Thought for the Day - Abdal Hakim Murad

Good morning.

We all know, and often feel guilty about, the fact that many sick and elderly people are looked after in their own homes by family members or friends who often have to make huge sacrifices. These are the carers who look after people with a wide range of serious illnesses, one of which, dementia, is becoming more widespread as people live longer.

We’re often less aware, however, of a second crisis which is following close behind. This is the so-called carer crisis. The carers themselves are often exhausted, sick, and depressed, and the problem is growing.

A YouGov poll released yesterday revealed that a quarter of carers report problems with their own health, largely due to exhaustion and muscular strain. But an even more disturbing sixty percent have experienced mental health problems. Caring for a needy loved one can be spiritually as well as physically shattering, particularly if the care goes on for years, with no end in sight.

This affects more of us than you might think. Perhaps one in eight adults in the UK are classified as carers. And with the economic crunch forcing cuts in benefits and respite care, the prospects are sobering.

In a sense, there’s some good news in this. Often we bemoan our increasingly selfish society, in which individualism and the breakdown of the family result, we are told, in the weaker going to the wall. But if six million of us are risking their own health to care for loved ones, perhaps we are not quite as morally desperate as we sometimes think.

Still, there’s a crisis, and often the quiet suffering of many carers goes unheard. We need to quarry our moral and religious resources to find ways forward.

In Islam, there is the example of the Prophet himself, who said: ‘To go to meet my brother’s need is dearer to me than spending a month in the mosque.’

He also offered a more specific way of doing this. He said: ‘The best way of honouring one’s parents is for a son to keep in touch with his father’s friends.’

Inspired by this, it’s a tradition in Muslim societies to honour one’s parents, whether they are living or dead, by visiting their friends. Let’s be realistic: we all know that we could do so much more for family members we know are in need. But work and our younger dependents force us to compromise. Still, in this prophetic advice there is an interesting thought.

The elderly and the chronically sick, and the carers as well, often feel ignored and isolated. Just to see someone new, on an occasional visit, who shows respect for the sacrifices they are making, can be enormously welcome. So here’s a thought: let’s honour our parents by remaining in touch with their friends, and making sure that they, and their carers, are honoured and not forgotten.

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