Muslim + Youth + West is not an easily solved equation. The result is usually very challenging.
Growing up myself in the West, I can strongly relate to this dilemma.
It is hard enough already being a youth with all the surging hormones and identity search, so when this is also combined to living with the challenges of a Western society the problem is usually amplified.
Here comes a Muslim youth trying to abide by Islamic rules and is faced with an often clichéd western youth lifestyle of anything from drinking, drugs, crimes to free mingling, illicit relationships, being rude to parents as it’s “cool”, etc.
Muslim Youth in the West
So, how can a Muslim youth deal with all these temptations? One of the most difficult challenges that face Muslim Youth in the West, is the ability to balance their Islamic identity with their Western background, while standing up to peer pressure at the same time.
Yes, I believe we cannot deny that they are still Western, as a failure to do so will make them isolate themselves and feel they are not a part of the society. On the contrary, acknowledging this difference and finding a way to live with it in harmony, will result in a strong, successful and accomplishing generation that will have a strong making in the future of the Western society; which will be fruitful both for Muslims and Westerners.
Muslim Youth in the West Speak Up
|Following this short rule always helps me decide whether doing a specific action is permissible in an Islamic context|
Salma Hassane, a 16 year old Muslim youth living in California, USA shares her thoughts:
"What I find most problematic about Muslim youth in the West is adaptation of Muslims to American culture. Teens, like myself, always wonder whether they can be a "cool American" and a devout Muslim at the same time. In most cases, we can. Following this short rule always helps me decide whether doing a specific action is permissible in an Islamic context: I can do anything as long as I would do it in front of my mom and she wouldn't have a problem. Following this short rule while at school, with friends or just about anywhere makes my life a lot easier and helps me decide whether I will please God, because like every other Muslim, pleasing God is my number one goal!"
I would prescribe Salma’s words as a medicine for other Muslim youth living in the West. I believe that would they follow this rule they would be able to face the challenging lifestyle of the Western society while at the same time maintaining their Islamic identity. It is all from easy, but it will aid them a lot.Adeeb Naasan (17 years) and Mohamed El Seedawy (18 years) from Scotland also share this dilemma and moreover find it problematic to always have to stand up for their beliefs:
“The main problem for Muslim youth is having to explain their beliefs to people especially regarding drinking and other social occasions. This is made more difficult by the differing views held by Muslims towards attending these social occasions (and perhaps not drinking for example). Thus some peer pressure is created and you must always find the strength to resist this.
In my own personal experience I have found that being honest in my beliefs and standing by my viewpoint builds respect and this can even lead to these friends helping me in adhering to my Islamic beliefs.”
Adeeb’s and Mohamed’s words are very true indeed. Many Muslim Youth have found that most non-Muslim youth would very much respect and sometimes even help them to stay away from a corrupt lifestyle if they find them standing up for their beliefs.
The biggest challenge according to Sofia Said (18 years) from Sweden:
“I think the biggest challenge is the Islamophobia. Many Muslim youth work hard to show everybody that Muslims are not the kind of people media shows. In the same way we try to get a good education and show them the opposite which causes pressure. Personally I haven’t faced problems it’s just that you always want to do so well and make everything extra carefully because you know that someone is watching your step.”
Sofia’s case, I believe, highlights what a Muslim Youth in the West could excel to after maintaining a balance of identity. It seems that she exemplifies youth who have surpassed this problem and have moved on to set an example to Western society of a successful, well-mannered Muslim youth who is an asset to the rest of the society and is far from what mainstream society depicts him/her to be.
The Role of the Muslim Family in the West
|a Muslim child must be brought up to love his/her religion, not fear it|
I believe that the cornerstone of the Muslim Youth’s ability to face the challenges in the West, starts within the shelter of a strong, efficient Muslim family. Parents raising their children in the West, have a stronger responsibility and a more essential role in maintaining a stable youth. From a very young age, a Muslim child must be brought up to love his/her religion, not fear it; while at the same time respect his/her beliefs and stand up for them and not shy or coward away.
Drs. Ekram and Mohamed Rida Beshir, pioneers in the subject of parenting in the West; both residing in Canada, emphasize this point in their book: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions on Parenting (Part 1):“For Parents to balance an Islamic personality with interactions in mainstream, non-Muslim, (Canadian) society, they must raise their children to have a strong Islamic identity and self-confidence. This way, the children will find it possible to mix with non-Muslims and excuse themselves when an un-Islamic act is taking place.” (66)
The Role of the Mosque in the West
Another important aid for Muslim Youth growing up in the West is the role played by the Masjid. To aid the Youth in staying away from all the western society’s temptations, we must provide an interesting, enjoyable substitute. Besides Prayers and Lectures; interesting weekend programs, fun Islamic activities alongside Youth Groups that help them share their problems while at the same time strengthening their Islamic identities with other Muslim youth is a necessity.
Connecting with Other Muslim Families
I believe it is also essential that each Muslim Family has a connection with some other Muslim family/families that have offspring in their children’s age and who live by the teachings of Islam. In meeting with those families on a regular basis, their youth will have a sense of Islamic belonging and thus feel more calm and happy and stronger in facing the tides of peer pressure from mainstream society.
The issue of Islamic Schooling is one that often arises amongst Muslim families living in the West. Some find it to be the best option to maintain their kids’ Islamic identity, especially through the rough years of adolescence. Whilst others feel they can opt for public schooling and leave the Islamic teaching to the home and masjid. There is also a third party who would prefer to enroll their offspring in Islamic schooling, but hold off due to the often lower standard of those schools, usually because of lack in resources, professionalism, etc.
I believe both options have their pros and cons. Sending kids to public schools will help them feel a part of a larger society and thus aid them in dealing normally with the rest of the society while moreover often leading them to maintaining a willingness to “be something” on a larger scale. However, it would be more challenging for them to maintain their Islamic identities.
On the other hand, opting for Islamic schooling will often make them feel more “at home” creating a safe haven, whilst at the same time giving them the opportunity of an Islamic teaching. However, it will often not help them integrate as much with the rest of the society isolating them further off and perhaps making them less ambitious to achieve something on a wider scale.
Say It Out Loud: I’m Proud to Be a Muslim Youth
So, Muslim parents and Islamic associations in the West: my personal prescription to your Muslim Youth in facing mainstream society’s challenges would be: A strong, efficient Muslim Family+ an interesting, enjoyable Masjid program + connecting with other practicing Muslim Families = “Say it Out Loud: I’m Proud to be a Muslim Youth”.
Drs. Ekram and Mohamed Rida Beshir. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions on Parenting (Part 1). Beltsville: Amana Publications, 2005
Related Links:American Culture or Islamic Ideals? (Watch)
Being Religious Without Being a Jerk
How to Be Optimistic With Yourself? (Dr. Bayoun)
Muslims in the West: Take It or Leave It?
Serving Humanity (Imam Zaid Shakir)