“We relate to you their account in truth. They were indeed youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance.” (18:13)
Syndey J. Harris, an American journalist has stated: “There’s something amazing about the passion of youth and its power to sustain. If there’s a more powerful energy source, I don’t know about it.”
There are very few age groups mentioned in the Qur’an. In fact, in the 114 chapters of the final Word of Allah (God), He speaks about some in the infancy stage – such as Moses (Musa), Jesus (Isa) and John (Yahya); and he speaks about “seniors” on a handful of occasions such as when it relates to them being granted children at old age like Zechariah (Zakariyyah) and Abraham (Ibrahim). Another reference to the ‘elderly’ is to one’s mother and father reaching old age and the encouragement – or rather, obligation, upon their children to continue to love, honour and cherish them, and to pray that God bestows His mercy upon them in their old age just as they took care of their children in their infancy. However if we look for references to the ‘youth’ in the Qur’an, we find numerous practical examples.
When Prophet Abraham destroyed the idols of worship and then called upon the villagers to engage in self-introspection into the illogical and senseless act of idolatry, Allah describes this powerful event in the following passage:
[The idol-worshippers] said, “Who has done this to our gods? He surely must be one of the unjust people.” [Some of them] said, “We have heard a youth speaking [ill] of them, and he is known as Abraham.”… [When Abraham was brought to the king,] he said, “Rather it was this leader that has done it— ask the [smashed idols] if they can speak.” (21:62-63)
Another poignant reference to the power of the youth to effect change in themselves and society is encapsulated in the story of the ‘Companions of the Cave’ (Ashabul Kahf) related in the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an.
A group of young men who had become dejected due to the state of affairs of their society, they tried their best to make a change – however it became a very difficult task to enact – just as it is today when a young man or woman wants to ‘swim against the current’ and forge their own identity rather than relying on the “pop culture” they live in.
Allah begins their story by stating:
“When the youths took refuge in the Cave, they said, ‘Our Lord! Grant us a mercy from Yourself, and help us on to rectitude in our affair.’” (18:10)
He refers to them specifically in regards to their age bracket – YOUTH!
Although in Islam, a youth is defined other than what we see in the popular culture which practices population profiling by breaking up the human experience into: infancy, childhood, pre-pubescent, young adult, adult, senior, etc… to an extent, Islam looks at a person’s global outlook and uses that (at one level) as how to define a youth from an ‘old person’, just as the late martyr, Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari puts it:
I should state this point here that when we use the phrase the “generation of the youth,” our aim is not to specify the level or age of the youth. Rather, our aim is to speak to that level or group of people who, due to the effects of their own studies and acquaintance with the new civilizations, have developed a specific way of thought and intellect – whether these people happen to be old or young. However most of these people are from the younger generation and it is because of this that we refer to it as the “generation of the youth,” whereas we see that there are also a great number of “older people” who possess this new way of thinking and there are also many “youth” whose thought pattern and beliefs resemble the older, past generations.
Allah then continues His story of the youth and states:
“We relate to you their account in truth. They were indeed youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance.” (18:14)
We are shown young men who displayed an unwavering commitment to the faith and through this, Allah enhanced and increased their guidance and propensity towards the truth.
Another interesting point which Allah “takes the time” to mention is when they woke up from their deep slumber and needed to get something to eat that they said to one another:
“Now send one of you with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, then let him see which of them has purest food, so let him bring you provision from it, and let him behave with gentleness, and by no means make your case known to anyone.” (18:19)
These youth were not merely concerned about stuffing their faces and filling their stomaches with anything they could find – rather, they were looking to eat PURE FOOD.
Sadly today, many of us think that if the restaurant has a neon sign flashing the “holy word” of “Halaal”, that we’re good to go! Unfortunately, we take the “Halaal” word for granted to such an extent that today, Muslims, non-Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians, etc… can open up a restaurant and advertise “Halaal” and we don’t think twice about asking them details of what they are serving, how they prepare it, etc… Just because the meat is Halaal does not mean one can eat it – have we ever thought about asking if their Halaal meat gets cross-contaminated with non-halaal meat or worse – pork? Do we ask what else is put into the food!?
Some may criticize me for “going too deep” into the religion, but the fact is that in an era in which the global forces of arrogance are working against us ONLY because of our religion and its principals, we must GO DEEP and be people who show concern for every aspect of our existence.
Sadly, many do not realize that Islamic law has two aspects – the jurisprudential and the spiritual – something may be “permissible” to eat but may affect us spiritually – not counted as a sin, but detrimental to our spiritual well-being and progress.
The youth of the cave also ‘behaved with gentleness’ – something else which we need to keep in mind – that our manners exemplify the leaders whom we love and cherish so dearly – the Prophet and his immaculate family members. It is not enough to only ‘celebrate’ them, but we must also ‘emulate’ them.
Coming back to Suratul Kahf, when we read this chapter and this story and seriously reflect on these youth (or watch the mini-series produced in Iran and available at www.shiasource.com entitled “The Men of Anjalus”) and super-impose their life example on what the youth in the “West” and “East” go through, we see many similarities.
The challenges they faced in their era could have led them to leave their religion, turn their back on faith and become like the rest of society, living a licentious lifestyle; engaging in a hedonistic philosophy of life; drinking and smoking illicit drugs and engaging in all sorts of debauchery that we see in society today and they could have perhaps presented that argument to Allah on the judgment day that they were pushed to do what others were doing and had no choice but to submit to temptation – however they did something revolutionary – they revolted against the system they were in and rather than submitting to the prevalent culture around them, they forged their own identity!
At this point, keeping in mind that although they entered the cave as ‘youth’, however after 350 years of being alive, one can hardly be called a young man or woman, the 6th Imam, Ja’far as-Sadiq said the following to Sulayman ibne Jafar al-Hadhali:
“O’ Sulayman, what is meant by a young person [al-Fataa]?” He said, “May I be sacrificed for your sake. In our opinion, a young person [al-Fataa] is a youth [al-Shaabb].” The Imam said to me, “However you should know that surely the Companions of the Cave [Ashabul Kahf] were all old people, however Allah refers to them as youth who have true faith?! O’ Sulayman, the one who believes in Allah and has consciousness of Him is a young person.” (Tafsir of al-Ayyashi, v. 2, pg. 323, trad. 11)
Now the “moral” of this story is not that the youth of today break away from society, rush to the mountainous regions of their country or flee to some other nation – even an ‘Islamic country’ to purify themselves and lead a ‘holy’ life, but rather, that we reflect on what we can do to stem the tide of secularism and the domination of ‘global arrogance’ to forge our own identity as Muslims growing up in irreligious societies and to effect change around us.
Today, we see numerous Muslim youth in “The West” who are functional members of the society; they go to public schools; they get a higher education in the University system and go on to find professional careers or launch extremely successful business ventures; they earn copious amount of money; purchase large homes and drive fancy cars and in summary, are fully enjoying their lives in this world while all at the same time, are cognizant of their responsibilities to their families, their religious community and to Allah, the Prophet and his esteemed family and their noble and trust-worthy companions. They volunteer at their local religious centres; donate their time to assisting at the food-bank or soup kitchen; they devote time to the local non-profit charities; arrange camps, seminars and other programs for their age group and the upcoming generation; they donate their hard-earned money to furthering the cause of Islam in the region in which they live through the funding of the publishing of books and magazines and the construction of religious centres and much, much more.
In essence, their ‘seclusion’ is not in a cave, but rather, they live in the world, but seclude themselves from the immorality, irreligiousness and other forces which seek to pressure them to leave the faith and all of its goodness.
We conclude with one of the most potent words of wisdom from the 2nd Imam and the grandson of the Prophet – Imam Hasan ibne ʿAli al-Mujtaba (peace be upon him) and if this something which all of us practiced, we’d see a huge paradigm shift in our community:
“Surely today you are the youth of the nation, and tomorrow, you will be the leaders of the community, thus, it is incumbent upon you to seek knowledge. So then if you are not able to memorize all that you learn, then you must write it down and preserve it (for safe keeping) so that you can refer to it later on (when you need it).” (Ref. Bihar al-Anwar, v. 2, pg. 152, trad. 37)