General / Imam Ghazali / Motivational

Imam al-Ghazali’s Advice to the Youth

Advice to the Muslim Youth:

Appropriating Snippets from

Ayyuha ’l-Walad al-Muhibb

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111) wrote a small book of advice on written request by one of his close disciples[1] and although it is nearly a thousand years old, it has a rich trove of advice for the current youth in our times who are trying to navigate around the complex experiences and challenges that make up the modern life in order to change from a heedless and neglectful state to a altered state or condition. Below are just a few snippets of examples from this wonderful book and their relevance and applicability for the youth in their contexts:

Advice 1:

Imam al-Ghazali states: “Even if a person reads and teaches a hundred thousand books on intellectual and knowledgeable issues but does not act on any of it, then it will not benefit him at all…”[2]فكذا لو قرأ رجل مائة ألف مسألة علمية و تعلمها و لم يعمل بها لا تفيده إلا بالعمل

Some of the young Muslims – especially those who read Islamic books or even academic material – only love debating, arguing and talking about Islamic topics and issues (especially in `aqidah and fiqh) but they do not act on what they know. Their knowledge is almost academic and non-practical. Imam al-Ghazali is advising that this is wholly inconsistent and a big failing. It is inconsistent because a person ought to practice what they know and teach it to others and it is a failing and weakness because their knowledge should make them act but it does not and this is the most unfortunate kind of knowledge.

Advice 2:

Imam al-Ghazali states: “…O beloved disciple, knowledge without action is madness and action without knowledge can’t be!”[3]أيها الولد العلم بلا عمل جنون والعمل بغير علم لا يكون

The advice here is extremely important in that a person needs both knowledge and action. If he does not have the required knowledge then he may not know whether he is performing his actions correctly and acceptably according to the rules of the Shari`ah (e.g. he may be praying incorrectly, fasting incorrectly, buying and selling incorrectly, justifying disobedience to Allah without knowing, etc.). However, if one has knowledge but it does not cause them to move and act then this knowledge is not beneficial and in effect makes it pointless and this is the most unfortunate kind of knowledge. Thus, both knowledge and actions have to be combined for a person to have a consistent Islamic personality (shakhsiyyah). Both the mentality (outlook, ideas and concepts) as well as one’s behaviour (actions, morals and disposition) must be consistently based on one standard and belief – the Islamic standard and belief. 

Advice 3:

Imam Abu ’l-Qasim al-Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 298/910) remarks: “…we only benefitted from the small units of Prayer we did late at night.”[4]و ما نفعنا إلا ركيعات ركعناها في جوف الليل

Some youth love partying and socialising, some only focus on studying while others on playing consoles like Playstation, Xbox, Wii and yet others spend most of their time in sports. Imam al-Ghazali is warning us with this quote from al-Junayd that all this is not beneficial if it means our acts of worship and devotion (`ibadah) decrease or become non-existence. In a society that directs our attention to mainly entertainment and pleasure, this should be looked at as a distraction from our important obligations which is to worship Allah, come to have knowledge of Him, carry da`wah (‘the Islamic call, invitation to Islam’) as well as to prioritise what He and His beloved Messenger (saw) have prioritised. This does not mean young Muslims should not enjoy themselves with games, sports and relaxing with each other; they should as these are all mubah (‘allowed’). What it means is that learning Islamic knowledge, praying, da`wah and any other fard (‘obligation’) must not be neglected for something merely allowed. Priorities should not be confused.

Some of the youth sometimes see spirituality and personal devotion as something uncomfortable, uncool; something only for those who have boring lives and those who are out of touch or even something the parents and grandparents and their generation do. This is incorrect. Individual extra Prayers, dhikr (remembrance of Allah), durud, du`as (‘supplications’) and recitation of the Qur’an must be continual acts in order to keep a person connected with Allah and habituated on good actions. This is what Islam teaches.

Advice 4:

Imam al-Ghazali states: “…Know that true obedience to Allah and true worship of Him involves following the commands and prohibitions of Shari`ah in both word and acts…”[5]أعلم أن الطاعة و العبادة متابعة الشارع في الأوامر و النواهي بالقول و الفعل

Imam al-Ghazali unequivocally advises that true obedience to Allah and true worship is only possible if it agrees with the rulings and commands of the Noble Shari`ah. No other criterion is acceptable. However, our youth today whether knowingly or unknowingly have taken either, culture, friends, society, their own ego (nafs) or their own minds and other philosophies as their criterion of deciding whether or not something is right, wrong or acceptable and unacceptable. This is not correct. The criterion of the Shari`ah is what a Muslim must hold for their actions.

If true worship is only achieved through the Shari`ah and if we look to our lives today, we  know and can see that the Shari`ah is absent in our lives and because of this absence, Muslims are politically disunited, weak, economically impoverished, oppressed, attacked, exploited and occupied as a global Ummah. This should make our youth think about this serious situation and how to reverse it.

Advice 5:

Sayyiduna `Umar Ibn al-Khattab (ra): “Account yourself before you are brought to account and measure your actions before they are measured…”[6]حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزنوا

All Muslims, whether young or old, must prepare themselves for the Hereafter (akhira). They must be ready for when Allah will account everyone for everything they did in this world. Imam al-Ghazali through this quote is alerting and advising that before Allah accounts you, you should account yourself and prepare yourself for that Day by preparing now through learning about Islam and its subjects, practicing it, delivering it to others, sharing it and keeping firmly on it.

Action plan:

What is it then that the youth can do? Something that will help them when nothing else can or something that will be with them when nothing else will: righteous actions (a`mal saliha). Imam al-Ghazali quotes Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 194/810) as follows:

إني نظرت الى الخلق فرأيت لكل منهم محبوبا ومعشوقا يحبه ويعشقه، وبعض ذلك المحبوب يصاحبه إلى مرض الموت وبعضه يصاحبه إلى شفير القبر، ثم يرجع كله، ويتركه فريداً وحيداً، ولا يدخل معه في قبره منهم أحد فتفكرت وقلت: أفضل محبوب المرء ما يدخل معه في قبره، ويؤنسه فيه، فما وجدته غير الأعمال الصالحة، فأخذتها محبوبة لي؛ لتكون لي سراجاً في قبري، وتؤنسني فيه، ولا تتركني فريداً.

“When I observed people I saw them loving others dearly and being attached to them. Some of these people they loved and were attached to will be with them when they’re ill or when they’re being lowered in the grave. However, all of these beloveds will return and will go back and leave them, desert them all alone. They will not be able to enter with them in the grave and help them. So I contemplated long and hard and came to the conclusion that: the best thing for a person or the most beloved and dear thing to a person should be what can enter with him into the grave and be close to him there. What i found that to be was nothing more than righteous actions or good deeds. So I took it as something dear and beloved to me so it can be a radiant lamp for me in the grave, be close to me and not leave me…”[7]

What can some of this a’mal saliha (‘good and righteous actions’) be for the youth to practically do?

  1. Learn Islamic knowledge.
  2. Ponder over our actions by linking it to the Hereafter and its consequences.
  3. Carrying da`wah.
  4. Keeping good company.
  5. Valuing your youth and time.

S. Z. C.

And with Allah is all Success.

[1] al-Ghazali, Ayyuha ’l-Walad, p.18.

[2] Ibid, p.21.

[3] Ibid, p.25.

[4] Ibid, p.20.

[5] Ibid, p.29.

[6] Ibid, p.23.

[7] Ibid, p.32.


8 thoughts on “Imam al-Ghazali’s Advice to the Youth

  1. Pingback: maybe we can all learn a few things here… « Exploring Life, The Universe and Everything

  2. Pingback: “Ibn al-Jawzi and Unanswered Prayers” | دار نيـقـوسـيــا

  3. Our imams passed the light rightly from the main lamp that is from our prophet Muhammed peace be upon him.We are forgetting our identity . The young and old are always looking for pleasures and entertainment. We no longer feel the pain of loosing our identity and sufferings of our brothers..our answer to this sad affairs is : By learning , contemplating and passing the message of Allah to others as mentioned in the book of Allah The QURAN and By bringing in our hearts the culture that is the sunnah of our beloved prophet muhammad in action from cradle to grave. Thus we will be able to carry the legacy of the great imams. May Allah make it easy for the brothers who are in this world and who are to come until the last day.aameen.

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