Category Archives: Muslim Youth
Event Presentation: What the Legacy of Sahaba can Teach our Youth and Seniors by Taha Ghayyur (Aug. 4, 2019)
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
While leading and mentoring Muslim youth in a Toronto suburb pre-and-post-9/11, I could understand how easy it was to fall prey to extremist rhetoric and radical ideology – especially for the young and unschooled in basic Islamic teachings.
I remember the urgent, passionate calls to do “something” about the wars being waged by some Western countries in the name of “liberation” and “democracy” in Muslim countries.
I recall the logical arguments being presented for the revival of Khilafa, a central legitimate Muslim leadership, to fix the mess in the Muslim world.
I can still vividly remember the images of a utopian Muslim society depicted by these speakers – a blissful state free of anxieties, immorality, and the social ills of the West.
It all seemed real, achievable, attractive, and fair from the perspective of a concerned, idealistic young Muslim growing up in an increasingly polarized world.
As I was helping young Muslims navigate the tumultuous debates and the cacophony of calls to action, I was struggling to make sense of it all myself. These were indeed trying times. Times of Fitnah.
But the solution was not violence and extremism being aroused by these misguided “leaders”. Change took wisdom, time, and patience – something these preachers never discussed – something Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, routinely taught and practiced.
Thank God, I was blessed with wise parents and incredible mentors and teachers, whose intellectual depth and visionary leadership helped me shape an independent response to such divisive rhetoric. As I witnessed some younger Muslims being torn between the ideals of their faith and loyalty to their citizenship, I was spared such anxiety.
I was confident in declaring to myself and to others that I am Muslim first and I am Canadian first. There is no need for a superficial dichotomy over terms that refer to two distinct aspects of my life as a Canadian Muslim. Religious and secular extremists love to play on these terms and confuse vulnerable youth with the language of “loyalty”, “fidelity”, and “priority”.
I was deeply grounded in and faithful to my Islamic tradition, as well as to the civic duties of my country, Canada. I realized that to be faithful to my Deen and Islamic lifestyle, I did not have to disconnect myself from serving my country and humanity. In fact, the opposite was true. Similarly, a genuine concern for Canada didn’t mean we couldn’t be critical of the government’s domestic politics and foreign policies.
I was able to liberate myself in my early teens from the street theology of “Islam vs. West”, “Muslims vs. America”, and “Khilafah vs. Secular Liberal Democracy”. I was able to free myself from the shackles of both the soft extremism and the violent extremism that are plaguing some young Muslims around the world.
Moreover, I was able to help other struggling young Muslims see the bigger, colourful picture, past the binary vision of the world, a black and white one of constant conflict, wars, and hate painted by extremists in our communities and outside.
Looking back, as I have focused my work on community development and youth leadership, I have contemplated the real sources of radicalization.
Numerous so-called anti-terrorism pundits and experts have debated and proposed potential causes of violent extremism by young Muslims and convert Muslims from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. However, most analyses fail to address the real, at times basic, roots that we can control at the grassroots level.
13 Sources of Radicalization to Consider
1. Lack of courage to admit that extremism of all forms exists in the Muslim community. The idea that by condemning Muslim extremists and terrorists, we are somehow downplaying the pain and atrocities inflicted upon the war-torn Muslim countries, is very disturbing. Many in our community are still in a state of denial that some Muslims would ever commit crimes against humanity. We can’t tackle an issue if it’s not identified as a problem to begin with.
2. Lack of understanding of what a sound “Muslim identity” means. The gross misunderstanding around the issue of loyalty to one’s faith versus loyalty to one’s country is perhaps the stepping stone to extremism.
3. Lack of clarity on terminologies that are hijacked by extremists on all sides, dressed with their own particular nuances: “extremist Muslim”, “moderate Muslim”, “Wahabi Muslim”, “secular Muslim”, “fundamentalist”, “Islamist”, “Sufi”, “Salafi”, “Khilafah”, “Jihad”, “Wilayah”, and the list is endless. One of the basic rules of logic is to have clearly defined terms for an argument to be valid. With confusion surrounding these words that are thrown around so conveniently, often with the help of media, some misguided young Muslims get caught up in one side of the argument – without an in-depth study of the implications of these terms historically and in the contemporary context.
4. Inadequate legitimate, qualified scholarship nurtured and cultured in the North American context that is able to confidently articulate the Islamic position on contemporary crises. Lack of genuine Islamic authority that is firmly rooted in authentic Islamic tradition and is fully aware of its civic duties to its home country, gives opportunity to voices that are on the edge, and often louder and more tech-savvy.
5. Lack of balanced discourse on social justice in the Muslim community. While traditionally, Muslims have a strong, pragmatic social justice narrative, Muslim leaders and Imams have failed to address the issue of social justice in a wholesome manner that reflects the reality of a multicultural neighborhood and an increasingly globalized, interconnected world. Our conversation has to go beyond simply condemning wars in Muslim lands or condemning a terrorist attack by radicals in the name of Islam. It has to condemn the evil trio: War-Terrorism-Islamophobia. All three need to be condemned simultaneously and unequivocally. Our narrative has to offer real solutions for this global crisis, beyond theory. In the absence of such balanced, scholarly discourse, young Muslims are bound to pick sides in the “war on Islam”.
6. Lack of avenues for positive engagement for young Muslims. Due to insufficient quality programs and services that are engaging, inspiring, and relevant, offered by legitimate Muslim institutions, Muslim youth are prone to be attracted to shady “Shaykhs” and YouTube videos that offer a concrete “plan of action NOW”. Art, cultural enrichment, and creative expression are proven tools for keeping youth off the streets and for channeling their energies in a constructive way.
7. Genuine grievances of young Muslims unacknowledged and ignored by media, parents, teachers, Imams, youth leaders, and social service providers in the Muslim community. If we don’t listen to and address the sincere concerns and anxieties of our youth regarding the ongoing atrocities, destruction, and war crimes being committed against their Muslim brothers and sisters around the world, they will naturally gravitate toward those who not only acknowledge their grievances, but also offer “solutions” to the dilemmas of the Ummah.
8. Genuine zeal to practice Islam, which often leads mature, thinking Muslims to limits that are deemed unacceptable by the Prophetic tradition. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, warned his Companions against any form of extremism in religious practices and rituals whenever he found an opportunity. Numerous traditions of the Prophet exhort us to avoid extremes in prolonged fasting, Quran recitation, the night prayer, and abstinence from physical relations with one’s spouse. He feared that such extreme ritual practice would eventually lead to exhaustion, boredom, and harm to one’s own spirituality, as well as to the rights of others.
9. Natural need for a sense of belonging. Many disenfranchised young Muslims and recently converted Muslims fall prey to the strong affiliation, fraternity, and empowerment that extremist cults offer. The idea that you belong to an exclusive, secretive gang with a peculiar uniform or outlook, and a lofty mission against the evil forces of the world, can be enticing.
10. Inadequate positive role models for Muslim youth who are achievers in this world and the Next. There is a dire need for young professionals and leaders who are caring, compassionate, and sincere in their concern for the success of Muslim youth to mentor and guide them through the most critical phases of their cognitive, social, and spiritual development.
11. Tolerance for intolerance in the Muslim community. While I don’t see this being a rampant problem, extremist ideologies and voices do exist in our community that brainwash and disenfranchise young Muslims. It may not be the violent form of extremism, but the soft version that promotes intolerance toward variant ideological paradigms in Islam, as well as other faith communities. It could be intolerance toward women’s participation in Masjids, leadership, or in the public sphere. It could be intolerance toward authorities, including parents, teachers, Imams, law enforcement agencies, or the government. All of these are symptomatic of radical thinking and behavior. Note: Intolerance is not the same thing as disagreement or protest in a civil manner.
12. The lone wolf phenomenon. A high percentage of acts of terrorism in Canada and the USA are committed by deranged lunatics with known mental health issues and a history of drugs and sex crimes. Such individuals, usually recent young converts to Islam, live in isolation; if they do at all attend a mosque, they are quickly ostracized by the institutions and the community at large. As a community, we need to first acknowledge that mental health problems are on a sharp rise among young Muslims and we need to effectively identify, assess, and refer such cases early on to social service providers and psychiatrists.
Secondly, we need to embrace, accommodate, and integrate young Muslims and converts in our community centres and mosques so they can become full members of the Muslim community. However, at the same time, we need to be vigilant over their activities if they have a history of mental illness and/or crimes. Any expressions of soft extremism or violent radicalization should be noted and reported immediately to law enforcement authorities.
13. Entrapment by government agencies. While the FBI and CSIS must protect their countries, governments, and citizens, they have at times crossed the legal limits of information-seeking. They have instead entrapped naive youth into terrorist activities. This is no secret. Such abuses of power happen everywhere and they need to acknowledged and addressed.
As long as the deadly trio of War-Terrorism-Islamophobia is alive and thriving, we can expect more of the ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban-style of extremism to flourish. While we cannot control such “external” sources of youth radicalization, we can minimize the damage by managing and monitoring the “internal” sources that we have control over as listed above.
I am thankful to God, our Guide, Nourisher, and Protector, for guiding me at a young age, to a sound, balanced understanding of my faith and of my role in this ever chaotic and violent world.
However, I hope that as stakeholders in the development of young Muslims growing up in North America, we take our responsibility to raise confident, caring, and contributing young adults, more seriously. I truly believe, with concerted effort on the part of our families and Islamic institutions, we will be able to empower and equip young Muslims with a balanced understanding of Islam, a strong faith that is rooted in Islamic tradition, a sincere commitment to their civic duties to their country, and a desire to serve God and His creation.
For more practical tips on fighting extremism in the Muslim community, please refer to:
Taha Ghayyur is a writer, public speaker, community organizer, and communications and leadership trainer in Toronto, Canada. He works as the Director of Communications with Sound Vision, a pioneer in Islamic media and public relations in North America. He writes and speaks extensively on issues related to Muslim youth engagement, leadership, communication, personal development and community development.