Wynberg Conversations: The Role of Youth in Society, address to the Muslim Students Association

Old Wynbergian, Samir Daniels (left), with guest speaker, Mujahid Osman at the Muslim Students Association Iftar

Old Wynbergian, Samir Daniels (left), with guest speaker, Mujahid Osman at the Muslim Students Association Iftar. Scroll to end of the article for photos of the evening.

Thursday 15 June 2017: The Muslim Students Association held an Iftar ( breaking of fast) in the Clegg Hall, with children from the Al Noor and Vision Orphanages, parents and learners invited.  

The Chairperson of the School Governing Body, Mr Tapie Marlie, welcomed everyone and Imam Sheik conducted the prayers in the Fish Bowl, giving  a talk on the significance of Ramadan.

After a hearty meal served by our friends from Feedem, guest speaker, Mujahid Osman, a past pupil of Westerford High School and member of the Department of Religious Studies at UCT, delivered a powerful address on the role of youth in our society.

Mrs Prisci Naidoo
MIC: WBHS Muslim Students Association


Our thanks to Mr Osman for permission to publish his address in full below:

As we all know, the Qur’an, the most primary source of guidance, was first introduced to our world during the month of Ramadan. It has, therefore, become tradition with Muslim communities to reflect on some of the messages and teachings of the Qur’an in the hope that it will help us become better, more caring, more compassionate human beings. In this sense, the Qur’an plays a very critical part of the lives of Muslims where we look to it for spiritual rejuvenation, ethical guidance and political motivation.

With Youth Day coming up, I think it is important for us to reflect on what this means.

Youth in the Qur’an

In Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, verses 13 & 14, Allah, the Sublime, edifies us by not only apprising us of the legendary story of the Companions of the Cave (Ashab al-Kahf), but more significantly revealing their identity, namely that they were youth.

We shall narrate to you their exemplary story:

Behold they were youth who believed in their Lord:

And so we deepened their consciousness of the Right Way.

And We strengthened their hearts so that they stood up against injustices and proclaimed:

“Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth.

We shall invoke no god beside Him,

for (if we do so) we shall have uttered a blasphemy. (Q18:13-14)

The story of the companions of the cave is not exclusive to Islamic scripture. Similar narrations can be found in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. The story describes a group of people who stood up against wrongdoing within their community and due to their struggles over faith and justice, chose to isolate themselves from their community and seek seclusion in a cave for a long period of time.

While debates relating to the story have focused on unnecessary details such as the number of people in the cave and the length of time that they spent sleeping there, the Qur’an chooses to focus on the most significant detail of the story: that the Companions of the Cave were youth (fityatun) who were believers.

It should be noted that the Arabic word used in the surah is “fityatun” which has an infinitive “futuwwah” which has connotations of virtues of energy, heroism, revolutionary vigour and an altruistic character that seeks to help others.

These are characteristics that the Qur’an affirms is present amongst the youth and by declaring that the Companions of the Cave were youth, the Qur’an is inferring that young people are more likely to fight for justice and be agents of social change.

The Role of Youth in Society

Tomorrow’s commemoration is the start of the youth-led Soweto Uprisings on June 16, 1976.  On this day, South Africa experienced the organized militant defiance of young students. Armed with Black Consciousness and freedom songs they marched in their thousands to express their revolutionary anger against an oppressive education system. They threw stones. They threw bricks. They watched their comrades die as they led a movement that became a decisive turning point in the struggle against the apartheid regime.

This month, let us remember their revolutionary anger and defiance that reverberated through the country.

As we observe this reality, we realize that we are reaching a pivotal point in our democracy. We see the impatience of young people and how they are forcing issues onto the national debate. We see the defiance of our comrades in the Rhodes Must Fall movement. We see the issues of #FeesMustFall. Young people who have uncompromisingly challenged the status quo and are calling for the radical reorganizing of our society.

We see this revolutionary anger reverberating across the country. Young people in the Open Stellenbosch movement at Stellies have begun robust engagement on the anti-transformation and apartheid culture of their institution. This revolutionary spirit has spread to other spaces of higher learning.

The Italian revolutionary Gramsci wrote: “When the old refuses to die and the new is struggling to be born, monsters appear.”

This is the price that societies have to pay for the betrayal and dishonesty by their elders. This is what we see resurfacing today. The impatience of youth will never be contained by the stagnant politics of the old.

We need a radical and critical discourse that is imperative for progress, and that requires honesty. The expression of this honesty is not going to be easy.

What is Our Role Today?

The question that we have to ask is: how are we as youth going to move our society forward into a position where compassionate justice is the organizing framework?

How are we going to uphold the legacy that we inherited by the youth of 1976?

Are we going to allow bullying to happen in the school corridors or in home period or are we going to stand up to bullying?

Are we going to continue using racist language in the class or on the sports field?

Are we going to continue referring to women by derogatory names? Are we going to talk about our sexual experiences with women in the form of conquest? Or are we going to respect and assert the full dignity and equality of women?

Or we going to refer to that kid who likes music, arts and drama as gay or a “moffie” or are we going to see the human being that is sitting next to you in English class?

Conclusion

One of my favorite verses in the Qur’an is found in Surah al-Ra’ad, Chapter 13, verse 11. In this ayah Allah, the Sublime proclaims:

 

Surah al-The Qur’an: Ra’ad, Chapter 13, verse 11

Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people

as long as they do not change themselves [Q13:11]

The change that we want to see in the world, starts with us!

Thank you for your patience with me.

Mujahid Osman
Department of Religious Studies, UCT