Saving Muslim Teens

By wael | September 9, 2010
Muslim teenagers bowling at Yerba Buena center in San Francisco

Muslim teenagers bowling at Yerba Buena center in San Francisco

The Lost Boys (and Girls): Bringing Back Young Muslim Teens
By Zainab for MuslimMatters.org

Anyone who’s been around Muslim teens between the ages of 10 – 17 will recognize a disconcerting and disappointing trend: youthful apathy. Selfishness, self-centredness, and almost total obliviousness to the world around them. And despite the self-absorbtion, there is still a lack of proper sense of self and strong identity.

It can be understood, perhaps, in that these are formative years in which children and adolescents are struggling with a huge input of information from the world around them that they can’t quite figure out what to do with. These years are recognized as the most difficult years for parents, and for the children too; but for Muslim parents struggling to raise their children upon Islam here in the West, the problems are compounded.

Many concerned parents complain about how their children prefer to remain with unIslamic influences and ignore the parents’ attempts to sway them towards coming to the Masjid and being involved with other Muslims. Time and time again I hear the same advice being reiterated, but unfortunately the problems persist. After a while, I wondered if another approach was needed – something a bit deeper and more long-term than one-off youth programs or conferences. Perhaps we need to re-analyse the causes of youthful misguidance, and come up with a more detailed method of reaching out to them.

Here I hope to present my own rudimentary theory of the reasons as to why so many of our younger teens, even those who come from relatively practicing Muslim households, become utterly disinterested in Islam and get sucked into the kaafir lifestyle. From there, insha’Allah we can work harder towards bringing back our lost boys and girls to the straight path.

It’s All About You

We’re always wondering what we can do to draw our youth back to the Masjid, back to Islam, to engage them and involve them and above all, keep them safe. In order to do this, we need to look at the other side first – what is it about the non-Muslim lifestyle that attracts the kids so much? A lot of the time, it’s the attention that they recieve – in a culture that celebrates and promotes individualism to an unhealthy extreme, narcissistic youth are dazzled by how it’s all about them. Sure, other factors are involved, such as how the culture appeals to all those budding desires, but when you get down to it, it’s mostly about the attention.

That’s where we need to start. We need to give our youth attention too, and indulge their narcissism… to a certain point. And above all, in a constructive way.

Know Thyself

We complain about our kids having an identity crisis. To be frank, most of these kids don’t even know who they are… forget about who they are as Muslims, they don’t even know their own personalities. Much of the time they’re just swept up in the latest trends and follow the fickle crowd without thinking about whether they actually like the items they’re wasting their money on, or the activities that they throw themselves into just because it’s what the cool kids do.

We have to help our youth know themselves. Once they know themselves, once they’re confident in themselves and have an idea of their own potential, of what they want to do with that potential, then they will be more solidly grounded and have a better foundation upon which to build their futures.

To be a strong Muslim, one must be a strong person; the key to being a strong person is knowing who you are at your very core, being able to identify your own characteristics and values which will remain unchanged no matter what situation you’re put in.

A solid Islamic upbringing from infanthood (as described in this ongoing series) goes a long way in building this kind of strong character, and as always is the first thing that parents must be aware of. However, for those who perhaps were not as Islamically practicing during their childrens’ early childhood, and now wish to change their parenting styles and their children for the better, then there are other ways that they can encourage their children to develop and strengthen their invidual characters.

It is now that we combine the teens’ desire for attention with the goal of helping them find themselves. Either at home or in a youth group/ workshop environment, our youth need to be invited away from all the clamouring, glamorous outside influences and given the space and time to focus on themselves, on who they are. Have them look deep within themselves, that space where they keep their deepest thoughts and desires, their hopes and fears, their darkest secrets. That space where they as individuals exist on a level where nothing and no one else can reach them except themselves. What do they find in that space?

Remember that soul-searching and personal development isn’t something that can be over and done with in a few hours, a day, or even a couple weeks. It is in fact a life-long endeavour – but it is something which must be fostered from a young age, so that there is a solid sense of self that can be analysed and improved constantly.

Castles in the Air

If you ask a five year old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you’re likely to get a long list that includes astronaut, cowboy (or cowgirl), firefighter, teacher, or even farmer. Ask the same question to a preteen or young teen, and you’re more likely to be answered with a blank expression, a careless shrug, and a muttered, “I dunno.”

This particular phenomenon in our youth is a distinct lack of vision. Stemming from the problem of not knowing themselves, our young Muslim teens tend to stumble through school and these important years of their lives in a confused daze. They rarely have a tangible idea of what they want to do with their lives; in this era of technology-centred activities, few of them recognize that they have other talents and skills which can be developed and used for the benefit of mankind.

We need to help our youth open their eyes and realize that there is more to themselves, and to life, than their shallow routine of chasing after the current fad. Teens have to realize that adolescence isn’t playtime; it’s the stepping-stone towards full-blown maturity and the rest of their lives. So what are they going to do with those lives?

Here is where we need to foster and encourage life visions. What life visions do these youth have? Do they think they’ll be able to achieve that ‘ultimate end’? If so, how? If not, how come? How can they achieve those dreams of theirs?

Let’s encourage our youth to open their hearts, minds, and eyes, and make their imaginations go wild. Let them build castles in the air!

Tools of the Trade

Life visions are pretty big dreams and it can be easy to be discouraged about them. So, break the “big dream” into a series of smaller, practical long- and short-term goals that can be steadily achieved and implemented. Accomplishing each ‘small’ goal becomes a stepping stone towards the final vision. As Muslims, our goal is Jannah; reaching that destination, however, requires a lot of work in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different ways.

Every goal of life is reached by utilizing skills and talents; discovering, developing, and strengthening them for maximum benefit. Now that our youth have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, they should also be able to recognize which skills they’ll need to reach those goals. It’s time for them to do a bit more soul-searching – or rather, talent-searching. What are their talents? What are they good at? What do they love to do? At this present time, how do they utilize those skills? How can they develop and improve these abilities? In the long term, how can they use these skill sets to reach their goals?

Another important point to remember is what the old proverb says: “Idle hands/minds are the devil’s workshop.” Too much free time causes our youth to seek out activities to stave off boredom, and these activities tend to be of the dodgy not-very-halaal kind. One way of killing two birds with one stone is to enlist these youth in serious activities at the masaajid; that is, coming up with ways to give the teens a chance to practice their skills in a work-like environment that benefits both the youth, and the masaajid themselves. However, make it something serious – actually pay the youth for their work, instead of doing it on a volunteer basis, as that gives the tasks the appearance of a chore rather than attracting the teens. Not only will the youth learn the basics of business and apprenticeship, but it gives them a far better environment to work in than the usual options of fast food and retail.

Strong and Free

In a nutshell, the above is part of what I percieve to be a rough guide/ method to dealing with the problem of lost, apathetic, confused Muslim teens who are sucked into a culture of shallowness, vanity, and selfishness. We have a group of kids who have so much potential, who could be the next great leaders of this Ummah, if only we could unplug them from their iPods, unhook them from their video games, and drag them away from the latest sales at the mall.

Our youth can be – and will be, insha’Allah – strong and free, secure in their identities as Muslims and their own unique personalities. In their submission to Allah, they will be empowered to becoming the next generation of movers and shakers, those who will improve the state of this Ummah in every field.

We just need to guide them away from the distractions of this dunyah and engage their hearts, minds, and souls… all we have to do is give them the time and attention that they crave, and that they need so that they may become the kind of glorious personalities they have the potential to be. It will be, and is, a long, hard road for parents, the youth, and those of us who have dedicated our lives for the sake of Allah to strengthen this Ummah; but insha’Allah the payoff in both this world and the Hereafter will be worth every agonizing moment of it.

May Allah guide our lost boys and girls, and guide us all, to the Straight Path; to that which is best for us all in this world and in the Hereafter; and to that which is most pleasing and beloved to Him, ameen.

9 Responses to “Saving Muslim Teens”

  1. Bernie Richardson@architectural wrought iron Says:
    September 21st, 2010 at 4:31 am

    I think, religion shouldn’t be imposed on someone. We all should have a broad view towards religions of the world. Every religion is great in some or the other aspects. Though the “lost boys/girls” are in every religion. We have to work on humanity rather than focusing only on a particular religion.

  2. Feisal Afghani Says:
    October 30th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Greetings to you all. Islam could not be this great without the ” Female Touch ” which Allah has put in her.

  3. KASSIM MRISHO WATUTA Says:
    February 6th, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Ithink the whole society in the Muslim world should turn back to our only Sacred Guidance,AL QUR’AN

  4. My Name Says:
    April 18th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Salam,
    Some of this information is incorrect, not most muslim teens ages 10-17 are self cenetered and oblivious. What are you trying to say? That they don’t go to school, and are stupid, and have no clue what is going on around them? The thing is, Alot of times immigrants try to change their children, but that cannot happen. People can only change themselves. We should not try to take their teenage years away from them, this is something they need. We have to let them be who they are, and if they are taught Islam in a way that they can really understand, they may change themselves and their ways, and look at things in a different view. I hope you know what I am trying to say, because I am not directly critisizing your artlicle.
    Salam, May Allah(swt)help you.

  5. zaYn Says:
    January 22nd, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Salam.A. ^ You have misintterpreted the concept of this whole article. the writer is trying to send a message to those who are not aware of their children being lost and distracted by the society and this generation. Some parents misguide their children many teens are misguided or misjudged or just not haven given the love and care that they need. May Allah swt give us all guidance and enough knowledge to share around with our muslim brothers and sisters. Ameen

  6. My Name Says:
    January 23rd, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I think I did understand the concept, but what I am trying to say is that Islam cannot be forced upon a child, teenager, or person in general. It is the parents job to help them understand and love Islam, which many parents do not. Infact, to many kids, Islam is everything they can’t do and something they are forced to do because of the way the parents brought the religon upon them.They force them through their prayers, they say “don’t do ___, don’t do ____” and when the child asks why it is because their religon says not to,or it is haram. Therefore the child only sees what they can’t do. Then, there are those parents who send their child once a week to Islamic school and expect that that is all they have to do. The kids usually turn out to be those occasional muslims, when at the mosque or around other muslim people. But when around their non-muslim friends, are a different person. The way that Islam is presented to the child and how they are brought up with it is a very important part of how they take their religon. AsA, I hope you understand What I’m saying, isA (:

  7. zaYn Says:
    January 24th, 2012 at 4:57 am

    Yes I understand where your coming from. And yes you have a point from the first comment you posted. You have made it clear that parents have a huge part on this and what muslim teens turn out to be. And yes teenagers should enjoy their teenage hood and experience and explore and all. But some take it to an extent where they cross their limits. Being forced is haram yes and that goes back to the parents but then again its an act of care and of belief of islam. Of being scared of the here after, wanting to save their children. The way they treat their childern is the way they have been treated, so you can’t blame them for trying to do right with their children even if its in the wrong way. A lot of teens are slipping away.. whatever the parents do they only think of their childrens care and benefit. They will be judged in their own way, every individual will. This article is trying to put it out their and tell us to atleast put the effort to save our muslim sisters and brothers. Your right yes some people come to islam in a wrong way and act upon it temperarly but isn’t it better to get deeds even tho if its for a short time then having a ton of sins?

  8. Abdallah Says:
    February 28th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Masha allah, jazakallah khair

    I am a youthworker, and I benefited alot from this article and insha allah I will implement some of the suggestions.

    May allah reward you for this

  9. My Name Says:
    March 4th, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    “Your right yes some people come to islam in a wrong way and act upon it temperarly but isn’t it better to get deeds even tho if its for a short time then having a ton of sins?”

    If they’re being forced to do something, then are they really getting good deeds? Because Allah (SWT) knows your intentions, no matter what pretend act of faith a person does. Just because a person does something doesn’t mean they get the benefit.

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