Our youth are the future of the ummah of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, and as such, we want them to excel in obtaining knowledge of Islam and discharging their religious obligations. However, at times we are unaware of the hardships they face such as internal struggles, challenges at school, bullying, alienation at the mosque, and social media addiction. As Muslims, our aim in life, no matter what age we are, is to obtain the ultimate success through worshipping Allah as stated in so many verses of the Qur’an; and our responsibility is to be vicegerents on the Earth, as the Qur’an tells us, “And it is He who has made you vicegerents upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful” (6:165).
Vicegerency requires us to care for the Earth and those residing in it, beginning with our families. As such, we must work together to find solutions to the problems of the youth, and not just ignore seemingly complex or uncomfortable issues, or sweep them under the rug. Allah says in the Qur’an, “And let there be among you a people inviting to the good, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, and those are the successful ones” (3:104). The command to enjoin the good and forbid evil is a recurring message in the Qur’an. When our youth stray, we must find ways to bring them back into the faith. And we must establish preventive measures so as to protect them from temptations. Many corruptions pull at them including celebrity culture, faithless ideologies, gender confusion and “fluidity” (going way beyond homosexuality), pornography, drugs, etc.
How is the community and the masjid we frequent addressing these and other important issues?
Even if it is just a corner inside the masjid, do our youth have a place where they can vent or even dare to speak about the challenges they face?
And we should not be fooled. The challenges our children are grappling with are both in the inner cities and the suburbs. And these serious issues exist both in public school settings and Islamic schools. Moreover, we should also keep in mind that our children are growing up in a culture and era that may be completely different from our own childhood experiences. Parents must be engaged with their children and lines of communication should always be open. During the teenage and young adult years especially, we must not overreact when they tell us something outside the scope of faith, good behavior, and God-consciousness. We do not want them to shut us out. We need to listen to them actively and hear them out. Then we can engage them in discussion and explain, from our point of view, from an Islamic point of view, what is right and what is wrong. If there is any chance that they will listen to us, it will be because we assume a mature and caring attitude and demeanor. If we come across as judgmental and harsh — always shouting “haram!” — we will lose them. We listen to them and guide them, with the hope that they might become God-conscious individuals who responsibly choose the good and reject what is wrong or sinful.
A Practical Solution
Our Islamic centers are in need of imams who are trained in traditional Islamic sciences, but who are also professionally equipped to deal with youth matters. There is a lot of research and experience from churches about this need. One pastor I know said: “I have been serving the youth for 15 years and I am still reminded of the importance of youth ministry.” A youth pastor in a church can be a young adult or older adult, needs a sound religious education, has a strong affinity for young people, and has the knowledge and experience to deal with the issues and challenges of youth. In our masjids, a leader or coordinator for the youth might best fit the role if he or she is a young adult, but they must have a solid Islamic education and strong eman. A young leader is more relatable for the younger generation. They can maintain the status of role model, while still being flexible and “cool” enough for the youth to feel like they can be themselves. The youth leader can act like a mentor for the community’s children and youth. He or she can be someone to confide in when the youth feel like they cannot approach a parent or the imam with a personal problem. In their role, they can aid the youth who is facing the challenges of emerging adulthood, religious obligations, and spirituality.
It is important for the older generation to never minimize or negate the importance of programs for our youth, as they are the future adults of the Muslim ummah. The youth will inherit the Earth after us, so how do we teach and guide them? How do we reach them amidst all the cultural noise and confusion? How do we protect them from some of the issues and temptations they encounter? A viable solution is that alongside the imam who deals with the overall affairs of the masjid, marriage, divorce, Quran education, etc., the community can invest in a youth leader or coordinator with the qualifications and training necessary to mentor, aid, and support our future generation. We should never forget that our children are a trust, given to us by Allah. That applies to parents as well as communities. It is our duty to love them, to guide them, and to protect them. Again, our youth are the future of the ummah of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him.