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I write this paper in hopes of highlighting a very serious issue that we are facing in not only the Muslim-American community, but Muslim youth everywhere in the world. If we’re to lose the Muslim youth we essentially lose the future of Islam and the ummah. I blame neither the youth nor the parents with all blame for the challenges and problems the youth face. However, a youth’s upbringing has a lot to do with how he or she is as an adult. The youth are equally responsible for the issues and problems facing them, but parents and the elders in the community are equally if not more responsible for the state of the Muslim youth today. If we do not solve the issues of today, then our children’s children will suffer for our inability to solve the issues facing our generation today. Recently, there has been an Islamic revival of sorts in a post-9/11 world with the Muslim-American youth. More and more youth have been turning to Islam as their primary identity. Some girls have started wearing hijab, some guys have started to grow beards, and most have started to learn about Islam in depth. This revival is a positive one and should be encouraged with our youth in these very difficult times. With the amount of challenges facing the youth from peer pressure, to illicit drugs, sex, and indecency we should be proud of our youth that hold to their faith strongly and should not be so quick to judge them if they do slip every now and then. We as a community and I speak to the elders in the community, specifically parents of second generation Muslims---we should not discourage them from pursuing deen either career wise or academically. We should encourage their Islamic identity and refrain from injecting our cultural and traditional teachings that clash with Islamic teachings. We can pull out hadith,Q uran and seerah evidence supporting respect for parents and elders. However, I will try to cover the other side of the argument that is often not covered or discussed and is seemingly the most important topic that must be addressed and solved before we lose not only our youth, but also our religion. __________________________________________________________________________________
Table of Contents:
1. Respect and Understanding 2. Lack of Discipline 3. Lack of Guidance by Parents
4. Giving Children Room to Grow 5. Societal Pressure on Youth 6. Communication 7. Alienation from the Masjid 8. Lack of Outreach to Youth 9. Lack of Youth Activities at Masjids 10. Technology Kills 11. The Cultural Divide 12. Forbidding the Halaal, Encouraging the Haraam 13. Pornography
1. Respect and Understanding
This is probably is the first and foremost problem with the youth today is respect for their parents. In the Quran we can see the stress of respect for parents:
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood. (17:23) ...Be grateful to Me and to both your parents; to Me is the eventual coming. But if they strive to make thee join in worship with Me things of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who turn to me (in love): in the end the return of you all is to Me, then will I inform you of what you did (31:15) Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For God loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious;- (4:36) And Hadith: Anas narrated from Prophet Muhammad about the major sins. He (Mohammed) observed: Associating anyone with God, disobedience to parents, killing a person and false utterance. (Muslim) Narrated 'Abdullah: I asked the Prophet "Which deed is the dearest to God?" He replied, "To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times." I asked, "What is the next (in goodness)?" He replied, "To be good and dutiful to your parents"...(Bukhari)
Abu Huraira reported Prophet Muhammad as saying: Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: God's Messenger, who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise (because he has been undutiful to them). (Muslim) A man came to the Prophet and asked him for permission to join a military
expedition. The Prophet asked him if he had a mother, and when he replied that he had, he said, "Stay with her, for Paradise is at her feet." (Ahmad) What is obvious here is that respect and obedience for parents is extremely important for Muslim children. However, we need to realize that this respect is a twoway street and that some parents use these ayahs and hadith to justify total submission to them—which in a way is shirk. We must realize in the above hadith it said obeying Allah first and then your parents, not vice-versa. If what the child is asking for is within the bound of Islam or is not in any way harming individuals in the family or community, then that is their Islamic right to carry through with that task. As for parents demanding respect from their children, they must be show respect to their children in order to be shown it. Sometimes we have the mindset of “do as I say, not as I do.” This mindset is totally illogical and is no way to raise a child. Your child is a blessing and to treat them as a slave is cruel and inhumane. In the truest sense of the word, some parents have become firauns (pharaohs) over their children. We expect them to submit completely to parents’ directions to the point we sometimes suffocate them and turn them away from Islam. This is where our problem stems from and how most Muslim youth become alienated from Islam (and some leave Islam due to this). This is no way to raise a child and totally goes against the sunnah of the Prophet SAW. This respect issue goes for both youth and younger children. At a certain age children need to be scolded and disciplined, but once they reach the age of puberty then they need to be treated differently.
Lack of Discipline
This issue is quite serious as we see most of our Muslim youth lacking adaab or discipline in any form. The blame for this goes solely on the parents and their lack of disciplining of their children. When a child is completely devoid of discipline then it makes life much more difficult for him or her. Sadly, this can stem from culture or traditional backgrounds or can merely be a lack of knowledge of the parents on how to discipline their children. The complete lack of morals, ethics, and Islamic knowledge amongst the youth is disturbing. The profanity they use common as much is the inappropriate language and topics they discuss. With this lack of discipline children grow up to be completely devoid of Islam and any ethics or morals that leads one down a path of self-inflicted harm and additional problems.
This discipline can also manifest itself in disrespect for the parents which is highly disturbing. If the youth are to disrespect their own parents how can they be expected to respect anyone else in a place of authority—an imam, a future spouse, an elder in the community? This problem perpetually can only get worse if not solved at a young age.
Lack of Guidance by Parents
This issue along with the issues of the lack of discipline can severely hurt a child and can cause problems for the future of the child. Often when a child becomes an enormous burden or problem for the parents the parent asks “Where did I go wrong?” The parent s don’t need to look far for the answer to that question as they are the sole individuals responsible for the weaknesses in the child. This guidance comes in the form of advice not only in dunya but also deen wise. Parents must teach their children to balance deen and dunya. Additionally, when advising their children it should not be in a harsh manner or dictatorial manner. Advice given by the Prophet SAW would be given in the best of manners in the correct time and method.
Giving Children Room to Grow
When we raise our children when they’re small and we see them fall it pains us to see it. However, through these painful moments are moments in which the child learns valuable lessons in life. Likewise, we must give our children the room to grow once we arm them with the right values, morals, ethics, Islamic knowledge, etc. It is crucial to be able to trust your child to make the right decision and be confident in the way you have brought up your child. This specifically relates to those children who are at the age of 14 and above. The disciplinary stage of child-upbringing passed in the early stages of the child’s life and when he or she reaches a mature age then that is the time to advise the child as a friend rather than an elder. The age where a youth is taking on more responsibility and entering adulthood is a crucial one in which an elder must not lose the opportunity to be a positive influence in the life of their child. Far too many times parents still dictate to their children and doing so alienate and ruin communication between them and their children.
5. Societal Pressure on Youth
One thing parents must realize is the amount of societal pressure most of their children are under. In today’s times our children are required to play so many different roles and balance so many identities that it
becomes extremely stressful. Specifically this relates to the issues relating to living in non-Muslim environments which bring certain challenges to the youth that a lot of parents may not understand fully. Many times parents may be of a different cultural background and may not understand the type of pressure that comes with being a youth in a non-Muslim environment. It is too easy for our youth to fall into evil and sin, but if they slip once and while there should be understanding, patience and tolerance for these mistakes. This is only relates to those children who are constant in keeping to their moral, ethics and Islamic upbringing.
The issue of communication relates directly to the above issue of societal pressure on the youth. Often times youth approach their parents or elders about a problem and get a negative reaction (i.e. “that is haram! How could you do that?! What will everyone think!? Etc.). Thus, our youth look for help and advice elsewhere and we lose our positive influence upon them. This is extremely dangerous when our youth do not talk to their parents or elders and receive positive advice regardless of the problem. If the parent does not understand a particular concept or issue, then either they should explain it simply to their parents or look to an older sibling or someone in their family to explain to their parents the issue that they have in order to be clear and receive adequate advice. If we’re to solve this issue of communication and how to communicate with our youth then we can avoid losing them to outside influences and making them feel alienated.
Alienation from the Masjid
This issue by far is probably the most disturbing trends in our communities today. If we are to think about our communities in the long term, look at our children and think in very simple terms we realize that the youth are our future and if we lose them then we’ve lost the future of the ummah. Often times the ways we alienate our youth is by the mere discouragement of coming to the masjid. When the youth do come to the masjid the elders in the community negatively criticize the youth or
make them feel unwelcome. What we fail to realize is that for some youth the masjid is a place of peace and security or might even be their only connection to Islam---so if we discourage them from coming to the masjid then we lose our youth and ultimately the future of our communities. Thus, it becomes extremely important on the leadership at masjids to stress this concept of welcoming the youth to the masjids and emphasizing it to the elders in the community. The masjid’s role needs to expand from just a place of prayer, but also centers that cater to various age groups in the community. This concept of the masjid is not new as the Prophet SAW’s masjid in Madinah served the same purpose. Political decisions were made there, meetings were held there, prayers were done there, and other functions were held in the masjid itself. Therefore, we must change our current perception of the role of the masjid and seek to create a community center that can cater to all people and age groups.
8. Lack of Outreach to Youth
This is not something that is new to any religious, ethnic or cultural groups. However, we as a Muslim community have failed to reach out to our youth in our communities. As discussed before the elders often alienate the youth by negative criticism. Additionally, we must not only reach out to our youth at a masjid level, but also at a social level. Most youth are well aware of the issues that the ummah faces and are in far better positions to create change, therefore we should encourage them to reach their full potential spiritually, socially, academically, etc. If we have expertise in a particular field that the youth would be interested in pursuing become a career mentor for them. There are various ways to reach out to the youth---it is time for the community to see the needs of the youth and reach out to them.
Lack of Youth Activities at Masjids
This can be attributed to the alienation of the youth and also the perception of a masjid as only a place of worship. Therefore, we must create activities and programs that cater to our youth. What is shocking is that some masjids don’t even have youth groups or adequately functioning youth groups. Often times when they are created (perhaps with good intention) the youth rarely have a say in
what the youth group should be and what type of activities should be implemented. The youth groups should be in the hands of the youth rather than the elders in the community. However, this is not to say that the youth group has no guidance from elders in the community. The youth group should obviously have a mentor (or mentors)—preferably an older youth (age 20 and above) or an elder in the community who can relate to the youth well. The creation of youth activities and programs at our masjids is crucial in order to improve our relationship with the youth. The development and education of our youth is extremely important in an Islamic environment as their Islamic identity is the most important identity before all other identities (ethnic, cultural, etc.).
Ok well technology doesn’t’ kill literally, but it is killing our youth in more ways than one. Our generation is growing up with information coming at us faster than previous times. Technology has had its benefits, but has certainly become a source of many problems for those who don’t know how to use it. Many youth have started to live online in the cyberworld thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Additionally, communication has become much easier as many youth chat online and even via Skype, video chats, etc. Now one may ask---so what? I argue that the youth have become far less able to communicate on a social level and have become so engrossed in online communication and technology that they have lost all ability to think on their own, to read text longer than three sentences long, their attention span has gotten shorter, and have become mindless drones. The elders in the community are partially responsible for putting the very technology in their youth’s hands that corrupts their minds and allows them to delve into cyberspace…and eventually get so caught up in it they forget to be social beings. Communication has become difficult for most youth and they become engrossed in their laptops, Iphones, Xbox game systems, Wii consoles, etc. They spend countless hours on these machines and lose their sense of communication and
social skills. I could continue with the man other issues that arise from this, but feel the issues mentioned are sufficient enough.
The Cultural Divide
Many parents and elders in the community do not understand the challenges facing the Muslim-American youth today. Parents often bring cultural and traditional practices that may not work in this day and age. We force cultural and traditional practices upon our youth that are not relevant to the lives of our youth. This eventually causes them to have identity issues and other social issues. We must stress first and foremost the Islamic identity as being the primary identity and every other identity as being secondary. We must learn to understand the challenges the youth face and understand that their culture and upbringing is far different than the older generations’ upbringing. Our children will not grow up to be exactly like us and will not always be open to cultural and traditional practices that have been done for generations by previous generations. Our children today are exposed to so many cultures, religions, ethnicities and will eventually formulate their own unique identity that is far different than their parents. This is one concept the older generations must understand. However, this is not to say that culture and tradition in itself is a bad thing. It only becomes a problem when it supersedes Islamic principles, beliefs and rights of our youth. We need to understand that our youth will develop their own unique way of thinking and culture and we must be prepared to accept it as long as there are respectful of their parents and are still adhering to Islamic principles and beliefs.
Forbidding the Halaal, Encouraging the Haraam
This is a problem most parents have when their kids reach the high school age. We don’t really address the issues that face our youth particularly the issue of dating. When our children come to us with questions regarding dating and gender relations with the opposite gender we make it extremely restrictive and make talking to a girl or a boy tantamount to sex. This is quite unfortunate because it retards the growth of our children and does not allow them to understand the
opposite gender, learn how to deal with other people, and restricts their understanding on how to communicate with others. When our youth do have serious issues with liking someone of the opposite gender we are often quick to criticize them or make them feel as if they have done haraam. When we do this we alienate our children and make them feel as if they cannot come to their parents for help due to the negative response to their issues (which to them are serious, yet we may dismiss). This can occur when marriage comes into the picture. We often are quick to criticize our youth and dismiss their ability to get married based upon our own cultural, traditional and personal understandings---often going against Islamic beliefs and rights of our children who’re seeking to get married. This of course relates to those at the proper age to get married and position to get married (in my humble opinion 18-24 year olds). When we make the halaal impossible and difficult, we open up the doors for haraam. We build walls of restriction around our children thinking they will help keep them safe and away from haraam, but when we do not allow alternatives to the haraam the haraam becomes easy for our youth. They eventually will bounce off these walls and go in the opposite direction. No matter how good our children may be and obedient---if we make restrictions too severe then they will eventually break. University students often have what one of my friends calls the “birdcage effect” where they are allowed to go to university out of state or even in state and completely go to the extremes of haraam due to them not being used to the freedom, independence, selfdiscipline and responsibility.
To be brutally honest, this issue has not been covered as much as it should have in the Muslim community. Maybe due to ignorance or ignoring the issue and pretending it doesn’t exist, but unfortunately it does. Our children are probably more exposed to every level of pornography out there. It’s present in movies, books, magazines, in songs, etc. Visual pornography is a huge problem with our youth today due to the ease of access to it (via the internet, movies, etc.). This can have
serious consequences for our youth in degrading themselves, scarring mentally, emotionally, and socially. When this becomes common it can become an addiction and can effect marital relations with their future spouse. Audio pornography comes in the form of indecent music. This is far too common amongst our youth. The amount of indecency in music today is mindblowing. The haraam ideas, thoughts, and ideas that are subliminally given through music is extremely detrimental to our youth. When it becomes common to cuss, degrade women and promote other haraam, then our youth think it’s ok to do. Our youth memorize every word of the most popular songs, but can’t recite Quran properly or memorize Quran at all. As for solutions to these problems, I really don’t have any apart from the fact of educating our youth about the dangers of both types of pornography. If we teach our children the right morals, ethics, and values they should be able to stay away from pornography.
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