In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful the All Merciful.
All praise belongs to Allah alone and may peace and blessings eternally decent upon the final Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, role model to young and old.
Much has been reported about the demographics of the Muslim Ummah in recent times with particular focus on proportion of the Ummah represented by its youth. According to the recent Pew research in to the future of world religions, ‘Muslims are expected to grow twice as fast as the overall global population. Consequently, Muslims are projected to rise from 23% of the world’s population in 2010 to 30% in 2050. This significant projected growth is largely due to the young age and high fertility rate of Muslims relative to other religious groups.’ This trend is also true in the Muslims of Britain. Swelling youth populations are viewed differently by different people. But one thing is certain, it presents significant challenges for those entrusted with their nurture and upbringing. Indeed, our children are a source of great joy for us, yet we are warned by our Lord that they are also a great trial.
Allah, Exalted is He, says, ‘Know that your wealth and your children are a trial. And with Allah there is a Great reward’.
The verse promises the potential of a great reward if this trial is successfully passed, and it implies the opposite should we fail. Elsewhere, the risk is spelt out, ‘Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is stones and people…’
However, if we look at our current situation, we find ourselves constantly lamenting the dire situation of our youth. They getting swept in to all that is destructive: from the violence of ISIS to other crisis in the Middle East and Asia, to apathy and boredom in more prosperous lands; from addiction to pornography in some places to computer games and social media in others; from decent in to crime to a dearth of aspirations that might help them climb out of that decent.
Yes, there are many positives to point out too. But the concerns seem to be mounting and the solutions that might address them far from our minds.
What can we do to take care of our youth? What will make them true Muslims who are not only able to guide themselves, but also be an inspiration to the people of the world who suffer from all of these problems but, in many cases, will not even acknowledge them as problems. What we might bemoan as a nightmare scenario for our children, is nothing but progress, liberty, and individual expression to others. In this short article, I suggest some things for us to ponder.
Where are our youth? In education, craving an education, or found to be wanting in education. Their whole existence is encompassed by the question of their education. So what is the story of the education of Muslim youth?
Globally and generally speaking, education among Muslims can be summed up as follows: where there is prosperity and opportunity there is apathy and contentment, and where there is poverty, there is no opportunity. More two many of our youth, when opportunity knocks on the door, it is a secular education that exposes them to currents that drag them away from their religion and rips their faith out of their unassuming hearts and minds. How else did atheism find its way in to a place like Saudi Arabia and how else did the youth of our most populous lands embrace the hedonistic ideas so popular in the west? And if that is the case globally, what of our youth in the West who are in the belly of the beast? When are we going to have our own universities that will provide a world class education? If private corporations can do it, then why can’t the Ummah?
As for Islamic education which ideally should protect our youth from all the risks, in many places it is non-existent, especially for the poor. Where it does exist, it can only be described as a sick old man; barely able to survive let alone educate and inspire.
Our seminaries, who claim to be bastions of leadership and scholarship produce a one size fits all poor rendition of the original items the Ummah’s great centres once produced. Our youth are then expected to follow weak, disunited, and uninspired religious leadership.
In Britain, we try to provide Mosque based supplementary education for most of our children, most of which is an unregulated underworld of time wastage that leaves nothing but a bad memory in the minds of our children.
Islamic schools are expected to compete with mainstream schools at a fraction of the budget out of makeshift educational facilities because parents can’t pay what it costs and the community wants to put all of its money in glamorous masjids with annual surpluses.
We cannot fix this without a major shift in attitude. Our billionaires have to help us set up our own universities instead of pumping money in to big university brands for a bit of celebrity.
Seminaries, Darul Ulooms and Islamic Universities need to produce leaders for our time and reality and stop looking backwards. They need to produce thinking scholars instead of people who can do no more than propagate a competitive ideology they have been brainwashed to accept. Brainwashing and scholarship can never coexist!
Our communities have to stop tolerating mediocrity in masjids when it comes to our children’s maktabs and supplementary madrasas. We need to kick out the time wasters and make sure our children enjoy madrasah more than school and cherish the memories of the time they spent with their asatidhah and fellow students. If your child hates going to study Islam in the evening, then you had better be warned, he/she could grow up to hate Islam as a result. All forbid it!
We have to get behind our schools and educational institutions. Let’s stop building grand masjids and start building state of the art schools and Seminary campuses. Empty out those savings that masjids are sitting on and give them to your local Islamic schools. And if your masjid is useless to your youth, donate your money somewhere else. It’s a harsh thing to say, but these masjid will be empty soon if we don’t fix the above.
Where do I start on this topic?
Family is the bedrock of society. For the most part, thankfully, Muslims have held on to this institution. Family makes society, it gels people, develops great character in them, it makes the old responsible and the young accountable, and for the most part family gives us love.
But family is declining among Muslims in the West. In quantity and in quantity. I have two children, alhamdulillah, while my parents had seven. It never occurs to me that this is a problem but the contrast is clear to be seen; equally clear to see is the Prophet’s encouragement to his ummah to have children in abundance.
More important is the question of quality. This is what affects our youth. A generation of immigrant parents struggling with culture shock of the West has left a lasting mark on the youth of today. The problems of crime and a disproportionate Muslim prison population, low aspiration and attainment, identity crisis and poverty have much to do with how families have struggled to cope with the challenges of bringing up their children in the West.
Yet, our masjids rarely address this and we have very few community based, Islamically informed means of intervention for the above problems. So it is left to youth centres, pupil referral units, social services and law enforcement to deal with our youth’s problems. Are we happy with that?
What exactly does an Islamic lifestyle look like in the West?
When it comes to the lifestyle we want our youth to lead, how do we balance religious conservatism with youthful fun and games; spirituality with materialism; family and community with individualism; traditional values with modernity; the sobriety of the masjid with the fire of youth; silent broody fathers with ‘chilled out’ teachers; modesty and chastity with individuality and exuberance? The list of contrasting forces playing tug of war with our youth is endless and poses massive lifestyle challenges that most of us are not even thinking about, let alone solving.
We need our masjids to be more welcoming to the youth: both male and female; Our youth should be enjoying sports and leisure on our terms away from haram; they should be swimming, riding and wrestling instead of just hearing the imam say it is sunnah; our diets should be healthier and our bodies fitter; our televisions sets off more than on; our families spending more time outdoors together as families; our children engaged in poetry, nasheed singing, and reading: reading books of fact and fiction that have actually been published to promote a holistic Islamic lifestyle.
Alas, lifestyle for most Muslims and in particular our youth is nothing but a confusing, contradictory mixture of things that have accidentally come together. Isn’t that we will inevitably get if we put no thought to it.
It is clear that I have posed more questions than provided answers in what is a hasty note of some of my thoughts on this matter. It sounds very negative and stark and I clearly do not have the answers. But identifying problems is the first step to finding solutions. The answers and solutions must come soon or the young ummah that we look upon as an asset today will soon become a liability tomorrow; both here and in the life after.