Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib has said, “There are two things which people do not recognize the greatness of until they lose them: their youth and good health.”
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) has said, “There are two things which people do not recognize the greatness of until they lose them: their youth and good health.”
It is intriguing to note the emphasis Islam has put upon the period of youth in a believer’s life. There are numerous narrations from the Prophet and our Imams (peace be upon them all) that praise the believer who spends his youth in obedience, and that mention his high status and the rewards he shall reap in the Hereafter. A personal favorite is a hadith from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny): “Surely the most beloved of the creations to Allah, the Noble and Grand, is the youth who is young in age and who is a very handsome/beautiful individual; however, he places his youth and his beauty in Allah and in His obedience alone. This is the thing for which the Most Merciful boasts to His Angels about and says, ‘This is truly my servant.'”
Interestingly enough, looking back at Islamic history, specifically early periods, the believing youth made up the backbone of the movement and propagation of Islam. One example was that of Ja’far ibn Abu Talib. We all know the story of how a group of Muslims migrated to Abyssinia to escape persecution in Mecca. What many of us tend to overlook is that the head of this delegation Ja’far ibn Abu Talib was in his early twenties at the time. The case he made for Muslims to the king after two Qurayshi emissaries accused them of being “wicked men” is one that is still hailed as exemplar in eloquence and wisdom.
There are indeed more examples than one can count: Imam Ali’s pivotal role in wars and in shaping the social fabric during the early Islamic periods, the youth of Karbala and the message that still reverberates throughout history, as well as the role of Lady Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) throughout her life – not just as a woman and mother, but also as a manifestation of why this period of youth in our lives is given so much importance.
Having said all that, what of the youth of today? As Muslim communities continue to grow and flourish in different (and perhaps all) parts of the world, the Muslim youth still are and continue to be an integral part of our societies. Undoubtedly, there is a religious and social obligation on the older generation to guide and mold this new generation of future leaders.
The current wave of uprisings presents a living example of what our youth are capable of. Indeed, the Arab spring wouldn’t have flourished the way it has had it not been for the active youth movements that have been driving the momentum.
But moving away from revolutions, our youth being the future of our societies and communities is the single most valuable asset that we possess today. And investment in this asset is going to bring great returns. As Imam Ali has said, “Surely the heart of the youth is like the uncultivated ground – it will accept whatever you throw upon it [and that is what will grow from it].”
Our youth need to be guided and given the necessary tools to create the very conditions in our societies that will hasten the return of our Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Each generation has been given the duty to rear the future generation – not just as pious individuals but also as integral, aware and socially responsible members of the communities to which they belong, the Muslim Ummah, as well as citizens of this world.
The Qur’an touches on our duty when it is said, “Call others to the path of your Lord through wisdom and good exhortation and argue with them in the best possible manner” (16:125). This verse not only calls upon us all to invite others (the youth, as in this case) to the path of our Lord, but also to use wisdom and exhortation in the process.
What needs to be realized is that the youth of today belong to a very different world from the youth of even a generation ago. Each generation needs to take that in mind while passing down its teachings. Only through a measured and comprehensive approach can the guidance provided manifest into positive results (returns on our investments!). The youth need not only be educated and trained, but also understood first and foremost – the time to which they belong, its demands, and the mindset that arises through the present environment. Let’s not forget that each prophet was sent with different forms of miracles, signs and teachings to match the evolution of the mind from one generation to another and/or from one environment to another.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) asked a companion called Al-Ahwal, “Have you been to Basrah?” The man replied, “Yes.” The Imam then asked him, “How did you find the enthusiasm of the people in regards to this issue [of the Wilaya and Imamat of the Ahlul Bayt] and their acceptance of it?” The man replied, “I swear by Allah, surely those people [who follow and accept this] are few in number. They work upon this [propagating this belief to others], even though they are small in number.” The Imam replied to him, “I advise you to work on the youth [in educating them on these issues] since surely they are quicker to accept all good things.”
With the potential in the youth of our communities waiting to be explored, it is incumbent upon each generation to take up the duty of providing the newer ones with the right kind of tools, knowledge and characteristics to become aware, responsible, pious members of our communities, taking them a further step closer to Allah and ultimately bringing forth a platform that shall witness the return of the Awaited One.