The first component of a successful education, though by no means all of it, begins in the classroom. It's a simple fact of life that many of our parents have drilled into our heads: worldly success depends on how well we do in our classes in grade school and college. In this regard, the Muslim youth need to focus on doing well in school; in learning the material and getting good grades, not only so that they will be successful in their careers, but, more importantly, so that they may use their success, their positions, and their networks as a means to uplift the entire community. However, as we attain success in school, we should keep our goals and intentions in mind, and our success should not lead us to as self-admiration and false pride. We should keep the Muslim world in mind and think of creative ways of how we can use our skills, our knowledge, and our education to best serve the Ummah. A marketing student who uses her skills and insights to help her local Muslim community publicize its events is more useful than a top-notch lawyer who spends his waking hours serving corporate America, but neglects the needs of his local community.
Education, however, is a lifelong endeavor and does not end once we are done with classes and retire to our rooms for the day. As Mark Twain said, "I never let school get the way of my education." Much of the knowledge and insight that we gain occurs in our recreational and free time, when we learn not for the sake of doing well academically but out of a love for learning. In this regard we need to take a lesson from Shaheed Malcolm X, who was raised on the rough streets of Boston and Harlem and never attended college. Despite these setbacks growing up, and after his conversation to Islam, Malcolm developed a thirst for learning new things and educating himself, so much so that he was able to debate prominent academics and give public speeches at places such as Harvard Law School. In such debates, Malcolm introduced his credentials by saying, "My college was in the streets of Harlem, and I took my master's in prison."
Malcolm X recognized that it was only through ignorance of the masses that those in power were able to preserve the status quo, and that the key to successful social change began with an education and enlightenment of the masses. For this reason, he encouraged all Muslims and all African-American peoples to educate themselves about the true teachings of their religion, about the history of their people, and about the injustices imposed on them in various times and places. For Muslim youth today, education outside the classroom can consist of things such as keeping up with world affairs, learning a new and useful language, or learning how to program and develop websites. Again, as always, we should keep our goals and intentions in check, and make sure that what we're learning is for the sake of God and for the advancement of Islam.
In addition to being forms of worship that our Creator has called on us to perform, learning and education can serve as a means of self-sufficiency, independence, and strength for the Muslim community at large. In this regard, Imam Khomeini said, "Be alert so that corrupt hands, corrupt pens, and corrupt words cannot deceive you and return you to your former state….Think for yourselves; don't simply bow to the ideas of others. Try to be useful for your country, guide the men, and counsel the statesmen. Be good mothers for your children, good advisors to your society, and hard workers for the needy, as, praise God, you already are."
Taking Imam Khomeini's recommendation, Muslims today should reassess their priorities and realize that the wrath of imperialism and oppression that has inflicted our Ummah will only be countered by reliance on God and excellence in education and learning.