Be a brother, not a scholar!
This is a question which has probably been lingering in the minds of many “Islamically-aware” youth in the Muslim community for a very long time. They may be the main volunteers in their masjid, be active in their MSA, but cannot figure out an effective means to working with the Muslim youth of their locality.
My intention with this post is to shed some light as to the proper and most effective way of guiding (in the directional sense; it’s only Allah who guides) Muslim youth who have strayed from the community, back to the masjid. So after working with Young Muslims for the past six years, being a youth director for a period of time, and taking the advice of du’aat and scholars in the west, I have put together this small post. To start:
a. Give Da’wah with Wisdom
Allah tells us in Surah Nahl 16:125, “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction.” If you want to work with a teenager, realize that different circumstances surround that teenager’s issues. He/she may be neglected by their parents, they may be hanging around with bad friends, or may simply be looking for the right path but have not found it yet. Every situation must be treated different for the most part.
Another item to remember is the saying of Aa’isha (R) the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who said, ”If the first revelation was to tell the Arabs to stop drinking, they would have never stopped drinking.” The hadith went on to mention the act of fornication in that context as well. The whole point is that we cannot expect results in a day; rather, we need to be patient and persistent in the youth work we are involved in. Do not ask a sixteen-year-old Muslim youth to stop listening to Jay-Z or stop wearing tight jeans if he/she is not praying salah.
b. Three Types of Muslim Youth
As one of my teachers categorized it, generally the Muslim youth in the west fall into three categories:
1. “Religious Youth”
They are your MSA going, weekend seminar attending, shaykh so-and-so rocks, etc type of brothers/sisters (You know who you are). They are keen on gaining knowledge, want to go study overseas, and attend college/high school at the same time. They’re active in da’wah and are recognized in their communities. They teach sunday school and conduct the weekly halaqas in their masjid, and truly care about their communities. They are the rising leaders of the Muslim youth.
The brothers and sisters in this category may have issues of their own relating to family, community, school, etc, but they are motivated to continue working in the path of Allah no matter what. They use their situations to relate to youth who are looking for guidance. For the most part this category is pretty much self-explanatory.
2. “Middle-Men Youth”
a. Be their Friend
THESE are the youth the religious crew need to focus on! Who are they? They come to the masjid for Jumu’ah, come to the Friday night youth group, Islamic events, etc. At the same time they may listen to Lady Gaga, could find some better friends to hang out with, and may even let a few curse words fly here and there while they are with their friends. They have a relationship with the religious youth and with the third category (who will be talking about next), the non-religious youth. The religious youth need to understand that THESE are the people who they need to work with and build a rock-solid relationship with! They are the most effective route towards getting across to the non-religious Muslim youth. How?
Be a brother, not a scholar!
Instead of being du’aat, ameers, ameerahs, MSA presidents, and coordinators, learn to be good friends with the middle-men youth. Take them out to eat randomly and buy them a slice of pizza, take them to the mall if they need a ride, etc. Simply, be really chill with them. That’s the first thing before anything. As John Maxwell says, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
b. Conduct Relevant Activities
Do not focus on many lecture/knowledge type events for them. The weekly halaqa should be their main Islamic discourse for self-development. These halaqas need to be lots of fun and attention catching. Make sure there are moments in which you have the guys (and/or girls) on the edge of their feet, at times be laughing with them, and at times be really emotional with them. This will stir their emotions to make them think about their true purpose. At the same time, stay 1000 miles away from presenting overly academic material in halaqas in which the middle-men youth are present. Sorry, but Usool al-Fiqh, Uloom al-Qur’an, and Deviant Sects won’t work here. Please impart your Deen Intensive and IlmSummit notes somewhere else.
Make sure there are lots of halal activities available for them. The middle-men youth have interests and hobbies as anyone else would. As a “religious youth”, you need to find out what they are. For example, the youth I was working with were into basketball, skiing, fencing, bowling, and the like. A few months back we went bowling. After wards, we went to playing basketball after Fajr every Sunday, football before the halaqa on Fridays, etc. Basketball tournaments were a big turn on for our community’s youth; then again, as one of the aspiring leaders of the youth you would know what activities your community’s youth are into.
c. Be Up-to-Date
Another thing which is important is to be up to date with sports, movies, and music which is popular amongst youth. If you try to relate to them through Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (best movie ever :) and the youth you are speaking with are 13 years-old, then perhaps you should read up a little bit more on today’s media. I am not saying to go out of your way to watch or not watch Social Network or Inception or listen to the latest song by Rihanna or Drake, but at least do research and find out whose tracks are topping the charts, which movie is currently a hit in the theaters, and what is the latest sports drama, etc. If you’re not up to date with pop-culture and live in a cave, then it is time to enter the real world and feel the sunlight. Once again, I am not saying to be or not be a movie buff, just know what everyone is talking about around you.
3. “Not-So-Islamic Youth”
These youth have a bit of a long road ahead of them. They may not come to the masjid except on Fridays when their parents bring them. They also may not be involved with the masjid, MSA, or even pray regularly. They have girlfriends/boyfriends, do drugs/alcohol, and also do not hang out with a healthy group of friends. The middle-men youth are really the only group to have a grip on these guys. They are the ones who can bring the “not-so-Islamic youth” towards the masjid and/or activities planned by the religious youth. Of course the religious youth can have an effect on the non-religious youth directly, but it is the mildy-religious youth who may have a greater chance at convincing the “not-so-Islamic youth” through indirect means to come to the masjid.
“But They Still Don’t Listen!”
Even after we may put in our effort, we need to understand that guidance is solely in the hands of Allah. At the same time it is never a black/white situation when working with the Muslim youth. We can only do so much as to ask Allah to put in us the ability to direct our youth towards the right path. Please do keep in mind that this is a process which takes months and years and not hours and days to implement in the community. But inshaAllah if we are steadfast, the fruits of this type of work may sprout in front of you or perhaps when you are gone; you never know!
In conclusion, remember the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) in which he said, “To guide one person towards Islam is better then the world and all that it contains.” We are working with youth for Allah’s sake, no matter if our efforts reaped benefit in front of us or not. This hadith should be our motivation to do what we do.