The writer, Dr. Sibtain Panjwani (London, United Kingdom) qualified as a dentist and obtained his MA in Medical Law and Ethics and a PhD in Law, after which he went on to work closely with Marhum Mulla Asgherali M M Jaffer at the World Federation.
There are some unique challenges that affect a particular segment of our community whom we recognise as “our youth”. So, who is a youth? It is a phase between childhood and adult age. As such, it is best understood as a period from dependence to independence and awareness. In this sense, it is a more fluid category, a passing phase. In our community, youth begins with the age of maturity and discernment, say around 15 years and this phase generally lasts till around the age of 25 years. These young women and men of our community are change-makers. We expect them to build new realities for themselves and by extension for our community also. They will drive the necessary social change and learn to take new opportunities and work together for a better future. These are the expectations of their parents, family and community.
However, they also face challenges and their challenges will not be solved if the roots underpinning these challenges are not understood. Those who work at the coalface of the community such as madrasah teachers, volunteers, social workers and executive committee members know that it is easy to list and explain challenges but hard to propose real solutions for these challenges. It is, therefore, not hard to conclude that if these challenges are not sufficiently addressed then it will affect their own future, future of their families and also the future of our own community.
Our Continuing Challenges
Given that we are a minority ethnic community settled in the UK, one important issue that needs our attention is whether we have sufficiently interacted with wider communities and other ethnic communities or with other Muslims in the UK and Europe. This is a challenge not only for us but for the whole of British Muslim community. We need to develop an effective strategy of interaction. If we have got one then we need to find out whether it is working well and doing enough. At present, in the UK, we have large British Muslim communities and entities with varying degrees of interaction with wider society but clearly not sufficient according to some voices that are heard from within the British Muslim community and outside of it.
British Muslims continue to develop a practical strategy and make efforts to try and integrate their living experiences within the fabric of local civic duties and functions that can reflect a sense of belonging, loyalty and camaraderie in the borough, town or village that they are part of. This is in spite of the current difficult socio-political climate such as Islamophobia that faces them. These efforts, however small, are still a step towards integration and bring about a culture of unity amidst the diversity. Such positive efforts, if given due prominence in the local and national media, are a counter narrative to those acts committed by criminals who want to harm Muslims and Islam by creating division and hate in the UK.
Sadly, positive efforts of the British Muslim community are not considered as news worthy and so do not get the exposure they deserve from the local and national media especially when community relations are under tension as they are at the moment. Historically, there has been Muslim presence in the UK since 16th century and the British Muslim community as with many other communities in the UK have contributed positively since then and continues to do so till today. It should be given its due acknowledgement in the grand narrative of British nation.
At present, the British Muslim community is still facing Islamophobia and continue made to feel that he/she is the cause of this burden. This is the sense and general experience of ordinary British Muslims from the conversations that one has. A non-hostile public space, although getting better, still needs to evolve more where British Muslims can feel comfortable to express their concerns with each other and work with others towards a common good of the British nation and for all who reside in the UK fairly and equitably.
It is also important to bear in mind that far reaching changes have occurred in the last decade or two. The British Muslim community have witnessed large scale growth in the second generation Muslims, and now the third generation Muslims are evolving in the community. We now have a presence of British-born Muslim citizenry that only knows and accepts Britain as their home and country. Coupled with this is the realisation that addressing real issues relating to the future of the Muslim community in the UK in terms of the concept of citizenship, role of outreach, issues of co-existence, interfaith, media and political involvement and institutional development is crucial. British Muslim organizations and community leaders have to develop a more strategy to address these issues, particularly the issue of Islamophobia and how to combat it.
The other real challenge which is playing against the unity of the British Muslim community is that it is divided into many more segments based on different sectarian and ideological understandings of Islam. When these interpretations are accommodating then we can present a beautiful face of Islam. Conversely, the rigid commitments to a specific school of jurisprudence and disrespect of others can be divisive amongst Muslim communities. Although many British Muslim organizations, in particular, the Muslim Council of Britain, have put in a major effort to evolve the vision of integrating Islam and Muslims in the UK, it remains an uphill task. We should all be supporting all of these positive efforts.
I am offering for our viewers’ consideration five areas of specific challenges that our KSI Muslim community need to focus and five pathways that it needs to adopt to overcome these challenges.
1. COMMUNITY RESOURCES
The first and perhaps most important area of focus revolves around investing our community resources appropriately to create a bright future for the second and third generations of our community. This should encompasses a broad strategy to unite diverse Muslim communities in the UK but find effective ways of our own KSI Muslim community engaging civically with British institutions and people beyond our own community. It should develop the next generation of British Muslim leaders and this means making Muslim centres and imambadas more open and integrating to the wider British community. Our KSI community should be seen to be standing together with Muslim and other Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faith groups with regards to different domestic and international issues.
The second area to focus is to facilitate critical learning and education amongst your youth in the madrasah, particularly at time when Islam is seen to be in conflict with Western, secular values. This creates a conflict in values – a conflict between those values considered traditional, religious or conservative and those that are considered modern or liberal. The basis for resolving this conflict is by way of education and mutual respect of each other’s dignity. By understanding the universality of Islamic beliefs and not being apologetic about them, it will give youths inner strength and security in their own Islamic beliefs and values.
The third area of focus is to understand that our young generation will be heavily influenced by emerging technologies. They are very much affiliated with virtual reality and cell phone whereas the older generation were. We do notice that the youth spend more time in front of his/her lap top or mobile devices. In the survey carried out by ‘The Awakening Project’ (http://awakeningproject.page.tl/News.htm), the analysis showed just how much these technologies play a role in our lives today. Although a number of respondents considered watching TV as opposed to spending time with family and elders as least important or not that important there were still a fairly equal number of respondents who rated watching TV and internet browsing as more important than time with family and elders. This may mean that either family member are accepting of these trends and prefer private time away from each other; or individual family members value their own time more or we are seeing a real conflict here between traditional family values and a modern technological household. I believe we are entering into an age of living together as individual members as opposed to living together as family members.
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