I met one of my old school friends recently. It had been a long time since we last met.
We were always very close but naturally, after marriage and kids etc things sometimes drift.
Whenever we met, we would pick up where we left off.
But something was different, this time.
He was sharing with me stuff we’d never spoken about before. The conversation had real depth.
He had discovered a zeal for learning I had never seen from him before.
He was telling me how he was researching all about Islamic history, about the Seerah, about geopolitics, economics and how it all applies to us today. He spoke with such passion, like someone who had come to life for the first time.
I was really happy for him and encouraged him, recommending a few resources.
It reminded me of the early days of ‘waking up’, when you feel there’s no time to waste, so you’re studying anything and everything furiously. Music and TV gets replaced by podcasts and lectures. Any spare moment you have you’re reading.
I asked him, ‘what brought about this change’ and he mentioned someone he worked with had asked him some questions and he realised he didn’t know the answers.
Then he shared something very interesting.
“Faisal, I have to admit, you’ve been talking about this kind of stuff for years and years. To be honest with you, back in the day, I thought you had gone a bit ‘doo-lally’ and were in ‘cuckoo land’. Only now I realise you were just ahead of the game and we were the ones in cuckoo land.”
We talked a bit about our childhood. He went on to say:
“Seriously, I really feel the mosques didn’t teach us right. It’s like they hid the important stuff from us. They just taught us the basics. The bare minimum. We learned to read the Quran without understanding any of it. And worst of all, they kept us divided unnecessarily.”
It was a good conversation but it was tinged with some sadness. It kind of felt bittersweet, in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I was really glad he had taken action and found a sense of purpose. But it did make me think, what if?
What if our education back then did include more of what we actually needed? What if we learned Arabic fully when we were young, so we could read the Quran with understanding? What if we were empowered with the important stuff in our core, peak years where we are at our most formidable and have the most energy? That we could apply to our daily lives. How would that have transformed our generation and the community?
It got me thinking beyond my own childhood and even my own city. Although this is a very anecdotal story and not intended to tar every mosque and city with the same brush, I do believe this scenario to be a common one across the West.
It’s not entirely the mosque’s fault of course. That would make them an unfair scapegoat, as there are a lot of other factors at play. Funding. Culture. Politics. Parents, perhaps. As the first and second generation looked to establish themselves in a foreign land, it was only natural they would bring over the education and religious systems that they knew had worked for them back in their own countries. It was a simpler time.
They weren’t to know they may not be fit for purpose in a land with so many other new challenges to navigate.
Times have changed even more since. Dramatically so. The challenges today have never been more scary.
The challenge for my generation, is to ensure our children don’t have these issues — to ensure those knowledge gaps are filled and they have an understanding of the bigger picture and how to connect the dots in this complex world.
With that said however, the one thing you cannot fault that early generation for, was their attachment to the mosque. Their hearts were deeply linked to the mosques — so what they may have lacked in sophistication, they really made up for in sincerity.
After years of disillusionment, many young people have turned away from mosques, tired of the committee stranglehold and lack of relevance. Shaykh Mohammad Aslam gave a good talk discussing whether mosques had failed the youth recently. This is another huge bridge we will need to mend if we really hope to do justice to the next generation and beyond.
May Allah help us to give the next generation the best of both worlds, an education that truly transforms them and allows them to impact the world, ameen!
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.