To be very honest, I grew up loving God, but having little interest in practicing my religion. We feel forced to go to learn Quran, when all we want to do - as 7-year olds - is play on our bikes with our friends. We're taught to read Arabic, but understand nothing. We're in a class of around 25 other kids, and are lucky if we get 10 minutes of one-on-one recitation with the 'teacher'. If we're naughty, discipline is being smacked by a snooker cue. We go to Jummah and the khutbahs are all in Urdu (except the money collection plea at the end - always in English). Our Islamic schools are not built with strong 'education' methods as the base. I read an insightful article recently about how the high prison rate of UK Muslim youth is blamed on out-of-touch Imams, which sums this up quite well (link at end of blog). And that's something, sadly, that I've seen firsthand.
The fact is, we grow up in a very mixed environment, where going to the pub/club is the norm. Friends start drinking age 14 on the streets. Boyfriends/girlfriends and drugs are a part of life. But all of these things, we do not talk about. Not to the Imams, and definitely not to our parents.
I went on a two-weekend 'Quran in English' crash course last Ramadan, explaining its themes, topics and stories. It was quite possibly the best Islamic education I've ever had, but I had to wait 22 years. Why were we not brought up being educated that same way? And why are there not more of these kind of events? What was shocking was the teacher was telling us a story about how he had set up a similar youth class in a masjid. But the elders who ran the mosque were so frustrated about the young people being around, making noise or talking - you know, being normal teenagers - that they told him to move his class to a local youth club instead.
Anyway, I thought this was the way it was everywhere. It was only over the last few years as I've been spending more time with my family out in America that I've come to see Islam working differently over there. Let me try and sum up the contrast:
- Imams/leaders who are in touch with the youth: Take Imam Suhaib Webb as the perfect example. Here you have someone who used to be a hip-hop DJ. He converted to Islam and now uses his experience to relate to the issues that the youth are going through now. This is the person leading the masjids and community - he was born into the same lifestyle many of us have grown up around. As well as that, how about female role models, such as Yasmin Mogahed? We have so little female inspirations in this day and age. We need more people in tune with the youth over here leading us - not someone who's fresh off the boat with an old-school mentality.
- Islamic infrastructure more than the traditional masjid: We need both mosques and organisations that provide a place for young Muslims to interact, learn and relax with each other in a halal environment. Organisations such as the Ta'leef (http://www.taleefcollective.org) and the MCA (http://www.mcabayarea.org) in the Bay Area do just this. They actually set up events and programmes, so it's not just a place of worship in the traditional sense, but a way to really engage with Islam as a way of life. These type of places, as well as others including prison outreach programmes, are the way that these communities are bound together. People become more open-minded and include everyone in society - those of different races, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and more. None of this: 'I don't go to that mosque.. it's a Bengali one.'
- Don't be scared to talk about sex: My cousin and her husband in Cali have actually set up an Islamic radio station, 'One Legacy Radio', which addresses the very issues that we are afraid to mention. With shows covering everything from family matters, relationships and divorce, youth issues, the seerah of the Prophet, fitness and popular culture. There are debates and even 'Real Talk', a show co-hosted by Imam Suhaib Webb, where all of the typically 'taboo' subjects are a go - whether it's sex, pornography, drugs or racism. The fact is, we need to be more open about these subjects - something, culturally, a lot of us are not used to. Only then are we able to acknowledge and overcome the challenges our society and the future generations of Muslims face. As well as radio, they are soon expanding into other areas of entertainment, so stay tuned in. You can check them out: http://onelegacyradio.com or on FB: http://www.facebook.com/OneLegacyRadio
What I see as a challenge, and a necessity, is for more communities to follow these models, to be innovative, to understand the youth and to reach them at their level. The fact is, we can be Muslim and at the same time be integrated into society. To put it metaphorically, Islam is the perfect content. It's the marketing that's outdated.
Here are a couple of useful/interesting links:
One Legacy Radio: http://onelegacyradio.com / http://www.facebook.com/OneLegacyRadio
A support network for revert sisters: http://www.facebook.com/SOLACEforrevertsindifficulty
Article: High Prison Rate of UK Muslim Youth Blamed on Out Of Touch Imams
If anyone has any other links to share, leave a comment or email us and we'll add them in.