The United States Muslim community is facing an epidemic, which possibly extends elsewhere as well, but I can only speak for the country I reside in and actively participate in through whatever capacity I can. This epidemic is the absence of activity and participation of our future generation. This isn’t a conversation about liberal versus conservative nor is it about Islamic ideology or doctrine. This is merely a plea for the state of affairs of American Muslim youth at masajid (mosques) and their affinity to our sacred faith, or more specifically, lack thereof. The crisis at hand is affecting the vast majority of our communities and masajid across the board.
I would like to delve into possible reasons of said epidemic. Here in America, masajid have a very wide array of ideologies and beliefs that they hold as the standard. Unfortunately though, many do not allow for the acceptance of any other school of thought in practice, whether this be due to ignorance, culturally iconoclastic and myopic thinking, or merely intolerance to differences, I am uncertain, but that is a conversation for another day. The fact of the matter is that this is repulsive for the majority of youth. It is understandable to hold firmly onto matters of consensus, however most of the things that our youth get scolded for these days at the masjid are matters that are definitely not black and white and on some instances have huge room for varying opinion.
Furthermore, how many of our masajid are actually catering to our youth to foster a strong sense of understanding and embrace of our faith? “Why are masjids catering to the youth so much, and making everything entertainment?” These words recently left me speechless and dumbfounded. Are we expecting kids to come off the bat and pick up Sahih Bukhari and enjoy it and benefit from it? Are we expecting kids to somehow magically become responsible adults in the masjid who come for the sole purpose of worship? They wonder where all the youth are. They wonder why youth rarely show up to events “for the youth”. They wonder why youth don’t have a connection to the faith. Gee I wonder. I wonder how the youth could be so blasphemously apathetic, despite all the effort made for them. How can they not appreciate the Friday sermons catered to old men in a different language? How can they not appreciate a religion taught to them on a scope completely foreign to them? How can they run away from the mosque after being constantly harassed about their attire or their hair? These are questions that seriously need thought and reflection.
To begin with, we see a plethora of initiatives “for the youth” that may not be necessarily catering to the youth. How can you expect youth to show up without the effort of youth itself? I’m sorry to break it to you but the older generation will not attract and retain masses of youth. We see masajid all over trying to pull in the younger generation, and may Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) reward all those involved in trying with sincerity to do all that they can, but we really need to change our focus. We need to start asking the youth what they desire and what their needs are. Needs that are not limited to entertainment, but to understanding spiritual and mental wellbeing. How sad is it that we have masjid projects all over and in some cases, not only are youth not asked for their needs but they’re not even considered. Forget general youth, how can we expect to foster the community when often even the children of the community’s leaders are not asked about their needs, let alone the rest of the community. Additionally, we receive complaints that youth aren’t taking initiative. I have seen this time and time again that when said youth take that initiative, they do not receive the support and aid of the masjid and its resources. Sometimes the programs that youth are inclined towards most are not even organized and funded by the masjid itself. We are ready to spend millions on grandiose masajid, filled with minarets and the best decor, but we are not ready to spend on filling those plush carpets with blissful adolescence.
Secondly our Friday sermons really are not catering to American youth. People always say “but what about those uncles that need their dose of spirituality in (insert choice language)”. That’s perfectly understandable but let me ask you this. Those uncles and ammos that have continued to come to the Friday prayer for 10, 20, even 30 years will continue to come regardless of content, regardless of language, merely because of the religious obligation of the Jum’ah, will they not? However we need to ask ourselves, will youth come back to the masjid after hearing a sermon they couldn’t relate to or worse, even understand? Will they continue to come back when they haven’t cemented their religious obligation? For some people, not only youth, the Friday prayer is the only dose of spirituality they get every week. So should it not be something motivational to excel in our spirituality and religiosity rather than inflammatory, degrading, and belittling content that doesn’t inspire and sometimes rather deters the less religious crowd? How can we expect youth retention when sermons are alien to them and not catered to them at the slightest? (On a side note, this also applies to converts and new comers to the deen.)
Furthermore, we really need to start dealing with our youth with hiqmah (wisdom). “Knowledge is nothing without wisdom” as stated by a prominent scholar of the SF Bay Area, who went further to say that in the pursuit of knowledge we need to learn the wisdom to implement that knowledge. We forget that our Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) dealt with each individual differently and had different expectations for each. His wisdom with how he dealt with everyone to instill a sense of morality slowly and understandingly is something that we can really learn from. The amount of times kids get scolded for unwarranted reasons from people who have no right to scold them is too high! We have kids being yelled at for wearing shorts in the masjid, for having their hair a certain way, for not wearing a hijab or the “proper hijab”. Though I understand the house of Allah requires due respect and we should aim to appear as properly and presentably as possible, there is a certain way to instill that quality in youth and that most definitely is not via scolding.
When I was younger my friends and I used to play football near our masjid and whenever prayer time would come, we would think of going to the masjid in our current state (wearing shorts and such) and due to the fear of being scolded we would not and would hence often miss prayers. Note that we had the desire and remembrance of prayer time yet were hindered from obeying our Lord’s commands due to our community’s constituents, may He forgive us for all our shortcomings. I understand that going to the masjid in shorts, a tank top, or skinny jeans is not in the nearest bit preferable, however is it not better than not coming or not praying altogether, granted that what must be covered is covered. The amount of times that I myself got scolded for petty matters like this is ridiculous, but alhamdulillah (all praise be to God) by the help of those that guided me and mentored me, I understood my faith and thus that scolding did not turn me away from the masjid. However, this is not the case for most. The fact is, I know an endless amount of kids that never want to return to the masjid because of the way they were treated. Is there any hiqmah in dealing with kids in this manner? Do we expect our youth to gain a loving relationship with their Creator and His house if this is the way they are received? We know of a man who urinated in the sacred masjid of the Prophet ﷺ and even he was not yelled at by our beloved Prophet ﷺ. Do those kids who are yearning and trying to connect to their Lord deserve being scolded then?
Lastly, a dense topic of its own but for the purpose of half of our youth, our beloved sisters definitely need acknowledgment. We want all of our girls to become exemplary women who resemble our mothers Khadija and Aisha radi Allahu ‘anhuma (may God be please with them). We want them to live to a certain standard and wish them to inculcate a level of modesty that is antithetical to everything modern society teaches us. It is beyond me to understand how we expect that to happen without enabling ample avenues of growth for our sisters. It is beyond me how we as a community do not promote female scholarship, and expect our sisters to learn to emulate our mother Khadija from bearded men with whom interaction is limited or nonexistent. Even more heinous is our attempt at keeping sisters away from masajid with the pretense that home is for the female. Wherever this notion started, I hope by now we realize that this doesn’t develop our Khadijas and on many countless occasions it induces a lot of repulsion to faith. Please understand that throwing on hijabs and `abayas (a type of long gown or dress typical of Arab culture) before establishing an understanding of faith does more harm than good. Our communities need to work hard to provide more access to female participation in all our activities and engagements.
The following is a list compiled at a recent Islamic conference in which youth anonymously sent in questions and concerns and it is something that should not be taken lightly. These are concerns that are alarming and should enable us to move forward in an attempt to foster the future we desire for our youth.
- How are you supposed to love Islam, if your parents make you hate it? To be honest I’ve been trying to seek other religions due to my parents and how they make everything haram (impermissible).
- What does Islam say about suicide? I used to wear the hijab but i took it off because I was bullied for it. I need hope and courage to put it back on, because I’m too afraid to. I’ve been battling major depression since I was young. How does Islam address depression? What does Islam say about self-harming?
- My old Islamic school forced me to wear the scarf for 2 years which made me hate it and never want to put it on. It also made me hate my own religion and I don’t know how to find my way back to Islam, because I lost it all.
- What should we do in times when in or outside of school we feel pressure and stress and we feel like there is nothing we can do or no one we can go to?
- What do you say to parents who won’t let you marry young because of school? Literally struggling with pornography and I feel like I’ll never get over it.
- All my life I’ve been told talking to the opposite sex is wrong, even if it’s in a friendly way, just to socialize. But is that right? Which makes me think of another question. Why do Muslims judge other Muslims quickly? To be honest it makes me not want to be around “my people”.
- How can we deal with dating?
- Where do we find faith in Allah?
- What if you are a believer of Islam in front of your parents but behind them you are caught in a different religion? I love Islam but I never felt it was the right religion for me. What can I do?
- What do you do if you really want to become religious but you’re afraid that other people will judge you?
This list of questions and comments taken directly and unfiltered from Muslim youth of California is something we really need to reflect on. When looked at initially there seems to be a general lack of faith, lack of understanding and a certain resentment of the faith in some cases. Though I am alarmed by some of the comments, my hope is restored by the overwhelming innate need for the creation to connect with the Creator. There may be some thoughts that are not healthy or troublesome, however you can clearly see a wide yearning for people to become more God conscious, more faithful, and more obedient; every single one of these yearnings are from our youth. It is our responsibility to satiate these yearnings in a manner that is lasting and effective. Our communities are indeed in peril. We have youth suffering from drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health issues. Our youth are increasingly smoking marijuana and having sex, amongst a plethora of harmful activities. It’s time to step into reality and realize the evasiveness of society. If you don’t believe me please take the liberty of looking up the statistics of these things among young Muslims. We need to remember that even some of our Prophet’s closest companions were prone to worldly prohibitions; our pure and innocent youth are no exception, regardless of how much they are “sheltered”.
We need to work to build healthy and sustainable relationships between our youth and their faith. A fearful relationship of the wrath of Hell is much less appealing than one that fosters a loving fear of Allah much like that of a relationship of a loving father, and not like that of an abusive father. We fear our loving fathers even as adults, not because of physical harm but because of disappointment after all they have done for us and thus want to make them proud. Whereas the relationship with an abusive father will forever hold resentment. We need to understand that faith and moral development is just like the physical development of a baby. Like a baby needs to start on the bottle and slowly transition into solid food in due time, a child needs to start their journey of faith suckled in by a bottle and not have what they cannot swallow shoved down their throat. Far too often is faith and morality shoved down throats, and as we all know, when that happens gag reflexes automatically kick in and people start to throw up what was shoved in.
Last but most definitely not least, we need to start building on foundations of our faith that are relative to this country and time. We need to have the people of this country including its youth be able to relate to the faith. When the faith is alien to understanding, how can we expect to get along with it? Think of it this way: many of our parents have a communication gap with their children even though they speak the same language. If that’s the case, then how can we expect no communication gap with our children and their faith that is predominantly delivered in a manner that is completely foreign to them. The Islam that was delivered to South Asia was different to that which was delivered to North Africa, though under the same banner and representative of the same beliefs, its details curtailed to each respective people of each respective time respective of the current state of affairs and status quo. Is it not only fair that we start delivering our Islam to the people of this land, to the state of current affairs and status quo of this land, and to the future betterment and fostering of this land which we hope to make fertile and harvest from it crops of benefit to society, crops that will nourish our future? We have an imperative to take action to actually implement change in our masajid and our communities in order to foster a bright future, a future full of young vibrant souls to carry on its legacy.