Muslim Youths: Opportunities and Challenges, Part -1/4, Dr Emdad Khan
God the almighty says in the Qur’an:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ قُوٓاْ أَنفُسَكُمۡ وَأَهۡلِيكُمۡ نَارً۬ا وَقُودُهَا ٱلنَّاسُ وَٱلۡحِجَارَةُ ۡ (٦) سُوۡرَةُ التّحْریم
“O You who believe, save yourselves and your family from the Hellfire whose fuel is men and stones” 66.6
We are primarily immigrants or children of immigrants living in Canadian cities. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions migrated from Makkah to Medina for preserving and propagating the Islamic way of life. They adopted Medina as their new home land. We migrated as refugees, or for a better standard of living, or to get education for ourselves or our children, etc. We should also adopt Canada as our new Medina, our adopted new home land.
In Canada, out of 34 million population, 9 Million are youths (15 to 34 years); about 1.1 Million are Muslims (3.5%) and over 300,000 youths. Youths have opportunities like free education in high school and at university scholarships or loan, etc.
In general, youths, in Ottawa or big cities, are diverse, connected, socially engaged and educated. Youths have good opportunities with free High school education, free health care good housing, and good sports and recreation facilities. We also enjoy freedom of speech and may practice religion, peace and security.
All youths face different challenges, but Muslim youths face extra challenges because of faith and being visible minority. We have identified Muslim youths face major challenges to establish and integrate with identity in the society. As parent, community members and masjid management, we need come forward to actively engaged with youths and develop support networks.
The challenges are (a) Identity and integration, (b) Bullying and cyber bullying, (c) Discrimination, Racism, Islamophobic, Radicalization, atheism, (d) Social media: FB, YouTube, WhatsApp Twitter, Instagram, texting, etc., (e) Alcohol, drug, substance abuse and addiction, (f) Pornography, sexuality and struggle with Gender relations. In this article, we will discuss first two issues of identity and bullying and remaining four issues in future.
Identity and Integration: Muslim youths in general has three identities; national, Islamic and ethnic. These are : National identity as Canadian citizen, Islamic identity as Muslim way of life and ethnic identity based on country of origin, such as Pakistani, Somali, Indian, etc.
The question arises, is it possible for youth to be Somali, Canadian and Muslim at the same time? Are they compatible? These are valid questions, but they are compatible.
We as parents, teachers and community leaders should clearly sate that we are all law abiding peaceful Canadian Muslims with an ethnic background of Asia or Africa. Many of the Muslim youths are born in Canada, they have more affinity to Canada unlike their parents.
Canadian charter of rights guarantees us to preserve our Islamic identity. Canadian multiculturalism maintains and permits pluralist religious expressions and diversity of cultures.
In assimilation situation, certain diverse ethnic or religious groups merge and eventually assimilate, to the adopted country in different degrees, such as New York in America or Toronto in Canada. In marginalization situation, some visible minority groups become marginal persons, sandwiched between two cultures; the marginal individuals or groups become confused, depressed and marginalized in the society. In isolation, an ethnic group focus on keeping their cultures and identity values in ghetto areas and avoid contact with the majority culture. In integration process, ethnic groups preserve the religious, cultural, and linguistic identities and participate in the adopted country’s culture, language, and political activities.
Fortunately, in Canada, majority of the Muslims are relatively new immigrants and live in major cities. Muslim youths started interaction with each other and diverse ethnic and main stream youths at schools, playground and work place. Muslim youths should strive to get integrated with main stream culture but maintain strong ethnic and Islamic identity.
To preserve, Islamic identity, Muslims are being active in society, in family and social issues to have a voice. They organize events, interact, discuss and help by volunteering in school, hospital, library and so on. They also show our positive behaviour to the neighbours and work colleagues in action not based on color, ethnicity or languages.
Masjids are organizing family and community events with diverse groups, inviting main stream school students in their places of worship, holding open house for neighbours. They actively participate in Canada day celebrations and other national events
- Bullying in School and cyberbullying
Our children spend a lot of time in schools. These days, in a school kids are diverse and come from different ethnic, cultural, linguistic and faith back ground. Each kid tries to make some friends and also socialize with those friends.
Unfortunately, a small percentage of kids are bully and there is a fair chance our nice quiet kids might be bullied in school. He or she may feel shy not to share with parents or even with siblings. They may not even share with class teachers. The young boy or girl may suffer inside. Gradually they lose interest in school, feel isolated and then become depressed.
Most Ottawa public school students are bullied, board survey finds. (http://www.torontosun.com/2012/10/06/controversial-school-survey-results-in).
These days youth also face cyber bullying based on social media. In next part, we will discuss pros and cons of social media and how parents and teachers can help and guide youths to reap benefits from social media and protect from cyber bullying and harmful effects of social media. We all know the story of Amanda Todd (https://nobullying.com/amanda–todd-story/
After being bullied, being in isolation and depressed, some of the kids take drastic actions. Some take the path of self-destruction, following the path of suicide.
Muslim youths find home, masjid, and community environment are opposite of school, playground, and social or work environment.
Youths and family support: Children need family support at home, parents also need to be actively involved in the schools where students spend a lot of time every day. Parents also need to get involved with the community and neighbours where children are growing up. All these will make the children confident, happy and safe, will not feel isolated or get depressed.
In some cases, Muslim youths are also proving their “Muslim-ness” to “Muslim community, and their “Western-ness” to main stream community. A bad experience in the mosque, or an abusive parent, may serve as reinforcement of Islamophobic messages.
Young Muslim women face the greatest pressures in society yet feel the least accommodated in the masjids they attend. Young Muslims often see Islam/masjid as hindering their opportunities for success.
Some young people do not know much about their faith, and some feel insecure and their voices are unheard from their family and communities. The lack of communication between family and community, masjids and the young people are a concern, needs attention by parents and masjids management.
We need to empower youths in masjids and communities. More contemporary role-models, such as engineers or doctors or high-tech professional being active in masjid and its management, leading salah or giving Qur’anic lessons, are needed to offer a reassuring narrative.
If we look at all the young persons who are derailed, commit suicide or involved in violence or deplorable acts, root cause in most cases is the family breakdown. Whatever the reason, the kids felt lack of family support.
We also need to spend time with our children and bring them as a family to the masjid. One of the parents need to be with the children in the evening. Children and family need money but children require that one of the parents to be with them in home.
The Muslim community, masjids management along with parents must take responsibility for their youths. They must inspire them and make them love Islam.
Let us develop youth friendly programs, sports, swimming, community outing. We need to come away from the cultural practices and start including the youth into our daily life.
Parents and community members must be active with children in community/school sports team, basket ball, hockey, soccer, cricket, etc
Muslim parents should join teacher-parent committees, be proactive and meet the children class teachers. We must know the friends of children, invite to our home and be part of all community pot luck as family.
Masjid and community groups must out reach and engage with elected representatives’ city, province and be active in civic and political domains.