Lesson 1 : the Islamic Vision
Youth is the most important period in the life of a human being. This is because it marks that stage when an individual passes out of the first stage of life i.e. childhood and begins the journey to the last stage i.e. adulthood.
Childhood is a dependant period. Every child requires guidance from elders and moral support to make and maintain correct decisions. In the early years of life, the hand of another leads a child but as adolescence and youth begin to emerge, the child learns to pull away and walk by himself.
During this period enormous physical, mental and emotional changes occur. It is a metamorphosis of character and intellect and could be likened to an explosion, rejuvenating all parts of an individual. Dormant inclinations awake in the youth and new horizons are sighted.
To the person experiencing this change, it seems as if yesterday he was living in a child's dream and today he sees the world through the window of reality.
It is at this time, that a human being seeks purpose of his existence and forms the principles that will guide him through the rest of his life. Thus, the period of youth is one that must be nurtured and nourished well both by the young individual himself and by the adults surrounding him.
One of the most important inclinations during this stage is that of seeking independence. This tendency plays a major role in the life of a human being. It is prompted by the need to break completely away from childhood, which as we mentioned is dominated by dependency.
When a youth realizes that he is growing he feels that he must prove himself to be unique. He can only do this if he breaks free of the bonds of childhood and the reliance he has developed on parents, siblings etc. This searching for independence also signals the beginning of intellectual maturity as the youth begins to think for himself and make his own decisions.
Seeking independence is a positive step and should be encouraged so that the youth can grow into a strong and firm adult. However, the journey towards independence must be accompanied by a sense of awareness - a conscious knowledge of what is ahead and what must be done.
This awareness is essential before anything else because it guards a youth from choosing the wrong path. A young person who is eager to achieve his independence can easily be tempted to adopt a selfish attitude and drown in a sea of mistakes. The child in him still has some hold over his thinking and without making a conscious effort to control his emotions, he cannot expect to succeed against it.
This consciousness also helps to develop and strengthen intellectual powers as it encourages a young person to question his thinking and prevents him from following concepts blindly.
In the period of youth, brain efficiency enters a new stage and special talents are fully explored. It is for this reason that pathologists refer to this stage as the beginning of the brain.The brain begins to ask many new questions and satisfactory answers to these must be provided.
What Action to Take?
When we embark upon any task in our life, the result is positive or negative depending on the conscious choices we make along the way.Basically, this means that the manner in which we think about situations and the decisions we make in regards to them are what form the deciding factors of our success or failure.
We can immediately make out how well developed the consciousness of an individual by looking at the actions that result from them. The behaviour of a human being shows others the extent and maturity of his thinking.
Many scholars regard intellect as the human's basic superiority over animals. That is why man is called a 'Thinking Animal'. This title clearly implies that if man does not put his power of thinking into action, he is no better than an animal that relies on instinct for survival.
The stronger a man's thinking power is, the better he can utilize it in solving complex issues.We can develop our intellect by beginning with the implementation of the following essential factors:
1. Intensity of Thought
Before making any decisions, we must of course think about what we are doing, why we are undertaking it and the possible results of any decision we are tempted to make. The more deeply we ponder on these issues, the more we are likely to understand the issue. This prevents hasty decisions made on superficial grounds.
2. Sound Thinking
Our contemplation must be based on reason and logic. For this purpose we require a balance in our consciousness. The more precise a man's awareness is, the more his thoughts will be capable of understanding.
We can illustrate this by imagining that our decision-making ability is a factory, whose raw material is the conscious. Without raw materials, the factory will not be able to produce anything.
A thing to be careful about is that our thinking should be based on facts, not guesses or assumptions. The latter not only obstructs intellectual power in the situation at hand but also prevents future development of the mind.
3. Seeking the Truth
In any attempt to analyse or contemplate, we must train ourselves to seek out the truth. Nothing should be of more importance that this.
Accepting ideas and opinions without searching for flaws or solid foundations leads to hasty actions. Such decisions may provide immediate satisfaction of our desires but in the long wrong, they will only harm us. If we do not form the habit of seeking out the truth in every circumstance then we will lower our level of thinking and never learn how to differentiate truth from falsehood.
Islamic Point of View
In Islam, the necessity of intellect has been given great emphasis. The Holy Qur'an cautions people against following things blindly. " (O Man) Do not follow that which you have no knowledge of …" Sura Bani Isra'il, Verse 36
In this verse, we can see that Islam encourage man to think and research on information before accepting it as the truth. This emphasis is so immense, that the accepting of the tenets of faith i.e. Tawheed, Nubuwwat, Imamat and Qiyamat, blindly is not allowed. An individual must ponder upon and be convinced of the truth before his belief is accepted. From the viewpoint of Islam, a person who has attained maturity is one who is intellectually advanced.
According to Allah (S.W.T.), if a person guides his thoughts towards seeking out the truth then he will easily be able to identify it from falsehood. This is why there is no force in religion - anyone who truly seeks God will find Him. The Qur'an says:
"There is no compulsion in religion. Guidance is distinguishable from error" Sura Baqara, Verse 256
From this verse, we understand that the cause of man's deviation from the Right Path is his lack of thinking and contemplation and his tendency towards hasty decisions.
If Muslims would be satisfied with judgments based on weak arguments then they would find themselves confusing religious teachings with superstition and innovation - a problem that faces many other faiths. Islam requires that every argument and action be founded on solid reasoning and sound judgment. The Qur'an acknowledges men of knowledge as those who respect the Laws of God.
"Only the realistic and visionary men are obedient to Allah." Sura Fatir, Verse 28
To better understand the-long term effects of making hasty decisions, we can outline two different examples:
a. Vulnerability Towards Disagreeing Views
It is a fact that various cultures exist in the world and that the Muslim Ummah is composed of members who come from these differing social systems.However, Islam demands that every culture should take second place when there is a choice between it and religion.
If an individual does not think deeply about the norms of his society, he may find himself following traditional values that have no place in Islam or worse still, contradict it.
An adult who can analyse the reasons for adopting a practice and compare them to religious laws, is able to choose and decide what to keep and what to discard. Such people allow the various cultures to co-exist and the Islamic culture to take top priority in all cases.
b. Lack of General Knowledge
As a child grows into an adult, many questions arise in his mind. regard daily activities while others about more philosophical issues.
To most young people, life is the most important of all issues. What is our aim in life? What are our goals? How do we lead a happy and successful life?
These and other similar questions keep coming forward and must be answered in order to allow the youth to base his character and principles on.
Although these are the main questions, we must realize that the answers to these questions are based many a time in our more common activities and the manners that govern them. How to eat, what to wear, what kind of company to keep, all these are directly or indirectly connected to the bigger issues mentioned above. The way in which we behave guides the way in which we look at the world and the manner in which we make our decisions.
In order to mature successfully, we have to study the knowledge available to us - both Islamic and Secular. As we study the rules and laws set out by Allah (S.W.T.) and observe the lives of people who have followed or rejected these laws, we learn what we must do in order to succeed.
It is clear to understand that if we try to live our lives based on ignorance and do things hastily, as we feel inclined to, then we will surely end up failing in whatever we attempt.
Lesson 2 : Ideology and Doctrine
In the previous lesson, we discussed about the importance of general knowledge. Let us further expound on this subject.
Say for example that you intend to travel to a foreign city that you have never been to for a holiday. You would first begin by choosing the city you wish to see. This decision is based on what you want to achieve. It may be something you saw on television, read in a book or even the recommendation of friends.
Next, to ensure that you are able to make the most of your stay there, you will ensure that your travel arrangements are all well organized. The most sensible thing to do would be to study brochures and find out what means of transport would best suit you in terms of speed and finance, what the weather conditions are going to be like at the time you visit, what sites there are to see, health risks etc.
By the time you actually set out, it will be true to say that the schedule of your holiday is based on the knowledge, which you have equipped yourself with.
Be Aware Of Your Aim
From the example above, we can see that we make choices based on our goals or aspirations. Once this is determined then we work on how to achieve it i.e. the program, based on knowledge that we research and gather. Remember, our brains undertake all these processes voluntarily.
We can therefore divide any final achievement into three basic elements:
- Awareness of the situation.
- Determining the aim.
- Laying out a program based on knowledge gathered.
Even something as simple as choosing how to get to work is based on these stages. We are first aware of the situation i.e. that we need to get to work. Then we determine the aim which is to get there as fast as possible and before the time given by the employer. Finally, we choose a mode of transport (the program) based on information that we gather about travel fare, timetables and time spent on the road.
Worldview, Ideology And Doctrine
The human being also seeks the greater truths in life, following this method. Man wants to know what is in the universe that he lives in (Awareness), he then chooses his goals in life (Aim) and lastly decides the action required to achieve those goals (Program).
The general awareness that we have about the world we live in is called the Global Outlook, Global Perspective or Worldview. It allows us to have a birds- eye view of the world - including animate and inanimate objects - but has nothing to do with any major matters in the philosophy of life e.g., one may learn about rivers or forests, but this has no effect on our outlook towards the world.
However, the general awareness of our surroundings allows us to realize that the world must be under the control of a Supreme Being and this has a strong effect on how we perceive life. As we try to learn more about the world, we begin to determine our aims and seek programs to fulfill them.
It is during this stage that we are able to decide for ourselves what our obligations are. We can distinguish what we must do and not do, in order to reach our final aims. These programs (set of rules) that we discover are called Ideologies. Therefore, an ideology can be described as a group of Must's and Must-not's that guide us towards noble ends.
The concepts of Worldview (Global Outlook) and Ideology together are called a Doctrine (School of Thought). Thus, every doctrine has two basic factors: its world outlook and its aims and programs.
Relationship Of Worldview to Ideology
We have seen that if you intend to spend quality time in a city, you must be prepared with the relevant information regarding that place and your trip to it. When your information is doubtful or incorrect, you will not be able to effectively benefit from it.
Similarly, the more our knowledge about the world we live in, the better our chances of spending a life of quality in it. We can take full advantage of our short lives if we seek and obtain correct information about it.
Different Worldviews = Different Ideologies
Every doctrine has its peculiarities. This means that every school of thought has it own set of Must's and Must-not's and its own unique outlook on the world. With this in mind, it can be said that every individual should strive to attain the correct vision of the world and build his outlook on firm and strong pillars.
Basic Worldview Issues
The issues raised from different world outlooks normally are in regards to the following three factors:
The world in which we live in and its mortality i.e. did it come into existence by itself or was it created? The answer to this question deals with knowing God.
Is man's life confined to this world or is there a possibility of another life after death? This normally tackles the issues of resurrection and eternal life.
Can man administrate his own affairs in life or does he need God's guidance? This can be associated with the issue of Nubuwwat (Prophethood).
Because the most basic views of any doctrine rely on these concepts, Islam emphasizes them as being the Usul - e - Deen (Roots of Religion). Acceptance of Tawheed (Monotheism), Nubuwwat (Prophethood) and Ma'ad (Day of Reckoning) are the pre-requisites of being a Muslim. Neglecting or discrediting any of these excludes a person from Islam.
From the answers of the above three questions, two broad types of world outlooks are derived:
1. Materialistic / World Worldview
This is based on the belief that stability equals wealth and that man is a materialistic being. This view regards life to be a temporary period and death to be final. The materialistic worldview says that man came on earth by chance and that life has no deeper meaning. Such an outlook prevents the development of any long-term or noble aims. It is an existence without hope.
2. Divine Worldview
The other view confirms that the world belongs to a Creator. It also believes in an everlasting life after this short worldly one. It looks upon the time spent in this world as a means of constructing ones destiny in the hereafter. This leads to the belief that there exists a certain code of life to attain the success and people who are sent by the Creator to teach it.
If we ponder on this we can see that the belief or disbelief in God results in the acceptance or rejection, respectively, for the other two factors i.e. Prophethood and Resurrection. This is why the first is more fundamentally important then latter.
Considering a Doctrine
In conclusion we can say that when examining any doctrine (School of Thought), we must first study its world outlook. Its basic principle i.e. concerning its position towards the issue of God is the most important when trying to establish its authenticity.
We will in the course of this text, discuss the issues of knowing God and then the Islamic World Outlook.