Are our youth insufficiently inspired to reach greater heights?
There have been alarming statistics about the Malaysian youth in recent times: it has been reported that nearly 60% of university graduates remain unemployed after a year of graduating; it was further reported that 29% of Malaysians had depression and anxiety disorder, and the prevalence of suicidal attempt was apparently increasing.
Clearly something is hampering or preventing the attainment of greater heights in the lives of many people. So much so, clinical psychologists have suggested to give greater attention to the question of ‘meaninglessness’ in people’s lives.
But are our people inspired to seek greater clarity in meaning to begin with?
The word ‘inspire’ comes from the Latin word that means to inflame or to blow in to. Interestingly, the word ‘inspiration’ used to have spiritual connotations—according to www.etymonline.com, “The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’.”
Therefore, the question of ‘what’ should people be inspired with should be clear: most human beings yearn for greater meaning in lives, greater comprehension of their place in this universe, greater sense of mission in life or to be part of a something loftier in their lives—that one is not merely a product of coincidence being born into this world.
Most people may not articulate the above desire, but I have a feeling if we investigate deep enough, that is the answer we will find. Looking through the lens of the vision of reality and truth projected by Islam, this is naturally what we would focus on since we affirm the existence of the soul in man—that man is not merely physical.
Thus from the Muslim’s point of view, we need to find ways to predispose human souls to be able to receive some kind of a ‘spark’ from the Divine or a ‘breeze’ as per the Prophetic statement: “Verily, God has moments of gentle breeze from His Mercy that he sends upon whomever he wills among his servants.”
Imagine if those from the most disadvantaged positions in a society but not see much hope in their future prospects, or those who excel in their studies yet suffer from psychological disorder, or those who are caught in a rat race but are spiritually jaded—are all inspired with a higher purpose in life.
So where do we start? And how do we best go about initiating a kind of revolution to inspire people to attain greater sense of personal and collective meaning?
In the case of Malaysia, we are fortunate that our forefathers have laid the philosophical grounds to inspire the people to greater heights. For example, in the state of Johor, the motto on its coat of arms is “Kepada Allah Berserah” (To God we Submit); in Kelantan, it is “Berserah Kepada Tuhan Kerajaan Kelantan” (To God the Kingdom of Kelantan Surrenders); in Pahang, it is “Ya Latiff” (O God the Gentle); in Terengganu, it is “Maju, Berkat dan Sejahtera” (Progress, Blessings and Happiness), and so on.
These mottos reflect an affirmation of a spiritual reality in this world and ought to inspire the inhabitants to succeed in this world and the Next. But these mottos must be fortified with corresponding narratives, discourses, literatures, and artistic expressions—either through formal or informal educational initiatives for the larger population to appreciate and realize practically.
Practically speaking, I am drawn to suggest what the various non-profit foundations in Malaysia can do. Commendably, from my limited observations of the foundations in Malaysia, many are giving out scholarships or financial aids to deserving students.
These are without doubt effective contributions—but their impacts are surely short term. Furthermore, we do not know if these financial aids would truly inspire the recipients to be learning for the rest of their lives with the right motivations and right frame of mind to fulfill their communal role meaningfully—what the scholars of Islam terms as “fard al-kifayah”.
In the worldview of Islam, failure for an individual to fulfill their communal obligations (fard al-kifayah) would necessarily result in a condition of injustice (zulm): talented professionals may only enrich themselves at the expense of others instead of transcending their selves in the interest of the common good, companies may continue to perpetuate psychological and ecological disorder even with ‘social responsibility’ initiatives, and these in turn may lead to a feeling of anxiety and uneasiness in the soul as it is not in agreement with their fitrah (natural inclination).
In Adi Setia’s insightful article titled “Fard al-Kifaya, Mu’amala, and the Commonweal: Reconnecting Economics and the Economy to the Communities” (Islamic Sciences, Vol. 11, (Summer 2013) No.1), he provided the following useful guidelines in fulfilling a communal obligation: (i) to ascertain the benefit and harm to either culture or nature of any science or discipline or vocation before investing one’s intellectual, physical, and financial energy in it; (ii) to opt for career paths most relevant to meeting some hitherto unmet needs of our communities or solving some hitherto unsolved, pressing problems; and (iii) to be constantly vigilant about the kind of state or corporate structures, benign or otherwise, one for work, in, or with.”
Therefore what is needed is a cogent philosophical framework with such aforementioned assumptions in embarking a systematic societal reform either at the state level or national level, which would meaningfully guide the thinking for every activity and initiatives of a non-profit foundation in the short, medium and long run.
By philosophical framework we do not mean simply a set of ‘core values’ but rather a cogent and coherent conceptual articulation which clarifies the way a foundation seeks to bring about ‘change’ in the challenges facing society, and thereby the raison d’être of a foundation.