“Why do you go to school?”
By Rafi M. Ali, M.D.
Director of DarusSalam Seminary’s Tadrīs Integrated High School Program
I have posed this question to countless young men. Most of them simply do not have an answer. Some reluctantly reply, “For a better future,” though they seem unsure of the meaning of the phrase. The brave ones say, “So I can make more money!” Not bad, but to this I query, “So you go to school, to college, and perhaps more, give up years of your life, so that someday you can have a high paying stressful job in a cubicle?” We wait for pins to drop.
I then suggest the following. “Look, I have nothing against a cubicle job, if you are happy doing that job, and you know why you are there. What I am suggesting is, it is important to know, or have a good reason of your own, as to why you go to school. Why would you engage in an activity for eight hours a day or more, five days a week, whose purpose you do not know?”
“Allow me to suggest to you — the pilgrims that landed at Plymouth in 1620 and built Harvard in 1636 valued education and they knew what purpose it served them. If you visit Harvard today, you can read an inscription on one of its gate arches, ‘Enter to grow in wisdom. Depart to Better Serve Thy Country and Thy Kind.’”
I continue. “Our purpose is to serve our Creator, yes?” They agree thoughtfully. “And you serve your Creator by serving His creation, correct? Allāh would not disadvantage us by placing our happiness and wellbeing somewhere elusive. Therefore, I believe the pilgrims were right. The purpose of education is to acquire wisdom and knowledge so that we may become complete human beings, and to acquire skills to complement our character so that we may serve our community. In so doing, we live a life of meaning. And meaning, precious young students, is always more important than happiness. Happiness is hollow without it. And your best chance of finding happiness is to strive for meaning.”
. Emily C Ingram, “Enter to Grow in Wisdom: Opinion: The Harvard Crimson,” Enter to Grow in Wisdom, Opinion, June 3, 2008, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2008/6/3/enter-to-grow-in-wisdom-span/.