Have you ever heard people say "When you were very young you were so polite, obedient and hardworking? Now you're a teenager, I don't know what's gone wrong!"
Some parents, as well as community leaders, see that the changes young people go through growing up is a result of hormones and ‘bad’ friends, thinking that in time we will gain maturity and just bounce back. But, how often do you think this really happens?
When adults say that the youth must 'adhere to Islam’, 'stay on the right path!’ their meaning is not always correctly understood. What is it that we should be trying to achieve? To what should we be trying to told hold on to?
The world calls Islam a 'religion', but it is, rather, a way of life; a program of personal and social behavior that is based on the individual being ever-conscious of the Creator. The Muslim seeks to have a pure heart and worship Allah Almighty as He ordained. Purity can be easily obtained and developed as man's innate nature is filled with all the positive qualities endowed by Allah. Man's body and soul are one integral whole and bringing them both into submission to Allah is our lifetime quest.
Therefore, desires must be restrained and controlled and this is done through moral consciousness which is related to both our relation with the Creator and with our fellowman. It is not only seeking spiritual perfection for ourselves, but also to achieve social conditions that facilitate the spiritual development and fulfillment of everyone.
What to Stand For?
Ultimately attaining such goals depends greatly on both the faith and personality of each of us; our ability to withstand the physical and mental peer pressure to conform, whether at school or on the streets. Some people are born with a strong personality, others acquire it, and faith can be strengthened by obedience to Allah and turning to Him.
There are many factors at play as we struggle to adhere to our faith and find our place in the world. What we learn at school, the examples we see, and the expectations we are expected to meet all leave their mark. But ultimately there is individual responsibility as every decision made leads to a certain direction; for better or for worse. It is a sign of maturity that we do not blame our environment or people for where we end up in life because along the way we have responded and made the decisions that led us there.
All that said, no doubt it is hard, very hard to be in a place where refusing to take part in activities that we know are wrong will end up in us being laughed at, harassed or humiliated. Young people are often pressured to participate in swimming carnivals and discos and there is also pressure to ‘look right’; to wear the right labels, the right perfume, hang out with the right people and go to the ‘right’ places – all so we can fit in and be accepted. In this atmosphere virginity is shameful and obeying parents means we have no personality.
There might also be pressure from friends and associates to drink alcohol, take drugs or engage in harmful behavior. We should not underestimate the devastating effect of peer pressure and where it can lead us.
A once-good Muslim can find him or herself one day in a sorry state; realizing how far he is from Allah and His way. Looking in the mirror such a person may well wonder what happened; how did he get to this state? And, how can he get out of it? Everything we allow ourselves to do affects our standing with Allah; we can either strengthen and develop our morality and piety or chip away at it. The choice is ours.
Ultimately there are two choices: give in to the pressure or hold our ground. Which do you think bears the mark of courage and fortitude? And, where do you think courage and fortitude come from?
It takes commitment to withstand this pressure and be firm in who you are and who you want to be. The ultimate goal is success in the Hereafter which is achieved by attaining Allah's mercy that comes about from living a good, clean life, committed to following the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and adhering to the morals and values that he taught.
It is also important to realize that Muslims have the right to maintain their Islamic identity; having a prayer room, holding Friday prayers, celebrating `Eid, and refraining from certain activities. We should stand up for these rights and at the same time, families and the community should exert their utmost to help anyone who wants to change their lives for the better.
Who would want to betray their beliefs simply to please those around them? In the past, things were somewhat simpler than they are today. In the past, young people would often grow up in an environment where everyone had the same values and if anyone slipped, the others would guide him back to the ways of the community. However, in today’s world the family may hold certain values while the community and society hold radically different ideals. The pressure on young people can extend from the family, to the community and to the wider society. Insight, courage and patience are required. Are you up to it?
In the past and present, there are examples of people who remained steadfast in the face of intense pressure because they committed themselves to maintain their identity as Muslims. This cannot be done unless we are close to Allah Almighty; maintain the prayer, remember Allah much and strive to do good and avoid evil; these are means that draw one nearer to Allah Almighty on His Straight Path.
The issue of friends should not be overlooked. We must learn how to choose good friends; understand the criteria of what a ‘good’ friend really is; someone who respects you for who you are and does not try to change what you have committed yourself to and will even support you on your path.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told us:
“A person follows the deen (way of life) of his close friend; therefore let each of you look carefully at whom he chooses for friends.” (Tirmidhi)
When on the path of trying to maintain our Islamic identity amid intense peer pressure, it is vital that we maintain the prayer, obey Allah, and have a clean heart: a heart that is curse free, slander free, grudge free and also far from watching immoral scenes, and anything that hardens the heart and makes it more difficult for us to use our insight and draw near to Allah Almighty from whence comes our strength.
Each stage of life has amazing opportunities for growth and development but the time of our youth is very special as it is a catalyst for what our later life will hold. At this time of life we are just starting to comprehend our potential, and recognize the beauty and significance of Islam in our everyday life. But one’s youth does not last forever and the decisions we make during this time will greatly influence the direction that life will ultimately take and where we will end up.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, advised:
“Value five things before five other things: Youth before old age; health before sickness; affluence before poverty; leisure before becoming too busy; and life before death.” (Tirmidhi)
For the young and old, weakness is a part of human nature and this is how Allah created us, so knowing our reality, the Creator clarified the framework in which we should strive to live so we will have the most advantageous environment in which to gain success. If, in the midst of pressure, you find yourself sinning, keep this in mind: Don’t think about the smallness of the sin, think about the Greatness of the One you are sinning against!
Being good to parents, seeking knowledge, surrounding ourselves with righteous people and adhering to the daily acts of worship are all means to gain the desired outcome of life; success in the Hereafter!