MUSLIM YOUTH: CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES AND EXPECTATIONS

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KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY SAHEED OLUROTIMI TIMEHIN(PhD) AT THE INTER-TERTIARY SCHOOLS DEBATE OF THE YOUTH WING OF THE ISLAMIC EDUCATION AND FAITH INITIATIVE HELD ON SUNDAY 15TH JANUARY, 2017 AT THE IEFI ISLAMIC CENTER, MAGODO, LAGOS.

INTRODUCTION

The contemporary human society is faced with an avalanche of social, political and economic challenges that have redefined the goal of a man on this plane of existence. At global and national levels, youth of varying backgrounds have continued to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct human values. The breakthrough in information technology has occasioned a super-complex dynamism in the ways people relate to one another and the result of this dynamism, at the centre of which the youth stand out prominently, has been both benign and malignant. While the world has shrunk into a global village, its social dynamics has assumed a cosmopolitan many-sidedness that has made it difficult to easily diagnose the plethora of syndromes that are displayed daily on the world stage.

Muslim youth in particular are doubly challenged to affirm their identity within this complex scenario as well as make a sense of the fluctuating global image of Islam and Muslims which is caught between unjust assessment by detractors, irrational sensationalism by a section of its Ummah and righteous pragmatism by other sections of its social universe. The unfortunate incidents of Boko Haram and ISIS as well as the high spate of terroristic activities by groups claiming to be aligned to Islam have further worsened the case and magnified the challenge.

If we have to give this discourse a localized particularistic expression, it is necessary to reflect on the Nigerian Youth and their challenges because Muslim Youth are not in any way different from other youth in the nature of challenges they face even if the dimensions differ. This is very pertinent if we must understand the psycho-social universe in which the psyche of the Nigerian Muslim youth was formed. I hereby thank the organizers of this event for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on this issue though I must confess that I have been too busy to properly give it the attention it deserves. In fact, because of my tight schedule, I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to put down anything on paper. It wasn’t until I woke up for Tahajjud in the early hours of today that it occurred to me that I could reduce the number of rakats I had to perform to enable me to scribble a few lines for this purpose.

The Nigerian Youth- Our Concern

The Nigerian National Youth Development Policy defines youth as young men and women of between 18 and 35 years. This period is obviously the most important period in the life of a human being. This is the time the most distinguishing features of mental and physical growth reach maturity in an individual. The youth at this period may be a source of blessings for the nation or a harbinger of doom. The future of any nation depends largely on the position of youth in the socio-political wisdom of the drivers of the nation’s economy.

It is disheartening to note that Nigeria is one sorry example of a nation that is totally insensitive to the plight of her youth. Despite the existence of the national policy, it is obvious that the youth have not been prepared for any leadership role in the social universe of the nation. The inadequate attention given to the education sector by successive Nigerian governments is one evidence of this fact. Bad governance and the predatory instincts of Nigerian politicians have combined to sink the boat of any development in the area of education.

The average Nigerian youth is particularly unlucky. His fate is caught in a dubitative existential caveat. His selfhood is badly bruised to such an extent that he neither recognizes who he is, nor what he wants. He sees the ostentatious display of wealth by the nation’s politicians and their cohorts on a daily basis; he sees the way the society celebrates well-known crooks in public service; he sees the arrant perversion of justice by the nation’s law enforcement agencies, sometimes with the connivance of the judiciary; he, therefore, seethes with the resentment of an outcast. He sought refuge in the religious houses but found the hallowed men of God turning into sanctified and ordained ‘area boys’ singing the praise of the oppressors.

Out of frustration, the youth turns to the educational institutions perchance he would find a way out, but he was shocked to discover that education in the country is not more than a meal ticket and not a refiner of human personality. He sees the acquisition of material wealth, whatever the source, as the ultimate good and thus treats integrity, hard work and morality with step-motherly derision. He is totally disoriented.  If well taken care of, he can fly the kite of this nation to the farthest stars. Nature has endowed him generously for great things; if, on the other hand, he is neglected, he can sink the nation overnight. He can create nightmares for young and old alike. He can sacrifice this nation on the altar of its own insensibilities.

For him to play his role in the reconstruction of the nation, the sensitivity of his position within the general matrix of national development must not be ignored by the powers that be. The leadership of this nation should know that the youth state is the most important phase in life. The old lyric ‘ Boys of Spirit’ must not be forgotten:

  •                      BOYS OF SPIRIT BOYS OF WILL
  •                      BOYS OF MUSCLE BRAIN AND POWER
  •                      FIT TO COPE WITH ANYTHING
  •                      THEY ARE WANTED EVERYWHERE
  •                      BOYS WANTED, GIRLS WANTED

These are the kinds of youth needed in all lands and climes. These attributes transcend the boundaries of religious creed, race or color.

MUSLIM YOUTH-CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES AND EXPECTATIONS

The word for youth in Arabic language is ‘fataa’ which primarily means the valiant one. It was in this light that Ash-Shafi’ said:

ان الفتي حمال كل ملمة   ليس الفتي بمنعم الشبان

Surely, the youth is he who bears all kinds of hardships

He is not one who inclines to youthful exuberances.

A Muslim youth, therefore, is not just a pleasure seeker. He is the most important factor of growth in the dual societies he belongs to the larger human family and the Ummah of Islam. He is thus expected to be equipped for his roles in both. He is the vibrant sojourner who is expected to unearth the wisdom of the elders and build upon it for a glorious future in the light of Allah’s guidance. If he is idle, he becomes a willing recruit for Shaytan. As a Muslim, he bows before the throne of Allah’s majesty and refuses to bow to the promptings of Shaytan or the deceptive allure of the alien cultures.

The Nigerian Muslim youth, in particular, has one main challenge-the challenge of identity and this challenge has multiple manifestations. He knows neither himself nor his goals on earth. To be successful, he feels he needs to be under the shadow of others. He is often not equipped psychologically to assert himself in the social sphere even when he is intellectually unmatched by others. He and his female counterpart easily lose themselves in the whirlpool of social pressures from other faith traditions. If he unscrupulously allows himself to marry a non-Muslim, he loses his faith and becomes a non-Muslim; if his female counterpart unwittingly allows herself to marry a non-Muslim, she loses her faith and becomes a non-Muslim. Even when they manage to retain their identities as Muslims, their children are most often lost to the other faith tradition.

Similarly, Muslim youth appear to be less successful materially than their counterparts in other faith traditions. This is neither because of any deficiency in their abilities nor any flaw in their upbringing. Their seeming lack-lustre progress is the result of a mindset symptomatic of a poor understanding of the true teachings of Islam about destiny and the drive for success. This is what I usually call the ‘kadara’ and ‘alubarika’ syndrome. Some people accept wretchedness in the name of ‘kadara’ when in reality they can strive to better their lots while others allow their drive for success to be stifled in the name of ‘alubarika loju’. It is, therefore, necessary for every youth to understand the psychology of success in Islam.

As Muslim youth, we should understand that two types of people populate the earth-winners and losers. In all spheres of human activities and in every land and clime, we find these two. They traverse the delicate contours of life and reach the threshold of death, yet, some are acclaimed as winners, while others are acclaimed as losers. They enter the circle of grandparents, yet they are adjudged in the same way. They may even come from the same home, suckle the same breast milk, grow up in the same environment or attend the same school; one thing that remains certain is that one ends up becoming a winner in life while the other becomes a loser. Why is this so despite the common background and orientation? Why, despite the long experience, does one remain a winner and the other a loser?

Many a time, the battle for success is lost ever before you begin it. Why? You may ask. This is because most people do not know exactly what they want. If success truly means the attainment of the desired goal, what happens in the case of someone who has identified no goal? There are times a person declares a goal but his efforts do not agree with the declared goal. A western thinker once said, ‘You have removed most of the roadblocks to success if you understand the difference between motion and direction.’

Why did he say this? One intrinsic quality of activity is movement. Whether you are walking, running, riding a bicycle, driving a car or flying in a plane, the fact is that you are moving. But in what direction? Do your present efforts bring you closer to your declared goal or take you away from them? Whether you are moving forward or backward, motion takes place, but the difference is that one takes you closer to your goal while the other takes you away from it.  For example, it is good to be well versed in the use of the internet, but what is more important is what you use it for. Do you just go from one chat room to another looking for friends or old acquaintances? Do you spend hours online just to look for people to swindle? Do you spend your productive time on facebook, twitter, etc just to chat and while away the time? Or do you avail yourself the opportunity of benefitting from the ample educational resources available online? Surely, success is a choice just as failure is.

To attain success therefore, it is necessary to take some steps. . The first task is to discover yourself. Who are you and who do you think you are?  Your perception of yourself goes a long way in determining how successful you can be. It is the way you see yourself that shapes your vision of the world around you, and inevitably determines how far you can go. A truly successful person understands himself and his goals. He therefore compares his achievements against his goals and not necessarily against the achievements of others.

Richard Petty has won more prize money than any other stock car driver in the history of the sport. His story about what happened when he reported the results of his first race to his mother is an intriguing one.

“Mama” he shouted as he rushed into the house, “there were thirty-five cars that started, and I came in second in the race!”

“You lost!” His mother replied.

“But mama!” He protested, “Don’t you think it’s pretty good to come second in my first race-especially with many starters?”

“Richard” she said sternly, “You don’t have to run second to anybody!

For the next two decades, Richard petty dominated stock car racing. Many of his records still stand – unbroken. He never forgot his mother’s challenge – “Richard. You don’t have to run second to anybody.”

ENTERING THE GAME OF LIFE

What is life, we may ask? As old as we are, if I were to ask each one of us here to define life, we would have as many definitions as definers. This is because it is only the Author of life that can effectively define His creation. Listen to Him:

“Know that the life of this world is only a sport and a pastime, and an adornment, and (a source of) boasting among yourselves, and (of) rivalry in multiplying riches and children. (This Life is) Like a rain, the vegetation from which is pleasing to the tiller. Then it dries up and you see it turning yellow: then it becomes broken pieces (of straw). And in the Hereafter there is severe punishment, and (also) forgiveness from Allah and (His) pleasure. And the life of this world is nothing but temporary enjoyment of deceitful things”(Q57 v 20)

Similarly, He goes on to declare:

“Truly, this life of the world is but a temporary enjoyment; and the hereafter is certainly the home for a permanent stay” (Q40 v 39)

In the above verses, the Almighty Author of existence defines life. He qualifies life by putting it in apposition to the world. He calls it “hayat ud dunya”, life of this world or worldly life. This means that there is another life apart from this. He goes ahead to establish its transient and temporary nature. The parable of the rain and the vegetation is a beautiful allegorical depiction of this transitory phenomenon. As vegetation blossom and attract people, so does the life of man; and as withering of vegetation sets in, so does the life of man wither. The non-permanent nature of our earthly sojourn therefore presupposes the existence of a permanent abode and that is the Hereafter. To understand life is to understand one’s role in life and how to attain a lofty position in the Hereafter.

In life, most people assume that the sum total of their aspiration is to attain wealth, raise children and enjoy the comforts of life. They therefore boast concerning this. Allah says:

“And they say, ‘We have more riches and children; and we are not going to be punished” (Q34 v 35)

Allah replies them thus:

“It is not your riches nor your children that will bring you near Us in rank, but those who believe and do good works will have a double reward for what they did. And in lofty mansions will they be secure” (Q34 v 37).

In the light of the aforesaid, it is high time we turned our attention to loftier aspects of life. Let us turn to the remembrance of Allah. By this I do not mean the chanting of Dhikr or other litanies. I rather mean the act of seeing Allah in His creations and serving Him through them. This, according to the Holy Prophet (saw) is the best way of being God-conscious. Allah describes the winners in the game of life as:

“Men whom neither trade nor business diverts from the remembrance of Allah nor from observing the Prayer, nor from giving Zakat and charity. They fear a day in which hearts and eyes will be agitated” (Q24 v 37).

This description shows that Allah expects faith and noble deeds only from His servants. The other-worldly abode is reserved for those who make such their goals in life and not those who revel in the attainment of wealth ONLY. As man serves his Creator, his wealth must serve him. He must use his material, intellectual and moral wealth to serve his Creator; and what better way can one serve Allah than through service to humanity!

Man and the Game of Life

Beloved brethren in Islam, we are all in the game of life. Let us reflect together on how we have played it so far. In the game of life, Allah in His infinite wisdom has decreed that man should enjoy the freedom to choose what he wants to be, where he wants to be and how he wants to be. However, His Mighty Hand directs the affairs of the world behind the scene. Like a football match, He has ordained a time limit for the game of life, but unlike it, there is neither extra time nor injury time. Only one schedule is to be played and it lasts a life time. Every man has his team which he chooses alone and the choice of the team determines how he will fare in the game.

Permit me to congratulate you that as youth of this organization, you are lucky to have found yourselves in such a circle where the youth are not gagged but rather encouraged to express themselves. You have been favoured to walk in righteous company and for this you must be forever grateful to Allah.

It is however necessary to mention that however much the organization and members of your family want you to become winners in the game, “You” and “You” alone, must work for it. They can praise you, give you moral support, assist you in your task, but they cannot account for your deeds and neither can they perform righteous deeds in your stead. Therefore, in the final analysis, the main task of becoming a winner is “Yours” and “Yours” alone.

If you look at athletes or contestants in a sporting competition, you’ll discover that most of them look alike in their physique and most often, their outward preparation appears to be the same. What marks out the winner is therefore the internal preparation before the game. These are in the values, mind-set, attitude and morality that drive the action of the person who wants to win.

A true winner acknowledges that only one Authority guarantees success and that is Allah, therefore he puts his trust in Him alone. Allah says:

و من يتوكل علي الله فهو حسبه

And whoever puts his trust in Allah, He will suffice him Q 65 v 4.

This trust in Allah does not become an excuse for laziness and lewdness. The winner knows that Allah Himself frowns at laziness. In His infinite wisdom, He has tied success and suffering together. Hardwork and perseverance are therefore ingredients for becoming a winner in the true sense of the word. Allah says:

و ان ليس للانسان الا ما سعي

And man shall have nothing but that which he strives for Q 53v 40.

A winner therefore combines his trust in Allah with the necessary attitude to climb the stairs of success. He stands out with two kinds of knowledge- knowledge of the law of road blocks and knowledge of the difference between motion and direction.

What do I mean by these, you may want to ask? Two men once set out on a journey. One, a winner and the other, a loser. They both drove their cars along the same path until they got to a point where a huge container had blocked the road. Here, the nature of each came out. While the loser was busy complaining about the road block and heaping blame on everybody he could think of: the residents of that area, the Local Government Chairman and the Governor of the state; the winner had asked the residents of the area whether there was another route to his destination. After learning about the new route, he had entered his car, turned it around and headed towards the new route leading to his destination while his partner continued to lament.

A winner is most often known therefore through his disposition to road blocks. He sees them as challenges to his creativity and not as impediments to his goal. He is not cowed by fear; he is not deterred by frustration; he is not constrained by persecution; everything lubricates the wheel of his determination to succeed.

The knowledge of the difference between motion and direction also reveals the personality of a winner. The state of being in motion is the state of not being static. One keeps on moving, not stopping, not relenting. But the big question is: in what direction are you moving? Is your motion bringing you closer to your destination? Are your activities moving you towards your goal? Yes, you are in motion, but in what direction? A winner sets a goal for himself and strives towards it. Most people lose because they have no goals, and when there is no goal, there is no direction. Remember the story of the boy who walked up to an Imam and said: “Excuse me sir! Can you kindly show me the way?” The Imam replied, ‘sure. Where do you want to go?” He said, ‘actually, I don’t really know”. The Imam said, ‘really? Then you may face just any direction!”

A winner defines his goal and struggles towards it. He enters into the game of life well prepared. For his defence line, he chooses three fine men namely, Fear of God, Love and Charity. On the right wing, he appoints Study and Diligence while on the left wing he places Cleanliness and Good Behaviour. At the centre, he places Humility, Patience and Perseverance while at the goal post he appoints a truly reliable player called Trust in God.

Since the winner is aware of the fact that Allah is the sole Referee, He makes all the rules and nothing is hidden from His All-Seeing glare; he tries not to play foul because it cannot escape that ever probing sight.

If we had at any time played foul, it is better for us to atone for the foul now because we do not know for certain how close we are to the end of the game.

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