“I’m not saying you’re wrong… I’m just saying you wouldn’t know if you were.” Those were the words of my professor, who had just assigned us a research paper designed to challenge our convictions. The premise was that most people, especially youth, do not know exactly why they believe what they do. We might have beliefs so passionate that the mere idea of someone disagreeing angers us, yet we haven’t rigorously studied the topics that we’ve formed opinions on.
This state is dangerous for two reasons — the first is that our opinions might be based on factually incorrect premises, and the second is that even if our opinions are correct, we wouldn’t be able to defend them if challenged. It’s the second one that this piece will specifically focus on, as it is the most relevant to us in the context of young Muslims. If you’re reading this, chances are you believe God exists, you are pro-Palestine, and you aren’t a supporter of Donald Trump. Now, one of those opinions requires much less knowledge to validate than the others, but the fact of the matter is in order to justify all of them, you must be at least mildly educated. Imagine if someone were to confront you tomorrow on the existence of God. This is not unlikely — we live in a society where, for many people, belief in God is seen as irrational. Would you be able to justify yourself? If not, you risk not only affirming the opinion of your challenger, but also losing your own faith.
Donald Trump was just elected, and he and his supporters have consistently painted Islam as a religion of violence and hatred. If someone were to confront you with a verse from the Quran speaking about Jihad, would you be able to clarify it for them? If not, your lack of a defence will be one more thing convincing that person of their false view.
Holding opinions without the necessary education to justify them is dangerous at an even more fundamental level, however, as it necessitates blind faith. One of the most common criticisms of disbelievers in the Quran is that they only follow the practices of their ancestors, avoiding even the most superficial critical analysis. The Quran responds with a challenge: “And if their fathers had no understanding of anything, and if they were not guided?” If the beliefs your parents raised you with were not based on logic or reason, would you still follow them? The clear implication from the Quran is that they should be rejected in favour of the truth. If we refuse to educate ourselves, how are we any different from the disbelievers? They unquestioningly followed falsehood, while we unquestioningly followed truth, but both are guilty of the grave crime the Quran warns against.
Not every Muslim needs to be a scholar, or know the intricacies of the Fiqh of transactions or worship, but every Muslim certainly needs to be able to justify their beliefs. Tomorrow it could be your friend, or your co-worker, or your child, who asks you a difficult question about a belief you’ve never questioned — will you be ready?