By Mohamedarif Suleman
For the first time in the history of the Khoja Community, an official forum was lent to the youths to air their vision as relates to their age group. The problems and challenges of youths have been otherwise discussed lengthily and eloquently by various leaders and members at side-cart shows, which have alas proven t be mere frustration-venting exercises, so, naturally, when this opportunity was presented by the Africa Federation in Arusha last year, the commotion that it created amongst the youths was equally proportionate. There was euphoria that, like the ladies, who now had representation (whether nominal or substantial needs to be verified scientifically), the youths too were now part of the scenario that the big boys chose to look at.
And while “all is well that ends well” is a pretty safe bet to put one’s money on, in retrospect the programme was mildly unprepared and largely misinterpreted. Under the able stewardship of Alhaj Murtaza Jaffer, who himself is well versed with running workshops with more mature professionals, one problem constantly surfaced in the entire two days of deliberation. This problem was that everyone had a lot to say. One may claim that after years of being bottled up, the feelings were bound to be booted around in various fashions, but the truth is also that the lack of planning in as far as who should have attended the workshop led to a dismal finish in what was billed as a remarkable first. Members of the younger youth age group clashed with those of the upper age group, each trying to focus on their own matters of interest and value, and this led to many things being left unfinished. In fact, it was only towards the end of the workshop that it was understood by most participants that the idea was really to create internal awareness rather than lend an ear to the youths. And just as we must give credit to all the organizers under the Africa Federation, we must be expected to be critical for the way in which we seem to be managing our affairs.
Perhaps the first question that the community leadership needs to ask itself is what exactly do they wish to do with the youths, or through them. If meeting challenges is the key, have we identified the challenges that face the youth of today? And if we are going to meet these challenges in earnest, what will be the reference point, or the fulcrum of our decision making processes? Will we be driven by youthful emotion and demand, or will the dictates of the philosophy of the establishment of the community as an organization reign supreme? When very day to day things remain unspecified for one reason or another, when leaders speak about migration and resettlement in the same breath, and separated in sentence by a feeble comma, confidence in the vision of any leadership will be hard currency.
If the leadership is empathetic to the plight of the youth, then it must as well be prepared to steer it into mainstream societal issues, and seek realistic and practical involvement. The World Federation President, Alhaj Hasnain Walji, in his remarks earlier at Mombasa’s Executive Council Meeting said that the community should stop considering the youths as a special attention group. He felt that in doing so, we were quietly sidelining their participation in various affairs. An apt question that one must pose is whether leaders of today were the beneficiaries of any particular youth programmes of the past. The answer, an applausive no, would warranty many of the thing we nowadays do, is aimless and consuming. Yet, because the intention is based on the honesty of leadership, we only need to pray to the men and women occupying the big seats, that there should be planned or directional movement in achieving forward movement. What we need today is not to meet the demand of youths that they need English majlises or that using laptops and mobiles should be permitted inside Imambadas, but to create an appreciation of the current systems (where logic permits) and an acceptance to join the rest of the society not as outside individuals but as very core members of the whole universal set.
Of course, this sounds anti-Youth, but it is time we focused on correctness of issues rather than dilly dally around those old issues which seem to nag us over and over again. When youths want recognition from the community, it can only be done by becoming a part of the community. Not by staring at the mosque walls from a distant, lashing out in American some very sarcastic issues that reek of animosity, not fraternity. But for this to happen, can we guarantee them an honest and open form of leadership? Open questions, open answers. Let us read between the lines before the lines become the very boundaries that confine us in inaction.