by ASHUR SHAMIS
Societies in all human cultures give a great deal of attention
and importance to their young. Enormous sums of money and resources
are spent and allocated by governments, state institutions and
other bodies for the training, education and preparation of the
youth in order to absorb and channel their great energies and
potential. For the old have always known and assumed that no matter
how great or high the efforts and material resources devoted to
the training of the young, the investment is worthwhile and always
pays off well in the end.
The old also realise that the young are their link with the
future and their best assurance that the ideals and the principles
they advanced and established, and the achievements and results
they brought about, would be upheld, preserved and developed.
It is a fact of life that the time of youth is universally considered
to be the time during which a person's physical, mental, intellectual
and moral faculties and potential attain their optimum level of
development and application. It is the time when the mind shows
its inventive and imaginative capabilities in the best form. A
twentieth century Muslim writer, Mustafa al-Rafi'ee, describes
the time of youth saying..
"Youth is strength, for the sun does not brighten the afternoon
as much is it does the morning. In youth there is a kind of life
with which death seems to sound like sleep; and during its youth
a tree brings forth its fruit, while after that all trees give
nothing but wood".
It is also the period of one's life during which one's ability
for perception, understanding and absorption of concepts, ideas,
thought and knowledge is at its best. This is the reason that
makes youth the prime target of all ideological, political and
cultural forces and state machinery aiming at the advancement
of certain patterns of social organisation or particular systems
of mass control and domination.
This potential that lies in the young generation, and the power
it represents in social and political terms make the youth of
any society the most valuable asset it could possibly possess,
and the number one factor that could influence its progress and
future. This applies just as equally to Muslim societies as it
does in others.
Islam's View of Youth
Islam, as embodied in the Qur'an and the teachings and life
of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him,
appreciate and emphasise the value and importance of young people,
and the following discussion will hopefully illustrate this appreciation
and concern very clearly.
The Qur'an says:
"Allah is He who created you of weakness, then He appointed
after weakness strength, then after strength He appointed weakness
and grey hair. , . ." (Al- Qur'an 30:54).
This is taken to be the most succinct and direct reference to
the three main phases of a person's life; childhood, during which
one is weak, dependent and helpless; youth, during which one is
fully developed, free to act and think and full of strength, vitality
and energy; and old age, when a person reverts to being helpless
and depending on others-into a state of complete weakness with
the faculties dwindling and the energy fading away and vitality
receding and failing rapidly. The Prophet, Allah's peace and blessings
be upon him, was known to frequently seek Allah's refuge from
amongst other things, old age.
The Prophet is also reported to have advised the Muslims to
"make use of your youth be- fore your old age . . .",
and to have mentioned seven people whom Allah will, on the Day
of Judgement, protect under His "shade" including
". . . a young man who grew up in devotion to Allah. . .
We also find that the Qur'an and the Prophet indicate that all
through the history of Allah's message to man, from the time of
Adam to that of Muhammad, it was the youth who played the major
and decisive role in upholding the word and the Shari'ah of Allah.
The Qur'an related that when Prophet lbrahim challenged the
non-believers of his time and destroyed their idol-gods, he was
a young man, probably in his twenties. Both the muffasireen lbn
Kathir and Sayyid Qutb take this view. Ibn Kathir relates that
the great authority on tafseer, the Sahabi Abdullah lbn Abbas
"Allah appointed no prophet but he was a young man, and no aalim
has acquired his knowledge except during his youth".
Prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, is also said to have been appointed
a minister by the ruler of Egypt, to take charge of the country's
financial affairs during a hard period of a severe famine when
he was thirty, according to lbn Kathir. Prophet Yahya, the Qur'an
says, was given
"the wisdom while a young boy" (Al-Qur'an 19:12).
And the same applies to several other prophets and messengers,
Allah's peace be upon them all. The Qur'an also relates the story
of Ahl al- Kahf, the Sleepers, who ran away from their families
and their people in order to be able to practice their belief
in the One God, and keep their devotion to Him and protect themselves
from the evils of a Kafir society. Allah took care of them by
directing them to the Cave and sending them to rest, sleeping
for three hundred and nine years. This group, the Qur'an describes
as "fityatun", who believed in "their Lord" and Allah "gave them
The Arabic word fityatun is a synonym of the word shabab which
means youth or young people. Ibn Kathir comments that young people
are far more responsive to the truth and more apt to heed the
call than the old ones who had gone too far astray and were accustomed
to non-belief. Thus, he continues, the majority of the Prophet's
followers were young people, while the old and elderly of Quraish
in the main had clung to their age-old beliefs and retained their
religious customs and traditions with the result that only very
few of them embraced Islam willingly.
Experience and study show that there is a maximum level of human
activity and vitality during one's lifetime, after which a person
continues to live and draw from the achievements, knowledge and
experience of his youth, and very little that is original and
new can be Incorporated into his aptitudes and skills; one merely
develops and improves on those youth-acquired skills. This is
a rule that can of course have exceptions, but there is all the
evidence to make it stand good.
This period of optimum ability in one's life is referred to
in the Qur'an as bulugh al-ashudd, reaching full age, and is said
to fall between the ages of thirty and forty years (Al-Qur'an
:15) and is considered the age at which a person reaches full
maturity and becomes qualified to assume and receive the highest
and most demanding duties and responsibilities; a number of Prophets
were appointed to prophethood on reaching their ashudd (7:22;
28:14), including the Prophet Muhammad himself, the peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him, who was called to Prophethood
at the age of forty.
Ibn Kathir's statement that it was mostly the youth who responded
to the call of Islam at the early days during its early days is
supported by the hadith which reported the Prophet's saying:
"I have been sent with the pure and natural religion, to the
youth (who) had backed me while the old had opposed me",
as well as by the brilliant examples of the large groups of
young people who followed Islam and carried it to all corners
of the world.
Youth During Early Islam
It is an often forgotten or overlooked fact that Islam was almost
from the start influenced by and identified with youth. lbn Ishaq
mentions that the first male to believe the Prophet and give him
support and believe in Islam was a ten-year-old boy named Ali
ibn Abi Talib. Almost all of the first followers of the prophet
were below the age of forty and included individuals like Az-Zubair
ibn al-Aawwam who became a Muslim at the age of sixteen (his uncle
used to punish him for that by wrapping him in straw mats and
hanging him up and blowing smoke at him in an attempt to dissuade
him from accepting ]slam, but he used to reply that he would never
go back to Kufr again) and Abu 'Ubaidah Ibn al-Jarrah became Muslim
at seventeen, and several others.
The leaders of Quraish used to appeal to Abu Bakr not to recite
the Qur'an in front of his house in case he tempted "our young
men" to becoming interested in Islam. They knew the value of their
young, and realised the fact that young people are always prone
to change and liable to be influenced by new ideas, and are easily
attracted by such powerful and overpowering forces as that of
the simple but penetrating logic and beauty of the Qur'an.
Throughout the Makkan period it was men in their youth who upheld
Islam and carried it fully in face of all the odds, while the
elder members of society resisted its spread and progress and
posed an ever growing threat to its followers. At Madina also
it was young people who were first responding to the Prophet's
search for support and adherents.
The Prophet used to take young people above the age of fifteen
to battle with the army. At the battle of Badr he turned back
some young men under fifteen and they were very disappointed;
one of them, 'Umair ibn Abi Waqqas, started to cry and the Prophet
felt sorry for him and allowed him to join the army. He went to
battle, fought and was martyred,
It is also known that the Prophet assigned a number of key positions
and responsibilities to young people. When the Thaqeef tribe accepted
Islam he put 'Uthman lbn Abi Abbass in charge of them although
he was the youngest of them, because Abu Bakr had told him that
the boy was the keenest one of them all to understand Islam and
When the first delegation from Madina accepted Islam the Prophet
sent back with them a young man by the name of Mus'aab lbn 'Umair
to teach them the Qur'an and Islam. Among those whom he used to
consult was 'Usama lbn Zaid, who was about twenty-one when the
Prophet died. 'Aysha related that during the very trying episode
when the Prophet's household was slandered, the Prophet consulted
Ali and 'Usama on what course of action to take. This in itself
is an indication of the respect and value the Prophet attached
to young people and their views.
He, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, appointed
a young man of twenty-one, 'Itab lbn Usayd, a governor of Makka
when it was conquered and he became the first Imam to lead the
prayer there. He left Muaath as a teacher and religious instructor
to the people of Makka when he was only twenty years old.
Shaykh Al-Kandahlawi in his book, "Lives of the Sahaba", relates
that the Prophet used to have twenty young men from the Ansar
with him at all times, whom he would send to various missions
and for various purposes to attend to his affairs.
The young man 'Usama referred to earlier was to play an even
more decisive role in the history of early Islam. The Prophet
during his later days was preparing an army, the biggest Madina
had even seen, including such senior Sahaba as Abu Bakr and 'Umar,
with 'Usama, not twenty-one then, as its head. The Prophet, however,
passed away before the army could leave Madina and proceed to
face the Roman empire. Abu Bakr, his successor, went ahead with
the plans to send the army keeping 'Usama in charge of it. Some
older Sahaba expressed a certain amount of dissatisfaction at
'Usama's choice as the leader of a 3,000 strong army, but the
Prophet asserted that "Usama was well up to the task", and he
was proved right.
Amongst women also, the youth played important roles in the
building of the Muslim Ummah. Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, played
one of the most vital and daring roles in the history of Islam
during the uncertain and dangerous episode of the Hijrah, the
Prophet's escape from Makka and immigration to Madina. Her sister,
Aysha, who was also a wife of the Prophet, emerged as an authority
on Islam during the time of the Khilafah.
She was only about twenty years old when the Prophet died, but
by the time of 'Umar and 'Uthman she had been established and
recognised as an authority on Sunnah and a remarkable jurist in
her own right.
Ibn Abbas was also very young when he emerged as a unique and
impeccable authority on the Qur'an and tafseer, so much so that
'Umar used to consult him and take his view in the presence of
older and more senior Sahaba. Amongst the army leaders who led
Muslims into Iraq; Persia, Egypt, North Africa and Spain were
several below the age of forty. Muhammad Ibn Qasim conquered Sind
in India when he was seventeen.
In all fields of learning, religious and secular life young
men have had profound influences upon the whole history of the
Muslim Ummah. Imam al-Ghazali began teaching at the age of twenty-eight
and became the most renowned and celebrated scholar of his time
before he reached thirty-four years of age. The Turkish Sultan
Muhammad the Conqueror assumed the Khilafa at twenty-two and conquered
Constantinople (Istanbul) at the age of twenty-four.
The recent and contemporary history of Islam too, produced a
number of young men who have left their mark on the history of
Islamic da'wah. Abul A'la Maududi formed the Jama'at lslami before
he was thirty years. Hasan al-Banna organised the Muslim Brothers
Society when he was only twenty-one and led it all through his
life, which was ended by an assassin's bullet before he reached
forty years of age. These two movements are among the two most
influential Islamic movements of this century.
Such are the qualities and the potential of Muslim youth, and
such has been the result of their efforts and work.