With the inception of Facebook and similar social media outlets, it is worth reflecting upon what happens when one can connect with virtually anyone right at their finger tips. Furthermore, what can these social media outlets tell us about ourselves and our moral standards in general?
Unwinding after a long day for most students constitutes many forms of relaxation, including eating, watching TV, and of course, going on their laptop or computer to check their Facebook in anticipation of who wrote on their walls and sent them a friend request. Facebook was initially created as a networking service for students with a ".edu" email address. Obviously, this has changed. I remember joining a Facebook group that protested anyone not a college student, such as high school students, creating their own Facebook accounts. Now, I've been invited to join a group that says something like, "Get All Old Aunties Off Facebook", in which "Aunties" refers to some of the older women in the community. Nowadays virtually everyone is on Facebook, from kids as young as eight to adults in their 40s and 50s.
For some youth, Facebook and other social media outlets are an opportunity to display their eroding moral standard. Ali Naquvi from New Jersey said, "For some, it is quite shocking to see Muslim brothers and sisters display their Haram acts so openly. For others, it is just a confirmation about what they knew already." He also added that that in being able to display these Islamically inappropriate actions so openly, that "One basic tenet of Islam, is that if you sin you should at least do it in private so as not encourage others to do the same. That one thing is being eradicated." In fact, my initial thought in being asked to join "Get All Old Aunties Off Facebook", was that the creators of the group must have posted some of their indiscretions on Facebook and did not want adults from their community finding out.
With the inception of Facebook and similar social media outlets, it is worth reflecting upon what happens when one can connect with virtually anyone right at their finger tips. Furthermore, what can these social media outlets tell us about ourselves and our moral standards in general? In my own experience, I grew up with the idea that there were several Muslim youth, both Sunni and Shia who dated. However, drinking was considered a more evil act. Nowadays, I've seen youth post their dating, drinking, and clubbing habits for the public to see, but at least sleeping around is still a bad act. But if this much can change in one generation, what does this imply for the next generation? Will we soon have pregnant teenagers on our hands?
Almost everyone can agree that Facebook shows in what ways the youth's morals are eroding. It is more important, however, to ask if the standards by which we Muslims use to judge ourselves are altering. In other words, if actions that were once deemed Haram are now being deemed the norm, wouldn't our standards lower in terms of what we can expect from the Muslim youth? For many, the answer is just not that simple. Trent Carl, an active youth from Houston, Texas, said, "there seems to be a group of youth who are trying to learn more about this way of life called Islam and who tend to talk about it much and often, and hopefully, this improves their actions. However, there is also a large group of 'youth' who come to the mosque very rarely, and when they do, they only come to say hello to old friends, play basketball on the court, or lounge around the cafeteria. What I am getting at is that this thing we call 'Muslim Youth' I think is very varied in terms of 'standards.'" But he also added, "…I think we would all agree that we would like to say that the 'Muslim Youth' strata of society is raising its standards and implementing Islam in progressive ways. Unfortunately, I think this is fiction at the moment."
There seems to be many reasons why the standards have lowered or changed. Sura Hassan, formerly an active member of Dearborn's Young Muslim Association, said, "I think the changing of the standard, weather for better or worse, has a lot to do with the environment in which the child was raised. This starts with the family and then is greatly influenced by the child's choice of friends and hobbies."
How the youth are being raised is one of the largest influences for any youth, in the household as well as in the Masajid. In addition to this, M. Zaidi, an extremely active youth also from Houston, said, "We have become too lazy to do our own research and 'finding of ourselves.' We have forgotten that the journey of the self is a blessing and one that is for our own good, but we seem to take the easy road and take opinions/beliefs/ideas from others who have simply left a good impression on us."
It's clear that this message of Islam is just not hitting home literally for some youth, and some fail to grasp its true message. Said Carl, "In my opinion…Islam is not being presented to the youth as something that breaks status quo and strengthens the individual, and thus society. It is not being presented as the ultimate freedom." Ali Naquvi agreed, saying, "In their minds, the Islamic standards as professed in the Imambara [mosque] apply less and less because they feel their social setting and circumstances are not taken into consideration. The lessons seem foreign to them because we have not as a community really sat down to discuss how to combat these ills. What we need is a community strategy. But if we are too scared to admit and talk about the problems, we cannot confront them."
In sum, the Muslim youth who tend to deviate do not feel Islam relates to them. Communities that cater more and more towards the adults and older generation leave the youth less and less connected to the religion itself, because Islam has transformed to a cultural tradition instead of something that applies to them living in this country, facing the obstacles they face. Instead of embracing their faith, Naquvi pointed out, "young Muslims in America are taking into consideration things such as worldly success, money, social status, etc. and making these things their priorities rather than keeping up a personal Islamic standard."
The solution to such an urgent problem to some reflects the cause of the problem. Hassan said she believes that in addition to the youth embracing Islam, "religious institutions need to work harder to engage the youth in order to show them that they have the option and the choice is theirs." It makes sense that the answers and solutions should be in the masjid – if they're neglecting youth issues, they need to start facing them. In addition, Zaidi noted, "I think sometimes we [youth] take our duties too lightly. Our goals and hopes are very high, but we don't seem to live up to them. Usually giving in to other people's ideas or influence, we don't follow through with our own desires, to be better leaders, to do Nahi Anil Munkar (cautioning against bad deeds), or Amr Bil Ma'ruf (enjoining good deeds), or to do what we know is right regarding rules of Islam, because it may not be the 'popular thing' to do." In other words, the youth themselves, i.e. ourselves, have more power in shaping and helping our peers regardless of their religiosity or standard.
Naquvi said he believes that, "Only Allah gives Tawfiq. We can only continue to serve as role models by continuing our Halal behavior and treat people with the utmost respect anyway, because they don't expect you to do that. They expect you to look down on them. We cannot do that because it pushes them further away."
It takes perseverance and patience to create the social change towards Islam. The Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) have told us to spread Islam not by our tongues but through our actions. As Zaidi stated, "to raise the standard, there needs to be a lot more communication as well as tolerance. Differences in thought and what is right will never be gone until the appearance of our Leader Imam Al-Hujjah (may Allah hasten his reappearance)." The point is that in expecting more from ourselves, we can learn to eventually start expecting more from our peers, thereby raising the Islamic standard.
Shereen Yousuf is the co-director of United Shia Youth of Chicago and a student at DePaul University.