Throughout this article, Sayyid Alireza Bararsani, the writer, tries to study generation gap issue and after an investigation of its causes and consequences, he looks into the Qur’an and the Islamic traditions to find the prescription that Islam offers for this issue.
As the children grow up and enter the youth, so grows the serious concern of their parents regarding how much their offsprings match them in terms of beliefs, values, and attitudes. The generation gap has imposed so much pain and difficulty on many families and has made many parents confused about how to treat their children. On the other hand, many of the youth constantly complain that their parents don’t understand them. Throughout this article, we try to study this social problem and after an investigation of its causes and consequences, we look into the Qur’an and the Islamic traditions to find the prescription that Islam offers for this issue.
A generation gap or generational gap is a difference of opinions between one generation and another regarding beliefs, politics, or values. In today’s usage, generation gap often refers to a perceived gap between younger people and their parents or grandparents.
[www.Dictionary.com. Retrieved 25 March2019]
Although linguistically the generation gap can be referred to any difference between any two generations i.e. between the young generation and the child generation or the difference in terms of physical and psychological needs,as an expression it is used often to refer to the difference between the attitudes and opinions of the youth and their parents.
“The individuals of people resemble more to (the people of) their time than to their forefathers” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[the commentary on Nahjul-Balaghah by Ibn Abil-Hadid vol. 19, page 209]
Through the stream of history, as time passes and generations come one after another, there is always one concern for mankind that is how their offsprings are close to them in terms of beliefs, values and attitudes. Generally, the previous generation i.e. parents wishes the new generation i.e. the youth would be identical or as close to them as possible in these senses but their wish doesn’t always come true.
there are idioms which are used to admire an offspring whose character or behaviour resembles that of his/her father such as:
“like father, like son”
“the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”
We can trace this concern in several places in the noble Qur’an as well. One instance is when the Qur’an tells the story of Noah and his infidel son in the following verse:
… and Noah called to his son who was apart [from them], “O my son, come aboard with us and be not with the disbelievers.”
Another example can be found in this verse:
But he who says to his parents: “Fie upon you both! Do you hold out the promise to me that I shall be raised up (again) when generations before me have passed away (without rising)?” While they (father and mother) invoke Allah for help (and rebuke their son): “Woe to you! Believe! Verily, the Promise of Allah is true.” But he says: “This is nothing but the tales of the ancient.”
1-4. the generation gap, good or bad?
“Generation gap can be a frustrating lack of communication between young and old, or a useful stretch of time that separates cultures within a society, allowing them to develop their own character” – William Safire.
As this quote implies the generation gap can be good or bad. It is bad if the new generation is distancing from the good values and habits of the previous generation and is good if the new generation is distancing the bad habits or wrong and superstitious beliefs of the previous generation.
We can find the example of the bad generational gap in above-mentioned verses as well as the following one:
But they were succeeded by generations who neglected prayer and followed their lusts and so will soon face the evil consequences.
But we can find the examples of the good generational gap in the early history of Islam since many of those who believed in the holy Prophet and embraced Islam were the youth. They distanced from the idolatry and superstitious beliefs of their previous generations. Islam supports this kind of generational gap in the following verses of the Qur’an:
When it is said to them, “Come to Allah’s revelations and to the Messenger,” they reply, “What we found our forefathers practicing is good enough for us.” ˹Would they still do so,˺ even if their forefathers had absolutely no knowledge or guidance?
When it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they reply, “No! We ˹only˺ follow what we found our forefathers practicing.” ˹Would they still do so,˺ even if their forefathers had ˹absolutely˺ no understanding or guidance?
The reason for supporting this kind of generational gap by Islam is that it may help the new generation (the youth) to question the wrong beliefs of their forefathers and find the right path.
Since we are concerned with the generational gap in our own society, we only discuss the bad generational gap in this article.
To understand the importance of finding a solution for the generation gap, we should study the unpleasant consequences of this phenomenon.
2-1. the consequences of the generation gap
Some of the possible bad consequences of the generation gap are as follows:
2-1-1. cold relationships and lack of normal emotional connection
2-1-2. the youth delinquency
2-1-3. cross-generational conflict
2-1-4. lack of empathy and integrity in the family
2-1-5. deviation of the new generation
2-1-6. run away from home
As you can see the consequences of the generation gap can be disastrous, therefore it is essential to find solutions for this social problem to bridge this gap.
3. Causes of the generation gap
Beforediscussing the solutions for the generation gap, it is essential to study the possible causes and origins of this phenomenon. Hereis a list of them:
3-1. friction in physical & psychological needs and desires
The human being has different physical and psychological needs and desires in different stages of his life. Youngsters and youth are a fan of excitement while the elderly needs peace of mind. The child wants to play but the parents need rest. This friction in needs and desires of the young generation and the elder generation with the lack of mutual understanding can be a ground for generational gap.
3-2. change in values
Our community is subject to many cultural invasions by anti-Islamic groups and deviant cults. These invasions can lead to a change in values in the opinion of some people. Some of the common causes of the change in values are as follows:
The western culture and lifestyle contracts the traditional and Islamic culture and lifestyle in many areas. A generational gap occurs when the new generation is affected by the western culture but the parents are not.
Being neutral about the religious (Islamic) values is a result of secularism. Religious parents have more friction with their secular young offsprings.
3-3. educational gap
This difference can be problematic when there is a drastic distance between the level of education of the youth and their parents.
3-4. lack of efficient communication
This can be due to:
3-4-1. not having time to communicate
That is a common problem in the families that both parents work outside for several hours every day leaving no time for family members to see each other and have efficient communication.
3-4-2. lack of the necessary skills to communicate with the youth
Technology has changed the way of communication in our time. Through the widespread use of tablets and cellphones, the time that many people spend online,especially in social media and social networks, has become more than the time that they spend meeting and visiting each other in the real life. The problem occurs when the youth are addicted to the new ways of communication while the previous generation is not familiar with it enough.
3-5. lack of mutual understanding
This can happen for the lack of communication, or as a result of ignoring or neglecting the viewpoint of the other party.
3-6. arrogance of the youth and experience of the old
The old have paid a heavy price for the valuable life experience that they have, as this poem says:
when I can look life in the eyes
grown calm and very coldly wise
life will have given me the truth
and taken in exchange my youth
But the youth who are in their highest status of physical and mental abilities are sometimes too arrogant and stubborn to take the value of life experiences into consideration. They don’t heed the advice of the old and want to try everything by themselves.
3-7. temporal and spatial circumstance
The effect of the environment and the time that a person lives in, cannot be neglected in the formation of his/her character. The hadith attributed to Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in which he said:
“the people resemble more to (the people of) their time than to their forefathers“
shows that the environment has a greater effect in giving shape to a person’s character than the parents. Moreover, the youth are usually more affected by the change in the environment than their previous generation,whose character is already formed and is more resistant to any change. This can cause a generational gap.
However, sometimes changes in the environment may directly affect the parents and result in a generation gap, like when the economic situation of the society persuades both parents to spend more time working outside of the house to earn a living,which consequently,causes lack of effective communication that can lead to lack of mutual understanding.
After investigating the causes and consequences of the generation gap, it’s time to discuss the solutions that can bridge this gap:
4-1. praying to God and asking Himfor help
The first thing we as believers should do when encountering difficulties and hardships is to ask our Lord for help, especially in a complicated problem like the generation gap. That’s because Allah is the Guide and is the one who can turn the hearts to the right direction. The Qur’an teaches us how to ask God for helping us with upbringing righteous children in the following verses:
“My Lord, make me an establisher of prayer, and [many] from my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication.”
“Our Lord, make us both submissive to You, and (make) of our progeny as well, a people submissive to You.”
And those who pray, “Our Lord! Grant unto us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.“
As well as the Qur’an, there are supplications in Islamic traditions specifically about one’s offsprings, like the supplication of Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) about his offsprings presented in the valuable book of al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya.
“The climax of intellect after believing in God is to be tolerant toward people” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[Man-la-yahduruhu-al-faqih vol.4 page 387]
This hadith shows the importance of dealing with people with tolerance. With tolerance, people from different walks of life can get along well. Toleration is contingent upon two prerequisites:
4-2-1. understanding the differences
“Do not impose your own costumes and manners on your children because they’re created in a time other than yours” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[the commentary on Nahjul-Balaghah by IbnAbil-Hadid vol. 20, page 267]
We can derive from this hadith that parents should not expect their youth to act exactly according to their costumes; instead, they should understand and accept some level of diversity in this sense.
4-2-2. dealing with the differences
“He who is lenient/tolerant in his affairs, will achieve what he wants from people” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[al-Kafi vol.2 page 120]
This hadith provides good advice for those parents who think if they want their children to act in a particular manner, the only way is coercion. Tolerance and leniency in dealing with the differences not only prevent more conflicts but also it can make you achieve what you expect from the other party.
The other hadith that can guide us regarding how to deal with others with tolerance is the following hadith:
“Behave people in a way you like them to behave you” – Imam Hassan (peace be upon him)
[A’lam ad-Din page 297]
By putting oneself in the shoes of the other party from a different generation, one can see things from his/her viewpoint and can tolerate the differences in the behaviours and attitudes more easily.
The other situation where tolerance is manifested is when dealing with the mistakes of the young generation.
“When you want to blame a youngster for the wrongs he has done, waiver some of his wrong actions, not to make him resist (react) out of stubbornness” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[the commentary on Nahjul-Balaghah by IbnAbil-Hadid vol. 20, page 267]
4-3. communicate! directly or indirectly
As we mentioned before, one of the causes of the generation gap is the lack of efficient communication that can result in the lack of mutual understanding. Therefore, it is essential to have efficient communication to achieve a mutual understanding.
The two sides of the generation gap should strive to communicate with each other to become aware of the viewpoints of each other and to reduce the gap.
If the problem is lack of time for communication, they should manage their time in a way that they become able to have a permanent plan for gathering for this purpose on a regular basis.
If the problem is the lack of communication skills, either they should learn the skills and communicate directly or should choose to deliver their message to the other side indirectly with the assistance of a knowledgeable consultant whose words are acceptable by both sides or by a well-wishing person who knows the communication skills well.
4-3-1. the understanding level of the audience
An important point regarding the subject of communication between two generations is that the message which is about to be transmitted must be proportionate to their level of understanding, as the following hadith says:
“We Messengers of God are ordered to talk to the people proportionate to their level of understanding” – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his pure progeny)
[al-Kafi vol.1 page 23]
4-3-2. the quality of the conversation
If there is a need for a conversation between the two sides so that one side convinces the other side, it should be based on the following principles:
- mutual respect
- common grounds
- in the best manner as the Qur’an recommends
“Invite ˹all˺ to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice, and only debate with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord ˹alone˺ knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is ˹rightly˺ guided.“
4-3-3. kind advice
What we can learn from the life of the wise men during history is that they were using kind advice on the right occasions to teach their offsprings what was required for the success and wellbeing of them in this world and in the hereafter. One instance of it is the advice of Luqman the sage to his son which is mentioned in the Qur’an:
And (remember) when Luqman said to his son when he was advising him: “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allah. Verily! Joining others in worship with Allah is a great wrong indeed.”
Another good example is the letter of Imam Ali to his son Imam Hassan (peace be upon them) mentioned in the Nahj-ul-bilaghah under the 31st letter.
4-4. warming up the relationship
The generation gap causes a cold relationship which perpetuates the generation gap and worsens the situation; therefore, to reduce the generation gap and its bad consequences two sides should do their best to warm up the relationship between them. For this purpose the following two hadiths can help:
“The gifting attracts affection” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
[Qurar al-Hikam: 316]
“When you love a person, inform him of your love, because this makes the affection between you two steadier” – Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him)
[al-Kafi vol. 2 page 644 ]
4-5. parents should become up to date
Since the youth are vastly using information technology for environment, communication and learning, those parents who have a solid grasp of this technology are more likely to have more efficient communication with their offsprings and have a better understanding of the environment where they spend most of their time.
4-6. a balance between learning by experiencing and learning the experiences of others
The youth should consider the importance of using the experience of the older generation while the older generation should know that leaving the youth in some cases to learn things by experiencing is very useful to them, because if they succeed, it improves their self-confidence and if they fail, it makes them more receptive to the experience of others, and in either case, the experience in that subject becomes intangible and unforgettable.
In this text we tried to study the generation gap as a social problem and by investigating the sources and the consequences of it, we proposed the following solutions to solve this problem or at least reduce or undo the bad consequences of that:
- praying to God
- warming up the relationship
- up to date parents
- the balance between letting the youth gain experience and transmitting the experience of others is useful to them.
▪ The Nobel Qur’an
▪ Nahjul-Balaghahby Sharif Razi
▪ al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya by Imam Ali Ibn al-Hussein
▪ the commentary on Nahjul-Balaghahby Ibn Abil-Hadid
▪ Man-la-Yahduruhu-al-Faqih by al-Shaykh al-Saduq
▪ al-Kafi by al-Kulayni
▪ A’lam ad-Din by Hassan Ibn Muhammad al-Deylami
▪ Ghuraral-Hikam by Abul-Fath al-Amidi at-Tamimi
▪ www.Dictionary.com. Retrieved 25 March2019