Selfies. Entitlement. Instant gratification. Smart-phone addiction.
The challenges that youth face today are entirely different from what they faced in the past. Especially Muslim youth who are trying to practice their religion in an increasingly secular world.
The way that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) dealt with the youth during his lifetime exhibit lessons for all people today. He emphasised how important children, teenagers, and young adults are by making sure to give them the special attention they deserve.
Many young people were attracted to Islam when the message first reached them. Since young people are still searching for answers about life and are more malleable in their character and personality, the message of Islam resonated with them. Furthermore, young people are more inclined to take risks, usually due to their zeal about an idea they are convinced of. This is precisely what Islam needed in its initial phases of establishing itself throughout Arabia and then spreading throughout the rest of the world.
When it came to children, the Prophet showed affection and love, even for boys who are supposed to be raised a little tougher in a desert society. The Messenger of Allah once kissed his grandson al-Hasan in front of a man named Al-Aqra’. The man responded, “I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them.” Al-Aqra’ thought it was unmanly to show physical affection towards his children, or at least in public. He figured his kids would grow up to be weak if he were to kiss them. The Messenger of Allah corrected his erroneous understanding, “Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.” [Bukhari 8:30]
The Prophet meant that showing affection towards children through a hug or kiss is a merciful act due to the weak nature of children. Furthermore, he clarified the negative consequences of failing to engage in such an act. “Will not be shown mercy” could either mean that Allah will not show him mercy on the Day of Judgment due to his rough character, or it could also mean that his children will not show him mercy when they grow up and he becomes old. Both of them may apply. This is a very important lesson for parents, especially in a world where parents are more disrespected and devalued than they have ever been before. Affection towards a child will solidify the relationship with their parent in the future.
The Prophet gave attention to young Muslims despite their age. Today, it is common for some adults to greet their friends with ‘as salamu alaykum’ while their children, who are standing right next to them, are ignored. There is no ‘salam’ for them, or even a recognition that they exist. It was reported, however, that the Messenger of God would pass by some children and greet them, even when there was no adult with them. [Tirmidhi #2696] He went out of his way to initiate a greeting, even though the general rule in Islam is that younger people should initiate the greeting of ‘salam’ when encountering older people. The Prophet probably wanted to make it clear that young people were getting special attention from him because they deserved it. In today’s electronically saturated world, many young people often do not get the real attention they need since television, gaming devices, or other electronics constantly distract them. The human need for connection with real people is essential for the growth of a human being, especially when they are still developing into full-fledged adults.
The Messenger of Allah emphasized fairness
and equal treatment. A man told the Prophet, “Messenger of Allah, I want you be
a witness that I gave Nuʿmān [his son] a gift from my property.” He responded,
“Did you do the same for all your other kids, like you did for Nuʿmān?” He
replied, “No.” So the Prophet retorted, “Then find someone else to witness for
you. Wouldn’t it make you happy that all of them equally respect you?” He replied,
“Of course!” So he said, “Then don’t do things like this.” [Muslim #1623]
The Prophet wanted to teach this man a lesson. Not only is it unjust to favor one child over another, but the effects of such injustice will come back to haunt you. He explained that the same way a parent would like all his children to respect and admire him equally; he must treat them equally as well. The expectations must go both ways.
Despite the care, affection and love the Prophet had for the youth, it did not prevent him from teaching them lessons and necessary discipline. When the Messenger of Allah saw ʿUmar ibn Abī Salamah letting his hand wander around the large, shared dish while eating with others, he stopped him and said, ‘Young man, say the name of Allah, eat with your right hand and eat what is in front of you [close to you].’ The young boy who was sharing the story later on in his life remarked, “That is how I’ve always eaten since then.” [Bukhari #5376] The gentle yet firm way in which the Prophet corrected and instructed him resonated with him and he followed the advice throughout the rest of his life. The Messenger of Allah did not insult him, or belittle him, but taught him the right thing to do. When his grandson Al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī took a date from the charity dates and put it in his mouth, he stopped him and said, “No, no! Spit it out. Don’t you know that we do not eat from charity?” [Muslim 1069] This young boy was about to eat something that did not belong to him. The Prophet made him spit it out, after he had put it into his mouth, in order to teach him the importance of even small deeds. One lost date would not have made a huge difference, but the lesson about being careful even in the smallest of misdeeds was powerful.
While greedy corporations and irreligious individuals continue to use their power and resources to corrupt Muslim youth, the example of how the Prophet dealt with young people will continue to serve as a lesson to counteract those negative influences. Today, there is a battle to win young hearts and minds to a particular worldview. We must let Islam shape our lives and be our guiding force in order to not only defend against the onslaught but to spread the beautiful teachings of this great religion
SHAYKH MUSTAFA UMAR
Having received his undergraduates in California (USA), Sh Mustafa Umar studied Islamic Sciences in France, the UK and under reputable scholars from around the world, particularly at Nadwatul Ulama in India as well as Al-Azhar and Darul Ulum in Egypt. Author of several books including, Inspired Wisdom: Moral and Spiritual Teachings of the Prophet Muḥammad (2012), he is the Imam and Associate Director of the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco; founder and president of California Islamic University; and the Education and Outreach Director at the Islamic Institute of Orange County.