Humanity has come a long way. Life was once simple: living on a farm with family in an agrarian economy or trading goods at a local market. Yet, today we live in a time where societal life has become increasingly complex, and this complexity has had a dramatic effect upon our social relationships and emotional needs.
Urbanization and industrialization has dissolved traditional social support networks, and due to this lack of social cohesion, the traditional responsibilities of the community towards its members (particularly our youth) have been placed in the hands of institutions.
All of this has resulted in several effects: one negative is that youth relate less to their family by turning less often to them for counsel and advice. On the contrary, because they still need someone to turn to, they may seek the counsel of friends, classmates, teachers, or co-workers.
However, while meaning well, classmates, teachers, and co-workers are not always best suited or qualified to provide appropriate advice.
A positive effect is that an increasing number of universities (as well as some boarding schools) have recognized that their students’ emotional and spiritual needs are not being met by the community; so they have created chaplaincy positions.
However, Muslim chaplains (also known as Muslim spiritual care providers) are still quite new to North America. And so far, few Islamic educational institutes are seeking to provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills that this newly established profession requires.
Muslim Youth Face Diverse Problems
Problems experienced by Muslim youth are diverse and related to multiple factors, perhaps unfelt by their parent’s generation (or at least to the same extent). Some such examples may be increased sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, pornography addiction, materialism, harsh criticisms of their faith, and a variety of peer pressures.
To address these issues, we must have leaders who understand the biological, psychological, and social developmental changes which influence how Muslim youth experience and perceive the world around them.
While imams and Islamic centers can and should play a crucial role in providing mental health services, if the imam is not seen as being culturally sensitive to the pressures of Muslim youth in North America, they may be less likely to seek his help when in need.
Furthermore, imams are often times unfamiliar with counseling methods and local mental health services; their education often focuses on the religious ruling of alcohol and not on how to counsel someone fighting peer pressure to use it or an addiction to it.
Most Islamic Institutions Do Not Provide Chaplaincy Training
Studies have shown that imams often lack any formal spiritual care training and are often foreign born/educated, making it difficult for them to relate to second-generation Muslims.
While many traditional Islamic institutions provide courses in Islamic law, theology, and spirituality, these do not alone address the essential issues needed to train those serving the Muslim youth (be they a Muslim chaplain, imam, or youth leader).
Too often the lack of spiritual care courses, or the greater emphasis upon law in courses made available in the community, has led those presently serving the youth to erringly quote fatwas or religious doctrine without addressing what may be at the root of an issue (e.g., a problem at home, a problem with their peers, or another issue which needs further care and attention).
To properly assist the youth, leaders must have at least some understanding of counseling and spiritual care. Although Islamic chaplaincy may sound new, portions of what it entails can be found discussed amongst Islam’s greatest theologians, jurists, sufis, and philosophers (for example: Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Without question, the life and example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) is replete with examples of providing good counsel and spiritual care.
Yet amazingly, very few Islamic institutions can be found who are working to provide those who serve the youth with the necessary counseling skills needed to appropriately administer to their needs.
Our communities desperately need more educational institutions that can provide classes on Islamic spiritual care and counseling practices for imams, youth leaders, and present and future Muslim chaplains and spiritual care providers.
Many contemporary institutions already possess several of the key ingredients for such courses and programs: sacred law, theology, and spirituality. In addition to this, Islamic educational institutions should seriously consider hiring Muslims trained in spiritual care and counseling to offer classes and services in their community.
Furthermore, programs should be organized and offered by institutions that focus on the basics of providing Islamic spiritual care education and services for those who excel and desire more education and then be encouraged to receive credentialing by completing further training with a professional association. This would result in a greater number of qualified members within our communities who can cater to the needs of not only our youth, but any seeking the help of a Muslim chaplain and counselor.
Caring for Muslim youth should be one of our community’s top priorities. Yet, few Islamic educational institutions are providing the education and training needed by those serving the youth. For this reason, I am encouraging Islamic institutions to offer counseling services and courses in Islamic spiritual care by trained professionals. If we do not serve those serving the youth, what then can we truly expect from the future of our community?