muslim youth

Challenges and Opportunities for Muslim Youth

Challenges and opportunities for Muslim Youth

Mohammed-Khaku Mohammed Khaku (Allentown, USA) is the past president of Al Ahad Islamic Center in Allentown. He is a Social and criminal justice writer and regularly writes for a number of international publications


he Muslim youths under the prism, concerned about their place in society & challenges facing in today’s world?

Challenges & Opportunities Facing Muslim Youths – Problems & Solutions

All praise is due to Allah! I bear witness there is no God but Allah & Prophet Muhammad is his messenger. I ask Allah to guide me to present this essay truthfully and accurately. This paper will be read by honorable audience, Islamic scholars, and students of knowledge.

 “When the eagle sprit is awakened in the youth, it sees its luminous goal beyond the starry heavens.”

“Auqabi  Rooh Jab Baidar Hoti Hai Jawanon Mein Nazar Ati Hai Iss Ko Apni Manzil Asmanon Mein”

Poet Allama Iqbal

The days of your youth are the days of your glory.

Prophet Muhammad said “three things are among the sign of a man’s nobility, and they are a virtuous wife, noble children, and righteous friends. American Muslim youth challenges cannot be solved until the roots of the challenges are not understood. The type of youth we raise today will dictate the type and the shape of the future community. If we rectify the youth issues, we will rectify our communities.

The mission for the parents and the community leaders should be to strive for God-consciousness, social justice and convey Islam with utmost clarity. This reminds me of an enduring message Imam Hussain on the plains of Karbala.

“I am not rising [against Yazid] as an insolent, or an arrogant or a mischief monger or as a tyrant. I have risen [against him] as I seek to reform the ummah [community] of my grandfather [Prophet Muhammad]. I wish to bid the good [amr bil-ma’ruf] and forbid the evil [nahy’ ‘anil-munkar], and to follow the way of my grandfather and father [Imam Ali b. Abi Talib].”

American Muslim or Muslim American?

The question “Am I American?” “Am I Muslim?” and “Who am I?”

What should I use American Muslim or Muslim American for my essay? however, What is define being American and which American values? Muslim American means that we are defining our belief and creed that is monotheism first, and we should be proud of that. However, will using American Muslim over Muslim American stop anti-Muslim and Islamophobia? No, but it will help to reject the myths that Muslims are not patriotic or real American and that Islam is a threat to America. Our American identity is not necessarily modified by our Muslim identity, nor is the opposite necessarily true either. So, I will use American Muslim because any American can become Muslims and it places our faith as a set of beliefs and values that gives us a source of: morality, guidance, pride, and the confidence to share our beliefs, talents and gifts with all Americans.  The other way is not so attractive.

Hijrah (migration) is an important concept in Islam. The first migration occurred from Mecca to Medina during the fifth year of the Prophet’s mission in Mecca. Then there is another migration occurred in last sixty years to north America. Below is the link f the Migration of Khoja from India to East Africa to USA.

Like all immigrants our first priority upon arrival was to seek a job, accommodation, and education for children’s. We also built Islamic Centers and establish cemeteries. We provided our children the best Islamic upbringing and prevented them to the prey to the prevailing hedonistic culture. Today, Muslims can be found in the medical profession, engineering, accounting, teaching, and business. However, the more serious challenge for the parents is how to get them married to a suitable spouse. This has been especially acute in case our daughters.

Muslims youths are making huge impact in US, but facing numerous challenges which are not unique but similar problems that confronted almost all previous immigrant communities like Irish, Italians, and Latino and many others. However, we cannot side-line the African Americans and Native Americans who had greater challenges than our Muslim youths. Nevertheless, the hostility shown toward African and Native Indians has been muted. Last fifty years Muslim communities in US have gone through different phases of growth and development. Each phase had its own goals, challenges, and accomplishment. One only has to look at the history of the Khoja community in Allentown.

Throughout the centuries, Muslims have contributed to the fields of medicine, philosophy, architect, astronomy, and many other fields, however the rise of Islamophobia, Islam has been cast as irrational, violent, and incompatible with modern civilization putting Muslim youths on defensive. Today, Muslim youth face tremendous challenges from intra-faith racism, lack of religious identity, conflicting culture, confused citizenship, misguided social norms, peer pressure, personal bad experience within community, domestic violence, and identity confusion – level of Muslimness or Americanisms based on symbols or religiosity. All of the above challenges make the youth get engage in risky behaviors. Without the collective actions and collaboration of religious leaders, management of Islamic centers, parents, and educators with one another it will be an uphill battle to find and implement Islamic solutions.

The Boston marathon highlighted the challenging of assimilation of Muslim youths. The intellectual weakness and inadequacies Muslim-American leaders have failed find solutions to assimilation to American culture. During 1970 Muslim leaders explicitly urged Muslim youths to avoid assimilating into American mainstream and started building Islamic community and schools. However, after 9/11 many Muslims leaders are willing to encourage our youths to assimilate in order run for political office, school boards, or become a CEO the fortune five hundred corporation.

Does assimilation mean that we need to reconstruct an appeasing version of Islam that conforms to the American civil religion (LGBT). The debate is ongoing between the intellectuals however; this is causing confusion in the minds of our youths. Forty years ago, American Muslim leaders condemned the homosexuality, same sex marriage and HIV epidemic. Today the Muslim leaders are hardly brainstorming gay rights and have ceased to condemn same sex marriage or LGBT, but have embrace tolerance and respect civil liberties. Just a disclaimer that LGBT and same sex marriage is a desire/lust not a civil right issue or human right issue nor a discrimination. It is a way of life one chooses and all Abrahamic faith have condemned it. I do not want to name Imam who have made U-turn, but this dilemma in endemic to Sunni Islam due to decentralized, non-hierarchical structure compared to the Shia Islam where the religious ruling and edicts are centralized through the Islamic jurisprudent by Maraje’iat’ like Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, Iraq.

One need to read the scathing dissent by late supreme court justice Scalia on same sex marriage.

Inter-racial marriage is now acceptable in American Muslim communities; however, the LGBT is the cultural issue on which American Muslim leaders are not well positioned to speak forthrightly and authoritatively to the community or the youths.

From Qawm Lut to the LGBT Movement | Shaykh Azhar Nasser, Muharram 2023.

The first, imminent challenge for Muslim youth and parents is to understand the environment. The first Madrassa is parents lap and the first Qibla is your home. Research studies be it Islamic or not show that early environment of a child affects his/her later stages of development in the adolescence period. Good upbringing (Tarbi-et-Aulad) is very important, crucial and begins at home. With both parents working to meet materialist goals, it is incumbent on the management of Islamic Centers to have Islamic childcare and kinder garden schools up to the age of seven and beyond. It is also very important to have after school programs for our children like sports and Quran recitation or Hafez of Quran.

The second, challenge facing Muslim communities and Muslims youth today is political one of Islamophobia, and miss/dis information of Islam. The spread of Islamophobia after 9/11 added fuel to the fire in the distressing Muslim youth specially girls in regards to wearing Hijab. American Muslim leaders need to recognize the bigots of government official, politicians, and faith leader that Islam-bashing or fear of Islam is unwarranted.

Before we adorn our self with the garment of victim-hood, it is incumbent upon us to ask whether there is any basis for our current state. I see many reasons, but the few are the lack of unity within the Muslim Ummah, how to eradicate extremism in Islam, formulating strategies of building coalitions, public relations, empowering Muslim Think-Tanks, and combating Islamophobia.

We badly need intra-Muslim dialogue than inter-faith dialogue in order to avoid the imperialist and colonial goal of divide and rule so as to exploit resources of Muslim countries. One should also avoid forming alliance with Christian Rights, who are no friends of Muslims. They were the one who put us under the bus after 9/11 with “Muslim Ban”, calling Islam a “cancer”, and Muslims are here in America to establish “Shariah laws” and Islamic State.

Muslim youths after 9/11 face many issues like how to find a spouse, how to deal with peer pressure and stereotyping which have been amplified due to Islamophobia. The religious summer camp is one venue or space to provide our Muslim youths with outlet to explore the topics like marriage, dating, wearing hijab and others. These camps help make friends, establish an identity, and the increase the love of Islam, the Prophets, and Quran.

Muslim girls have a biggest challenge of inability to construct an identity when it comes to the question of Hijab. Muslim teenager who chooses to wear hijab finds herself in the complex world of fashion rather viewing hijab as personal relationship with God. A teenager has to navigate fashion trends that may label her as religious, liberal, or anywhere in between. However, many judge our religious teenage solely based on the black Abaya and a rebellious by the amount of the makeup and coolness by hairstyle or designer clothes she wears.

We adults should be careful not to label our teenage wearing Hijab as oppressed Taliban girl or not wearing Hijab as not religious enough. Our teenage girls need not prove their Americanism or holiness because it is a loss and exhausting endeavor. The emphasis on materialism (residing in million-dollar homes & luxury cars) has led to its own problem of high rate of divorces in Muslim communities in USA. It also goes against the Prophetic advice of seeking a spouse of good character, however equally troubling is the fact that many Muslim boys are delaying marriages or not marrying a girl senior by couple of years and not looking at the tradition of Prophet Muhammad marring Syedna Khadija 15 years senior. Muslim youths should stop chasing materialistic pursuits and follow the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and Ahlul Bayt.

American Muslims are facing serious problems as a minority in the pluralistic society and struggling to create a new cultural zone of Islam. America has become a nightmare as well as land of opportunities for Muslims due to anti-Muslim sentiments in American society.2018 research data show that Islam is the third largest faith in America with 1 % of the population – 3.45 millions, by 2050 it will more than double to 8.1 million.  However, Muslims have been front and center on the news 24/7 of recent political debate as the 2024 presidential campaign begins.

Muslims youths in the US face a dilemma, living in a country that has taken on the mantle of capitalism and imperialism which present a unique set of challenges. Do our Muslim youths adhere to the narrative of American exceptionalism, militarism, racism or do they identify with furthering the cause of the humanity on social justice issues. American foreign policy as it stands today is unacceptable. Muslim youths in America have to make a choice. Do they give to in the oppressive climate of fear and intimidation or speak truth to the power?

For centuries pluralism and diversity exist in Islam, and this has created rigid polarities among our youths of crises of identity. According to Pew Research Center with increase politicization of Islam, many youths are questioning about their religious identity. This requires community leaders to create safe space for our youths to tackle the difficult religious doctrines, history, politic, gender and race.

The firstly, the greatest challenges Muslim youth face today is lack of identity, lack of confidence, lack of understanding of their own history, and inability to be a proud Muslim or apply Islam with all this social media and Ai available to them.  According to Tariq Ramadan – “There is no culture without religion, but there is no religion without culture. Religion is always rooted in culture, but religion is not the culture.”

Today’s teenagers at school and university not only face Islamophobia onslaught but also the culture of dating and casual sexual encounter. Many young teenagers are unwilling to discuss if their faith is restrictive or regressive, but many in private will blame family and community negatively shaping their perceptions of their religious identity. Many teenagers are traumatized of the condition at home or an incident at the Islamic Centers or at the annual general body meeting/elections.

I am not expert on counseling or a counselor but be it by non-Muslims or Muslims, we need more professional Muslim therapist as well as the resident Alim or Imam who should be also trained in counselling and follow the strict rules of confidentiality to avoid losing our youths to overdose drug addiction or suicide. One life is too many.

Solutions to consider:

Our enemy is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

Today, anywhere between 45% to 65% of the Muslims in the Muslim community are first generation immigrants, hence it makes priority to educate our community, parents, Muslim leaders, Imams and speakers about youths, their needs, issues, and the reality. Some suggestions should be community, civic social, and political engagement. Few examples could be boys and girl scouts’ program, big brother big sister program, movie night and sleepover at the Islamic centers, sports and tournament like Islamic Games, personal and educational programs like Quran institute.

Over 90% of our children have iPods and guess what they listen to on the iPod? Definitely not the Quran. How can we motivate our youths to get attached to Quran as we do for the Azadari – lamenting the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The task is tremendous and the whole community should put mind, hearts, and hands together to preserve our faith and our youths. All Muslim organizations, Islamic scholars and parents are responsible in paving the road for next generation. This may require overhauling of the boards, trustees, management, or re-engineering of the system. The elders should stop playing musical chairs at WF, AF, NASIMCO & COEJ. We need visionaries, thinking strategically for the future of the Muslim community and youth centers (gym) like boys and girls club.

Whatever I have express if good, then it is from Allah, and if I have mentioned something wrong or exaggerated or inappropriate then it is from me; I ask Allah for forgiveness.

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