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Getting the Youth Involved

ImageToday the issue is not whether the hearts of our Muslim youth can be molded, but rather who or what molds these pure hearts first. With parents, friends, culture, media, schools, and society all surrounding our youth, there are many different factors which influence the youth today.

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Youth combine their passion for Islam and cars at an Ashura procession.

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said: ''Surely the heart of the youth is like an uncultivated piece of land – it will accept whatever you throw upon it [and that is what will grow from it].'' As described by our Imam, the heart of a youth accepts that which it is given. If there is a problem with today's youth, there is almost certainly something very wrong with whatever has been thrown on their hearts. We often hear today's parents wishing for their children to be like Imam Hussain, Hadarat Abbas, Lady Zainab, and other pious personalities from the Prophet's (peace be upon him and his progeny) Holy Household. However, even Imam Ali himself said to Imam Hussain that he had to ''mold'' his son's heart in order for him to strive on the path of Allah.

Today the issue is not whether the hearts of our Muslim youth can be molded, but rather who or what molds these pure hearts first. With parents, friends, culture, media, schools, and society all surrounding our youth, there are many different factors which influence the youth today. When we look at what will mold the youth into good Muslims, it is the duty of the parents and the local Islamic community to work hand in hand in order to produce good Muslim youth. When it comes to what the community can do in order to sculpt the youth in accordance with Islam, a really good idea is Islamic youth groups.

Youth groups are great for getting the youth involved with the community while forming friendships, finding common interests, and breaking down those several cliques of youngsters by forming one cohesive group. It is a great way of bridging the gap between the children in the community and the adults, as it is usually the youth population in almost all Islamic communities who need the most support, be it mental, social, religious, or academic. Islamic youth groups need to be set up for our youth so that they may be given opportunities to interact amongst themselves and thereby unite as one strong youth community.

Successful youth groups are usually not the ones set up by youths, as people often think; in fact, it is the elders in the community who are the real master minds behind the success of such efforts and hence should take the lead and play a major role in getting a youth network set up, even if it means starting with something as simple as getting all the youth together and asking them for their point of view on the menu being served at the center.

The idea of a youth group is not to throw a bunch of kids in a room, open up the Holy Qur'an in front of them, and expect them to become religious scholars overnight, nor is it to give them total freedom to do what they like as long as they are ''with other youth'' from the community. There needs to be a balance in youth groups, and while religion is a fundamental part of Islamic youth groups, it needs to be accompanied with other things which are so universal that they have the ability to unite and accommodate for each and every single youth in the community. For example, the Panjtan Society Youth Group in Melbourne, Australia, (of which the author is a part) has four types of events:

Social events, which aim to attract attention to the youth group by holding sports tournaments, paintball, go-karts, barbeques, and dinners.

Academic events, which aim to allow for education and career advancement by tutoring and mentoring programs held by the youth for the community, language classes, and career and educational workshops.

Religious events, which aim to increase religious knowledge by having Q&A sessions with scholars and guest speakers, religious plays and dramas, debates, Fiqh classes, speeches on the birth and death anniversaries of the Infallibles (peace be upon them), Ramadan prayer programs, cemetary visits, Muharram control (everything from water fountains to parking and everything in between!), and gathering youth to teach at the Sunday school once they graduate from there!

Professional events, which aim to promote Islam to the community on both a local and international level, by volunteering at the Islamic centre, getting involved with the media to promote the work of the Muslim youth, and doing humanitarian works such as fundraising for international Muslim communities and holding blood drives.

With so many different activities available, in order to maintain the Islamic ''touch'' of such youth groups, it is absolutely imperative to have adult supervisors or coordinators who oversee the conduct of the youth in order to ensure compliance with Islamic laws on personal and social behavior (i.e. preventing mixed-gender gatherings, ensuring appropriate Akhlaq, etc.). Ideally, there needs to be a youth committee so that the youth group establishes itself in the community and in order to maintain sustainability for future youth generations. We often hear about youth groups which either fail or struggle to survive, and this is usually because of the lack of support from the elders in the community. What happens is that when there is a lack of adult involvement, things start to get out of control. They are what some like to call ''the ultra-advanced youth groups'', who tend to forget that the idea was to maintain an Islamic youth group, and as time passes, the religious factor diminishes. We see the opposite genders mixing inappropriately, and the group becomes more about socializing than any other factor. This is when the community thinks negatively towards the youngsters, and the idea of any such ''youth group'' is immediately turned away.

In regards to youth, Imam Hassan (peace be upon him) has said: ''Surely today you are the youth of the nation, but tomorrow you will be the leaders of the community; thus, it is incumbent upon you to seek knowledge.'' Today it is the duty of not only the youth but also the community to assist the youth in seeking that ''knowledge'' which our Imam refers to. Whether this knowledge is about sports, religion, academics, socio-political issues, or just life in general, a youth group that does not neglect its Islamic identity and is initiated, supported, and guided by the elders of the community will surely serve to produce the strong and much-needed Muslim leaders of tomorrow.

About Zara Syed

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  • Abbas BandeKhuda

    MASHALLAh sister, a terrific piece as always. Elders need to accept that they will not always be around forever. Obviously, the reigns of leadership will have to be passed down at some time. Through love and nurture, the branches of a community can prosper and its youths blossom truly like flowers in spring time. By engaging in a bullish and derogratory attitude, Elders risk isolating and marginalising time frequency and achieve nothing other than undoing the hard work of a silent, noble souls. They need to provide co-ordinators who are empathetic to the plight of a community’s young and educated. The youths will guranteed step up and come forward with great enthusiasm if they are shown some TLC! So it’s time to part ways with the conservative, unfounded thoughts by some Elders “that youths are a recipe for disaster!” The only accident waiting to happen is if the youths are not backed,supported, and given the love and nurturing they need to grow in experience. In turn, the youths will be expected to show respect, obedience and decency towards their Elders. So let’s come together and overcome our differences. What is needed is some tender, loving care, and for both sides to reconcile!

  • otowi

    Excellent article!

  • Wajiha

    Fantastic article! I absolutely agree with you Zara, I truly enjoy reading your articles. They are so well written and completely relevant to the youth today.

    Keep up the excellent work!

  • Sameer Dattu

    Great article. I think that in every Islamic youth group, there must be a presence of mentorship and guidance, usually provided by adults or older youth. I have seen many youth groups rise and fall, and with the experience of having led a couple myself I feel that especially in todays day and age, we need to be conscious of what kind of leaders we are becoming. It is incumbant upon us all to reflect the teachings of the Holy Prophet (SAWW) and the Ahlul Bayt (AS) in our words and actions, especially if they are on a public scale.

    The one major thing which I would like to point out however, is that mentorship and guidance absolutely does not and should never include limiting the youth or “micromanaging.” Collectively the youth of today are capable of great things, and with the Holy Prophet (SAWW) and the Ahlul Bayt (AS) as the ultimate guides, this is rightfully so. The adults and older youth who provide mentorship and guidance to Islamic youth groups must also assist with providing them with resources, which will assist them in reaching their goals. It is truly an unfortunate event when I see the “guidance” of these youth groups limiting the youth by not providing them with the necessary resources, or by shunning their efforts – which history has shown us, ultimately results in the reduction of interest from volunteers (i.e. other youth) and sometimes the demise of the group itself.

    May Allah (SWT) reward all those out there who contribute to the cause of the Holy Prophet (SAWW) and the Ahlul Bayt (AS). May Allah (SWT) keep you and your families safe from the evils of this world and increase your taqwa. May He (SWT) also give us the tools and resources to be able to further their cause and prepare ourselves for the reappearance of our Imam (ATFS).

  • Arsalan.Rizvi

    I completely agree that adults should not try to restrain the youth’s creativity or talents. However, I myself have seen many religious youth neglect things like proper Akhlaq and gender interactions, all in the name of “youth activism”. Therefore, it is absolutely vital to have adult supervision, which will ensure that proper Islamic behavior is observed and inter-gender interactions are only permitted to the extent necessary.

    Furthermore, adult supervision is also necessary in order to ensure that the youth do not get carried away with their passion and know how to channel it in the right direction. As Amirul Momineen (as) once said, “I appreciate an old man’s cautious opinion more than the valor of young men.”

  • Solider of Imam Mehdi ATFJ

    Great article sister…keep it up, definitely agree that the importance of a youth group is vital for all Shia communities if they want to progress, and surely as you said it is the duty of the parents and the local Islamic community to work hand in hand in order to produce good Muslim youth. I also strongly agree with Abbas BandeKhuda & Sameer Dattu…they have made a very valid point about the attitude of the elders who are associated with the youth groups. We find elders using double standards amongst the youths, we see them clearly engaging into bullish and derogator attitude, and consider themselves superior in their decision making and their point of view. BUT the entire purpose of youth group is to allow the YOUTHS to express their own point of view and make decisions to acquire the leadership skills that our beloved Imam (as) talked about in the hadith quoted above.
    I am a PSYG youth and it has been very sad for me to see the approach of the elders and ‘co-ordinators’ towards the youths. I tried to raise my concerns but every co-ordinator and some elders rudely shut me up and were un-prepared to hear me. I have been a close observer of the elders and observed their lack of understanding about the current youth in this time, in the west. I also saw the ‘co-ordinators’ demanding and aggressive approach, especially double standards, difference attitude with different youths on the same matter, this is appalling. This is the third youth group I have joined, and I am aware of how youth groups operate around the world, and comparatively seen great number of activities, enthusiasm and pure hearts of just a small number of energetic youths; their approach towards the community is unheard of and unseen, yet in the past youth programs I have not heard a SINGLE elder stepping up and acknowledging the youths hard work in public, this and their excessive and unnecessary involvement in youth activities and programs is disgraceful.

    Abdullah & Sister; I agree that there MUST be adult supervisors or coordinators who “oversee” the conduct (Islamic & behaviour) of the youth BUT their involvement MUST only be limited to ‘overseeing’ the youth work and behaviour; NOT getting involved. Shia youths are smart and very talented, and elders need to give youths a chance. Youths must be given the right to make full decisions on ALL youth matter that falls within the Islamic Sharia and the community’s internal governing rules. We will see increasing trust and respect between both youths and elders will eventually reconcile all matters. Elders expect full respect and obedience from their young, yet they completely fail to give it back in return assuming their superiority and authority.
    I salute the efforts of the handful of PSYG’s energetic youths and energetic youths around the world and assure them their rewards awaits them in this world and the hereafter…please for the sake of the world shia youths, don’t ever give up…indeed youths deserve and need TLC!!!

  • Abbas BandeKhuda

    Elders need to provide OVERSIGHT, not CONTROL. There’s a fine line between the two, and it needs to be clearly understood. Otherwise, youths from all communities will hesitate to come fwd. As our previous comments have highlighted, Shia YOUTH are MASHALLAH talented. Obviously, regulation of religious activism is essential, however, too much control by elders risks isolating the Shabab fraternity, and too little oversight may plunge our youths on the path of deviance. What is required is balance, respect, committment, sincerety, honesty, empathy and a lot of TLC!

  • Abbas

    Very nice article, but it clearly shows the writer lacks experience in these affairs. Youths are assets of any community. We here in Melbourne have the youths from our first generation. Thanks to Allah that 70% of the youths are still in good order. If we work intelligently with help from our imams, we can rescue the situtaion of the rest 30% and mold all the youths to be true muslims. We in western countries are the diplomats of Islam. If we get it wrong, then there would be no hope. Youth groups are very important, but even more critical is how they are managed. There is no point of bringing together youths and then be rude to them. Don’t trust them. Treat them as 5 years old. It’s very important that the Youth Chairperson is automatically nominated into the Parent Managing Committee. In this way, the Youth chairperson will get the chance to represent the youths straight in the Managing Committee, rather through some co-ordinators who themselves are not in the committee. This way we would cut a lot of red tapes and save time. Currently a small programme takes weeks/months top get approval due to the long chain of people and red tapes. By represnting the youths in the Managing Committee, the youth chairperson will get exposure in management and get experience. If we don’t groom these youths of today, then how will they become leaders tomorrow?
    We need to show respect and trust. These youths can achieve far more than what many elders can. The Vice Presidnet of the community would be the mentor and would oversee the activities of the youths by attending their meetings. Remember, I said, Oversee and not Interfear. Currently co-ordiantors are just like dictators. They interfear a lot. They want youths to do what they want. That’s wrong. Youths should be free to do what they want provided its according to Islamic sheria. That’s where we need a person of responsible position in the Committee like Vice President to be keeping an eye. How can a person who has only little babies at home have any idea or experience of handling a youth. A youth in Western Country is very different to a youth in many parts of Sub Continent or Africa. It’s very important that the person to oversee the youths is a professional, with one or two youths in the family and may be he/she grew up in a wetern society. This way the person can communicate with youths in the same language and youths would be looking up on him as a role model. But to bring a young fellow from Sub Continent and ask him to look after the youths will create problems and instead of youths getting molded and bonded with the society, we’ll make them run away from us. The situation currently in PSV Youths is not far from this. Asa parent of two youths 19 and 15, I handle my kids with respect and trust. I treat them as my friends. I ask their opinions in every thing. I let them do a lot of things under my supervision. We enjoy each others company. The day I’ll stop doing all or one of the above,
    it’s going to be the day when I’ll see them joining the unwanted group. remember they are Youths. If you don’t respect and trust them, if you treat them like 5 years old, if you get angry on them or if you keep on saying No all the time, they will one day rebel against you. If you close one door, open another one for them. You can’t keep on shutting doors on them.

  • Farah

    Great article Zara 🙂 You’ve highlighted the importance of youth groups very well, and PSYG is a great example! Alhumdulillah we have very encouraging and helpful coordinators.