Perhaps the most overwhelmed being on planet earth at this moment is the young Muslim. Think about it. You are the news. Every time you turn on the television, listen to the radio, surf the Net, all you see is news about you. Actual recent sample headlines range from “Prominent Islamic group launches inquiry into youth ‘radicalisation’” (Agence France Presse 9 August 2005), “Radicals tried to recruit Muslim teenagers for training camps” (Press Trust of India, 12 August 2005), and “Call to protect young Muslims from radical imams” (Bernama 28 July 2005).

Of course, you know and I know that you are not a “radical” or an “extremist” or a “radical extremist” or a “terrorist.” You know and I know that neither of us have actually ever come across a Muslim who is a “radical” or an “extremist” or a “radical extremist” or a “terrorist.” And yet the word on the streets is that there is an imminent threat to civilization from the growing numbers of young Muslims who hate society and are willing to kill themselves in the process of destroying society. Having to prove constantly that you neither hate society nor want to kill yourself in the process of destroying society is overwhelming to say the least. But the real challenge is whether you can survive this phase in history and rise above the propaganda to demonstrate to the world that, indeed, young Muslims are steering a steady course. And you know and I know that more young Muslims are choosing the middle path!

Ambassadors of Islam

Much of what the average person of another faith knows about Muslims, and especially about young Muslims, is based on some first-hand contact, on perception, on second- or third-hand information, and mostly on inaccurate depictions of Islam and Muslims in the media. Whether we like it or not, as young Muslims, you are the new ambassadors of Islam. In your role as ambassador, you will often be called upon to clarify and defend Islamic teachings. Therefore, it is important for you to equip yourself with accurate information about Islam, internalize the Islamic teachings, and, most importantly, practice those teachings in your daily life.

Accurate Information

Accurate information on Islam might seem like a strange notion to think about because the obvious next question is, isn’t all information about Islam accurate? Yes, the Qur’an and the authentic, agreed-upon sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) are two accurate, authentic sources. However, outside of those two authentic sources, there is always the potential that a book written by a human being contains factual errors, misinterpretations, and even outright skewed interpretations of Islamic teachings. Young people who do like to read articles and books or surf the Net or listen to audio or watch video lectures are at risk of consuming information about Islam that might not be accurate. There is a widespread false notion that accuracy is guaranteed just because a piece of knowledge appears in print, or a lecture has been recorded, video-taped, or uploaded onto the Internet. But it is all too easy for any person to access printing facilities, audio and video recording devices, and, of course, Web technology.

Importance of Study Circles

While it is important that you learn about Islam, it is even more important that you not attempt to do so entirely on your own. It is highly recommended that you join a study circle in your locality so that people of your age group can engage in a dialogue about issues ranging from the philosophy of Islam to the practice of Islam. Two immediate concerns that arise from the suggestion to join a study circle are, what would you study and who would lead the circle? All praise is due to Allah that there are many Muslim scholars who follow the middle path and who are skilled in teaching and interacting with young Muslims. Be sure to consult family, friends, and relatives as well as your own intuition before joining a particular study circle. A knowledgeable, trustworthy teacher is critical to ensuring that the content and interpretation of the Islamic teachings are aimed at keeping the circle attendees on the middle path.

Balancing Islamic Practice With Cultural Traditions

Another source of potential misinformation about Islam is our own family, relatives, and community, whose knowledge about Islam is sometimes based more upon oral transmissions of their culture as Muslims from a particular locality than from the two authentic sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Reflect upon the state of your own family. How are you being taught Islam? From the Qur’an and the Sunnah or from how Grandpa or Grandma practiced Islam? While both Grandpa and Grandma might have been very knowledgeable about Islamic teachings, our experience tells us that this is more an exceptional case. If you are being raised in households where adherence to cultural practices takes priority over adherence to Islamic teachings, it is possible that the family culture will not allow for any questioning of the cultural practices. There is a strict insistence on following blindly what is being taught, and any attempt at questioning the practices is tantamount to being characterized by the parents as disrespect at the least and outright rejection at the worst. The middle path of Islam emanates from the universal and timeless teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. While Islam allows for amazingly flexibility with regards to incorporating local cultural practices into one’s daily life, there is never an expectation in Islam for any Muslim to follow blindly the cultural traditions of his parents or forefathers. If any or all of what is written here applies to your family situation, be patient, make lots of du`aa’ to Allah, and undertake long-term efforts to help your family understand what you learn from the study circle, in sha’ Allah.

What Is Your Community Like?

Sometimes, even if your family situation is very promising and helpful to maintaining a strong Muslim identity, it is possible that the community itself is very narrow-minded and completely unhelpful to your desire to follow the middle path. What is your community like? How do you feel after the Friday khutbah? Do you feel upbeat, ready to engage the world around you in a merciful, tolerant manner? Or does the khutbah content and tone make you feel like you want to isolate yourself from the so-called devil-filled world around you? What sort of voices are dominant in your community? In sha’ Allah, the prevalent and dominant voices are those calling to the middle path. More and more, members of Muslim communities are taking proactive measures to ensure that the message being disseminated to our youth is one that helps them to feel great about being Muslim while at the same time helping them to understand their role in improving the quality of life for Muslims and people of other faiths.

Final Thoughts

As you go about preparing yourself to journey on the path less traveled, the middle path, realize that this will be a difficult and challenging journey. Be prepared. Depending on your personal educational background, you can begin by reading the Qur’an first, with a reliable and accurate English translation, and books of Hadith. Supplement your understanding of the two authentic sources by reading books that explain how to pray, fast, and give charity, as well as other books such as Islam the Natural Way by Abdulhamid Wahid and What Islam Is All About? by Yahya Emerick. There are many other books, but these two are particularly aimed at helping young people understand, appreciate, and internalize Islamic teachings.

Remember that while you are on your journey, you are not only a seeker of truth, but, in this current sociopolitical climate, you are our ambassador to the world! Don’t be overwhelmed. Seek solace and comfort in the company of Allah Most High through prayer and consistent remembrance of Allah! You were not created to shun this world, to isolate yourself from it, or to hate it. You are created as a part of a community, indeed, the best community, whose duty it is to worship Allah and to [invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency] (Aal `Imran 3:104). You are created as members of a just nation, ummatan wasata so [you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you]

(Al-Baqarah 2:143). As a young Muslim, you have great potential to serve Allah while serving humanity, and all the while to balance your views such that you choose the path less traveled, the middle path!

By Altaf Husain, MSW