Ayatollah Sistani issues advice to believing youth
The letter and the reply are as follows:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Greetings and salutations to the Grand Marja’, Ayatullah al-Udhma al-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani (may the Almighty grant him a long life).
We are a group of youth studying in university and are among those who play an active role in social affairs. We request that you do us the honour of giving us some advice that will benefit us in these times, and clarify the role of the youth and what is expected of them in order to fulfil their responsibilities, as well as any other advice that would benefit them in your esteemed opinion.
A group of socially active university students.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. And Peace and Blessings upon Muhammad and his pure progeny.
as-Salāmu ‘Alaykum wa Raḥmatullāhi wa Barakātuh.
I would like advise the dear youth – for whom I am just as concerned as I am for myself and my own family – with eight recommendations that lead to complete felicity in this life and the next, and sum up the revelations of Allah, the Glorified, to His creation, the admonitions of the sages and righteous ones among His servants, as well as what I have learnt by means of personal experience and discovered through study.
First: The necessity for true belief in Allah, the Glorified, and the Abode of the Hereafter. Let not any of you ever fall short in this belief after it has been established by manifest proofs and has been determined as the upright path. For indeed, if one were to conduct a thorough study, he would find that every inhabitant of this world is a marvellous creation that evidences an Omnipotent Maker and a Great Creator. Moreover, the Almighty has continually sent His revelations [to the people] through His Prophets, in order to remind [them of] this. In them, the Almighty has explicated the reality of this life to be – as He portrays it Himself – an arena wherein He tries His servants to see who among them have the best deeds. So whoever is oblivious of the presence of Allah, the Glorified, and the Abode of the Hereafter, is veiled from the meaning, purpose and outcome of life and his path through it becomes dark. Thus, each of you should preserve his belief in this and make it the most valued of all things in his estimation, as it rightly is the most important of all. In fact, one should strive to increase his certitude and conviction, until it is as something present before him, which he looks at with penetrating insight and a discerning gaze, for indeed, he who strives in the night rejoices with the coming of dawn.
When one finds weakness in himself during the prime of his youth, in relation to religion, such as considering religious duties cumbersome or hankering after pleasure, then he should not sever his relationship with Allah, the Glorified, completely, such that it becomes difficult for his soul to find a way back [to Allah]. He must realize that if a person spurns the command of Allah, the Glorified, when he feels strong and healthy, out of complacency, then he will have no choice but to turn back to Allah, when faced with weakness and inability. So let him reflect during his heyday – which is restricted only to a limited period – about the coming future wherein he will face weakness, frailty, sickness and senility.
Let him beware of slipping into doubt regarding the established principles [of religion] in order to justify the validity of his actions and conduct, as he pursues ambiguities that he never took time to patiently analyse, or relies excessively on deficient ideas, or is beguiled by the pleasures of this life and its adornments, or feels resentment towards those who exploit religion for their own interests. For indeed, truth is not gauged by men, rather it is men who are gauged by the truth.
Second: Adopting a good character, for it is the amalgamation of numerous virtues, such as wisdom, prudence, kindness, humility, foresight, clemency, patience etc. and is thus one of the most important means of attaining felicity in this world and the next. The closest of all people to Allah, the Glorified, and those with the weightiest scales on the day when scales are light, are the ones with the best character. So let each one of you have a good character [in his interaction] with his parents, spouse, children, friends and with all the people. If he discovers some shortcoming in himself, let him not neglect his soul: rather, he should hold it to account and steer it with wisdom towards his goal. If he finds it recalcitrant, he should not lose hope. Instead, he should feign good morals, for indeed, when a person simulates the disposition of a group, he becomes part of it. And such a person will receive greater reward from Allah for his effort than the one who finds it already in his nature [to behave in this way].
Third: Trying to become a professional and acquire a specialization, and striving and exerting oneself to this end, for indeed there is a lot of blessing in this. One should then spend part of his time working to earn that which he may spend on himself and his family, and then use it to benefit the society and utilize it in charitable works as well as to gain further experience, which will refine his mind and increase his expertise. This will [also] make his wealth felicitous, for indeed whenever wealth is earned through greater toil and hard work, its goodness and bounty increases. Allah also loves the person who is hardworking and who exerts himself to earn and work, and He dislikes the idle, unoccupied person who is a burden on others, or the one who wastes his time in diversion and play. So let not your youth be spent without gaining proficiency in a profession or specialization, for Allah, the Glorified, has placed physical and psychological vigour in youth, so that one may develop the asset he needs in his life during this phase. It must therefore not be wasted by distraction and neglect.
Every individual should devote himself to his profession and specialization until he becomes an expert; and no one should ever speak without knowledge or act without expertise. Rather, one must seek to be excused when he is incapable of something or refer it to someone else who is more adept than him. This is indeed better for him and will gain him more trust. One should work and carry out his duty with diligence and care, with relish and dedication. His only concern should not be amassing wealth, even by unlawful means. There is no blessing in unlawfully acquired wealth, and whoever amasses wealth through forbidden means is not safe from Allah’s opening the door of tribulation that will force him to spend it all with greater difficulty and hardship. Thus one does not attain affluence through it in this world and it is a bane for him in the Hereafter.
One must make his soul the yardstick between himself and others, such that he works for others in the same manner as he would work for himself and would like others to work for him, and he should show kindness [to others] just as he would like Allah, the Glorified, to be kind to him. He should observe the right conduct and decorum in his profession, and must not adhere to vile means that he would be ashamed to make known. He should be aware that the specialized professional is trusted by those who work for him and refer to him, and as such, he should be sincere with them and refrain from betraying them in ways that are unknown to them. For indeed Allah, the Almighty, is watching him and sees his actions, and He postpones his punishment, earthly or otherworldly. Betrayal and perfidy are the worst actions in the sight of Allah, the Glorified, and the most perilous in terms of consequences and effects.
Among all professionals, physicians should exercise the greatest care in observing this advice, because they work with the minds and bodies of the people. Therefore, they must take extra precaution to eschew the mentioned transgressions, for indeed it leads to an evil end and the morrow is near for the one who awaits it.
The Almighty says: Woe to the defrauders who use short measures. Who, when they measure [a commodity bought] from the people, take the full measure, but diminish when they measure or weigh for them. (Q83:1-3) And the Prophet (s) said, “Allah, the Most High, likes those of you who work, to do so with proficiency.”
University students and professors should strive to acquaint themselves with everything related to their fields of specialization that emerges from other institutions of learning, especially in medicine, so that their know-how and treatment should be up to date. Rather, they should try to develop the sciences further through [writing for] beneficial scientific periodicals and [carrying out] pioneering discoveries. They should compete with other institutes of learning using resources at their disposal. They must reject the idea of remaining mere students of others and wielders of the equipment and tools that they make. Rather, they should actively take part in creating knowledge and generating and producing it, just as their forefathers had been its pioneers in the bygone ages. And no nation is more deserving of this than any other nation.
You must also be on the lookout for exceptional talents among the children and the youth – those who have distinctive genius and display excellence and brilliance, even if they may be from the [financially] weaker class. You must support such individuals in the same way that you would support your own children, until they reach great heights in the sciences, so that you may receive the reward for the fruits of their labour, and so that your community and succeeding generations benefit therefrom.
Fourth: Adhering to an honourable code of conduct and character, and eschewing blameworthy traits, for there is no felicity but that its basis is virtue, and there is no wretchedness and evil – excluding what Allah tests His servants with – but that its source is vileness. Indeed, Allah is veracious when He says: Whatever affliction that may visit you is because of what your hands have earned, and He excuses many [an offense]. (Q42:30)
Some of the virtuous qualities include: introspection, chastity in appearance, gaze and conduct, truthfulness in speech, keeping ties with near relatives, returning the trusts and being loyal to your pledges and commitments, remaining resolute in truth, and rising above vile actions and irrational behaviour. Some of the blameworthy qualities [and actions] include: hateful bigotry, hasty reaction, plummeting distraction, showing off to people, extravagance in affluence, transgression during poverty, vexation when faced with trials, causing harm to others – especially the weak, squandering wealth, being ungrateful for blessings, sinful pride, assisting in oppression and aggression, and love of praise for something that one has not done.
I would also like to emphasize the issue of chastity for young women, since the gentle nature of a woman makes her more prone to suffering and injury due to the negative consequences of not exercising caution in this regard. They should thus not be deceived by false emotions and should not get entangled in short-lived attachments whose pleasures are fleeting, while its repercussions and bitter consequences remain. Young women should give no thought to anything other than leading a settled life that contains all the elements of righteousness and felicity. How dignified is the woman who preserves her honour and self-respect, remaining modest in her appearance and behaviour as she goes about her life, work and studies.
Fifth: Giving due importance to the establishment of a family through marriage and begetting offspring without delay, for indeed this is a source of joy and serenity for human beings, and it leads one to work harder, and results in dignity and a sense of responsibility. It is also an investment in manpower for the future and a safeguard against many prohibited and vile actions. In fact, it is narrated that whoever marries secures half of his faith, and even before all this, it is a necessary practice which is an integral part of life and of the innate nature [of human beings]. None has abstained from it but that he has fallen into jeopardy and become afflicted by apathy and languor. And let nobody fear poverty in it, for indeed Allah, the Glorified, has made marriage one of the means of attaining sustenance – something that a person would never surmise at first glance.
Each one of you should be concerned about the character of the person he wishes to marry, as well as her faith and parentage, and he should not give too much importance to beauty, appearance and occupation, for this is a delusion from which the veil is quickly lifted when life discloses its seriousness and trials. It is narrated in the traditions that one should beware of marrying a woman simply for her beauty, and whoever marries a woman for her piety and good character will be blessed in his marriage.
Young women and their guardians should also beware of giving priority to career over the formation and nurturing of a family, for marriage is a highly emphasized sunnah, while careers are comparable to the supererogatory and supplementary, and it is not considered prudent to abandon the former for the latter. So whoever neglects this fact in the prime of his youth will soon regret it, but by then regret will be of no avail, and this is something that is attested to by experience.
It is not permissible for the guardians of young women to prevent them from marriage or to place obstacles in front of it the form of customs and conventions that Allah has not stipulated, such as seeking an exorbitant dowry and waiting for [the proposals of] cousins or Sayyids, for indeed there is great corruption in this of which they are unaware. They must understand that Allah, the Glorified, has only given authority to fathers over their daughters so that they may act sincerely in their best interests and desire what is good for them. And whoever prevents a woman from marriage when it is not in her best interests draws upon himself perpetual sin, for as long as she suffers from the effects of his action, and opens to himself thereby one of the doors of Hellfire.
Sixth: Endeavouring to do good works and benefitting people – especially in relation to the orphans, widows and the less fortunate – and observing the common good, for in this there is strengthening of faith, edification of the soul, and the purification of one’s blessings and bounties. Through this, virtue is established and there is mutual cooperation in goodness and piety, a silent fulfilment of [the responsibility of] enjoining good and forbidding evil, and a means of assisting those in authority to preserve the general order and uphold the interests of the public. It also leads to a change in the state of the society for the better, and is thus a blessing in this world and an asset for the Hereafter. Indeed Allah loves the community that has synergy and works for mutual betterment, wherein a person cares about the problems of his bothers and other members of the human race, wanting for them all the goodness that he would want for himself.
Allah, the Almighty, says: If the people of the towns had been faithful and Godwary, We would have opened to them blessings from the heaven… (Q7:96) And: Indeed Allah does not change a people’s lot, unless they change what is in their souls. (Q13:11)
The Noble Prophet (peace by upon him and his progeny) said, “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself and hates for his brother what he hates for himself.” And he also said, “Whoever establishes a good practice (sunnah), he shall get its reward as well as the reward for anyone who acts upon it.”
Seventh: Every person in authority should carry out his responsibilities towards others in the best manner possible, whether it be in the family or community. Parents should nurture their children; husbands should be responsible towards their families and should eschew violence and hardheartedness, even when a firm hand may be called for, in favour of wisdom, so as to protect the family and society. Indeed, the methods of discipline are not restricted to physical punishment or verbal abuse. Rather, there are other approaches and means of training that one who searches, and seeks advice from the learned and wise, can find. In fact, in many instances, harshness results in the opposite of what is sought, by entrenching the habit that one seeks to remedy and breaking the [will of the] person whom one wishes to rehabilitate. There is no good in discipline when it necessitates oppression, or in the remedying of a mistake with a misdeed.
As for one who is in charge of any communal matter, he must attend to it and work with sincerity, and must not secretly betray the people in carrying out his obligations. For Allah, the Glorified, takes care of all their affairs as well as his, and he shall be interrogated by Him on the Day of Resurrection. So let him not spend the money of the people wrongfully, and let him not make any decision that is against their interests. He should not use his position to form a party or faction that furtively covers up the actions of its members, shares the unlawfully acquired benefits and dubiously obtained funds, and removes others from their rightful positions or prevents them from services that they require. He must work in the same way for all the people and not make it (his position) a means of favouring those with whom he has a personal relationship due to family ties or [owed] favours etc. since fulfilling personal obligations at the expense of one’s responsibility to the public is [a form of] oppression and corruption. If it had been permissible for you to favour anyone above others, then priority would have been given to the weak, who have no way out and nobody to assist them in taking their right except Allah, the Glorified.
Nobody should try to justify his [improper] actions using religion or sectarian affiliation. For indeed the true religion and creed is based on foundations of virtue, such as observing justice, goodness, trustworthiness etc. Allah, the Glorified, says: Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice. (Q57:25) And the Imam (A) said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) say in more than one instance: ‘Any community in which the rights of the weak cannot be taken from the mighty without injury will never be sanctified.’” So whoever assumes otherwise has actually embellished for himself false aspirations and futile hopes.
Those who are most deserving of being called followers of the Just Guides, such as the Prophet (s), Imam ‘Ali (A) and the Master of Martyrs al-Husayn (A), are those who act upon their words and follow their conduct the most. Let one who is in charge of the affairs of people read the letter of Imam ‘Ali (A) to Malik al-Ashtar when he sent him to Egypt, for it contains a comprehensive description of the principles of justice and fulfilling the trusts, and it is beneficial for administrators and those under them – each one based on what applies to his station. And when the authority of a person is greater, this becomes even more necessary and important for him.
Eighth: For one to inculcate in himself the spirit of learning and inclination towards increase in wisdom and understanding, in all the different stages and varying circumstances of his life. One must reflect upon his actions and traits, and their consequences. He should observe the events that transpire around him and their outcomes, so that with the passing of each day his knowledge, understanding, and insight increases. For indeed this life is a school, of varying facets and profound depth, and man can never dispense with his need for more knowledge, understanding and experience in it. There is a meaning and a lesson behind every action and event, and in every occurrence there is a message and purport. It is [only] disclosed to the one who reflects upon it in light of the phenomena and norms it relates to, and envisages its relevant admonitions and lessons.
Therefore, man is never needless of increase in knowledge, understanding and experience, until he meets Allah, the Glorified. And the more insight a person possesses, the more beneficial it will be for him in understanding the realities and doing away with the need for further experiences and mistakes. Indeed, the Almighty says: He gives wisdom to whomever He wishes, and he who is given wisdom, is certainly given an abundant good. (Q2:269) And He said to His Prophet (s): And say, “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Q20:114)
Furthermore, it behoves one to become familiar with three books that he should learn from through pondering and reflection:
The first and most important of them is the Glorious Qur’an, for it is the final revelation from Allah, the Glorified, to His creation. He revealed it to them in order to raise the buried intellects and to cause, through it, the gushing forth of springs of wisdom, and the softening of hardened hearts. He has also mentioned in it past events as parables and examples. Therefore, one must never abandon the recitation of this book, and should make himself feel that he is listening to the speech of Allah, the Glorified, as he recites it. Indeed Allah revealed His book as a message from Himself to all the worlds.
The second is Nahj al-Balāghah, because it is generally an explication of the contents of the Qur’an and its allusions, in an eloquent manner that motivates the spirit of reflection, contemplation, learning, and wisdom. Thus one must not neglect reading it whenever he has some free time and should make himself feel that he is one of those being addressed by the Imam (A), as he would have hoped. Moreover, he should pay special attention to the Imam’s (A) letter to his son al-Ḥasan (A), as it was written with a similar purpose (i.e. advising the youth).
The third is al-Saḥīfah al-Sajjādiyyah, for it contains lofty supplications whose meanings have been extrapolated from the Glorious Qur’an. In it are teachings regarding how a human being must act and what kind of inclinations, attachments, opinions and aspirations one should have. It explains how one should carry out introspection and self-scrutiny, and reveal the soul’s hidden secrets and mysteries. And Du’ā Makārim al-Akhlāq in particular, is one such supplication.
These eight recommendations are the principles and foundations of rectitude in one’s life, and this is a reminder, nothing more. Through this, one will find the light of truth, the effulgence of reality, the purity of intrinsic nature, testimonies of the intellect, and experiences of life that divine revelations and admonitions of the sages inform about. Thus, it behoves every individual to adhere to these recommendations and try to follow them – and especially the youth who are in their prime and at the height of their physical and mental strength and vigour, which is itself an asset in the life of human beings. If they are unable to follow some of it or even most of it, then let them know that taking little is better than abandoning much, and indeed gaining some is better than losing all. The Almighty says: “So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it. And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” (Q99:7-8)
I ask Allah to grant you success in that which will leads you to joy and felicity in the Hereafter and in this world, for indeed Allah is the Bestower of Success.