Consumerist culture is both a symptom and a cause of the modern nihilism that is sweeping the world; healing our youth of this disease requires a fundamental change in how we relate to them.
By Rayhan al-Safawi
We live in the era of the internet. Information that only scholars could access is now mostly available to everyone. What is available to us is more than what was available to scholars and professors just two decades ago. The overwhelming influx of information has caused a lot of confusion, particularly in relation to truth and morality. Changes in the latter are particularly worrying.
What are considered acceptable and even praiseworthy “values” and “lifestyles” today would not have been acceptable a generation ago by most people. Gay marriage, rampant divorce, children born and raised out of wedlock, or vulgar music are all staples of the morally good in the modern world.
The world is also ravaged by war, suffering and the breakdown of families. The planet is facing an environmental crisis, and political unrest is sweeping nations. Jobs are either being off-shored or being taken over by newer forms of technology.
Our youth are stuck right in the middle of this new world. It is no wonder that people are abandoning faith in God and institutionalized religion. In the context of Islam, it is no longer viable or to be expected that the youth will unquestioningly accept the authority of scripture or the religious scholars. The way the youth are approached and communicated with needs a fundamental revision and overhaul.
A starting point is to show the difference between mere information and what we call ḥikmah in Islam. Ḥikmah which loosely translates as “wisdom” literally means to bind two objects together; hence why the word for “solid” in Arabic is muḥkam whose root is ḥikmah. Wisdom therefore plays the role of binding and connecting. In Islam, it serves the function of connecting the best of human knowledge and experience and links it to a person’s greater ultimate purpose in life, namely the divine and human salvation. Wisdom is that which creates a meaningful relationship with God and His creation.
It is not enough to bring our youth to our Mosques if we do not listen to them, or at worst ignore them. We must learn to be compassionate to their struggles and understand the world that is shaping them. Muḥammadan wisdom (as exemplified in the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) holy life) teaches us that Truth cannot be transmitted solely through nice or sophisticated words. To the contrary, my experience has shown me that impressively constructed arguments tend to be mistrusted by many people because its very perfection and convincing factor contains what seems to be a deal of sophistry and deceit even if what is being conveyed is done so in all honesty.
Truth can only be effectively transmitted when it is fully lived by its faithful; it is what transforms what is seemingly “just information” into something real to be appreciated, respected, accepted and ultimately emulated. One must therefore show great patience and be non-confrontational when we are challenged and disagreed with or else we will lose them forever and solidify their dwelling in Satan’s dominion.
If our youth are occupied playing video games or immersing themselves in endless chains of TV shows, it is in large part due to the fact that nihilism is now the religion of the modern masses in which meaning has been stripped of people’s lives. An endless supply of distraction and artificial meaning is pursued in order to mask the deep emptiness that pervades people’s souls. It is no wonder that God is forgotten thus resulting in mass disbelief.
Perhaps a final point that needs to be mentioned is the importance of joy. The youth need to see the effects of having God’s light in our hearts. We live in a world that is plagued with depression and anxiety. If the youth can see the fruits of faith in our smiles, joys, tranquility and good conduct in our demeanor despite life’s incessant miseries, we stand to offer them something that popular culture could never give them; inner peace. Yet if we forgo our own need for self-transformation, choosing to be complacent with our mediocre servitude to God and anxiety-filled lives, we will lose this generation to the monster of consumerist culture whose very basis is subversion of God.
Rayhan al-Safawi is a blogger at the World Shia Forum. He lives with his family in the West Coast, United States.