Islamic Studies

The Crisis of Muslim Youth and a Call for a Meeting

By Umar Lee

I was contacted over the weekend by a very thoughtful sister concerned about the issues surrounding Muslims sisters as outlined in my blog who thought it would be a good idea to include some resources for helping sisters and has said she is working on compiling a list of Muslim organizations set-up to counter domestic violence and the like. This weekend I also was moved by the comments of sister Musleema referring to the number of Muslim youth from broken homes who are angry and teetering on the edge of disaster. These comments led me to begin to wonder about practical things we can do to help some of those in our community who are in a state of anger, disillusionment, frustration, and at the doors of apostasy. Of those who are in this group one of the largest would be our Muslim youth especially those whose parents were a part of “movements” that gave them false hopes of an Islamic Utopia that turned into nightmares for their children.

In crafting an effort to help the youth we must first recognize that many are wounded, may have conflicted or negative perceptions towards many aspects of Islam, may not have a great relationship with at least one of their parents, and have heard all of the corny one-liners and catch-phrases of those who do not recognize any problems and have an Islamic Utopian mentality before, namely their parents and those adults they grew-up with.

These young people are from a generation of Muslims in America who have either grown-up in Muslim schools, been home schooled by Muslim parents, have grown up in the masjid and went to public schools, or are the products of parents who made “hijrah”. They read Quran, have memorized a significant number of suras, possibly speak Arabic, have never celebrated a non-Muslim holiday, have never eaten pork, and have a fairly high level of knowledge and understanding of the deen.

For the most part I am talking about the children of converts, but there are children of immigrant Muslims who fit into this category, but regardless of where their parents came from, they are all in the same boat now as many of them have grown up amongst one another and their identity is firmly that of Muslims.

The disillusionment and anger of many of these youth comes from the fact many of these children of movement Muslims, whether their parents be Salafis, Sufis, Tabliquis, or whatever, do not share the same idealism and fervor that their parents have. Rather, they see that they have moved all over the country (or world) and never been able to settle into a regular life for kids as their parents have sought the best Muslim community on the “Haqq”, have only known poverty while additional siblings were being added every year, if their parents have not been married and divorced multiple times they have many friends whose parents have, and they have seen no tangible benefits to being Muslim or shunning the dunya.

It is likely that these kids have non-Muslim relatives who attended the same schools throughout their academic career, have not moved around, are stable, and seem to be enjoying life while they feel as if they are captives of their family’s vision of Islam which forbids enjoying life.

Some of these kids come from two parent families; but we are going to have to face the reality that many of these kids have fathers who have no relationship with them and do not support them while they are out buying new thobes and the latest “must have” CD of Islamic lectures (or even giving the lectures). The other reality is that we have kids that have known 3, 5, and even 10 or 15 Muslim stepfathers in their lives and this colors their bitter vision of life as a Muslim. Having watched their mothers being treated poorly by the Muslim men in their life the girls can develop a negative attitude towards Muslim men and the boys see the hypocrisy in the talk and action at the masjid.

This is leading to an angry young generation and some will be isolated Muslims, some will strive for a better and more balanced way, some will develop emotional problems and personality disorders, and others may even leave the deen as some already have. I can point to examples of all of these things; I know Muslims who grew-up like this who are sincere practicing Muslims but having seen false-piety so much they don’t come around Muslims that often, others are trying to correct the errors of their parents and find a more balanced deen; but it is unfortunate that I know of a number of Muslim kids who grew up the children of active members in the community and given a full Islamic foundation who are now in prison, are mentally ill, or just out of balance. And then, and then you have those we all fear, who are not Muslim at all.

People may say I should not talk about this, I should leave this one alone, but the reality is that some of the young are leaving Islam, and if we do not get our act together more will do so as they are being raised by fanatical parents. Several Muslim kids I know from strong Muslim backgrounds are now in the streets selling drugs or in gangs. One sister I know has several children by a drug dealer and whose tattooed body and tight-jeans look is far from the niqaab she wore when she was 12. Her sisters are still Muslim, masha’Allah, but they have both been divorced three times before the age of eighteen, and I have to wonder what kind of a view the children of such unions will have towards the deen. Yes we can tell them the deen is the middle path and that we treat our women well and the Muslims are the standard bearers for all things good; but what will these empty words mean to them after they were raised in chaos? If a young girl has had six Muslim step-fathers can she then look at marriage in the idealistic and naïve way like her mother did? If a father had had twenty or thirty wives and children by several of them then is it a far step for the son to say he can have that many girlfriends and “baby mammas”? Or, on a more educated level, how will this negative experience from the deen growing up help them, say if they do go to college, combat the assault from secular humanism, outright hedonism and atheistic liberalism?

Can we expect healthy identity from Muslim kids who were say; born in St. Louis, raised in New Jersey, DC, and South Carolina before being hauled off to Yemen as their father studied deen only to get some kind of rare disease while they lived in Third World poverty? How balanced will they be? Or will they be as angry and bitter as a family of Muslim kids I know raised in Saudi Arabia who barely speak English and have been kicked out of the country only to come to America to live in a ghetto they do not understand with no job skills or edcuation.

Within the next ten years we are going to see tens of thousands of such kids coming of age all over the country who are products of parents with various Muslim movement mentalities and if we do not prepare for them now then we are going to have a wide scale disaster on our hands. One way that we can guarantee failure is to ignore the problem and pretend like it doesn’t exists because, who knows, maybe the kufar are reading and we don’t want to look bad. Already, right now, there are masjids that are dealing with this problem on a wide scale basis. There is a masjid I know of right now full of sisters who have been divorced multiple times and their angry children who they cannot control. The anger of the children is not only being directed towards their bearded and studied fathers; but towards Islam itself, as the only image they have of Muslims in their mind is of dysfunctional and unsuccessful people. Will those kids who were raised without as their fathers glorified the merits of being broke and shunned the “dunya” and education not be bitter when they look at their non-Muslim cousins living comfortable lives? Will they notice that their aunt has not been married ten times and their uncle has had the same job for 20 years?

We need to start moving towards solutions right now and not wait for the problem to grow into a calamity. All of us have the potential to bring something to the table. Some brothers and sisters like me may be able to help with youth sports (in my case boxing and wrestling) but others may be able to contribute in various ways.

This issue is so big that I think we are in need of a working meeting over one day to address the issue that can start a sustained campaign. I am sending out a call to all concerned Muslims in the Washington, DC metro area, where I currently am, to email me at umarlee at if you are interested. This means brothers and sisters and Muslims form all backgrounds and anyone with good ideas. After I get the emails insha’Allah I will secure a location and a date and time. Please do not miss this opportunity to be a part of a solution and I will be writing about this as things develop.

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  • May Allah reward you for your concerns. You took the words right out of my mouth.
    Its such a shame to see muslims bickering over petty issues – when all around them society is falling apart.
    May Allah grant you success in what you want to achieve.

    Please pray for me too. Pray that Allah accepts my efforts in trying to get my community to wake up.

  • AS

    I hope you are well. With little doubt your analysis is colored by realism I have seen this reality in touring the country (US) and having intimate interaction with the community.

    Honestly, speaking this is predominately an indigenous problem, which plagues a certain segment of the community and has its sources in an array of reasons too numerous to enumerate in this brief comment. Too more specific the problem is one that is tearing the African American community apart and can be seen in those Latinos that are entering Islam and are possessed of a street culture. It is true to add that children of migrants are demonstrating signs or symptoms of problems they are facing psychological and behavioral problems. But to their fortune their family structure is in greater tact. Indigenous Muslims are facing the same problems other American children confront. American society overall is facing a crisis of serious nature, which is of both social and moral color.

    The question here that we ought be asking is one related to service, and leadership this problem you describe has been roughly the same in the American community since the time of El-Hajj Malik ash-Shabaaz (r) and it has only increased in gravity, today. The American community in the inner cities has collapsed its leadership. Here I must ask when will it build a real leadership capable of dealing with real issues like family breakdown and low economic status? The Warith Deen Community, all matters of contention aside has showed signs of great personal and social transformation. The problem you mention plague many poor Sunnis living in crime and drug infected environments.

    We need to be honest people are trying to deal with their problems this is why they look and are looking to various trends and circles for guidance. A key problem is that we mirror social life and our various groups mirror our reality. Yes there is a layer of American youth that have increased in knowledge but they have not been transformed by their knowledge, it has not been translated to practice. And this is the case which many of the Muslims in America.

    Frankly, we have not shaped the environment we inhabited but rather it has shaped us for various reasons. 15 years ago we found signs of what can be termed Muslim neighborhoods in America’s inner cities from Detroit to New York (when the Black Nationalists entered Islam and others joined Tablighi Jamaat). Unfortunately, there was no continuity there was no growth and this is what pushed many into the Salafi da’wah and from there some went Sufi (traditional). Today we find those very environments that exhibited signs of hope, their worst elements have dominated over the Muslims. Part of the problem has been poverty and lack of social engagement and a commitment to Islam that has not been mature. It was not enough to demand for civil rights but there was also a need to give and build and preserve what has been achieved by civil rights. The effort carried out by “Malcolm X” and others fell to the wayside because leadership did not grw to such an extent that it was capable of meeting the new challenges. If the Nation took and transformed people we need to ask why are the Sunnis doing such after all the Prophet Muhammad (saw) did exactly this in the Arabian peninsula.

    For those who can get out suffocating environments and find a better environment safer climate then we ought to push for that. The basis for this is can be found in the hadith of the man who killed 99 men. We learn from that hadith that part of self transformation is also having an environment that supports such. This is reaffirmed in the Islamic notion of tauba part of tauba is staying away from destructive opportunity or opportunities for self destruction and tauba is a lesson in itself for radical change. Environmental change is good on the condition that people focus on personal change and empowerment, socially and politically via education and economics and spiritual training. Change of economic class is a start and to be blunt a very good one.

    As for those who will stay behind then we have to ask how are we capable of being models and a support system particularly when much of our community is embroiled in useless debate that is unsupported by action. Change comes with individuals and those individuals must be a coalition of the willing “qualified” to lead and humble enough to learn. For at the end of the day each is responsible for his deeds and Iman increases or decreases with deeds and production or destruction follows with deeds.

  • Assamalaykum,
    Thank you for this. I really did not know that such a reality existed in our communities but I am not surprised. I still don’t know why we believe that being Muslim or embracing Islam immediately equals utopia when the purpose of Islam, as Sidi Hakim Archuletta put it, is to enable and allow people deal with the realities of our emotions, situations etc no matter how negative they are. Islam is to recognize this very haq and not to deny it. Through Islam we are given the tools to begin to deal with it. Thank you once again for this eye opening peice.

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