By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The Period of Youth
The Prophet is reported to have said that on the Day of Judgment, every person would be questioned about some issues, one of these being how he spent his youth. (Shuʿab al-Iman lil-Bayhaqi, hadith no. 1648).
Youth is a period when a person’s strength is fully alive and he is capable of doing whatever work he likes. This period lies between two periods of infirmity—childhood, on the one hand, and old age, on the other. The period of youth is really the period of action for a person, a period that is bounded, before it and after it, with infirmity. If you waste your youth, it is like wasting your whole life.
For any person, the period of youth is the period of the greatest blessing. It is because of this that in the Hereafter we will be specifically asked about how we spent our youth. The period of youth is the best period in a person’s life. What you can do in this period, you cannot do either before or after it.
But there is a minus point with the period of youth. And that is, that it is a period prior to a person’s full maturity. In his youth, a person bubbles with energy, but in terms of experience and intellectual development, he still remains in a relatively undeveloped phase. For this reason, most people make the biggest mistakes of their lives in this period. Hence, it is necessary to be particularly cautious when one is at this stage in life. A person in this stage must form his opinions based on deep thinking and his actions should follow deep reflection.
There is a tradition that appears in several books of Hadith. In the words of the report as it appears in Musnad Ahmad, the Prophet said: “The best gift a father can give to his children is the gift of good conduct.” (Musnad Ahmad, hadith no. 16710).
The Arabic word adab, which appears in this hadith, means ‘good conduct’. It is a fact that a person first develops good thinking and then he displays good conduct. Good or right thinking is thus the foundation of good conduct. In this sense, then, it would be right to say that the meaning of the above hadith is that a person should try to inculcate right thinking in his child. A child who grows up with right thinking will exhibit right conduct. His dealings will be right—with everyone, in the home and outside, with his relatives as well as with others. He will be characterized by positive thinking, and so his actions will be positive. He will be a good human being. His right thinking will always save him from going astray. Such a person will be serious about life. He will take his responsibilities seriously. He will be a predictable person.
Undoubtedly, this is the biggest gift someone can receive from his or her parents.
According to scientific research, there are around 1 trillion living beings in the world. Among all of these, human beings have a special status. All other living creatures fully comply with the law of nature. In the whole world, human beings are the only creatures who have been given full freedom. They can choose their actions based on their own will. This concept is mentioned in the Quran as appointing man as successor on earth (2:30) and giving the trust to man (33:72). On the basis of this feature, human beings can earn the reward of eternal Paradise in their next phase of life.
In contrast to other living beings, man must do something unique—and that is, to live in self-discovered truth. Man must, through his own choosing, walk on the right path. Through his own will he must lead a life based on self-control. Through his own decision he must adopt a life of submission to his Creator.
It is this that is man’s uniqueness. But there is always a responsibility that comes along with every gift. And so, along with man’s uniqueness a certain responsibility is also present—and that is what is called a test. The test for man is for him to bow down before God despite the freedom that he enjoys. Despite this freedom, he must obey God. Despite this freedom, he must save himself from defiance and deviance. He must stand firm in self-discovered truth and adopt the method of self-imposed discipline. This disciplined life is termed in the Quran and Hadith as doing something for the sake of God. This conduct that is desired of man is so important that for this, the Creator has assured the greatest reward—eternal Paradise.