It must be borne in mind that knowledge is one thing, and the methods of its delivery completely another. Neither can be accomplished without the other.
When it comes to teaching Muslim youth about Islam, formally or informally, the above precept ought to be most meticulously observed.
We live today in the Information Age (Computer Age, Digital Age or New Media Age) where information and knowledge have become commodities that are easily available and are quickly and widely disseminated.
We also live in the age of globalization which is dominated by systems of global or borderless interaction, integration, competition and connectivity. A whole world of knowledge and information is available at one’s fingertips.
That means that Muslim youth enjoy easy access to everything pertaining to the knowledge, values, culture and civilization of Islam. They do so either through the world of computers and internet, which are available at home, in schools, mosques and malls, or through their smartphones, which have become inseparable features of their lives.
The emerging fascinating spectacles made the young minds more curious, inquisitive, enthused and selective, than ever before. They feel inclined to question and rationalize basically everything. And why not when they have the luxury of accessing and scrutinizing basically everything.
That is why in today’s world, especially within the domains of epistemology, there is increasingly less place and opportunity for myths, legends, folklores and fibs.
This in turn gave rise to unrestrained agnosticism, skepticism and freethinking that swept across each and every segment of life and society.
In the process, religions – including Islam – suffered most, in that it takes more than the modes and bounds of empiricism and rationalism to authenticate their otherworldly dimensions.
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Thus, the question is not as much about Islamic knowledge per se as about rendering it sensible and attractive to Muslim youth, along with applying appropriate and effective methods.
Gone are the days when sheer memorization of religious texts, albeit without comprehending, let alone acting upon, them, was tolerable; when an educator alone possessed a source of knowledge in the form of an old and worn-out book which he would read and superficially interpret to his audiences with little, or no, questions asked; when sensitive and tricky issues were successfully circumnavigated and swept under the carpet; when blind following and ritualism could be promoted as praiseworthy acts; when the authority of educators, no matter what they said and did, was total and undisputable; when people – especially youth in their formative years – were hardly exposed to different ideas and systems of living; and lastly, when condemnations of and out-and-out attacks against Islam were yet to become an issue of global proportions.
This means that teaching today’s Muslim youth on the basis of irrational and shallow arguments, weak and rejected hadiths (traditions) of the Prophet (peace be upon him), widespread baseless anecdotes and mere speculations, etc., will never appeal to them and will generate more damage than benefit.
In such situations, skepticism and freethinking readily appear more attractive and promising a proposition. Even if someone fails thus, it should be fine for him because he did so on account of his own choice and doing, rather than somebody else’s.
By the way, it is grossly inappropriate to invite anybody – not only youth – to the absolute truth, the infinite love and pleasure of Almighty Allah and His Paradise (Jannah) the width whereof is as the width of the heaven and the earth, by means of fear, intimidation, incapacity and half-truths.
The whole enterprise may quickly wither and completely backfire. It goes without saying that the spirit of methods of da’wah should correspond to the spirit of that which people are invited to.
For instance, it will never entirely appeal to today’s Muslim youth, nor make full sense, if they were told that they are supposed to believe, cover their awrah and dress appropriately, pray five times a day, fast the holy month of Ramadan, read regularly the Holy Quran, avoid ikhtilat (free mixing between men and women), shun certain ubiquitous brands of music and entertainment, etc., only because Almighty Allah insists and will be angry; because they will be severely punished if they refused to comply; because they must and they have no other choice; and because those denote Islamic traditional canons, rules and rituals which, as Muslims, they are expected to adopt and follow, just as their predecessors did.
Even though all of the above justifications are correct, yet threats, pressures, myopia and solely relying on dos and don’ts will not do the trick. A great deal of wisdom, reasoning, benevolence, practicality, role modelling and “speaking the language” of youth will certainly do. Youth are more responsive to discourses grounded in humanity, love, logic, open-mindedness, moderation and altruism.
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Youth certainly would not mind religious strictness where it is due, but would also expect flexibility and frankness where they are due. In both spheres, however, excessiveness, dogmatism and narrow-mindedness should never be welcome.
Youth should be shown that Islam as the only truth was meant for them, as much as for anybody else, and they were meant for it.
Islam as a natural, pragmatic and logical religion and way of life is easily compatible with every natural, pragmatic and logical need and urge of theirs. What is more, Islam painstakingly cultivates and preserves them. Surely, in – and to – Islam, youth is exceptional.
Furthermore, Islam should be presented to youth as the living truth. It should be proven at all levels that it contains answers and solutions for all predicaments of mankind – including those affecting youth.
As the ultimate truth, Islam should operate above the constrictions of space and time and their endless vicissitudes. Islam makes no distinction between races, genders, different age categories, and geographical as well as historical points. Its only benchmark is piety, while freedom, justice, comprehensive excellence, compassion and unity constitute its unmistaken traits.
In actual fact, Islam’s recognizable identity and trademark can easily be related to the prevalent ideals and ambitions of all youth in all ages.
Against this verity and its ontological backdrop, in no way can the prospects of agnosticism, skepticism and freethinking stand their ground.
It follows that the problem is neither about the substance of Islam, nor the inborn disposition of Muslim youth. The problem revolves around bridging the gap between the two sides, communicating, strategizing and finding most effective methods of delivery.
Surely, for Muslim youth Islam is the only way. It alone can furnish them with self-confidence, a sense of direction and contentment. Everything else is a form of temporary reprieve, or an outright sham.