Written by: M. Abbas Agbaje
The world is changing rapidly and astounds even the most discerning amongst us. Admittedly, we are traversing our physical and anthropological environments for a lost treasure (peace), which has remained elusive. The problem is not the absence of peace; it is in our myopic, selfish understanding of the Utopian state of peace and how we seek it. By cosmological and biological design, a new order replaces the old one for the betterment of the world through an evolutionary pace that sees life forms and their physical environment transition into one more advanced than the precursor and less sophisticated than the successor. It is an unending cycle caused by the Uncaused, changed by the Unchanging Being, sustained by the Sustainer, and to be halted by the Ever Lasting.
Like the physical realm, we go through periods of intellectual and spiritual evolutions that have shaped how we transform the outer and inner to give rise to a better version of the primordial principles and approaches to thinking and doing. In all its mundane and arcane manifestations, the world is designed to improve and enhance until it atrophies in submission to the Enduring Being.
Allah directs us to this principle of continuous, incremental, evolutionary self-renewing paradigm, order, and quality of the world in Q2 v107:
“Whatever Sign We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than that or the like thereof. Dost thou not know that Allah has the power to do all that He wills?
It is to this same principle that Allah referred when he addressed the Prophet in the following words:
“Surely, every hour that follows is better than the one that precedes” – Q93 v 5
Having established this Principle of Continuous Improvement as enshrined in cosmological design, we will proceed to unpack the co-existing Principle of Decline that operates in concurrence with its counterpart. The Principle of Decline underscores the importance of understanding that infinite growth is impractical and that a period of decline sets in at a point. It is, therefore, normal to expect that deterioration will arise through natural physical and metaphysical mechanisms that limit a system’s functioning or person, whether through an intermittent temporal iterative cycle or permanently when the Divine limit has been reached. This principle is stated in verse 36 of Surah Yasin:
“And him whom We grant long life – We revert him to a weak condition of creation. Will they not then understand?”
The cyclical nature of growth and decline is a Divine phenomenon that must find expression in diverse manifestations, whether secularly or spiritually.
A World in Moral Turpitude: Reviving Morality and Rejuvenating Spirituality
Viewed from the prism of modern intellectual development, the proponents of social evolutionism posit that society passed through distinct phases of cultural progression and degeneration. Accordingly, human societies have had to undergo a unilinear progressive evolution that scholars have described as Savagery-Barbarism-Civilization. Suppose we apply this paradigm to sociocultural and spiritual values. In that case, we can find similar patterns emerging as we witness the dramatic changes in pre-modern and modern values, norms, philosophies, and beliefs.
For example, the slave trade was an integral part of human society and was not abolished until the 19th century; however, modern slavery is considered an abhorrent practice, and businesses are sanctioned for being complicit in forced child labour. It is confounding to observe that the forebears of contemporary Western leaders who now champion human rights protection were the historical villains that visited untold and inhumane suffering on the vulnerable, less fortunate fellow humans. Notwithstanding, we see that humans can transcend their status of depravity to a moral high ground through intergenerational intellectual and moral evolution. Undoubtedly, vestiges of slavery still endure in various forms across different social strata in business and society, even though hypocritical oblivion is selectively practiced in multiple domains. The point is clear: humans go through phases of moral evolution and revolution that can be cyclical such that the past repeats itself in a new, more sophisticated, and troubling manner where such changes are detrimental to society’s overall well-being.
In modern times, we see a parallel expression of moral discernment and turpitude among youths. Some young people have become more fearless in challenging existing paradigms undermining human lives and rights, seeking avenues to entrench values derived from their beliefs through personal philosophy and theological influence. Unsurprisingly, their counterparts are also caught up in moral tsunamis sweeping through the world, leaving behind losses of magnitude and severity that threaten global social and political hegemony. The impact also weakens the pillar of social cohesiveness and well-being of modern civilized society.
Technology has bridged the information asymmetry that characterized the old world and birthed the free flow of information, significantly impacting meta-evolutionary shifts in social mores and norms. It has been argued that the manifestations of moral depravity we witness today are not unlike what has endured through past civilizations, which have become common knowledge and practice due to technological diffusion, globalisation, and cultural adulteration. Hence, we see the difference in the scale of adoption, motive, and sophistication in the practice of evil acts. For example, ritual killings had been practiced in African societies before modernism, causing the abandonment of some archaic, oppressive, intrusive, coercive, and villainous practices. The belief system of the Yoruba that some individuals will accompany a dead monarch in his trans-ethereal sojourn by way of honour will be considered a violation of human rights in modern society. Yet, this practice was honourable in the past. What has changed? Time, Thinking, and Technology – key factors influencing young people’s morality. Many young people get unrighteous ideas about criminal acts through movies and secret cyberspace, where tutorials are held for initiates into cults or cult-like associations.
In the last 50 years, crime rates have increased, and previously unheard news of wicked acts perpetrated by youths has been on paper and electronic prints. How do we explain the unbridled drive to acquire riches to attain fame and street credibility? How do we rationalize the motive of a 17-year-old who decapitated his girlfriend for rituals? Or the cohabitation of a son and his mother for a money ritual? What more can we imagine from the dungeon of immorality into which the world has sunken? Worst still, wither shall we go from the trenches of immodesty that has drowned the conscience and consciousness of naïve and unsuspecting youths? We are in a precarious time when age has no positive correlation with morality as we witness the moral somersault of adults who have not built a strong social foundation upon which morality can endure. The past is remembered with such fondness that it obliterates the hope of a promising future – often imagined as a period that will precipitate further decline. Indeed, the sun of morality reached its evolutionary zenith during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet and has been progressively in decline to the point of Al’ Asr in modern times.
Given that we have established that human morality operates within a cosmic design of incremental positive evolution and gradual negative, degenerative devolution, we will focus on reviving morality and rejuvenating spirituality among our youths. However, we cannot attempt to solve a problem we have not adequately understood, so we shall explore a few reasons for the meteoric rise in evil manifestations of moral decadence among youths in society, especially in Nigeria. This approach will elicit the rationale for and drivers of youth inclination towards devious practices and antisocial acts and facilitate our understanding of the array of potential remedies to resuscitate the morality of endangered youths and preserve the modesty of vulnerable ones.
The 3Gs Driving Youth Moral Depravity and The Transformational Role of Ahmadi Muslim Youths
Based on the foregoing discussion, we will explore the drivers of acute youthful exuberance and chronic moral ineptitude that have characterised our modern society. In addition, we will examine the need to retrace our steps individually and collectively:
“Then there came after them descendants who neglected Prayer and followed evil desires, so they will meet with destruction.” – 19 v 61
“Except those who repent and believe and do good deeds. These will enter Heaven and they will not be wronged in the least.” – 19 v 62
From the above verse, we are inspired to ask why a young person neglects his relationship with God and slackens in the observance of worship. It is because of weak faith in God. For example, this weakness reflects how an individual behaves towards divine commandments and human beings. When people do not have strong faith in God, they are less steadfast and are prone to immorality. The Quran relates that the Prophet (saw) exclaimed in anguish to his Rabb the negligence of his people who do not value the Quran:
“And the Messenger will say, ‘O my Lord, my people indeed treated this Quran as a discarded thing.” Q 25 v 31
How true are these words of prophecy in our modern time, where despite the degree of access to the Quran in print and electronic formats, the prowess of Quranic recitation, the popularity of reciters and the admiration of their fandom, and the increasing number of Hufaadh (memorisers) of the Holy Book piety is waning as religiosity becomes more dominant! Thus, the first driver of moral ineptitude is a lack of true belief in God.
The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh), states:
“The wicked spirit of sin seeks to destroy a man and a person cannot escape the fatal poison of sin till he believes with full certainty in the Perfect and Living God and till he knows for certain that God exists, Who punishes the offender and bestows upon a righteous one ever lasting joy. It is a common experience that when one believes in the fatal effects of anything, one does not have recourse to it. For instance, no one swallows poison consciously. No one deliberately stands in front of a wild tiger. No one deliberately thrusts his hand into the hole of a serpent. Then why does a person commit sin deliberately? The reason is that he has not that certainty in this matter as he has in other matters of the kind that we have mentioned.[i]“
In essence, it is imperative that reviving morality requires rejigging and restoration of true faith in God in the hearts of youth. Sadly, many young people inherited faith from their parents without an independent spiritual reflection that helps them develop a real connection with God Almighty. The mistake many parents make is that they can impose religion on their children as a legacy but pay less attention to spiritual development, which must be nurtured through deliberate guidance and independent, reflective exercise. In many homes, religiosity is more pronounced than spirituality – prayers are a means to attain worldly desires or escape existential sufferings rather than a divine routine that helps develop strong connections with the Supreme Being. The truth that we must embrace is that inculcating and attaining spirituality (connection with God) is the real Goal and that religious acts are just means of attainment, not the Goal. Once a person forges a real connection with Allah, God becomes his Goal, and where such connection is missing, the person’s Goal becomes his God.
The second driver of moral decadence is the Goal that an individual pursues in life. Setting goals help us to live purposeful lives and allows us to exploit our God-bestowed talents. Without recourse to guidance from the Supreme Being, the tendency to exceed bounds in attaining our goals is ever-present. We have seen so many young people adopting some devious ideologies such as, ‘Get Rich or Die Trying,’ ‘Fake it until you make it,’ ‘If you no get money, hide your face,’ ‘Problem e no dey finish, make we enjoy‘ and others. The Supreme Goal is Hedonism – seeking transient pleasure and instantaneous gratification. The moral evolution of society has also influenced and shaped the emergent philosophies that drive youths to pursue ungodly goals no matter what it takes to attain them.
The Quranic verse ‘Then there came after them descendants who neglected Prayer and followed evil desires, so they will meet with destruction,’ demonstrates the thesis that some youths, including few individuals raised within the Ahmadiyya community, lean towards goals that make them oblivious of their duties to Allah and fellow human beings. The aftermath is the widespread threats to life and deaths that confront us all daily. The importance of the God Summit aired on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) across the globe cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, it is a critical lever for resuscitating our youths from spiritual slumber. The illustrious programme infuses a new light of faith and re-awakens our individual and collective consciousness of God so we can reset our compass to seek Goals that align with the Divine Will.
Individualism and collectivism are fundamentally recognized in Islam, yet the religion emphasises the blessings of collective devotion to and practice of goodness. This notion is equally true for the prohibition of the collective practice of evil, which has far-reaching impacts than individual acts. Consequently, the third driver of youth indecencies is Groupthink – by extension, peer influence that entrenches normative behavioural patterns. Groupthink refers to the tendency for a group of individuals with unique characteristics and aligned interests to accept and adopt a philosophy via a consensus on whether it is valid, correct, or optimal. Identity crisis has led many youths to lose their way to have a sense of belonging and to build false self-esteem in a society that rewards one who is proud, loud, hollow, and shallow over the one who is humble, modest, honest, and earnest. The influence of collective thinking and the fear of appearing odd has driven young people to unimaginable heights of selfishness and callousness. We must teach young people how to be independent and interdependent without losing themselves. Peers have negatively influenced unsuspecting youths in a sinister, gradual way that by the time they realise how far they have strayed, and prefer to continue on the path because they see no route to redemption. It is, therefore, crucial to be vigilant of the association you keep and the ideologies you entertain through contemporary sloganisation, which surreptitiously erode your values and spiritual essence.
The Quran admonishes us in this regard by way of prophecy:
“Remember the day when the wrongdoer will bite his hands; he will say, ‘O, would that I had taken the same way with the Messenger!
“Ah, woe is me! Would that I had never taken such a one for a friend!
‘He led me astray from the Reminder after it had come to me. And Satan is man’s great deserter.’ Q 25 v 28 – 30
These verses are instructive for all youths and Ahmadi youths in particular. The ideological, philosophical, theological, and fraternal associations you keep are critical in your moral and spiritual development. Ultimately, keeping the company of the righteous will provide a certain level of spiritual immunity that fortifies you from moral misconduct.
Ahmadi youths are saddled with a rare responsibility to carry on the revivalist mission of the Promised Messiah. They are to devote themselves to resuscitating the morally bankrupt and the spiritually dead. This sacred responsibility will require that we bring about such changes in our moral probity and spiritual upliftment that will exemplify Islam’s pristine teachings as enunciated by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). We have to devise a strategy that brings young people back to God, which helps them set Goals that align with God’s Will and encourages them to join the community of righteous people whose Groupthink is underpinned by Quranic revelation and Prophetic tradition. This transformation of morals and spirituality can only be achieved through unalloyed obedience to and unwavering support for the Khalifa of the time.
On Sunday, 8th September 2019, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, addressed Ahmadi Muslim youth at the concluding session of the 2019 National Ijtema (gathering) of Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya (MKA), UK, in the following words:
“Always remember that being steadfast in your faith and showing perseverance is the way to protect yourself from wrongdoing. When a person shows even a hint of weakness or negligence in his faith, it is an invitation to Satan to take advantage and to guide him astray.
In today’s world, in all directions, there are countless temptations and attractions that can easily take a person away from their faith and towards transgression. For example, indecent television programmes and films are constantly being broadcast or streamed and serve to weaken the moral fabric of society.
Similarly, the influence of social media is ever-increasing, and many videos and posts are those which encourage or facilitate immorality. The same is true with many computer games that people play online, especially young children of the age of twelve to fifteen or other teenagers.
Unquestionably, the harmful aspects of modern technology can easily take people away from God, away from the worship of Him and, over time, weaken a person’s faith in the existence of God Almighty.
Accordingly, if any of the Khuddam or Atfal are falling prey to such vices, they should realise that they are letting themselves come under the utterly destructive influence of Satan, who proclaimed from the outset his intention to take people away from God. And Allah the Almighty has made it clear that those who end up in the clutches of Satan will be held accountable and punished by Him.[ii]“
These golden words of the Khalifah should serve as guidelines for our lives and those of our friends, brothers, and associates. We must remain resolute that despite the prevalence of satanic influence around us, we uphold the pillar of Khilafah wherein lies true spiritual solace. May Allah purify our hearts and perfect His grace in our lives so that we may stay steadfast on the path of rectitude.
[i] (Naseem-e-Dawat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol.19, pp. 81-82)