Seeking His Shade: Growing up in the Worship of God

Published December 3, 2016

By Asmaa Hussein

Have you ever heard the saying — Youth is wasted on the young? Those of us who can still lay claim to being young often have no real sense of the value of our youth. We’re strong in body, passionate in emotion, and have ample free time that makes older folks envious. There are young people who use their youthful years wisely, and others who fritter it away as though it holds no worth, thinking, “I’ll change sooner or later but I’ve got time to do whatever I want now.”

Youth is a time of exploration. Older youth don’t yet have the family, financial, and civic responsibilities of an adult; but they have time, energy, health, and exuberant curiosity to explore, develop skills, and grow in knowledge

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Take benefit of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.” Youth is mentioned as one of the categories here because it involves the part of your life where you are at your peak health. It’s the time when you’re in a position to lay a foundation for the rest of your life, to institute habits of discipline, to practice virtues, to learn how to think and reason and use common sense. This is the time when you’re able to begin an exciting journey of discovery, of contribution and service, of beneficial impact on your community and the world.

In the era of the Prophet (pbuh), youth was not seen as a barrier to accomplishing things. There were military leaders who were teenagers. There were Quranic scribes who, in our times, would be considered too young to take on such an important task. There were scholars who were raised in the presence of the Prophet, listening to his words and absorbing his wisdom at tender ages. For these individuals, their youth was an asset, never a limitation. We’re often (mistakenly) taught that as young people we do not have the skills, patience, or dedication to contribute in a substantive way to our communities and to the larger ummah. But as we’ve mentioned, throughout Islamic history many young people achieved great things.

The very act of having good people in your life can make or break your status with God. Your peers affect you in ways that you may not comprehend at first glance.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “There are seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade.” Among the seven he mentioned is a young person who grows up in the worship of Allah. How can we ensure that Allah (SWT) grants us this status on the Day of Judgment? And how can we capitalize on our time to make sure we’ve fulfilled our greatest potential during the dynamic and bountiful years of our youth?

Surround Yourself with Good Friends

I couldn’t be more grateful to my parents who strove to put me in the presence of intelligent and well-mannered people, including my peers. They always knew where I was and with whom. They knew my friends’ parents, and the kinds of people they were. I’ll openly admit that as a child, this was often irritating to me. I didn’t want to have to answer a million questions about who my friends were or where we were going and for how long. I wanted my “freedom.” Now, as an adult and as a parent, I have come to sincerely appreciate the effort that my parents exerted so that I would be in the company of good, trusted people. The very act of having good people in your life can make or break your status with God. Your peers affect you in ways that you may not comprehend at first glance.

For example, in Surat al-Kahf, Allah (SWT) mentions the story of a group of young men who escaped their town and secluded themselves in a cave because they were the only ones who believed in one God. Allah (SWT) caused them to sleep for 309 years. As part of the story, Allah (SWT) describes the group, saying: “They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog – guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muhammad], ‘My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with an obvious argument and do not inquire about them [among the speculators] from anyone’” (18:22). It may seem like the dog is mostly irrelevant in the story, but the fact that Allah (SWT) mentions him several times is no coincidence. Scholars of tafseer have explained that the reason the dog is mentioned so often is that it was in the company of these righteous young people. Being in the company of these believers was enough for the dog to be honored to the level of being mentioned three separate times in this Quranic verse. This is the blessing of righteous companionship!

Not only do we need to surround ourselves with good people, we also need to ensure that we become the sellers of musk. Every person who sits with us should leave with something beautiful.

Similarly, in a beautiful hadith Qudsi, Allah (SWT) explains that the angels search for groups of people who are remembering Allah, and they surround them with their wings. At the end of the hadith, Allah (SWT) says: “Bear witness that I have forgiven them.” Then one of the angels would ask, “Among those assembled, there is one who is not of them [i.e., a sinner]; he only came for some other need.” Allah would reply: “Even so, they are one another’s companions and their companions shall not suffer.” Just our presence with the people who remember Allah can be a means for us to be forgiven!

Having righteous companionship can affect our status with Allah (SWT). Good people remind us of our blessings and remind us to be grateful for them. Good people can lift us up in times of distress so that we don’t get lost in our pain. Good people help our hearts stay open and receptive to Allah’s message and guidance. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), said, “The likeness of a righteous friend and an evil friend is the likeness of a perfume seller and a blacksmith. As for the perfume seller, he may either bestow something on you or you may purchase something from him, or you may benefit from his sweet smell. And as for the blacksmith, he may either burn your clothes or you may be exposed to his awful smell.”

Not only do we need to surround ourselves with good people, we also need to ensure that we become the sellers of musk. Every person who sits with us should leave with something beautiful.

Read, Read, and Read Some More

As a child, I would walk to the nearby library with my siblings and we would each take out at least ten books at a time. Once we got home, we would hole ourselves up in our rooms, devouring the books one by one. This was our entertainment before the advent of hand-held devices. Our mother would have to pry books out of our hands in order for us to eat or sleep at a decent time.

Growing up this way made us into voracious readers. Although many of us have succumbed to the allure of hand-held devices, there is still no greater pleasure than holding a book and reading in silence. Reading opens the mind to frames of reference other than our own. It enriches our vocabularies so that we might become articulate speakers and writers. It lets us glimpse realities that we haven’t lived, and helps us develop understanding and empathy. “Read!” was the first word ever revealed to our beloved Prophet (pbuh). Years later, after a victorious battle in which the Muslims captured a number of their enemies, Prophet Muhammad advised that if any of them would teach ten children how to read and write, they would be freed. The ability to read and write was given such significant value that teaching it was considered enough of a ransom to warrant an enemy’s freedom. Allah (SWT) tells us in the first verses revealed: “Read! — in the Name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clinging substance. Read! — and your Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not” (96:1-5).

In the Quran and the Prophetic traditions, there is great emphasis placed on reading, learning, and contemplating. Attaining to knowledge is given such a high status that even the Prophet himself would supplicate to Allah, saying “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” Reading is the gateway into the world of learning. It is the start of a life-long journey of reflection and exploration. The Quran advises, “Say, [O Muhammad], ‘Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed, Allah is able to do all things’” (29:20).

Reading isn’t just an intellectual exercise. It’s about expanding your mind to a point where you start to recognize and appreciate all the signs that Allah (SWT) has placed on this earth. So for a portion of each day, put aside social media, gaming, and TV and read! Read and strive to understand the Quran; read about the amazing scholars, writers, and inventors who came before us. Read about history, politics, economics, psychology, physics, linguistics, alternative energy sources, health and fitness… the list is endless. And the capacity to expand our minds and deepen our understanding is relatively endless as well.

Grow Your Passions and Be Active

Once you reach the age of puberty, you are held accountable for all that you do, and that thought can be daunting. But you also have the opportunity to do good and therefore cement your status as a “youth who grew up in the worship of God.” Youth is a time of exploration. Older youth don’t yet have the family, financial, and civic responsibilities of an adult; but they have time, energy, health, and exuberant curiosity to explore, develop skills, and grow in knowledge.

Take courses outside of school, develop interesting hobbies, volunteer with your school’s MSA or other groups, work on neighbourhood projects or political campaigns that you believe in. You can even start a small business on your own or with a group of other like-minded peers. The opportunities are quite literally endless. But above all, remember that you are doing all of these things so that Allah will accept you as a youth who took advantage of his or her years before old age. And most of all, remember that you are doing all of these things as part of your worship, as a demonstration that your words and deeds flow from your eman; and your eman, in turn, is constantly growing and informing your daily living with a believer’s sense of meaningfulness and purpose. Ensure that this intention is present, and He will bless all that you do.

Remember that Your Surroundings Don’t Define You

I know how difficult it is to grow up in a place where others often belittle your identity, or look at you with suspicion. Perhaps you may feel that you’re at a disadvantage because you live somewhere remote, unable to learn at the feet of scholars, or you live in an environment not conducive to Islamic beliefs. But I remind myself constantly of the examples of the righteous people who came before me – some of whom had to live and preach in much more difficult circumstances. Prophet Musa (pbuh) was raised in the household of one of the worst oppressors and transgressors in history — Pharaoh himself. His adoptive mother Aasiya (may Allah be pleased with her) was in the same boat, but she had it even worse – she was married to Pharoah. And yet both of them rose above these toxic influences surrounding them – Musa (pbuh) became a prophet and messenger whose brilliant example is immortalized in the Quran. Aasiya became a martyr whose strength inspires us to this day, and whose dying words have become part and parcel of our beliefs: “My Lord, build for me near You a home in Paradise.”

The opposite is also true. You can grow up in the best and most loving, supportive environments for a believer and still go astray. Take for example Prophet Nuh’s (pbuh) son. Regardless of the fact that his father was a prophet, Nuh’s son vehemently disbelieved in the truth. Even as the waves of the flood were getting higher and more violent, he refused to board his father’s ark and eventually perished. You are not defined solely by your surroundings. You are defined only by your own worship of God and your dedication to goodness in all facets of your life. Despite your flaws and sins (we all have them) – you’re so much stronger than you think.

I pray that I and each person reading this meet under the Shade of Allah (SWT) because we used our youthful years to worship Him (SWT). Ameen.


Asmaa HusseinAuthor Asmaa Hussein is a writer, registered social worker, and mother. She has authored several children’s books, and is the creator of, a website about the Islamic parenting experience. Asmaa was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and currently lives there with her family.

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