A recent report by the Prince’s Trust estimated that as many as ¾ of a million young people in the U.K. may feel that they have nothing to live for. It also documented that almost a third of those who are long-term unemployed have considered suicide.
This has sparked a debate about employment, economic inequalities and opportunities for young people in this country. That entirely misses the point. Having a job and life opportunities answers an economic question, not that of “self-worth.”
Secular capitalism has established some general goals in life, which amount at best to a superficial and pragmatic view of human existence. Most people expect to get an education, get a job, find a partner, possibly have children and generally try to experience as much of the world that they can within the confines of the law. Having a “secure” job makes it possible to plan for the future, buy a house, travel and sustain family life. Having a job may also help a person to believe that they are contributing in some way to society. All of these things are activities that may occur during a lifetime but is that really the purpose of life? If you cannot have those things, does it make your life worth any less? Secular society has failed completely to explain to the masses what it is that gives value to life because it actually has no answer. None of these practical goals makes a persons life any more valuable than that of another.
There are some who will achieve great wealth but it will not join them in the grave. There are a few who will achieve a great status, whether it be the winning of a nobel prize or some other recognition before or after their death such that their name remains in textbooks for centuries to come. Newton, Mozart, Columbus and Napoleon will all continue to be remembered but, now lying in their graves, does our memory of them make any difference to their state? The vast majority of people will never come close to such legacy or wealth and temporal success for them will compose of living a life, which boasts some minor luxuries and occasional pleasure, and they will reach the grave remembered by few and almost entirely forgotten within 2 decades. Is that the life that unemployed British youth are envious of?
Of all people in history, some of the Prophets have most right in claiming both legacy and temporal wealth. Mustafa Muhammed (saw) achieved more than any other person in history and yet none of the material achievements were ever considered to be something to revere or the example of success. Rather what we achieve in this life whether it be children, wealth, power or legacy will be there until we die and then will count for nothing. On judgement day these matters will not be the main concern.
That is why we must familiarise ourselves with the true nature of this life, which is a temporary journey that passes by very quickly. Whatever plans or dreams you have in life will disappear instantly if death arrives and at that point it will seem that those plans were not so important after all. We are living this life because Allah (swt) decided to create this universe and us and that we should live here for a period of time. He sent messengers with guidance and left it up to us whether to follow that guidance or not. By definition the guidance that he sent is good and he will inform us when we die what we did, good or bad.
It is how we thought and what we did that will be the concern. If we consider work, did we sincerely seek what bounty Allah (swt) had decided to provide to us and when we worked, did we fulfill our duty by seeking to perfect our work in every way? Did we believe that provision is from Allah (swt) and thank Him for whatever provision we received? If we were given wealth, were we arrogant, believing it had come to us by our intellect and dedication? Did we spend it on personal luxuries or strive with it in the path of Allah (swt) to seek his pleasure?
Nay, – whoever submits his whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, – He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (TMQ 2:112)
We hope for success in this life but if it has been decided that despite our efforts we will not find that success, it is not a reason for any disappointment let alone suicide! Living in the UK is expensive and it may seem that without a job there would be no prospect for a person to better their position and achieve some material objectives in life. There is an economic problem in the UK that needs to be dealt with and the youth have been neglected by the millionaire upper class politicians of this country but a deeper issue has emerged which is not one of economics but is to do with the value and purpose of life itself. It is here that secular capitalism meets its most evident failure having neglected the nature of mankind sidelining the most important questions of life.
“Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel, since each of them is irreplaceable and, once gone, can never be retrieved. Do not be like the deceived fools who are joyous because each day their wealth increases while their life shortens. What good is an increase in wealth when life grows ever shorter? Therefore be joyous only for an increase in knowledge or in good works, for they are your two companions who will accompany you in your grave when your family, wealth, children and friends stay behind.” (Imam Al-Ghazali).