Advice to a Poor Black Muslim Youth (part 2)
After making a commitment to learning your fardul-`ayn (personal obligatory knowledge), we must understand the lay of the land—and your place in it. We live in a globalized society. No longer are you merely competing with the people from the suburbs for the better jobs, you are going to be competing with hundreds of millions of people in India, China, the Philippines, and elsewhere, who are living in gut-wrenching poverty that makes “the hood” look like Beverly Hills:
The kid with the makeshift internet connection in his Bangalore shack doesn’t care that your city government has cut the funding at your school. We need to not only work harder, but we must also work smarter simply to compete. Take the time to view Two Million Minutes. It will give you a sense of the standard of education in other nations. Know your competition. And keep in mind, I am not talking about competing merely to get a job, but we must compete in order to be relevant. And the way to be so is to be educated and well-informed.
As for your place in this globalized society, look at the needs of the Muslims. Not just the Muslims in your city are hurting; the Muslims are hurting worldwide. As you acquire more of the Islamic knowledge, it will become increasingly clear to you that the cause of these problems is the lack of traditional learning and a failure to critically understand and examine the trends that are dominating the world. Compared to most Muslims on earth, you still live in a land of incredible abundance and opportunity. It is here, but you must look for it and take advantage of it. Make it your duty to first reform yourself, and then help others. Be an upright and dignified example of a Muslim. Your behavior is the most salient aspect of your da`wah. Be a beacon of integrity for others to follow. It is not a time for games. It is a time for heroes. Make it your objective to be among them.
We live in an information age, and whoever is not well-informed is going to fall behind. Simple as that. This means that you must you must read and read a lot, and you must have good communication skills; hence, you should be able to express yourself well in both speech and writing. You should know how to use the technology so you can access more and more knowledge—and share it with others. Where do you get started? Since you are going to need to read a lot and read broadly, you do need to get strong in the `Aqidah and the matters pertaining to apostasy, so that you can read critically and protect your heart from adopting bad beliefs.
Understand that the process of self-education takes time and discipline. If you feel a sense of inadequacy because of your education—then face your fear and do something about it. The beginning of learning is learning the language of instruction. For the time being, I am speaking about the English language. You must gain proficiency in formal English. Your success in this endeavor corresponds largely to the degree you have a command over the English language. Make the dictionary your friend, and get a thesaurus. You can go to the library’s used book store or to a thrift store and get both for less than three dollars total. Keep a small notebook with you so that when you see or hear an unfamiliar word, write it down and look it up when you have the time (you can begin by writing down any of the unfamiliar words that are in this post—don’t be lazy; be hungry to learn). Building your vocabulary is the key to gaining a command of the English language. Remind yourself of what Malcolm X said: “I saw that the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary — to study, to learn some words….” For more on Malcolm and his experience with the dictionary and reading, look here:
You don’t, however, have to go to prison to begin your self-education. Take advantage of your freedom, your time, and the thrift stores, where you can typically buy books for less than two dollars. Therein you can often find books vocabulary improvement. Also, there is Verbal Advantage. It is a twenty-four CD audio program that is indispensable to improving your vocabulary, and it offers many other advices for improving one’s English. Get your hands on it. Also, the Internet Archive is loaded with free audio programs that can enhance your language skills (and educate you about anything you want to learn).
Not only will you need to know the meanings of new words, you should get in the habit of using these words. Do this by keeping a journal. Try to write everyday, even if it just entails writing about what you did. Your ideas—and your independent thinking—will come with time, in-shaa’ Allah. Also, by writing, you’ll be leaving a legacy for other people, and a legacy for the children you will have some day, God-willing. Now when you try to write, you may find trouble getting your thoughts together or expressing them. Well, you will also need to get some books on learning English grammar and basic writing skills. A good place to start is with some English as a Second Language (ESL) books. You can frequently find them for free at literacy centers. (Don’t worry what others might say or think. You are on a mission and you know what your objectives are.)
As you advance, take the time out to study critical thinking, logic, and fallacies. This will train the mind to think carefully and precisely and make fine distinctions in your reasoning and in the reasoning of others. This course of study will help you cool your emotions and think rationally and objectively—something that is woefully lacking in the hood. This will, along with `Ilmul-Kalaam (the science pertaining to defending Islam with Scriptural and rational proofs) make your confidence shoot through the roof and go a long way in eradicating any sense of intellectual inadequacy you may have previously had.
Get a map of the United States and the world. Put them on your wall. Maps will give you a sense of the world beyond where you live. Listen to National Public Radio (NPR), and familiarize yourself with the geographical locations of the major national and world events discussed. When NPR has interesting topics, write down the names of the people being interviewed. You can look them up on-line, and even send them an e-mail to get more information about their work.
Again: Read. Read. Read. A good field of study to start with is history. I would suggest general American history; however, you may find African-American history more interesting in the beginning—that’s fine, but don’t limit yourself to that, and don’t allow yourself to be caught up in this American race matrix of victimization. (More on that topic will come, in-shaa’ Allah.) By critically studying African-American history, you will see what black people achieved in spite of the brutal and legalized racism they face. If they could do what they did then—despite their circumstances—then that means you have the potential to do far more by following the Prophet’s path of wisdom with the correct belief in the Creator and a sincere intention. Also, by critically studying African-American history, especially in the light of the Islamic knowledge, you will realize that the problems in the hood are not rooted in poverty or discrimination but in disobedience to Allah. Also, keep in mind that the books you read are going to come with their own biases—that is why it is important for you to think critically and evaluate matters on the scale of Islam. Nonetheless, it is important that you are well-informed and understand how educated people think.
Lastly, because as was said we live in an era of globalism, you need to expand your scope beyond the English language. Again, look at what Malcolm X said:
“…I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist. I don’t know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can’t understand…. Aside from the basic African dialects, I would try to learn Chinese, because it looks as if Chinese will be the most powerful political language of the future. And I have already begun studying Arabic, which I think is going to be the most powerful spiritual language of the future.” (My emphasis)
I would suggest that you might start with Spanish. If you wish to be ambitious, you can start with Latin, for I know of no other tool that would help you start to understand how grammar works, and you’ll also improve your English vocabulary. Furthermore, Latin will prepare you for Spanish and French.
As you proceed along your journey, you will find your own interests. If they don’t conflict with the Religion and they can be used to benefit others, then pursue them. What I have mentioned above are simply some of the tools that will assist you in the intellectual branch of your journey. God-willing, in the next piece, we will talk about some basic survival and decision making skills that you will need on your path to human excellence.