Interview with Dr. Yousuf Raza
Dr. Yousuf Raza is a prominent speaker from Islamabad. He is also a Daee, known for conducting Ramadan programs, giving inspirational talks, and conducting workshops.
What is it about Islam that attracts a young man or woman today?
I don’t think it is possible to pinpoint one particular reason. It’s mind boggling how, in this day and age, where we are exposed to all kinds of anti-religious rhetoric, from the intellectual right down to the public level, people are still turning towards the Deen of Allah (swt). And what’s even more fascinating is that they’re all attracted towards Islam for a variety of reasons. “Autobiography of Malcolm X”, “Road to Makkah” and “From MTV to Makkah” are some of the most insightful autobiographies talking about how Islam is still attracting people for numerous reasons.
However, the youth, in particular, are turning towards Islam in pursuit of an inner peace and tranquility. That’s a predictable consequence of the neurotic age we are living in. And as Daees, we tend to focus a lot on this aspect and almost offer it as ‘bait’ seeking to ‘reel people in’. We need to be very careful because the Quran does not offer that as the primary incentive to its addressees. Neither did the Messenger (sa) make such promises to the people. Don’t get me wrong – peace and tranquility is definitely one of the most profound benefits of practicing Islam but as a secondary consequence. Islam primarily gives you a higher meaning in your life. By attaching you to Allah (swt), in the footsteps of Rasulullah (sa), yet in your unique circumstances and individual personality, it grants you that distinctive meaning in your life, a meaning that you, and only you, can live. A realization of that meaning and struggle to fulfil it becomes the primary aim. Tranquility, peace, happiness, and success are secondary by-products. Paraphrasing Viktor Frankl, the more you run after these things as a primary aim, the more they elude you. And when you stop caring and set a higher goal for yourself, they ease their way to you. In our journey towards Allah (swt), the primary pursuit of tranquility, happiness, and success in this world are potentially very subtle and very dangerous idols.
Do you consider Muslim youth confused about their identity and future?
As sure as hell, they’re confused! Why wouldn’t they be? They’re living fragmented lives, and each fragment contradicts the other. In their young gullible minds, the popular interpretation of Islam that they’re exposed to from their childhood stands in clear contradiction to the popular interpretation of science they’re subjected to at schools and colleges. What’s more, the people teaching them these interpretations, both the religious and the scientific, are just as confused. But rather than acknowledging their confusion, they hide it behind this super-confident mask and arrogantly proclaim: “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong.” This Ayah perhaps holds true for Muslim youth today just as it did of Bani Israeel: “And verily, those who were made to inherit the Scripture [i.e. the Taurah (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] after them (i.e. Jews and Christians) are in grave doubt concerning it (i.e. Allah’s true religion Islam or the Qur’an).” (Ash-Shura 42:14)
Which qualities of our youth make you hopeful that if they mend their ways and get connected to the Creator, our Ummah will improve?
Our youth still has a sincere love for Rasulullah (sa) – it only requires proper channelling. Then, perhaps, is their love for their country; all that needs is for it to be connected to the pristine ideology which underlies the founding of our nation: that Pakistan is the base camp for Islam to fulfil its destiny. In the words of Iqbal: “Islam is itself destiny and will not suffer a destiny.” Third is the strong desire for a positive change; it’s only the absence of capable and ideologically sound leadership that we haven’t been able to capitalise on that desire. And, finally, the youth itself carries that intellectual and emotional capacity for filling that leadership vacuum!
What is the best way for elders to treat the young? There seems to be much mistrust between them.
Mistrust is a direct consequence of looking at the world through the binary lens: it only shows you black and white. A natural defence mechanism, as alluded to before, is to claim for yourself to be white and for the others to be black. This holds true across conflicts between any two parties; even the one between elders and youth. The elders look at the young as the personification of the ‘modern age’ and themselves as the bearers of ‘tradition and culture’. The youth would use the same terms, only the ‘black and white’ labels would be reversed. This attitude is reflected in our youth declaring the elders to be ‘backward’ and the elderly labelling the youth as ‘rebellious’.
With this splitting, you never want to acknowledge any good in the other and, therefore, do not want to know them better, read about what inspires and influences them, or what values they hold. This is exactly what needs to be reversed. When you approach the other with openness and with a desire to learn and benefit from them, you will understand them better and grow closer and more tolerant. This task is impossible for those who, despite their identity crisis, deny their insecurities. Those who acknowledge the crisis and seek to resolve it will be able to open the lines of communication and eventually create relationships between the two groups based on trust.
As a family, what is the positive role that parents must play in the lives of the youth?
The pages of this magazine aren’t sufficient to address the problem. A crude observation from the patients I’ve seen in child psychiatry is that almost 90 % of the psychological problems in children are due to bad parenting. As they say, “there are no bad children, only bad parents”. I wouldn’t be that harsh and would instead say that bad parenting is to blame, not bad parents. We want good for our children, but due to ignorance, our own identity crises, and the lack of meaning and purpose in our own lives, we subject them to horrible treatment. Children, research proves, do what you do, not what you say. Become their role models! As is rightly said in the book “Five Languages of Love of Children”, make sure that their ‘love tanks’ are full. The authors of this book (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell) enunciate the five languages of love: physical touch (hugs and kisses), quality time (exclusive and dedicated), words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. All parents should read the book. And these apply, even if your children are not children anymore! When their love tanks are full and they’re genuinely emotionally attached to you, rather than having a tenuous social bond, they will open up to you and you will be able to guide them. If that’s not there, then you’re a problem for them, rather than a guide who could help solve their problems.
What advice would you give to the young and spirited?
Nothing I have to say can qualify as being invaluable except if it stems from the Quran: “So flee towards Allah…” (Adh-Dhariyat 51:50) And when you do that, you’ll realize your unique meaning in life and how that translates into making Allah’s (swt) world a better place to live.