Knowledge & Youth
The youth is our future. We have heard this often and yet what attempts are we making either individually or collectively to ensure that our youth are prepared and well equipped to face the challenges of today and the unknown future of tomorrow. Today’s world of techno-wizardry and technological advances have ushered in a brave new world which the youth have embraced with relish while the older people have regarded with trepidation. The world is changing …very fast. Today’s era is unlike any other in the history of mankind. There have been major advances in various fields while on the other hand there have been major devastations & wars . While some parts of the world are swimming in opulent luxury, the majority of the world‘s population are sinking in the depths of poverty, misery, warfare, illiteracy, malnutrition, starvation and death. The focus is on material gain and technological advances – yet this is happening at the expense of morality, ethics, spirituality and humanity. What example are we setting for our youth? What legacy are we leaving behind for them? What values are we instilling in them – are these values based on man-made concept of success or are these values based on the Quran & the Sunnah? Are today’s societies and communities based on ethics, morality and respect for law & order or are societies evolving into lawlessness, immorality & degradation. If so , what is the solution to turn the tide towards righteousness. This short essay examines some of these questions and examines the role of the Quran & Sunnah in guiding our youth to the Straight Path.
PROPHET (SAW): THE PERFECT MODEL
It was on a quiet night of Ramadaan, in the year 611A.D. , that the stillness of the night in the coolness of the Cave of Hira , was pierced with the command “Iqra!”. S96 (Surah Iqra, also known as Surah Alaq) is the very first Surah revealed to the Holy Prophet Mohamed (SAW). This revelation ushered in the beginning of a series of revelations that lasted 23 years, during which time the whole of Arabia and its people were totally transformed. The most significant transformation was the end of the Period of Jahiliya-ignorance. The whole of Arabia, nay the entire humanity, was in a period of darkness & ignorance that were breeding grounds for superstition, idol-worship, oppression, discrimination , immorality & abuse. The Prophet (SAW) brought the light of knowledge through the Quran and through his glorious example. These two sources have remained beacons of light & guidance for humanity for the past 1400 years and will continue to inspire, motivate and transform people for all ages until the Last Day. During his entire life , the Prophet (SAW) laid great emphasis on the importance of acquiring various forms of knowledge as is shown in the following few examples.
S96V1-5 (Surah Iqra, also known as Surah Alaq = clot of congealed blood)
Proclaim (or Read) ! In the name of thy Lord & Cherisher,
Who Created –
Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood :
Read ! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
He Who taught (the use of) the Pen,-
Taught man that which he knew not.
The word “Iqra” has a double meaning. It means “read” and it also means “proclaim.” Furthermore, the very fact that the very first word of the very first revelation is “Iqra” is very significant. It ensures that it remains in the memory of Muslims –i.e. it is easy for people to remember the first verse; but to remember the 5th or 10th verse is not so easy. The significance for Muslims (and all humanity) is that knowledge is light; during any period of Jahiliyya & ignorance, it is only knowledge that can bring people out of darkness. Furthermore, before one can ‘proclaim’ or spread the message, it logically follows that the proclaimer of the message must first ‘read” – i.e. it is our duty to first acquire the knowledge (ie read) and then spread the knowledge (ie proclaim). The Prophet (SAW) also warned about a period when ignorance will prevail :
Sahih Bukhari Hadith Narrated by Anas (RA)
Allah’s Apostle (SAW) said :” From amoung the portents of the Hour are the following :
- religious knowledge will be taken away (by the death of religious men)
- ignorance will prevail
To avert the above and to show the importance of seeking knowledge and spreading knowledge , the Prophet (SAW) urged his followers to spread knowledge as much as possible :
Sahih Bukhari Hadith Narrated by Abdullah bin Amr (RA)
The Prophet (SAW) said: “Convey my teachings to the people even if it were a single sentence”
The Prophet (SAW) also enjoined his followers to ‘seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China” and “knowledge is the lost property of the believer”. The Quran challenges the reader to ponder :
S39V9 (Surah Zumar) :….”Say “are those equal , those who know and those who do not know?”
And furthermore, we are encouraged to ask Allah’s (SWT) help in seeking knowledge:
S20V114 (Surah Ta-Ha):”O Allah ! Increase me in knowledge”.
Hence, the importance of acquiring knowledge and spreading knowledge is indisputable. Muslims throughout the ages have been motivated & inspired by the numerous verses in the Quran and by the advice of the Prophet (SAW). The early Muslims thus heralded the Golden Age of Islam.
EARLY MUSLIM’S SUCCESSES THROUGH KNOWLEDGE : in brief
The Quran & Sunnah inspired thousands of scholars to branch out in various fields and in far corners of the world in search of knowledge as well as in spreading the knowledge, in keeping with the concept of “Iqra.” They did this with enthusiasm and became world class experts in various fields such as Medicine, Science , Astronomy , Mathematics & sea-voyages. As a result of this , the Muslims became the Superpower of the world for more than 800 years. They were world leaders in military & technology and science . Yet they neither abused the power that they acquired , nor did they hold on to this knowledge selfishly . Instead , they used this knowledge for the upliftment of humanity and also shared this knowledge with others. Arabic became the international language of the world in the same way that English , today, is the international language . Modern Universities and institutes of learning together with huge libraries , were established in Cordova, Spain & in Iraq (Baghdad). These institutions gave birth to thousands of students and scholars in various fields of endeavours . Non-Muslim students from the West , specifically learnt Arabic so that they could attend these Muslim Universities , which had the status of the “Harvard’s” , “Cambridge’s” & “Oxfords” of today. Many of these Western students went back to their homelands and plagiarized the Muslim discoveries and cloaked them as personal discoveries. Hence , we find that Sir William Harvey had been credited with the discovery of the blood circulation in 1615, while in fact , the Muslims knew about this 300 years previously. Another example is the discovery of America. History books inform us that Columbus discovered America while in fact , America was discovered by the Spanish & West African (Morocco) Muslims 500 years prior to Columbus’s voyage. Interestingly , Columbus documented in his journal that as he approached the shores of America , he noticed several minarets of Mosques. Two of the Captains of his fleet of ships were in fact Muslim navigators who already had detailed cartographic information on the route to traverse across the great Atlantic Ocean to reach the far distant land of America. There are however , some Non-Muslim writers who acknowledge the important role played by the Muslims :
Bertrand Russell : “The brilliant civilization of Islam flourished from India to Spain while the rest of Western Europe was still in the dark ages”
Napoleon Bonaparte : “ I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise & educated men of all the countries & establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true & which alone can lead men to happiness”
Sir George Bernard Shaw : “If any religion had the chance of ruling over England & Europe , it would be Islam”
The above achievements of the Early Muslims during the Golden Age of Islam , clearly indicate that the Muslims are the intellectual forbearers of the West. Western civilization owes a debt of gratitude to the Muslims , far greater than it can ever imagine. Just as the world benefited from the Islamic Intellectual revolution, so too is the world hungry today for a spiritual revolution and a return to ethics, morality & good conduct.
There are 3 major sources of distractions that prevent our youth from acquiring knowledge. These 3 sources are prevalent on a local level as well as on a global level :
Today’s youth are influenced by many more entertaining distractions that were not available 1-2 decades ago. The youth of today has to divide his/her time between television , video’s, cinema’s, shopping malls, cars, fashion trends, cell phones, dating , Video-Games , Internet and interactive TV. There is ‘so much to do , so little time.” Life becomes a treadmill and there simply isn’t the time to study or read or acquire knowledge . Hence , the youth of today is very ‘techno-savvy” –very knowledgeable regarding modern technology , but is actually illiterate when it comes to knowledge about the Deen or about morality , ethics, character & spirituality. This is the modern version of the age of Jahiliyya – a new age of ignorance – ignorance about the Deen. War in communities usually occurs between leaders or prominent personalities in the community over difference in interpretation of Fiqh or Shari’ah or on optional matters. These differences split the community and the youth (& new reverts ) become confused by all the fuss because the ‘leaders’ themselves are not good role models.
On a global level , these 3 forms of distractions have the following effects :
The Roman’s devised a clever scheme to keep the masses happy and not ask any questions : they had various gladiators fighting the lions in the amphitheatres of ancient Rome , and they termed this “sports”. By keeping the masses occupied by this entertainment , the ruling elite had control over the people and their thinking. The modern day version of these Roman Games are the various World sporting events , where hundreds of thousands of people attend games at stadiums while millions more are glued to their television . In addition , there are various other game shows, musical programs, quiz shows, lotteries and a whole buffet of seemingly endless choices of entertainment. The result is that few people bother about world affairs or politics or justice or the truth. A classic example of this phenomenon was aptly demonstrated with the recent World Cup Soccer in Korea – while the world’s attention has been focused on soccer , Israel has continued carrying out various incursions & brutal atrocities in Palestine ..this has been with the public support of the US government ; yet the world has been too busy watching soccer (“Roman Games” – keep the masses occupied) to even utter protest about the ongoing genocide. The consequence of this brainwashing is clearly evident. When you hear our Muslim youth talking, they will tell you the minutest detail about the latest soccer match, the names of all the players, their history etc. Yet, this same Muslim youth will not be able to tell you about what is going on in Palestine or in other areas of the Muslim world. Why not? Are they not our brothers & sisters who are suffering? Hence, the youth has followed the command of “Iqra” in sports & entertainment but not in Deen or issues affecting the Ummah.
Many areas of the world are gripped in wars that have been inflicted upon them. Recent examples include the devastation in Afghanistan , ongoing sorties in Iraq , war in Chechnya, Bosnia , Palestine and various other parts of the world. Carpet bombing destroys entire villages including schools , hospitals , factories and homes. These institutions of learning are totally destroyed and the Muslim youth therefore grow up without having access to basic education. Many countries that have been devastated by war , do not recover immediately but remain in a state of underdevelopment for decades . Warfare which is being inflicted throughout the world , & the current phobia against ‘war on terrorists” is causing massive devastation in Muslim countries and is affecting the literacy level of our youth.
Various parts of the world are in the grips of poverty. There are many Muslim nations & countries who are also similarly affected. Some examples include Afghanistan, Palestine , Indonesia . Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Malawi, Sudan, Ethiopia and various parts of Africa. Everyday becomes a battle for survival. There is no opportunity to gain an education because of the abject poverty levels of these people. The starvation modes of living leads to malnutrition & disease which stunts the intellectual and physical growth of these children.
(i)In Palestine , the border posts & security checkpoints make it extremely difficult for the students to reach their school. It can typically take a few hours for a child to go to a school which would normally take 20 –30 minutes in a free country. In addition , many school hours are interrupted by indiscriminate tear-gas firing at schools . A bomb explosion in a schools playground recently martyred several children and injured scores of others . The journey to and from school is an exercise in survival and terror.
(ii)In Turkey, girls wearing Hijab are denied entry into the school yards. Yet they will persevere and stand outside the school gates in bitterly cold winter, crying when riot police would come and teargas them. Yet, they will return the next day. Contrast these examples with the relative ‘luxury’ that our students and scholars have with regard to access to education & yet we do not appreciate what we have – we often take life for granted without pausing to think and ponder..
(iii) In some Muslim countries, scholars have been imprisoned, tortured or assassinated for speaking out for the truth; in addition, many Mimbars are muzzled and the Imam has to get approval for his speech beforehand. Alternatively, a prepared speech will be given to the Imam for the Jumma Khutbah. If Islam commands us to read & proclaim the truth, what example are we setting for our youth when leaders go to great lengths to keep the masses uninformed & uneducated.
EDUCATING OUR YOUTH
Knowledge is light. The Quran & Sunnah removed the darkness of the world in the days of Jahiliyya. Knowledge is enlightenment. The greatest threat to governments and oppressive regimes is a free thinking mind that asks difficult & uncomfortable questions. We have to train our youth to be leaders and to develop thinking skills on a foundation of sound knowledge. There will always be periods in humanity or in various societies where ignorance will prevail ; it is then the duty & responsibility of a few individuals to stand up and seek knowledge and then share this knowledge with everyone :
S14V1 (Surah Ibrahim): “ A Book which We have revealed unto thee , in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light…”
Learning is everyone’s birthright . We need to inculcate the love for learning in our young & old, in male and female , in rich and poor , in black & white , in employer and employee . This love for learning should be entrenched from an early age and should continue throughout life. Matric is not the end of learning , but it is simply the beginning – school should not be viewed as a burden , but rather a joy , privilege , opportunity and a great blessing . Youth is an age of many distractions and temptations and these energies have to be channelled in the right direction :
S30V54 :” Allah is He who created you of weakness , then He appointed after weakness strength, then after strength He appointed weakness and grey hair”
The above verse clearly highlights the age of strength, namely, the youth. Mankind is at its peak, intellectually and physically, during the age of youth. These energies have to be harnessed otherwise we will be left with a ‘lost generation”; in the youth of today lies our destiny. Depending on what values we instil in our children today, the future of our community and society will either be a dismal failure or a resounding success. We need to encourage our children to pursue their studies & be world-class in their efforts and regain the Golden Age of Islam and the Muslims. Nuclear families of today are having an impact on the lost values of the community. In extended families, the parents & grandparents transmit moral, ethical values, respect and good manners to the children. In contrast, today’s youth are trained by the 24-hour babysitter, namely the Television and they learn their manners & language from the TV.
ACTION PLAN & WAY FORWARD
- Inculcate a love for learning in all fields of endeavour
- Knowledge should be utilized for the benefit of mankind
- Fight procrastination and avoid the comfort zone thinking of “I’ll start tomorrow”
- Share knowledge
- Revive the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW); start with basics such as “Assalamu-alaikum wr wb”; every Friday Khutbah should end with a simple Sunnah that the Mussallees, especially the youth, can implement in their life
- Knowledge can be acquired through reading, educational video’s, audio cassettes, attending lectures & seminars and through the internet
- When attending any lecture, make it an active process and try and remember some points, even if it is one single lesson. When you go home after the lecture, discuss the contents of that lecture with your family over supper so that all can benefit from that knowledge ;
- Transform the knowledge into action – ie do something with the knowledge that you have gained.
- Encourage our youth to learn the Quran & Sunnah and to be inspired by these timeless teachings and lessons
- Encourage our youth to emulate the example of the Holy Prophet (SAW); the logical way to emulate someone is to study that person life – hence, our youth should be encouraged to learn & study about the glorious life of the Holy Prophet Mohamed (SAW)
- “Iqra” should be a term frequently used in every home & communities
- Community leaders should invest financially (and by other means ) in all educational institutions, be they Islamic Schools, Libraries, Universities, Training schools, Adult Literacy Classes, Arabic learning, and other learning centres for the betterment & upliftment of every member of the community
Education is the best gift that a parent can give to his/her child. Our youth is our future. Each and every one of us has the responsibility to ensure that the community that we live in, looks after its youth and inculcates in them the love for knowledge, development of sound character & sound values, enjoining the good & forbidding the wrong, looking after the widow and the orphan and be sterling examples of the strength & vigour of youth. Distractions are many. Fashions are forever changing. But the one steady, consistent, rock-solid, timeless Message, is the Message of the Quran & the Sunnah. By holding firm to the Message, mankind will always find the Straight Path. The greatest disservice we do to the Qur’an is to keep it in velvet chambers on our shelves and regard it as an ‘ancient text.” The Qur’an is timeless – it is prevalent for all time: it is in fact the Book of the Future, the most modern text with a universal message for all humanity for all time to come. The Golden Age of Islam can be rejuvenated again. Islam can once again be the moral force that leads mankind out of degradation and despair into hope and contentment by its transformational Eternal Message. There is only one pre-condition for this:
“Verily, never will Allah (SWT) change a condition of a people unless they change it themselves, with their souls.”
May Allah (SWT) Guide us and our youth to the Straight Path. Ameen!
Foundation for Islamic Publications
Edited by Ahmed Adam June 2002/Rabi-ul-Akhir 1423