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Separating Wheat from Chaff - Independent Thinking in a World of Slogans.

Byline: Dr. Nasreen Ahsan - Educationist and social researcher

We live in a world where institutes and mass media try to influence us on a daily basis. In this 'bombardment' of ideas, we find ourselves baffled. Family members, religious leaders, media, politicians, social media, friends and advertisements aim to shape the ideologies we form about life and our role in it.

Ideas That Appeal

Some ideas appeal to us, probably because we find them convenient to implement. Dads changing babies, for instance, was an idea propagated by an advertising campaign, and which mother wasn't impressed? The idea was attractive, because it served their interest and was inclined towards what they all secretly want.

Ideas We Reject

We outright reject some ideas. At times, it is because they sound terrible to us, or they are not particularly suited to our interest. Sometimes they go against our ideology or something that we have always accepted as a fact. Quite a lot of people are opposed to the idea of consulting a psychiatrist or counsellor, because mental illness is still not quite understood as a concept.

Beneficial vs. Destructive Ideas

How exactly is an idea or concept classified as beneficial? If we go by the above mentioned criteria - that an idea is good simply if it appeals to us or serves our interest - then a basic flaw arises here. Something that serves our interest will not necessarily serve another person's as well. Something that we find good is not something that our neighbour, for instance, will agree with. The problem becomes even more prominent on social media: there is no guarantee that our followers and friends will find an idea correct or beneficial just because we do.

Imam Hasan al-Banna said: "Keep people away from false ideas by making them busy with true ideas."

So back to the query: How do we decide that an idea or concept is absolutely flawless and perfectly applicable to everyone? Analyze it by keeping in mind the perspective of other people.

When you are presented with different ideologies, do you decide to adopt one simply because it appeals to you as a person?

What happens when an idea does not appeal to you or is against your opinions? What if you like the idea but your spouse or family members do not? Does it lead to family conflict or friction in your marital life?

Is there any universal criteria that we can use for analyzing ideologies or concepts we are faced with on media and social networks or via family and educational institutes? For Muslims, yes, there is one such criterion.

The Basis of Ideologies

For Muslims, the basic criterion for judging ideologies or concepts is the Quran. Anything that we are presented with must be analyzed in the light of Quranic teachings, before it is accepted or rejected. Self-interest, convenience, pre-conceived notions, and popular slogans all take a back seat here, as they are all secondary.

Allah (swt) has called the Quran a 'Criterion' between right and wrong: "Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion upon His Servant that he may be to the worlds a warner." (Al-Furqan 25:1)

Prominent scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi said: "One of the criteria that we should refer to when deciding what is most deserving of attention and most deserving of prioritizing over other things: Giving something exactly the importance that the Quran gives to it."

Ibn al-Jawzi said: "[The one who follows the Quran and the Sunnah] will not live a life of suffering."

In a nutshell, we should use the Quran (not our own opinions) as the basic criterion for deciding the validity of ideas. If an idea is in line with the teachings of the Quran and Hadeeth, we accept it whole-heartedly, implement it in our lives, and also propagate it to others. Conversely, if an idea goes against the Quran and what Prophet Muhammad (sa) taught us, then we reject it. There should be no place for such an idea in our lives. Allah (swt) has not enjoined on us anything that is harmful for us. Likewise, He has not prohibited us from the things that are beneficial for us.

"Whosoever reads the Quran and reflects on it will find himself and his situation mentioned therein. This is only one of its many miracles." (Bishr al-Hafi)

Action Points for Parents and Educators

1. Read the Quran with understanding. In this day and age, it is absolutely imperative to know exactly what the Quran and Sunnah say about contemporary issues.

2. Daily, read at least one verse of the Quran with translation with your children. Children must know what the Quran is saying to them.

3. Read books on what Islam says about dress code, family life, feminism, capitalism, materialism, atheism, and other issues. Raise your level of knowledge, so you can adequately answer your children's or students' questions.

4. Go beyond academics and encourage children and young adults to ask questions. Discuss what is happening at home and in educational institutes; what their friends are talking about; what kind of events they are organizing; what workshops they are attending; and simply what is going on in their minds.

5. Discuss issues with them, simply to find out what they think about it. Don't be reactive, if they say stuff that goes against Islamic teachings. Gently steer them back towards the straight path and make lots of Duas for them.

6. If you are attending any Quran study circles, take your children with you. Educators can arrange for children-friendly Quran circles at school, too.

7. Your children, regardless of age, must see their parents and educators as implementing what they are teaching. Taqwa is best learned by seeing, not lecturing.

Action Points for Young Adults

1. Always remember that ideas are either beneficial or destructive. There is no way in between. We accept what the Quran and Sunnah tell us and reject what they prohibit.

2. Never accept any idea or ideology on face value. Something may sound attractive but may actually be destructive for you.

3. Slogans are just that - slogans. They sound really good to chant but mostly have little practical value in real life.

4. Advertising campaigns propagate ideas to sell products - whether this idea is ultimately beneficial for you is of little importance to them.

5. Read the Quran with translation, either with a trusted teacher or your parents. This will lead you to an ideology that is ultimately universally beneficial.
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Author:Dr. Nasreen Ahsan - Educationist and social researcher
Date:Dec 25, 2019
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