Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Lost Boys (and Girls): Bringing Back Young Muslim Teens

Anyone who’s been around Muslim teens between the ages of 10 – 17 will recognize a disconcerting and disappointing trend: youthful apathy. Selfishness, self-centredness, and almost total obliviousness to the world around them. And despite the self-absorbtion, there is still a lack of proper sense of self and strong identity.
It can be understood, perhaps, in that these are formative years in which children and adolescents are struggling with a huge input of information from the world around them that they can’t quite figure out what to do with. These years are recognized as the most difficult years for parents, and for the children too; but for Muslim parents struggling to raise their children upon Islam here in the West, the problems are compounded.
Many concerned parents complain about how their children prefer to remain with unIslamic influences and ignore the parents’ attempts to sway them towards coming to the Masjid and being involved with other Muslims. Time and time again I hear the same advice being reiterated, but unfortunately the problems persist. After a while, I wondered if another approach was needed – something a bit deeper and more long-term than one-off youth programs or conferences. Perhaps we need to re-analyse the causes of youthful misguidance, and come up with a more detailed method of reaching out to them.
Here I hope to present my own rudimentary theory of the reasons as to why so many of our younger teens, even those who come from relatively practicing Muslim households, become utterly disinterested in Islam and get sucked into the kaafir lifestyle. From there, insha’Allah we can work harder towards bringing back our lost boys and girls to the straight path.
It’s All About You
We’re always wondering what we can do to draw our youth back to the Masjid, back to Islam, to engage them and involve them and above all, keep them safe. In order to do this, we need to look at the other side first – what is it about the non-Muslim lifestyle that attracts the kids so much? A lot of the time, it’s the attention that they recieve – in a culture that celebrates and promotes individualism to an unhealthy extreme, narcissistic youth are dazzled by how it’s all about them. Sure, other factors are involved, such as how the culture appeals to all those budding desires, but when you get down to it, it’s mostly about the attention.
That’s where we need to start. We need to give our youth attention too, and indulge their narcissism… to a certain point. And above all, in a constructive way.
Know Thyself
We complain about our kids having an identity crisis. To be frank, most of these kids don’t even know who they are… forget about who they are as Muslims, they don’t even know their own personalities. Much of the time they’re just swept up in the latest trends and follow the fickle crowd without thinking about whether they actually like the items they’re wasting their money on, or the activities that they throw themselves into just because it’s what the cool kids do.

We have to help our youth know themselves. Once they know themselves, once
they’re confident in themselves and have an idea of their own potential, of what
they want to do with that potential, then they will be more solidly grounded and
have a better foundation upon which to build their futures.

To be a strong Muslim, one must be a strong person; the key to being a strong person is knowing who you are at your very core, being able to identify your own characteristics and values which will remain unchanged no matter what situation you’re put in.
A solid Islamic upbringing from infanthood (as described in this ongoing series) goes a long way in building this kind of strong character, and as always is the first thing that parents must be aware of. However, for those who perhaps were not as Islamically practicing during their childrens’ early childhood, and now wish to change their parenting styles and their children for the better, then there are other ways that they can encourage their children to develop and strengthen their invidual characters.
It is now that we combine the teens’ desire for attention with the goal of helping them find themselves. Either at home or in a youth group/ workshop environment, our youth need to be invited away from all the clamouring, glamorous outside influences and given the space and time to focus on themselves, on who they are. Have them look deep within themselves, that space where they keep their deepest thoughts and desires, their hopes and fears, their darkest secrets. That space where they as individuals exist on a level where nothing and no one else can reach them except themselves. What do they find in that space?
Remember that soul-searching and personal development isn’t something that can be over and done with in a few hours, a day, or even a couple weeks. It is in fact a life-long endeavour – but it is something which must be fostered from a young age, so that there is a solid sense of self that can be analysed and improved constantly.
Castles in the Air
If you ask a five year old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you’re likely to get a long list that includes astronaut, cowboy (or cowgirl), firefighter, teacher, or even farmer. Ask the same question to a preteen or young teen, and you’re more likely to be answered with a blank expression, a careless shrug, and a muttered, “I dunno.”
This particular phenomenon in our youth is a distinct lack of vision. Stemming from the problem of not knowing themselves, our young Muslim teens tend to stumble through school and these important years of their lives in a confused daze. They rarely have a tangible idea of what they want to do with their lives; in this era of technology-centred activities, few of them recognize that they have other talents and skills which can be developed and used for the benefit of mankind.
We need to help our youth open their eyes and realize that there is more to themselves, and to life, than their shallow routine of chasing after the current fad. Teens have to realize that adolescence isn’t playtime; it’s the stepping-stone towards full-blown maturity and the rest of their lives. So what are they going to do with those lives?
Here is where we need to foster and encourage life visions. What life visions do these youth have? Do they think they’ll be able to achieve that ‘ultimate end’? If so, how? If not, how come? How can they achieve those dreams of theirs?
Let’s encourage our youth to open their hearts, minds, and eyes, and make their imaginations go wild. Let them build castles in the air!
Tools of the Trade
Life visions are pretty big dreams and it can be easy to be discouraged about them. So, break the “big dream” into a series of smaller, practical long- and short-term goals that can be steadily achieved and implemented. Accomplishing each ’small’ goal becomes a stepping stone towards the final vision. As Muslims, our goal is Jannah; reaching that destination, however, requires a lot of work in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different ways.
Every goal of life is reached by utilizing skills and talents; discovering, developing, and strengthening them for maximum benefit. Now that our youth have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, they should also be able to recognize which skills they’ll need to reach those goals. It’s time for them to do a bit more soul-searching – or rather, talent-searching. What are their talents? What are they good at? What do they love to do? At this present time, how do they utilize those skills? How can they develop and improve these abilities? In the long term, how can they use these skill sets to reach their goals?
Another important point to remember is what the old proverb says: “Idle hands/minds are the devil’s workshop.” Too much free time causes our youth to seek out activities to stave off boredom, and these activities tend to be of the dodgy not-very-halaal kind. One way of killing two birds with one stone is to enlist these youth in serious activities at the masaajid; that is, coming up with ways to give the teens a chance to practice their skills in a work-like environment that benefits both the youth, and the masaajid themselves. However, make it something serious – actually pay the youth for their work, instead of doing it on a volunteer basis, as that gives the tasks the appearance of a chore rather than attracting the teens. Not only will the youth learn the basics of business and apprenticeship, but it gives them a far better environment to work in than the usual options of fast food and retail.
Strong and Free
In a nutshell, the above is part of what I percieve to be a rough guide/ method to dealing with the problem of lost, apathetic, confused Muslim teens who are sucked into a culture of shallowness, vanity, and selfishness. We have a group of kids who have so much potential, who could be the next great leaders of this Ummah, if only we could unplug them from their iPods, unhook them from their video games, and drag them away from the latest sales at the mall.
Our youth can be – and will be, insha’Allah – strong and free, secure in their identities as Muslims and their own unique personalities. In their submission to Allah, they will be empowered to becoming the next generation of movers and shakers, those who will improve the state of this Ummah in every field.
We just need to guide them away from the distractions of this dunyah and engage their hearts, minds, and souls… all we have to do is give them the time and attention that they crave, and that they need so that they may become the kind of glorious personalities they have the potential to be. It will be, and is, a long, hard road for parents, the youth, and those of us who have dedicated our lives for the sake of Allah to strengthen this Ummah; but insha’Allah the payoff in both this world and the Hereafter will be worth every agonizing moment of it.
May Allah guide our lost boys and girls, and guide us all, to the Straight Path; to that which is best for us all in this world and in the Hereafter; and to that which is most pleasing and beloved to Him, ameen.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Perfect Ad of Hijab


A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room o f 200, he asked "Who would like this $20 bill?"

Hands started going up.

He said, "I am going to give this $20 bill to one of you but first, let me do this." He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up.

He then asked, "Who still wants it?"

Still adns were up in the air.

"Well, he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe.

He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty. "Now who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.

"My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20."

Moral: Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.

We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose you value. YOu are special--dont' ever forget it!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Society's Ills

Once there were two students walking along a river. One of them just so happened to glance over at something floating in the river. It did not take long for him to realize that it was a baby! Without hesitation he jumped into the river to save the infant from drowning. When he jumped in he realized that there were at least ten more in his immediate area, all of them screaming and crying as they bobbed by.
Quite naturally he started screaming to the other student. "Help! C'mon man! Get in here! Look at all of these babies! We gotta help 'em!" The other student, however, kept walking upstream, despite noticing a river full of babies, with more and more floating downstream.
For every one that the first student saved, eight passed him. There were just too many."C'mon man! Don't you have a heart?! I can't grab all of these babies alone!"
The second student replied, "I'm going upstream to find out who's throwing all of these babies in the river."
The point of this short story is to demonstrate the importance of going to the source of the problem to have a greater impact. Many people address each of society's social ailments as separate entities. Thus we find numerous organizations that target a specific poison; The solution to racism, spouse abuse, child abuse, crime, pollution, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and other social ills is one.
Each problem does not require its own organizations and groups to eliminate it. The solutions for all of these is one. That one, is Islam.


Women have a very important place in Islamic society. Unlike a number of other religions, Islam holds a woman in high esteem. Her importance as a mother and a wife has been clearly stated by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The Prophet said, "Paradise lies at the feet of your mothers". ONce a person aked the Prophet, "Who deserves the best care from me?" The Prophet replied, "Your mother (he repeated this three times), then your father and then your nearest relatives."

In his farewell speech at Arafah in the tenth year of Hijrah, the Prophet said, "Oh people, your wives have certain rights over you and you have certain rights over them. Treat them well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers."

The Prophet also said, "The best among you is the one who is best towards his wife."

These sayings clearly prove the important position given to women in Islam. But there are still people, especially in the West, who have misgivings about the status of women in Islam. To these people, the Muslim woman is seen almost as a "prisoner in the four walls of the house", a "non-person", and as someone who has no rights and is living always under the domination of man. These notions are totally wrong, and are based on ignorance rather than knowledge of Islam.

One of the rites of Hajj is a fast walk between As-Safa and Al-marwa, which is observed to remember the event of Hajirah, mother of Prophet Ismail, who ran between these two hills to find water, This is another proof of the importance given to women by Islam.

In order to judge these false ideas held by western people, it would be useful to survey the attitudes to women in different societies in the past.

During the Roman civilization, for example, a woman was regraded as a slave. The Greeks considered her a commodity to be bought and sold. Early Christianity regarded women as temttresses, responsible for the fall of Adam.

In India, the Hindus until recently considered their women worse than death, pests, serpents or even hell. A wife's life ended witht he death of ther husband. In the past, the widow had to jump into the flames of her husband's funeral pyre.

In the preIslamic state of Arabia, a woman was regarded as a cause for grief and unhappiness, and baby grisl were sometimes buried alive after birth.

In France in 587 CE, a meeting was held to study the status of women and to determine whether a woman could truly be considered a human being or not! Henry VIII in England forbade the reading of Bible by women, and throughout the middle ages, the Catholic Church treated women as second class citizens. In the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, male and female students were not given the same rights until 1964. Before 1850, women were not counted as citizens in England, and English women had no personal rights until 1882.

If we keep this picture in mind and look into the position of the women in Islam, we must conclude that Islam liberated women from the dark age of obscurity, 1400 year ago!

Islam is a religion of common sense and is in line with thuman nature. It recognizes the realities of life. This does not mean it has recognised equality of man and woman in every respect. Rather, it has defined their duties in keeping with their different biological make up(2:228). Allah has not made man and woman identical, so it would be against nature to try to have total equality between a man and a woman.

It would destroy the social balance. Society would not prosper, but would instead have insoluble problems such as broken marriages, illegitimate children and the break-up of family life. These problems are already rife in the western society. Schoolgirl pregnancies, an increase in abortions, divorce and many other problems have cropped up because of a permissive outlook and so-called freedom of women.

adapted from: Islam Beliefs and Teachings by Gulam Sarwar

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sand and Stone

Two friends Ismail and Ibrahim were walking through the desert, as the sun was beating down on their heads, and they were thirsty for water they began to argue. The argument got more and more heated and eventually Ismail struck Ibrahim across the face. Ibrahim felt hurt inside, but without anything to say, he wrote in the sand: "Today, my best friend slapped me in the face."They kept on walking, until eventually they came across an oasis, where they decided to stop and bathe. Ibrahim jumped in and began to wash, while Ismail sat back and relaxed. Suddenly Ibrahim began to scream and shout, he had developed a cramp and was having difficulty keeping his head above water, he was drowning.Ismail dived in after him, and brought him gently to shore.When Ibrahim recovered from the shock, he scratched a message on a nearby stone:"Today, my best friend saved my life"Ismail who had saved and slapped his best friend Ibrahim, asked him, "Why, after I hurt you, you wrote in the sand, and now you write on a stone?"Ibrahim, smiled and replied:"When a friend hurts us, we should write his deeds in the sand, where the winds of forgiveness can blow it away, and when a friend does something good, we should engrave it in stone, where it shall remain for eternity.""Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant (i.e. don't punish them). If a suggestion from Satan assails your mind, seek refuge with Allah; for He heareth and knoweth (all things)" [surah al-A'raf, 7:199-200]


One day, a brilliantly beautiful and fragrant flower with attractive colors met a pearl that lives far in the bottom of the sea and has noneof these characteristics.Both got acquainted with each other.The flower said: "Our family is large; roses and daisies are members ofthe family. And there are many other species that are various and countless, each has a distinctive scent, appearance etc."Suddenly, a tinge of distress appeared on the flower."Nothing accounts for sorrow in your talk; so why are depressed?" The pearl asked."Human beings deal with us carelessly; they slight us. They don't growus for our sake but to get pleasure from our fragrance and beautifulappearance. They throw us on the street or in the garbage can after weare dispossessed of the most valuable properties; brilliance andfragrance" The flower sighed.And then the flower said to the pearl: "Speak to me about your life!How do you live? How do you feel it? You are buried in the bottom ofthe sea. "The pearl answered: "Although I have none of your distinctive colorsand sweet scents, humans think I am precious. They do the impossible toprocure me. They go on long journeys, dive deep in the seas searching for me. You might be astounded to know that the further I lay, the more beautiful and brilliant I become. That's what upraises my value in their thought. I live in a thick shell isolated in the dark seas.However, I'm happy and proud to be in a safe zone far from wanton and mischievous hands and still the humans consider me highly valuable"Do you know what the flower and the pearl symbolize?ThinkThinkYou will find that:The flower is the unveiled woman (who shows her charms) and the pearl is the veiled woman (who conceals her beauties) Think about it!