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Responsibilities of Muslim Youth
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Rakshanda Chaudry)


(A speech delivered to the students and teachers of the Islamic Studies Department of Punjab University in 1967)


Respected Teachers and Dear Students!

I am grateful for the undeserved honour accorded to me in the invitation to speak at this learned gathering. I had conveyed my regrets to your representatives about making a speech but will say a few things to the students on your suggested topic. Regarding speeches, it is that in one’s youth one speaks out of passion, in middle age one has to do it out of duty and responsibility but in old age it becomes a burden. As for me, even in my younger days I avoided this task. From this, you can gather how difficult this has become for me at my age.

Anyway, to please you, I will say a few words. Take them as advice. Though I do not think myself competent enough to give advice, man obtains some rights only on the basis of his grey hair! I may not have respectability due to intelligence, but due to age it is nevertheless mine.

About advice and wisdom, the matter is that if the listeners’ hearts are open to advice, it does not matter if the person giving advice is true to his words or not. You must have heard Saadi’s famous story. Luqman was asked: “Who did you learn your wisdom from?” He replied: “From the unwise.” I expect the same for you.

I do not have anything new to say about responsibilities of the youth. I will say the same as you must have heard from many others. Some things are very important and meaningful but as a result of being frequently repeated in every gathering have become totally hackneyed and useless. Because of this listeners do not give them any value. This state of affairs is regretful. Thus many fundamental truths of our lives have lost their real meaning. But gentlemen reality, nevertheless, is reality. It cannot be divested of its true value just because too many have mentioned it or that some have mentioned it only in a cursory manner.

For me one of these unjustly treated realities is that the future of every nation depends on its youth. There is no doubt that this is one of the great truths in the greater truths of the world whether we value it or not. Nations do not endure because of their vastness, edifices, gardens, orchards, rivers, mountains or trees. They do so because of their future generations and their youth. If the youth is good the nation will survive. If it does not have rivers and mountains, it will create new rivers and mountains for itself whereas if its youth is dead the builders of the grandeur of Seville, Granada and Cordoba merely become cautionary lessons in history.

This is why every living nation in the world has given the most importance to the education and training of its youth. History is witness to the fact that the nations who hold dear the notion that their physical presence as well as their intellectual entity should last, instead of adorning their edifices, give the most weight to the training and instruction of their successors. I am not a student of history but from Sparta to the nations worth mentioning today, what I have learnt in passing is that I can say with full confidence that be they Greeks or Romans, English or Americans, nations who have left a lasting imprint on the map of the world are those who have cared about their future generations. About the people of Sparta I read somewhere that they did not let precut stone be laid in their buildings as they felt that doing this showed a tendency to laziness and pleasure loving. Similarly, to ensure the good health of their future generations, I have heard they were so insightful that they resorted to some cruel practices such as not letting weak children live.

In our milieu, that is in Islam, the effort that was exerted on the education and instruction of one’s offspring, apart from all else, if one peruses the Qur’an, is enough to make its importance clear. Abraham’s guidance to his offspring, Isaac and Jacob’s advice to their progeny, Luqman’s counsel to his son – all these stories have been mentioned so we can learn that the names and deeds of good ancestors only last through good descendants. When you read the story of Noah (sws), your heart breaks when you see how upset he was about his son’s unworthiness despite the efforts he had made for his education and instruction and how he cried and begged his sustainer (to spare him).

Gentlemen! This trait is in man’s nature. Whether individuals or nations, their physical and essential entity only endures through their successors and wishing its continuance is an innate thing. A nation in which this desire dies or the endeavour it requires is no longer present, is erased from the map of the world. For this reason blessed is the nation whose leaders are aware of the secret of this collective survival and are preparing the coming generation for the great responsibilities which will fall on their shoulders. But dear students, I find it necessary to inform you about another secret about societies i.e. that responsibilities are going to fall on you in any case and the future will judge you by its own standards. It will not accept any excuse or grant any relaxation. If you prove to be inept regarding your responsibility it will show no lenience on the excuse that your predecessors did not carry out their duties properly viz a viz you. Whether they did or did not will be beside the point. You will be on trial not us. The judgment on capability or ineptitude will bear on you, not on us. You will be answerable, not the people of today. If you are deemed inept, time will unequivocally rule against you and you will be wiped off the map of the world: تِلْكَ أُمَّةٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَلَكُمْ مَّا كَسَبْتُمْ.  (That is a nation which has passed on. It will bear [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned, (2:141)).

If you feel that those responsible for you are not doing their duty towards you in a proper manner, even then you should try and recognize your duty and prepare to win the race in the future. Intelligent children do not make their father’s weakness an excuse for their own but with effort and accomplishment make a name for themselves as well as for their father.

Dear Students! If you have understood my point of view well, I will proceed further and say that to be those whom God has chosen for the guidance of the world, it is your foremost duty to try and make yourselves a healthy race in all respects. In all respects means physically, intellectually, morally and religiously. Until our youth is in good health in all three aspects, courage cannot develop in it and unless it does, it cannot be capable of inheriting the nation which God has appointed to lead all the nations of the world. Now I would like to bring to your notice these three aspects of health.


Physical Health

The importance of physical health for me is not in that you should become internationally acclaimed wrestlers or boxers. I am not talking about the health of the bull or the calf but about the human being. The value of physical health for humans is that it is a basic requirement for intellectual and moral health. For the development of intelligence and high religious and moral values, physical health is essential. In a weak and sickly body the mind is also weak and sickly. And feeble people are weak in fulfilling the demands of faith and morals though it is not necessary that those with healthy bodies also have good morals. Many people are physically very fit but from the point of view of intelligence and morals are absolutely stupid and base. Nevertheless it is a fact that for intellectual and moral well-being physical health is also necessary.

I am not a doctor or a physician, nor do I wish to give a sermon on the needs and conditions for good health. As a layman, I know that for physical fitness some things bear basic importance. Everyone should make an effort to achieve them as far as possible.

1. A simple and clean diet

2. Clean and fresh air

3. Physical effort and exercise

4. Self control

As far as a simple and clean diet is concerned, to acquire it, if not easy, is not difficult either, provided you obtain some knowledge and know how about nutrition and you make a habit of taking pains to organize it. You must be aware that for good health very expensive food is not required nor is variety or spiciness necessary. If you stop ingesting unnecessary and harmful things and do not worry about taste, perhaps not everyone but, most of you can easily arrange for clean food for yourselves and if you create a collective fervour to adopt simple food and simple dress, you can even turn it into a trend thereby solving everybody’s problems. But the problem is that we prefer cuisine from the decadent period of the Mughals and dress in the fashion of the English and French in their decadent era. You must be aware that when the Mughals spread those repasts, it was in the unfortunate period in their history when they had to vacate the Red Fort in Delhi for the British. Along with the banquet tables their rule was also toppled. In the era when they conquered all those countries they were unaware of the delicacies of taste. At that time the state of their youth was such that they used to keep pieces of dried meat under the saddles of their horses and when they were softened with horse sweat ate them when hungry. This fare gave them the strength to turn upside down whichever areas they went to. The same was the case, more or less, of the British. In the phase when they subjugated the whole world, the hardiness and strength of their youth was exemplary. This age is the age of their decline. It is our misfortune that we consider it their era of progress.

To get fresh air, develop the habit of waking up early. This habit has always been the practice of fortunate people. You must remember Allama Iqbal’s verse in which he said that the dawn because of which the universe of the night trembles does not occur from the rising of the sun but from the adhan of the true believer! It is you who have introduced this adhan to the world but have yourselves become unaware of its delights. Get up early, rouse others from their stupor. Worship the Creator of the universe. And then stroll in the open grounds and gardens of which there is no dearth in this city and enjoy the fresh air.

The aim of effort and physical exercise is to make you tough and hard working so that you stay active, can bear up to the heat and cold, are able to fight hunger and thirst and are capable of undergoing  the hardest effort if need be. The best physical effort is that which prepares man for the hardships of the battlefield. Our ancestors liked this sort of exercise. You should also develop a taste for this. There is beauty in fragility for women but for young men there is no greater flaw than this.

Self-control is one of the important requirements for health. Until you learn how to control your desires, your emotions and your sexuality, despite all the measures that I have cited above, you cannot achieve real health. In this day and age, very few young people on whose faces the beauty of valour is evident can be seen. Please excuse me, I am not criticizing you. In this age, if you look at the young, you see withered faces, sunken eyes, wan complexions and hollow cheeks. The reason for this is not the non availability of pure food these days but it has a lot to do with roving eyes, frivolity of hearts and waywardness of emotions and desires which not only destroy morals and faith but also destroy beauty and health. If you learn how to keep your emotions and desires in check you will see that even while eating barley bread your faces will reflect the beauty of courage as the face of ‘Ali Murtada did.

Gentlemen! The beauty that I am talking about is not about the skin or its complexion. It is to do with inner health. A person whose inside is healthy has self control. The word husur is used to describe this in the Qur’an (3:39). There are stages and degrees of this quality, but inner light is produced from this trait. This light is a legacy from Mary and John the Baptist. Its glow will reflect on the forehead of whoever has a glimmer of this radiance and fortunate is the youth who has a part of this extreme beauty. Foreheads where there is a ray of this beauty, even if they are dark complexioned, put the sun and moon to shame.

Gentlemen! The wealth of real spiritual strength lies in self-control. One who loses to his passions loses to everyone. As opposed to this, one who conquers his desires beats Satan in every field. In a Hadith, the holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that a strong man is not one who knocks out others, it is one who takes control of himself.                                                

Intellectual Health

Gentlemen! To achieve intellectual well being it is necessary to take advantage of the wealth of current and past wisdom and thought and then, using your intelligence, you should add to this wealth if you can. The real treasure of mankind is the wealth of intellect and thought. To safeguard and propagate this, colleges, universities, libraries and laboratories have been set up. And you have gathered in this university to enhance your brainpower.

Intelligence is God-granted light to man. It differentiates man from beast. All the beauty in this world is due to it. The best human beings are those who use their intelligence and whatever treasures mankind possesses are their bequest to it.

Due to the efforts of these intellectuals and learned people, our knowledge has increased so much that no one person can apprehend it all. If you use up all your energy the best you can say is that you may have achieved mastery over one field. In my opinion, the lower level of knowledge is that you become a master of one subject and the higher level is when you are able think and solve problems so that you can add to the knowledge and leave some intellectual legacy for your successors. The world is rapidly going towards progress. To keep up with it, it is essential that our youth not lag behind in this intellectual struggle otherwise it will lag behind in every field.

If you have understood well the importance of my opinion, it is crucial that you make an effort to do two things. One is that you spend every moment of your time in studying scientific and literary publications of a high standard. Forbid yourselves from wasting your time on mediocre things. Not to talk of things of the third level, even those of the second should form part of your resolve not to waste time. These days when I see the young reading trivial, superficial, ordinary and thoughtless stuff I am very surprised. Reading defective and foolish things is more deadly for man than rotten and toxic food. In this day while the media has provided tons of knowledge, it has also made available much nonsensical stuff and unfortunately the young are more interested in the latter. To add insult to injury, these days literature is being published in large quantities which according to Mawlana Hali “stinks worse than a toilet.” These types of things are read by a nation’s youth when the nation is nearing its demise. You should become prophets of life rather than prophets of doom for your nation. Do not emulate American and European nations in this regard. According to the philosophy of the rise and fall of nations, these nations are taking their last breaths.

The second thing is that you must make an effort, during the training of your thought and intellect, not to take an interest in political matters and issues outside your circle. During this time, instead of taking active part in them, you should develop in yourselves a strong capability of taking part in them later. Tomorrow all responsibilities will fall on your shoulders. You will manage universities and colleges. You will be responsible for newspapers. You will be in courts. You will be leaders of the nation, members of assemblies, governors of provinces, ministers and presidents of the country and representatives and ambassadors of your country in foreign lands. You will hold the highest offices and the reins of the country will be in your hands. Prepare yourselves for these duties. This preparation is not an easy job so you cannot get stuck in other people’s quarrels. Don’t take me wrong. I do not mean that you should not participate in politics at all. Do take part but it should be in the form of reflection and thought. Comprehend well the matters and issues of your country, think of solutions for them and prepare yourselves for them, but do not intervene actively in them. Intervention by the immature does not help matters but hinders them. Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Jawhar (may God have mercy on him) once remarked: “Some people rot before they ripen.” He was probably alluding to the people who prematurely think themselves to be experts on national issues and proceed to solve problems of the nation. I hope that you will not try to rot before you ripen. 

Healthy Morals and Faith

Dear Students! I will now say some things about the health of morals and faith. First of all one must bear in mind that religious and moral correctness is not separate from intellectual rectitude. In fact it is complementary and supplementary to it. The way intelligence is the light of mankind, the same way faith is the light of intelligence. The way God has granted intelligence to humans to differentiate them from animals, the same way He has granted the light of faith to polish the intellect. Intelligence is a great blessing, but a drawback of it is that often it gets stuck in the ephemeral and limited desires and efforts of this world because of which it is unable to see the realities on which perpetuity of human life is based. This is a very grave error. Due to it, man’s view becomes narrow, courage fails, desires become totally materialistic and base and his moral values become wholly selfish and self interest oriented.

To get human intellect out of this quagmire, God has sent the light of revelation which the world has received through the prophets. This light guides human intelligence towards the stages of eternity and takes it to the height where the boundaries of the earth and the heavens meet. There man becomes aware of his real worth. He gets to know the secret that he has an eternal entity. After death here he has to live again. All his sayings, actions and beliefs have an infinite value. For this reason he should not weigh them in the limited scales of profit and gain of this world but should also keep in mind the life after death. He should not collect for this short life but his real concern should be for the eternal life which will never end once it has begun.

Gentlemen! The last and most perfect book of this revelation is the Qur’an. It was sent by God Almighty through Prophet Muhammad (sws). For this reason, for your religious and spiritual well being, you should pay attention to God’s book and the Prophet’s (sws) Sunnah. Without their light, neither can your intellect come out of the narrowness of the mortal world nor can sophistication or permanence develop in your morals and character. You should remember that you are not the only nation among the nations of the world born of geographical demarcation. You are inheritors of God’s Caliphate, the best of peoples and standard bearers and witnesses of God’s law of justice on the earth. You are not followers or adversaries of other nations but, according to your position, are their leaders and guides. You are not only to live for yourselves but for all of humanity. Your life is not only confined to this material world but attached to it is a limitless world – the world of the hereafter. For this reason, the limited vision that has not yet reached the moon or Mars is not enough for you. You have to tell the world about the heavens. Therefore a character born of racial and national discrimination does not befit you. Your character is one in which there is a reflection of God’s attributes and of the beauty of the light of Muhammad (sws) !

Adherence to the Book of God and the Sunnah of his prophet and their blessings will produce the same valour in our youth as that in ‘Ali Murtada (rta). For us, older Muslims, the example is Abu Bakr (rta) who is known as the elder of the Muslims. For the middle aged, role models are ‘Umar Faruq (rta) and ‘Uthman (rta), both conquerers, both shahids and both illustrations of God’s law of justice and fairness and of God’s rule on His earth. Similarly for the youth ‘Ali Murtada (rta) is a model and an example about whom you must have heard: No young man is a parallel to ‘Ali and no sword is like Dhu al-fiqar. And yes, girls, for you the models are ‘A’ishah (rta) and Fatimah (rta) whose knowledge and intellect were such that on their thoughts was established the basis of our fiqh and to whose piety and purity the Qur’an stands witness.

Dear students! Develop this courage in yourselves. This does not develop only through bodily maturity, rush of blood, muscular strength or rich food but comes from self-control, intellectual health and rectitude of faith and morals. Our nation needs this the most. Whatever deficiencies we are faced with in our country can be removed but the moral decline manifesting itself in all groups especially the youth, if it takes root, will be difficult to treat. Whatever our current state is, the future depends entirely on your capabilities. I pray that my pleas will find a place in your hearts and you recognize your duty, and a change appears in your days and nights, habits and activities which give good tidings of a bright future to your well-wishers and those who have expectations from you!


(Translated by Rakshanda Chaudry)


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