Themes I - Our Youth In the Light Of The Quran
Question: In the light of the bequest of Luqman to his son as he was exhorting him, what is the value of direct education in terms of guidance, perspective, and advice?
Our Youth in the Light of the Quran
The issue of education is subject to many influences arising from the various dimensions of human perception - regardless of whether the forum of education is intellectual, emotional, or pertains to the general environment of the person. Therefore, it is natural that the word - which is the medium that communicates the idea from one human being to another - should be significant and dynamic enough to convey thought, spirit, and work. Throughout the history of human communication, words have often been suggestive of things which are not immediately apparent from the language itself. This is because the word becomes associated with certain references which either widen the focus from or narrow it to the core meaning.
Hence, the word has been the divine medium of instruction, God having sent His prophets with sacred books, which He revealed to them. We see that the movement of human education is the long path of the word in human history, embracing every negative and positive effect in this history.
Exhortation by Words
In light of the above, let us continue in the same general framework with respect to words. The words of exhortation used in the Quran, wherein Luqman counsels his son, are designed to expand his horizons on matters of doctrine and life. We notice that the exhortation concerns ideas which carry aspects related to the senses and the perceptions. Ideas are not mere abstractions to be contemplated purely for their intellectual content, but contain aspects grasped by sensory experience.
Combining Intellect and Emotions
Exhortation carries along with its ideational aspect, certain elements of human sentiment and feeling, so that the issue becomes one of combining the intellect and the emotions. In this manner it penetrates into the heart and mind of the person. For mixing the intellect with the emotions causes a state which grips and transforms the person. The various dimensions involved make a given concept something that tugs at the innermost core of the person.
This is what we observe in every exhortation where the intellectual aspect is in concert with the sensory and emotional facet. When applied to exhortation or nurturing, this method is probably the most effective in transforming a person. This is because the error committed by many in planting an idea is to focus on the purely cerebral aspect of their concept, rendering it much like a lifeless engineering formula which addresses the human intellect without in any way harnessing the other dimensions of the human perception.
On the other hand, there are those who deal only with the emotional aspect which does not spur a person to intellectual contemplation. This leaves a gap between the concept and faith. And so we find that many have an idea, but do not really believe in it, since the aspect of faith requires that an idea change itself into something sensory, and then is transformed into action based on perception.
Quranic Method of Exhortation
The value of the Qur'anic method is that it attempts to articulate life issues. Therefore, we see that it pushes the idea closer to the mind, in respect of what a person sees, hears, and touches. It implants the concept in the deepest and sincerest parts of the person's being, by process of fear, hope, hate, etc.
When we contemplate this, we find that the most successful and effective exhortation is that which is well planned, which is delivered by those who use the forcefulness of the intellect and emotion, and which uses all that appeals to cerebral and emotional faculties.
Exhortation by Example
A point which needs to be elaborated upon is that speech may form the greater part of exhortation, but that the two may in fact be far apart. There is the saying that he who does not have an exhorter within himself, cannot benefit from an exhorter. This means that a person can exhort himself by himself, in terms of his experience. This is what Imam Ali spoke about in Nahj al-Balagha: "The best of what you experience is that which exhorts you." For your experience is what may teach you a lesson, concept, and contemplation of your current situation, with respect to what intellectual and sentimental aspects it possesses. On this basis, therefore, we find that one type of homily is when a person preaches by his actions before words.
In this fashion, we can put exhortation as an umbrella term, encompassing every means of intellectual or behavioural experience, or that which is related to the reactions of others. All this shows that there is a broad outline for the process of exhortation. Briefly, it is a functional method, different in its means of delivery, which puts the concept to the person and corrects what is corrupt in his life, straightens out what needs to be in his character, or opens up to horizons hitherto closed to him in his life.
Homiletic address is the purpose of the preacher, in that he presents his arguments to the best of his efforts in order to push the idea he intended to stress. As such, the person who accepts exhortation must have the ability, responsibility, and desire to do everything mentioned in this homily. This is because exhortation is a response by words, by action, by example, by any means that reaches the intellect. A person who does not react to exhortation is no different from a corpse which has lost all the sense faculties. Loss of the sensory faculties may be a natural state in a dead person; it may be that a living person has frozen all sensation in his being.
God speaks about this repeatedly in the Quran:
"They have hearts with which they think not, they have eyes that see not, as they have ears that hear not" (al-A'raf, 7:179). This means that the human being may paralyse his sensory faculties and perception, emotions or ambitions in his personality, thus becoming as a living dead: "It is the same whether you warn them or do not warn them: they do not believe" (al-Baqara, 2:6); God has placed a seal on their hearts and hearing, and in their sight a blindness (al-Baqara, 2: 7) - i.e., how can you incite a person to act on exhortation from within himself when he rejects good preaching?
O my father! Do as you are commanded!
These are the words uttered by Ismael as he was submitting to the divine will. Is it possible to emulate this submission and obedience?
When we study the personality of Abraham from his early rearing, we find a personality of human responsiveness to God. This typified his reaction to every truth in life. When we wish to study the noble Quran rhetorically, we find that Abraham was a man who challenged corrupt ideas, whether of non-belief or of polytheism. His challenges emerged directly from the disquiet he felt when he learned about the people around him. This is what we observe in him in his innermost thoughts, when reflecting upon the personality of those who worshipped the stars, moon, or sun. He expressed awe before the stars, the moon, and the sun in all their glory. Challenging the idea of worshipping them, however, he declared that they could not be gods, for God is present in every aspect of life.
In our view, this indicates how his function of guiding the community towards faith had caused a shock wave in the midst of the community. It is demonstrated by his act of breaking the idols and blaming the largest of these idols. His action was based on the principle of forcing them to admit that the idols could not speak: "Certainly you know that they do not speak" (al Anbiya, 21:65).
In the course of his reaction, he debated their doctrine and ideology, and showed these to be baseless. This indicated where he stood with respect to his father, whom he dared in words which sometimes evince empathy, sometimes reflect harsh reality.
His attitude is equally reflected in his opposition to the tyrant of his time, when the latter declared, "I give life and I cause to die."
My Lord is He who gives life and causes to die . . . Abraham said: God causes the sun to rise from the east, then make it rise from the west. And so the one who disbelieved was confounded.
The Man of God
We may note - from the foregoing - the condition which makes Abraham a man of God, someone intensely aware of his responsibility that he should live for God and far from every other attachment, every difficulty, in order to find himself a servant of God. So much so that he felt it incumbent upon him to dedicate his entire life to God. This is what we infer from God's words, "And God took Abraham as a friend" (al-Nisa', 4:125). God's friendship for Abraham was due to Abraham's friendship for God, being reciprocal in kind: "He loves them and they love Him" (al Ma'ida, 5:54). This relationship of worship is the highest connection that a mortal can have with his Lord. This expands and develops into friendship.
The friendship between Abraham and God, an inevitable result of active worship, led to the realization that Abraham's presence depended on God. Concomitant with this is the knowledge, too, that the entire universe is dependent on God. This made Abraham perceive one of the ways towards God when he asked Him to bring the dead back to life:
Show me how You give life to the dead. [God] said: Do you not believe? [Abraham] said: Most certainly! But only that my heart be at ease.
This shows that when Abraham spoke to his Lord, when he lived with Him, he perceived a life of spontaneity and inspiration, mixed with the observation of faith in worship, on the one hand, and love and obedience, on the other.
From this perspective, we find that Abraham lived Islam for God, and we are likely to understand from the Quran that he was the first to use the term al-Islam:
The milla of your father Abraham, who called you Muslims from before . . .
When his Lord told him: Submit [aslim], he said: I submit to the Lord of all the Worlds. And Abraham left a legacy to his children, as did Jacob, saying thus: O my children! God has chosen for you the religion, and die only as Muslims!
It was Abraham who coined the word Islam ["submission to God"] after hearing it from God (Exalted). As a result of this, every Abrahamic prophethood - if this term can be used - took the name of Islam in its inclusive sense: "Verily the religion with God is al-Islam" (al-Imran, 3:19); "And whoever follows other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him" (al-Imran, 3:85). It is this comprehensive Islam which is carried in every prophethood; it is the line of tawhid.
Naturally, we may note that Abraham was a man who lived with God in his entire being and in all his actions. He worked to establish an instructional modus in his particular environment. This was so he could transmit to his descendants this realized, elevated Islam which he lived with God. He also worked towards transmitting this Islam to all of humankind. This is the message of the glorious verse: "And Abraham left as a legacy to his children, as did Jacob, saying thus: O my children! God has chosen for you the religion, and die only as Muslims!"(al-Baqarah, 2:132).
Islam as a Medium of Instruction
Islam then was a method of instruction which Abraham wanted his children to exemplify, religion being part of it. It would appear that this method of instruction insinuated itself as a practical application in the case of Ismael and as a policy in the case of Jacob.
When we read the words of God - "We gave him tidings of a forbearing son" (al-Saffat, 37:101)-we see that Abraham had hoped for a son after his trials, and God granted him a forbearing, mild-tempered son, who was responsive of heart, and did not reject or shirk any sign, however pressing or difficult the circumstances. The verse "And when he reached the age when he could go forth with his father" (al-Saffat, 37:102) tells us that Ismael lived in close attachment to his father in the time that they had spent together. For any man blessed with a handsome son after enduring suffering, this was only natural. Abraham gave his entire heart and faith to his Lord, and he taught his son his spiritual contemplation, which reflected every aspect of thought, spirit, worship, and deed. Ismael's state was, therefore, transformed into one of Islam - meaning that he became a Muslim in an absolute sense, as was his father.