By: Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah
Youth is a period of production, a time of creativity and originality, a time of strength between two weaknesses: God created us is in a state of weakness and we return to weakness in old age. The youthful period is extremely important in relation to how grave it is, because it is in these times that he asks himself existential questions; and these questions will determine the course of action for the rest of his life.
What are these questions of the youth?
From where do they come? These questions are from the beginning of time – they don’t change from one civilization to another; although the answers may differ. Where am I from? Who am I? What is my purpose in life? These are universal questions.
Youth in today’s modern countries are torn between three types of approaches when attempting to reconcile these questions: the methodology of following knowledge and science; that of philosophy; and that of religion.
The scientific approach relies on the senses and that which can be perceived (empirical sciences). The problem with this particular approach, however, is the natural reaction people have to it. In other words, the empirical sciences do not give us an ultimate answer; they simply say about certain things we don’t understand, and our knowledge has arrived at this particular point. Oftentimes, instead of saying that we do not know, we say that it doesn’t exist, but this ignores the basic principle that not having discovered something does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Thus, science constitutes a problem in answering existential questions which is not in science itself – but in how people understand it.
Scientists who are fair-minded will never say that the things they cannot perceive do not exist, but rather that they haven’t arrived at knowing or how to know. Claud Bernard, a French physiologist, used to remark during his experiments, ‘We’re dealing with secondary causes’, in the sense that the primary causes are things we don’t have knowledge of. We know, of example, how bacteria grow – but we don’t know why it grows: ‘Theories are only hypotheses, verified by more or less numerous facts. Those verified by the most facts are the best, but even then they are never final, never to be absolutely believed.’ These first principles are something that pertain to God and something that we don’t know.
As for the philosophical approach, it is connected to proofs – it is something that is based on syllogistic logic: minor premise, major premise, and conclusion. It also deals with first principles; consequently, it can also talk about first principles; but it does not have the capacity in how to define those first principles.
The religious approach, without negating the other approaches, works with the phenomena of relation, confidence and belief in revelation. Religious methodology deals with the certainty that comes with taking revelation from the Prophets. Imam Al-Ghazali says, ‘Revelation is the highest level and it is able to give us answers that the senses and intellect cannot give’ (that is, science and philosophy).
These three approaches, mired as they are with challenges, require that a youth have a guide. For the scientific and philosophical approaches will leave him in a state of confusion insofar as they do not give concrete answers. With regard to the situation of doubt, however, revelation can give him a definitive answer. This is a matter that was spoken about by Ibn Abi Zayd in the 4th Islamic century in two words: ‘God made them aware of Him by His creation, and then He clarified it through His Prophets.’ God drew our attention to His existence though what He made – via the tools of the intellect, i.e. science and sound philosophical thought. Scientific research points to how incredibly the world is put together; and philosophy says there has to be something behind all of this – hence the point about revelation.
The stage of asking question, of wondering, is something legitimate. To give an example: there’s a person at a crossroads – one goes to the right the other to the left. Perhaps he wants to go to Madinah; maybe he wants to go to Riyadh. He stops at the crossroads and asks: which is the way? He will search for a guide. So if a guide came, he wouldn’t just stand there and say I don’t believe you. If so, he’s wasting his time. Life is similar to this: if you find an answer, you should follow it. This is the first challenge – the challenge of the creed – with regard to the youth. For this reason, you need to have a guide to guide you so that you can answer these types of questions: From where do we come, where are we going, what is my purpose in my life? And if you find an answer, then there’s no excuse for you to just stay standing and not take the path.
The second challenge is the challenge of living in these societies between individualism and co-existence; this challenge presents a great problem to the youth. Just like in other cases before, different situations overlap with each other and clash. Is the solution to withdraw inwardly and not ever interact with others? Or is it to forget about individuality and lose oneself amongst a group mentality? Neither of these two extremes is a valid solution. Navigating this is the challenge. This challenge also needs knowledge and needs a guide. Therefore, you need to learn the reality of life so that you live in facility and ease with other people. We must learn how to live and co-exist together.
The crux of navigating between egoism on one hand and pure groupthink on the other needs two types of knowledge: 1) a profound knowledge of the Shari`ah and its ultimate purposes, and 2) the knowledge of the reality in which we live today – which is changing in every aspect. For this reason, we are here in this situation as minorities in need of scholars and guides and sound institutions that can teach us in a new way – and a profound and authentic way – with a sound perception of the reality of life today, as well as understand different types of values, what is beneficial and what is harmful.
The Shari`ah is in fact based on this deep wisdom in that it only calls to what is useful. Ash-Shatibi said, ‘All of the prophetic law revolves around getting that which brings benefit to people in this life and the next life.’ Another major scholar, Ibn Al-Qayyim, went so far as to say, ‘Shari`ah is all wisdom, and all of it is benefit, and all of it justice, and all of it is mercy. Everything that passes from wisdom to meaningless, or from benefit to harm, or justice to injustice, or mercy to its opposite – has nothing to do with Shari`ah – even if someone thinks it is by some kind of “interpretation”.’
How then can our young people be wise people? How can they be just and merciful? For the Prophet’s message is mercy: he was sent as a mercy to the worlds. These meanings have to be in your minds and you must not listen to any voice calling to something contradictory to this. We must spread mercy around ourselves and we must participate with other citizens seeking to do justice. We must be upright citizens and undertake initiatives that will bring about cooperation amongst the various members of society.
Translated and edited by Yusuf Lenfest
Source: Taken with modifications from Binbayyah.net