“Meaningful Place of Youth: Lessons from Muslim Luminaries and Prof. Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas”
Summary of RZS-CASIS Saturday Night Lecture 9thSeries, 24thAugust 2019
by Ahmad Khushairi Ismail (CASIS Master graduate)
The Raja Zarith Sofiah Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (RZS-CASIS) Saturday Night Lecture (SNL) continues its third installment for this particular 9thSeries on 24thAugust 2019 with Professor Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud. He continued deliberating from the Introduction chapter of his book The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas: An Exposition of the Original Concept of Islamization.
As in the previous session Prof. Wan has elaborated the psychological, spiritual and educational underlying elements—and motivations—in the writing of the book, this particular session Prof. Wan focuses on the educational and socio-cultural background of Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attaswith the intention to not just narrating facts and events but rather to derived lessons (i‘tibār) to be benefited by every individual selves, family and community at large.
Prof. Wan began by quoting Imām ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Alawī al-Haddād’s The Lives of Manwhich explained the five stages of human existence, (i) the pre-creation world (al-mīthāq)—in relation to Sūrah al-A‘rāfverse 172—and (ii) the mother’s womb; which is this world, (iii) the intermediate realm (‘ālam barzakh), (iv) the day of judgement and (v) the final destiny which is heaven or hell. With regard to life in this world, Imam al-Haddād also divides it into five which is (i) childhood, until 15 years of age, (ii) youth, from 15 to 35, (iii) matured, from 35 to 50, (iv) senior, from 50 to 70 and (v) very old.
Interestingly, Prof. Wan made a contradistinction with what Philip H. Coombs wrote in his The World Crisis in Educationon the point of the creation of youth as a separate group from childhood and adulthood within the Western civilization in the 19thcentury. This delays the young in becoming adult and cause large section of society with the lack of maturity. From a Western cultural perspective, the youth must be free from the shackles of the adult, wandering about, and demands to be free, to experiment, to go through trial and error in searching for their own identity. Prof. Wan explained that according to Muslim perspective, youth is not a group entirely separated from the adult. It is not an idle stage to be freely independent but rather a stage where the framework becoming stronger towards maturity with adults as their references such as the Prophet, the Companions, the scholars, as well as highly moral people.
In the writings of scholars and biographies (Ṭabaqāt), the life of illustrious personnel and figures were recorded. Prof. Wan put forward many interesting examples like Sayyidina Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, Sayyidina ‘Umar al-Khattāb, Sayyidina ‘Uthmān bin ‘Affān and Sayyidina ‘Alī bin Abī Ṭālib who embraces Islam at the age of 37, 27, 32 and 10 respectively; and ‘Alī at the age of 21 slept at the bed of the Prophet because he is well aware and understood profoundly the place of the Prophet in his system of thought. Prof. Wan also brought many other exciting examples such as Imām al-Shafī‘ī, ibn Sīnā, Niẓām al-Mulk al-Ṭūsī, Mu‘āwiyah, ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Azīz, Hārūn al-Rashīd, al-Ma’mūn, Muḥammad al-Fātih, Sulaymān al-Qānūnī, ibn Ḥazm, Ṣultān Iskandar Thānī and several others; all managed to accomplish significant achievement at the young age. For instance, Prof. Wan illustrated the action of Imām al-Ash‘arī leaving the school of Mu‘tazilite during the age of barely 40 indicates his superior intellectual maturity which in turn became the foundation of Sunni school of thought. Another account put forward by Prof. Wan is in the travelogue of ibn Jubayr where he indicate that during the time of Ṣalāh al-Dīn al-Ayyūbī, he still managed to provide proper and adequate needs for learning in the middle of Crusades.
Prof. Wan highlighted that the mentioned figures as well as many Muslim scholars of the past could achieve great heights partly because of their own intellectual capacity and also because of the environment they live in. He strongly explained that
“Greatness is not presuppose, it is post-sanctum; after we do it, then we become great. We should not to just do great things, but do something at our best of abilities.”
Relaying from Dr Yakoob Ahmad’s reply to a question, Prof. Wan make use of the term ‘osmosis’ or the osmotic absorption where even in the early age of life, they were made familiar with terms, concepts, ideas and discussion as Prof. Wan said “human intellect—soul—does not grow in vacuum.” The culture in which they are living in is very important.
In relation to Imām al-Haddād’s stages of human life in this world, Prof. al-Attas is now at the most later stage of life, but his intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacities were prepared and developed since the very early stage. Prof. Wan explained the noble lineage of both his parents, the significant advice from his mother to travel in seeking knowledge, the cultural milieu among the household of leaders of the State of Johor, the exposure to great writings of both the Western classics and sagas as well as the Malay manuscripts; all help in developing his own unique style of writing and confidence. His earliest writings, Rangkaian Ruba’iyatwas published when he was 28 years old and Some Aspect of Ṣūfīsm as Understood and Practiced Among the Malayswas published when he was 32 years old. Prof. Wan also highlighted that the confidence and subtleness of arguments that Prof. al-Attas exemplified in the writings of Islām and Secularismand Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islamis the fruits of long accumulated intellectual preparedness since the very young. No wonder the contemporary prominent American Muslim scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yūsuf regarded Islām and Secularismas one of the best book produced by Muslim in the last 100 years.
In the question and answer session afterwards, Prof. Wan Mohd Nor highlighted among others the tragic spirit of the Western mind in continue changing all the time; the issue of the Romanization of Malay language; the importance of personalized education besides the institutional ones; language and common ethical values as central principle in national unity; the potentiality for excellence among Muslim women; to use freedom to improve our knowledge; to do the best of our ability; to be always sincere as well as being optimistic and not losing hope!
‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Alawī al-Haddād, Sabīl al-Iddikār wa al-I‘tibār bima Yamūrru bī al-Insān wa Yanqaḍlī lahū min al-A‘mār, trans. Mostafa al-Badawi, The Lives of Man: A Guide to the Human States: Before Life, In the World, and After Death, (Kentucky, USA: Fons Vitae, 1998).