Category Archives: Leadership
By Taha Ghayyur
“Youth are the future of this community.”
“Youth are the torchbearers of Islam.”
“Young Muslims are our top priority!”
How many times have we heard these empty slogans at our Masjids?
Unfortunately, these aspirations of our Masjid leaders and Imams, though often sincere, are not reflected in the prioritization and allocation of time and resources.
If youth development or youth engagement is not on the agenda of our board meetings, how can it be a “priority” for our Masjid or organization?
If young Muslim women and men are not even part of our board, committees, or leadership today, how can we expect to pass on the torch to them tomorrow?
If there is no budget item for youth work or youth engagement, why proclaim our commitment to serve and save the next generation of Islam?
We have already neglected at least two generations of smart, educated, and faithful young Muslim men and women in North America.
This systemic neglect on our part as community leaders and organizations has resulted in many young professionals distancing themselves from traditional places of worship. There is an entire “unMosqued” movement born out of this frustration. Many young, practicing Muslims have been looking for “third spaces” to activate their volunteer efforts.
Although some Masjids and Islamic centers have become more youth-conscious and youth-friendly over the past decade, we have a long way to go in terms of meaningful youth engagement.
Here are some conceptual and practical tips to rethink and reorganize our Masjids, Islamic centers, and community organizations for positive and effective youth engagement.
1. Rethink the Masjid as an “exclusively religious space”.
“We need to start utilizing our Masjids outside the exclusive religiosity,” advised Boonaa Mohammed, an award-winning writer, producer, and spoken word performer in Canada. “Hassan bin Thabit, the famous prolific poet of the Prophet, peace be upon him, recited and performed poetry in the Masjid,” Boonaa continued. We need to break the “stigma of religious spaces”. This means designing the look and feel, as well as the culture of your Masjid to be youth-friendly. Read more tips on youth-friendly Masjids by Samana Siddiqui.
2. Go beyond the “youth center” claim.
Most people in our community don’t buy it anymore. They have seen so many Masjids raising funds for a theoretical “youth center”, which is often an invisible part of the construction plan, to be built a generation or two later. Instead, invest in designing unique youth programs and services. Before you build a gym, build a team of energetic young Muslim leaders who can run these facilities.
3. Before you build a minaret, hire a youth director.
This would be the ultimate proof of your commitment to youth engagement at your Masjid or center. Hiring an experienced youth worker who can relate to and mobilize youth is as critical as hiring a qualified Imam and administrator. Those few Masjids across North America that have recruited a youth coordinator/worker, have seen their entire congregations and community transform into a lively hub.
4. Publicly consult youth to transform your Masjid or organization’s culture.
It takes time and listening to develop events and projects that young Muslims really care for. It requires significant consultation with youth, research on best practices in the mainstream and Muslim communities, and restructuring of your organization’s human and financial resources. Have a print and online survey for youth to submit their ideas. Organize a focus group session with key young leaders.
5. Invite young leaders to join your board and treat them like leaders.
Young Muslims are smart, tech-and-media-savvy, and creative. Mentor them with your experience and wisdom, and give them room to experiment and make mistakes. Don’t treat them or their work as insignificant. Value and recognize their contribution to the organization and the community.
6. Allocate 20% of your annual budget for youth development and engagement.
Yes, it may sound a lot, but it will pay off more than your investment. Remember, over 30% of Muslims in Canada and the United States are youth! Please read more on how to reorganize our time and donations for community empowerment by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid.
7. Adopt a local MSA by building a working and supportive relationship with the MSA leadership.
Offer your Masjid space for off-campus programs. Build your MSA chapter’s capacity by donating and sharing resources as needed. Offer counselling and other youth services at your Masjid with the help of your youth director. Develop joint creative programs with the MSA to engage more young Muslims.
8. Go beyond “youth lectures”.
Engagement is more than educational lectures. Given the limited attention span of youth and the culture of distractions, thanks to the explosive growth of social media, texting, and gadgets, most youth are not interested in one-way communication. Youth engagement, from a programming perspective, requires interaction, entertainment, and experiential learning. For more concrete ideas for proven youth engagement events, please order a print copy of Sound Vision’s Youth Engagement Manual for Masjids and Community Leaders.
9. Make your youth programs and facilities accessible.
When some churches in the US wanted to win back youth, they realized young folks stay up late at night, and hence began to hold programs during the late evenings. Similarly, some Islamic centers today have been allowing youth to play basketball or soccer in their gyms late nights, especially on weekends. For the same reason, organizing an early morning weekend event for youth could be disastrous, as most young people sleep in on Saturdays and Sundays.
10. Realize, young people are not “lazy” or “non-committed”, as they are often perceived.
It’s the way too many Masjid and community leaders engage them that is old school and doesn’t work. Before you engage young Muslims as volunteers and leaders, restructure and rethink your volunteer recruitment methods. Experience and research has shown that generation Y and Millennials (those born in the 1990’s and beyond) think of volunteerism very differently than their parents do. It’s no longer enough to have youth “sign up” and expect them to just show up at the next event to volunteer. Similarly, giving them fancy titles without involvement in decision-making and without proper expectations and accountability mechanisms doesn’t work. Here are some key volunteerism trends found in these generations, both in the Muslim community and outside:
a. Young people are brand-conscious. “Muslim youth are most attracted to big brands and big events that have impact,” explains Shahmir Durrani, a youth leader and an advisor to Muslim Youth Federation based in Toronto, Canada, focused on high school students. “They take pride in their Muslim identity as they volunteer for known organizations and causes.” Develop programs and projects that have a visible impact in the community.
b. Young people are looking for results. “They are result-driven,” says Durrani, “as they have limited time, juggling school, socialization, family, and volunteer work.” They don’t like to be involved in long meetings and elaborate planning. As research has also shown, this “Googlized Generation” is looking for instant gratification. They want results now. Ensure the events and activities you involve youth produce concrete results, such as working in a soup kitchen, fundraising gala, art competition…etc.
c. Young people are looking for flexible leadership structures and opportunities for growth. Yes, most Muslim youth don’t stick around an organization or commit to a cause for years, unlike our elders. “They are seeking growth opportunities and challenging roles in an organization.” This requires flexibility and agility in your organizational structure. Every time millennials commit to a cause or event, they are asking “what’s in it for for me”, in terms of experience and growth. While this isn’t an ideal Muslim leadership trait, this is the reality of youth activism culture you have to cater our volunteer recruitment strategies to.
d. Young people are looking for exclusive or unique experiences. For young volunteers or leaders, it isn’t just a sense of satisfaction and opportunity to socialize and grow with like-minded people that is important. “An exclusive experience, such as access to a scholar, an artist, or VIP is also a major motivation,” elaborated Shahmir Durrani. In this culture of selfies, live broadcasts, and instant social media sharing, such exceptional volunteer experiences go viral. Think of creative ways to make the youth volunteer experience special and exceptional if you want youth coming back.
By Taha Ghayyur
There is no spiritual institution in the world that captivates the minds and hearts of millions of people weekly the way that the Jumah prayer sermon does every Friday.
In Ramadan, in particular, a significantly larger crowd of Muslims throngs to mosques and Islamic centres to gain inspiration and spiritual boost from the Jumah Khutba or sermon.
Given the turbulent environment, where public opinion about Islam and Muslims is at record low and Islamophobia is skyrocketing, North American Muslims are in dire need of practical, genuine, and refreshing spiritual and social guidance from our Imams and Khateebs.
This Ramadan, it’s critical for Imams and Khateebs to focus their messaging on: Strengthening our spiritual connection with Allah; strengthening our family; and strengthening our connection with our friends, colleagues, and neighbors of other faiths.
As Ramadan approaches, here are suggested Khutba themes for Imams and Khateebs to address.
Khutba Themes for Weeks Leading Up To Ramadan
Willpower: How Ramadan Can Empower You to Change Bad Habits
Reaching Out: Opening Doors & Hearts to Our Neighbors this Ramadan
Ramadan & Civic Engagement: Our Responsibility Toward Our Country
Ramadan Prep: Are You Ramadan Ready?
Khutba Themes During Ramadan
Reconnect with the Quran: Let Allah Speak to You
Fasting & Feasting: How to Observe an Active & Healthy Ramadan
Ramadan & Islamophobia: Opportunity to Humanize Islam and Muslims
Reconnect with Family: Strengthen Bonds that Matter this Ramadan
Needy in My Neighborhood: Leading a Simpler & Generous Ramadan
Ramadan & Young Muslims: Why You Matter to the Muslim Community
Dua: How Do You Talk to Allah?
Tawbah: Coming Clean with Allah
Final Stretch: How to Make the Last 10 Days & Nights Most Productive?
Khutba Themes for Weeks of Eid & Beyond
Eid: A New Beginning for a New You
Eid: A Time for Hope & Renewal
It’s Over: How to Make Those Great Ramadan Habits Stick
How to Keep Young Muslims Engaged in the Masjid & the Community
Muslim Civic Participation: How Muslims Can Make a Difference
A thoughtful and thorough planning of Khutbas in advance will multiply the benefit for millions of Muslims who lend their ears, minds, and hearts for 30-45 minutes every week, especially during the Ramadan and Eid seasons.
By Taha Ghayyur
Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Jameel Al-Ameen are perhaps a few names that cross our minds when we consider the evolution of Muslim identity and community in North America. What often escapes notice is the sacrifice, discipline, social justice, leadership, and cooperation modeled by such individuals and their communities.
The organized struggle of North American Muslims begins over seven centuries ago with the civil rights movement led by multitudes of Muslim African slaves. The spirit and movement continues today with the millions of Arab and South Asian Muslim immigrants, as well as the Latin and First Nations indigenous Muslim converts in North America.
Keeping Faith Alive in the ‘New World’
In the story of early African American Muslims, we find fascinating and empowering historical events. The story of Job ibn Solomon Jallo, in the early 1700’s, who was a well-mannered, intelligent, literate trader and Imam, reminds us of the Quranic and Biblical story of Prophet Yaqoob’s (Job) life. Captured in Gambia, Job wrote out three copies of the entire Quran from memory. He was later freed and reunited with his loving son and family[i].
The account of Bilali Muhammad (Ben Ali), an African scholar in the early 1800’s, captivates many as we read about the vibrant Islamic community he built in Georgia, as a slave[ii]. His determination to hold on to Islamic principles, regardless of his circumstances, inspires awe and admiration. In many ways his life parallels the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah, an early African slave convert to Islam in Makkah.
As Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad explains in Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of History (1312-1998):
In the ‘New World’, some of the African slaves suffered doubly tragic fate. Initially, they were enslaved because they were African, but when it was discovered that they were also Muslims, their suffering was compounded. They were tortured, burned alive, hung, and shot unless they renounced their religion and their names. At least 20% of the Africans brought to the U.S. were Muslims from ….the coastal and interior regions of the Islamic empires of Songhai, Ghana, and Mali.[iii]
Early Muslim Participation in America
We discover with pride that there were Muslims, who, in the War of 1812, helped defend America against the British[iv]. In a lecture held at Concordia University, Montreal, Imam Khalid Griggs, a political activist and leader of a North Carolina mosque, highlighted the role Africans played in the American Civil War. He related the stirring account of one African Muslim named Mohammad Ali Ibn Said, who moved to the U.S. from Africa to volunteer for the all-Black 55th division:
“Mohammad Ali said, ‘I do not want to just sit back and not do anything, I want to do something to help my brothers. The blood that joins me is deeper and stronger than the water that separates me from Africa to the United States,’…So he chose to come into a slave country at a time when he was risking his own freedom.” [v]
Did You know?
- The first person to request the freedom of all slaves in America was a Muslim.
- Muslims fought in many of the early wars.
- Muslims were known to live in at least 7 of the 13 original colonies, including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
- The early American Muslims have contributed many Arabic words found in English today, such as, admiral, algebra, atlas, banana, cable, camel, checkmate, coffee, cotton, jasmine, lemon, magazine, mask, rice, sofa, sugar, syrup, and zero to name a few.
- Columbus was not the first adventurer to travel from Europe to the Americas. Around 986 AD, Moors (people from North Africa) crossed the Atlantic Ocean in ships, bringing back with them people from the new world.
Sadly, the impact of Black, African, and Muslim cultures on world history is often neglected in historical discourse. There are pages of history which tend to get ripped out.
Towards Contribution & Leadership
While, it could be argued that faith in today’s secular world is receding to the private quarters, North American Islam is manifesting itself as an urban phenomenon. Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Philosophy at the College of Geneva, in his monumental study, To be a European Muslim, reminds us of our role and responsibility in the secular context today. He explains:
At this time of globalisation and internationalisation, when all nations are subject to a new world order which denies or forgets God,…based on an exclusive economic logic, Muslims are facing the same responsibilities… Assertive and confident, they have to remind people around them of God, of spirituality and, regarding social affairs, to work for values and ethics, justice and solidarity. They do not forget their environment but, on the contrary, once in security, they should influence it in positive way.[vi]
Contemporary North American Muslims possess a rich seven-century old legacy of dedication, activism, community empowerment, justice, peace, and tolerance, inherited from their Muslim forefathers in this land. They must now change their outlook from the reality of “protection” alone to that of an authentic “contribution” to the society. It is at this unique juncture of Islamic history, constituting the largest and most diverse Muslim minority that we need to study the contribution of African American Muslims as the models that produced the great leaders we long for today.
[i] Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad, Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of History, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1998), 11.
[ii] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America xi.
[iii] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America, xiii.
[iv] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America, xi.
[v] The McGill Daily, Issue 46.
[vi] Tariq Ramadan, To Be A European Muslim(Markfield, Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999), 144-145.
Also Re-published in The Muslim Voice (University of Toronto MSA)