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 said:
“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 more guidance”.
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 the Qur’an.
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.