaged in their routine activities. Moreover such a long age does not surprise them because it is a very common phenomenon among them. In fact it is a peculiarity of that region. Such examples reinforce our view that longevity is not contrary to science.
Apart from these living examples, we come across many individuals – both in the recent as well as the distant past – which confirms this reality. The annals of history – both world as well as religion are a witness to the lives of those people who led a very long life. Either books are devoted to the subject of longevity or at least a particular chapter was earmarked for the same.7
In these books one can find the biographies of personalities whose life-span was amazing. (1) Hazrat Adam (a.s.) 930 years, (2) Hazrat Shees (a.s.) 912 years, (3) Hazrat Lut (a.s.) 732 years (4) Hazrat Idrees (a.s.) 300 years, (5) Hazrat Aad (a.s.) 1200 years, (6) Hazrat Mutwashaikh (a.s.) 960 years and Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) more than 950 years. The Holy Qur’an while narrating the anecdote of Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) also mentions the period of his propagation in these word:
وَلَقَدْ اَرْسَلْنَا نُوْحًا اِلیٰ قَوْمِہِ فَلَبِثَ فِیْھِمْ اَلْفَ سَنَۃٍ اِلَّا خَمْسِیْنَ عَامًا.
“And surely We sent Nuh towards his people then he remained among them for a thousand years, save fifty.”8
H. Nuh (a.s.) preached among his nation for 950 years before deluge destroyed them. That means this period of 950 years does not reflect his entire age. He lived before and after the deluge also. His age therefore was more than 950 years.
This example clearly indicates that abundant proofs are available in history which endorse longevity and prove that it is irrefutable. Thus the age of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) - either now or when he will reappear - should not be looked upon skeptically and suspiciously, nor amazement should be expressed. After going through the aforementioned examples it becomes clear as daylight that longevity cannot be denied. Rather accepting longevity is a sign of one’s intellect and understanding.
Now let us try to analyse the issue of longevity in the light of our faith, although all rational arguments have conclusively proved that there is no impediment in accepting longevity. The mind thus does not consider it impossible. However the fountain head of all our ideologies, view-points, morals and character is Islamic traditions (ahadith). Accepting Islamic traditions on this matter raises the conviction in longevity from the level of probability to the level of certitude.
One of the important laws of creation - as expounded by Islam - is the presence of a ‘Perfect Man’ in the human society. A man who is an epitome of excellence and who may serve as an example for mankind and whose life is an embodiment of Islamic precepts. This ‘Perfect man’ is the vicegerent of Allah and successor of the Holy Prophet (S). In Islamic traditions he has been given the title of Hujjat (i.e. Proof of Allah). There are innumerable traditions which proclaim the necessity of existence of a Hujjat on the earth and his absence will become the cause of complete annihilation of this universe.9
It was for this reason that Holy Prophet (S) himself designated his successor so that this earth may never remain devoid of an ‘Imam’ or ‘Hujjat’. And after the Holy Prophet (S), this task of appointing successors was undertaken by the infallible Imams (a.s.) one after the other. Finally the banner of justice and equity reached the hands of the twelfth and last Imam, Hazrat Mahdi (a.s.). He is the leader of the human race and will establish the divine religion in all its glory in the entire world. Hence it is imperative that the life of this Imam should be very long. The reason for his occultation is that people are not yet ready to accept his dominion. He will appear at the appropriate time and spread justice and equity in the world.
The sayings of our immaculate Imams (a.s.) explain the attributes of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) at length and regard the attribute of longevity as one of his peculiar characteristics. They (a.s.) have also cited the examples of those Prophets who were blessed with long lives.10
The believers in divine religions besides Islam too believe in the Omnipotence of Allah. They believe in the infinite powers of Allah and are of the view that no task is beyond the power of Allah. According to Islam, whenever He wishes to accomplish a task, He just intends about it and says ‘Be’ and ‘It becomes’, even though the task may be against the usual principles of nature. Such tasks are innumerable and people are well-aware of such ‘Acts of Allah’. The miracles displayed by the Prophets belong to the category of such ‘Acts’ which serve as a sign of Allah’s Omnipotence and prove the veracity of their claims.
When the believers in the infinite power of Allah, come across any matter involving Allah’s power and which is also supported by traditions, then it is very easy for them to accept that matter. For Allah nothing is ‘difficult’, ‘improbable’ or ‘complicated’ and no power can hinder the implementation of His command.
The Islamic belief in miracles and the infinite powers of Allah is not against science. Instead, such exceptional phenomena themselves conform with common laws, which move on to the prescribed line of action. Similarly the belief in miracle and ‘Omnipotence’ of Allah is not in conflict with science.
Well, the purpose of all these arguments was to prove that the concept of longevity is not against science and knowledge. Moreover, the true believers should cleanse their hearts from doubts and uncertainty. Nevertheless, the belief in the long life of Hazrat Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) has penetrated the hearts of every Muslim, nay every individual who believes in God.
- 1. This book is also translated in Persian by the name of ‘Zeest Shenasi’. This excerpt is quoted from ‘Khurshide Maghrib’, original untraced.
- 2. Over here the concept of ‘fixed and pre-determined fate’ should not become ambiguous.
- 3. Dr. Alexis Carrel in chapter V of ‘Man, the unknown’.
- 4. Vide foreword of Ash-Shifa’ by Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna).
- 5. Extracted from weekly journal Prushek’ No. 224, Tuesday, Khordad - 48.
- 6. For details of such scientific problems, refer the article ‘Water Tells its Tale’, also refer The Affirmation of Existence of Allah’ by Dr. Thomas David Parkis, the Professor at Allen University, U.S.A.
- 7. Vide the book of Abu Hatim Sajistani ‘Al-Muammarun Wal Wisaya’. Abul Hasan Masoodi’s Murujuz Zahab and Abu Raihan Beruni’s ‘Asarul-Baqiyah.
- 8. Holy Qur’an, al-Ankaboot, 29 :14.
- 9. Refer to Usool-e-Kaafi, Kitab al-Hujjah.
- 10. Vide ‘Muntakhabul Asar, Chapter 27, where at least 50 traditions are jotted from Shia and Sunni sources relating to longevity of twelfth Imam.