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.
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.