Regarding The Youth Today — An Interview with Muhammad Ali

Question: In today’s highly globalised world the value of a single individual seems to have been extremely marginalised. An individual thinks of himself as just a small cog in a giant machine. With this in mind how can the youth of today motivate themselves to be a catalyst for change and betterment within society? Where and how can they find the fountainhead of this vigour needed to bring about THE CHANGE?

Answer: If you want my answer to this question in one word, I would say: “Quran”.

In my opinion, the youth of today must take confidence from the fact that they are the people of the Book that shook the world – The Quran. That is the best and most practical solution. The youth need Muslim figures to whom they can look up to and these figures must motivate them to delve deep into the Quran. In the Quran, Allah calls Muslims as the best of generations evolved for mankind, because they follow a lifestyle – Islam – that brings utmost productivity and makes a person a catalyst for change.

Just to clarify, there is a difference in taking confidence from this fact, and becoming arrogant and looking down upon others. The Youth must also understand that Allah Almighty is the Lord of the Universe and He manages all affairs. Respect and humiliation is in His Hands. We must settle our affairs with Him and make smart decisions in life by trusting Him. Furthermore, being in the limelight should never be the purpose of a change agent. A person can very well bring change in his/her own circle and create other change agents.

Question: Since you have been part of Pakistani education system for quite sometime, how do you think has the focus of our institutions shifted from nurturing socially responsible individuals to mere “dummies”, or to put it a bit more sophisicaticatedly, “robots” focusing all their energies on material success? How concerning is this situation and what consequences would have to be faced if it continues this way?
Answer: This situation is extremely concerning and the consequences are disastrous. Since you asked this question with respect to character building so I will say that it’s not only Pakistani Education system, but sadly this is the situation globally. Materialism has crept into the societies at such a level that subjects such as character building and morality have become irrelevant. We see people with many degrees but who are intellectually dishonest, lack professional ethics and lack character. We see organized corruption in a manner never seen before. We see people preferring materialistic values over moral values. The consequences are a society like a Jungle where the “strong” survives and the weak perishes. Lives are being destroyed because of ugly cultural norms based on materialistic values. Divorce rate is increasing day by day. People are respected for their caste, status, financial value. Lies, deceit and greed are becoming a norm. Trust has become rare. People are so insecure these days. Humanity is surely heading towards moral decline and if it continued this way (God forbid), I pray we do not live to see that time. I suggest that we go through the poem of Bob Moorehead: “The paradox of our time”, to understand current situation of moral decline.

Question:  Life in 21st century is advantageous as well as challenging, both at the same time for a typical individual when seen in comparison to this past generation. How do you think a young muslim should carry himself or pave his way through these modern times balancing the religious, social, and financial life at once?

Answer: Life in 21st Century has advantages with regards to exposure to vast information at a click. However, 21st century has its challenges such as time management, stress management, anger management etc. We never saw disciplines such as sociology and psychology gaining such popularity and becoming so relevant, than we see in the 21st Century. A young Muslim must get attached to Salah (prayer) as it is the greatest form of worship that yields meditation and is a great stress releaser. Furthermore, they should be well equipped with 21st century life skills such as smart study strategies, analytical ability, leadership, emotional intelligence, good communication and time management. Hundreds of great books have been written on these subjects and those books must be read. Religion should be on top priority, because our religion has such a framework that automatically makes us responsible and brings barakah in time. Moreover, the free time (personal space time) must be utilized intelligently and habits such as being proactive should be adopted, otherwise the youth will find themselves falling back in the fast paced life of 21st century.

Question:  Social media seems to be the most powerful tool in the hands of youth today. How can it be used for the greater benefit (for one’s own good and also for the good of this society) rather than being misused and submerged by it?
Answer: Social media and free speech have their uses, but if freedom is not checked by responsibility, the result is chaos. I can say a lot on this by backing my views from books of westerners. However, a very practical solution to this issue is the concept of “God Consciousness” i-e “Taqwa”. A person who is God conscious and realizes that his/her actions will be questioned, will only benefit others and not harm. That is why, children from an early age must be raised in a manner that instills God consciousness in them.

Question:  One great tragedy for the existing and the future generation is their distance from nature. While a 2 years old of the previous generation would play with mud, this generation’s toddler would settle for nothing less than a gadget. Hence, children are turning more and more to technology for amusement. This factor has led this generation to be termed as ‘the indoor generation’, and psychologically it has been proven that distance from nature has extremely adverse effects on the physical and mental health of people. This is evident from the rising rates of depression and other psychic problems. Yet, this is a topic rarely talked about. What are your views about this and how can this problem be tackled?

Answer: Europe is quickly realizing that this is a serious issue and hence you will see so many TED talks on this issue. You will see that their education system is changing its pattern and encouraging students to participate in social activities, community service, gardening and sports. You will see them educating their younger generation about the adverse effects of becoming overly attached with gadgets. Their streets are designed with roads and pavements that encourage jogging, walking, cycling. The elite class don’t show off. You get it? The solution is simple. It needs to be realized from the Top. The educationists, the policy makers, the elite class all need to be on same page with regards to this issue. And what an ideal solution will it be to implement Islam in our lives. Islam discourages wastage of time and gaining knowledge of Islam changes mindset of an individual in such a manner that brings about a compound effect in habits.

Question:  Since much of your target audience is either in the race of ‘success’ in O/A levels, struggle for GPA at university or at the crossroad where academic life ends and practical life starts, you must be aware of the immense pressure they are under to get the best grades. It has been so ingrained in them that if you fail in any way in your academics you are doomed for life. If you get As and a high GPA, you will be successful. Most suffer from anxiety and depression as a result. Some even resort to suicide.
What is the role of ‘Qadr’ (The destiny) in this? How much should one push themselves and how much should be left to Allah? Please explain this concept in the light of Islam.

Answer: The solution lies in understanding predestination and attributes of Allah Almighty. It is true that human being has immense potential and can achieve heights if he/she adopts the attitude of never giving up. However the role of Tadbeer (strategy and hardwork) and Taqdeer (predestination) both go hand in hand in an Individual’s life. We have been encouraged to work hard, give our best, but not to become discontent or disgruntled if we fail to get something we want. Yes we may come back to achieve that thing, with a better strategy (if we believe previous strategy was weak). Opportunities will keep on coming, and instead of focusing on past, we must move on with the present. That is the correct attitude.

However, I understand that it’s very difficult when the society is built in such a manner that peer pressure, cultural pressure and family pressure combine to wreak havoc in a student’s life. Parents and society must be educated in this regard. As for the students, they must look at people who are today working in a completely different field than what they planned for. These people are content and financially stable as well. Allah is providing for them through many means. I see so many class fellows of mine, who could not perform well in O levels and their grades shattered their confidence. However, they changed the education stream to FSc. and got good grades, got into good universities and currently are in top companies. If we think that a field is too difficult for us, we must not shy away from stepping back and choosing a different field.

Question:  What is the biggest problem OF the youth today in your view? And since you specialize in youth related topics, how do you suggest our youth to combat it?

Answer: According to my experience of dealing with the Youth, I believe the greatest problem of the youth today is love struck and relationships. The reason I call this THE BIGGEST PROBLEM OF YOUTH is because of the ease and opportunities available to fall into this problem. Social media, gadgets, mobile service packages and promotion of gf/bf culture in our times have made this extremely common. It is a very challenging problem and at times extremely hard to combat. It is a major cause of depression, anxiety, stress and decline in studies for the Youth. This problem can be combated by a very practical solution i-e early marriage. I know many will disagree with me but this to me is the most practical solution. We should make marriage/nikah easy and trust Almighty Allah with regards to finance. Since this solution looks quite difficult with current status quo, and we can only hope that our future generations do promote this solution, I believe another way to combat this problem is to indulge oneself in productive activities and not take the first step. However, in case one is struck with it, and it’s not in their control (which is very rare case), then one must be patient, not harm the other person in any sense (as it is the condition of true sincerity), and should adopt appropriate measures to turn it into a permissible relationship.

Question:  What is the biggest problem FOR the youth today in your view? The greatest difficulty they are thrown in due to society or more generally by this era?

Answer: Here I would say, that the biggest problem FOR the youth is that of doubts and desires.

Pakistan is a country where currently the battle for ideologies is going on. Hence we find contrasting ideas/opinions from academia and intellectuals. The Youth is at times confused and most build doubts about religion. Moreover, modern age is an age of fitna. In this age, immorality is glamorized and institutionalized. When Pornography is easily accessible and opportunities to indulge in Haraam are so open, then obviously controlling desires become a big issue too. I suggest that we can combat these issues through gaining knowledge of Islam in its true essence. Knowledge is directly proportional to Taqwa (God consciousness). The more knowledge of our religion we have, the more the strength to be safe from fitnas. I personally find myself more strong psychologically and spiritually to combat my issues whenever I refresh my Islamic knowledge. Another practical solution to combat this challenge is to be in good company since our company shapes our beliefs and personalities. In fact that is very important in today’s context.

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