By Ahmed Khalifa
A few weeks ago I attended my high school graduation ceremony, and as I was sitting there staring into the bright lights on the stage, reflecting on the magnitude of such a rite of passage in one's life, the principal was calling the names of my peers one by one to receive their diplomas. I couldn't help but have my mind overflow with memories of what had transpired. As the principal continued calling the names of the graduates, the extended social circle of that graduate would begin to cheer ecstatically. So I began to question; why do these people clap ever so joyously? Was it because the graduate had solidified his or her identity? Or was it because they had succeeded at assimilation and conformity? And then I posed those questions to myself.
In that very setting I was inspired to put pen to paper and write about the trials and obstacles that I endured, which I believe are common to most Muslim youth who live in a minority Muslim society. Firstly, to point out immediate action our community leaders may implement, and secondly, to provide tips for the youth on how to overcome such trials.
The two most influential factors affecting our Muslim youth are shamelessness in western society and their immediate peer group.
Shamelessness is Rampant
As our beloved Prophet Muhammad said:
There are two types of people who will be punished in Hell and whom I have not seen: men having whips like the tails of cows and they will be beating people with them, and, women who will be dressed but appear to be naked, inviting to evil; and they themselves will be inclined to it. Their heads will appear like the humps of the Bactrian camel inclined to one side. They will not enter Jannah and they will not smell its fragrance which is perceptible from such and such a distance.” [Muslim; 2128]
The meaning of, “women who will be dressed yet appear to be naked” as explained by imam Al-Nawawi and others is that they will be semi-nude; part of their body will be covered whilst the other will remain exposed. Some scholars also mentioned that the meaning is: women will wear see-through and transparent clothing in a way that the color of their body will be visible. (Sharh of Nawawi on Sahih Muslim, P. 1603)
Some of the early scholars of hadith encountered some trouble and confusion on what approach they would take to interpret such a hadith, as they had never witnessed such a description. Meanwhile, if you ask a layman of our times, such a description would resonate and be very familiar. The context makes it very clear that the earlier generations did not face as high a degree of fitnah as we are facing, which makes it imperative, now more than ever, to focus on this issue.
In a society obsessed with self-image, some may resort to such measures in order to fit in, or even stand out. One can only imagine, without explanation, to what limits these practices are pushed in a system becoming more and more lenient with regards to dress code, due to the societal push of “freedom of choice”. This may give you a glimpse of what kinds of pressures are faced by Muslim teens in a hyper-sexualized high school environment.
In a study conducted on American teens in May 2013 results presented that 61% of Americans have had sexual intercourse by the age of 19; on average young people have sex for the first time at about 17 years of age, but don't marry until their mid-20s (Note: these statistics only represent sexual intercourse, not any other type of relations.)1
Based on personal experience, out of the entirety of high school peers that I've met throughout my duration of time enrolled in secondary studies, the amount of people that I can confidently say were not involved in any sort of sexual activity I can count on my own two hands, as most people are quite open about their shamelessness.
Friends are Everything
The Prophet Muhammad stated in the sound hadith:
A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.” [Sunan Abi Dawud 4833]
Humans are naturally impacted by the people around them, in front of their parents or teachers their behavior differs from when they are in front of their friends or peers. It is essential that we surround ourselves with people that will impact us in a way that is always pleasing to Allah, and which will help maximize our potential.
Under the umbrella of friends, a mentor is also included. To have someone there who you can relate to, that you can come to at anytime and ask for advice, explain situations, and seek religious guidance from is essential, because if you were to ever drift off into darkness, that certain person can hold up the torch and light up the path for you. If not you may be stuck in the dangerous wilderness and possibly pull others who are looking for you, in with you.
Action Items for Community Leaders
1. Revive Youth Marriage
The nature of the environment we live in would make it quite unrealistic for most to be financially able to establish and support a family while still in the process of completing secondary and post-secondary studies.
This phenomenon exists because certain cultural practices of Muslims have led them to set very high expectations for a potential spouse for their child, believing that this will provide their child with a more secure and comfortable future. These parents are unwilling to negotiate any kind of an agreement until those expectations are met. We need to work as a global community to rid our beloved Muslims of this cultural stigma, as it does not comply with the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
As stated by our beloved Prophet Muhammad in the sound hadith:
There are three, all of whom have a promise of help from Allah: 'The Mujahid who strives in the cause of Allah, the Mighty and Sublime; the man who gets married, seeking to keep himself chaste; and the slave who has a contract of manumission and wants to buy his freedom.'” [Sunan An-Nasa'i 3120]
And also as stated in the sound hadith:
If there comes to you one with whose character and religious commitment you are pleased, then marry (your daughter or female relative under your care) to him, for if you do not do that there will be Fitnah in the land and widespread corruption.” [Sunan Ibn-Majah: 1967]
Muslim communities worldwide need to brainstorm and start creative initiatives in support of those youth who have the intention of marriage. That initiative may be as significant as a trust fund for more resourceful communities, or as minor as a place for a Mahr (dowry) donation box at our masajid in less populated Muslim communities. This is definitely a need, which requires much due attention.
2. Build a Healthy Environment
Our communities need to progressively work towards achieving a healthy, innovative, welcoming environment, where Muslim youth may meet each other and grow together. Such a place should be equipped with qualified professionals to provide support to our youth regardless of their past, ethnicity, or socio-economic class. The facility should be cutting edge. The local Muslim Youth Center should impress enough to be deemed as “the place to be” for all teens.
We need to begin making Da'wah to those youth distant from the Muslim community, and we need to establish sequential programs aimed for the progression of the consistent comers. We need to be sure to listen to their suggestions and ideas, and provide them with deserved positions on our boards. We should never underestimate their capabilities due to their age. Elect those from the youth to work for the youth, as they know themselves best.
Tips for the Youth
As discussed earlier, marriage is one of the obvious steps that may be taken as a protection, but in some cases marriage is, unfortunately, an unrealistic ambition. For that specific demographic, below are listed precautionary tips which will help you stay steadfast in the face of Fitnah:
The best advice that can be given is the advice of the Prophet in which he mentioned in the latter part of a hadith:
And whoever cannot (get married) then he should fast, for it will be a restraint (wija') for him.'” [Sunan An-Nasa'I 3209]
Fasting is a great habit to develop as an act of worship because when one fasts they prohibit themselves from the essential desires of the body (ie, food), so it suppresses the cardinal desires.
2. Set Schedule
Set a schedule for yourself that revolves around the remembrance and 'Ibaadah of Allah 'Aza wa Jal, (ie, school, homework, daily prayers, daily Qur'an memorization /recitation, volunteer at local masjid/Islamic Center). Constantly renew your intention for all of your affairs – that the sole purpose is to ultimately attain the pleasure of Allah Jalla wa 'Ala. A mind busy with the remembrance of Allah will not have time for the devil's temptation.
3. Social Media
Filter out your connections on social media. All it takes is one post or picture to serve as the devil's arrow. If you find it too difficult to do so and believe that people will be offended, de-activate your account.
4. Social Circles
You are a product of the company you keep, so keep track of your immediate circle of influence.
If we were to look at the history of Muslims in the west in a metaphorical sense, we would come to the realization that the Muslim body is well into its youth stages as we have begun to witness an influx in population in multitudes of minor and major cities alike, much like one grows physically in their youth. One must know that the adolescent stage is ever so critical because often times in that very stage the direction is chosen of what kind of life will be led, both on a personal, and metaphorical level.
In order to ensure that the direction we take as a Muslim body is positive, we must ensure that the decisions our youth are making are positive. They are the torch-bearers of our future and they will dictate our success or failure. The years of complacency towards this very important demographic of our community must come to an end if we ever hope to rejoice in their successes.
Ultimately, the responsibility is on the youth's shoulders. No matter how much effort is put in to persuade you one way or the other, or how many hours of nourishment, the lifestyle you decide to lead is your choice, and that decision is one for which you will definitely be accountable.
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