By Imam Ahmad Hamid
The Caribbean-American Muslim Association (CAMA) is taking a bold and calculated step to cater to the needs of young Muslims in NYC. The initial step assumes the format of a Youth Conference on January 6, 2018 starting at 8:00 a.m. at Al Ihsan Academy, 130-08 Rockaway Boulevard, Queens, New York.
This is the first official attempt to get younger Muslims from the different Masjids organized. This conference is being managed by youths with ample support from the leaders of Masjids and organizations.
Any youth conference must convey a direct message to the youths and immediately seek to utilize their knowledge, skills, and expertise towards the development of the society. The atmosphere in the Caribbean society demands that the younger Muslims become formally organized into a structure, be delegated responsibilities, and start functioning as future leaders. It is useless if we educate and train youths and then do not assimilate them into the administrative and managerial structure of the community.
Religious leaders, and every institution dealing with youths, have arrived at similar conclusions. The changes in the society are so intense, rapid, and shocking that it has become extremely difficult to effectively deal with youth related issues. These issues are legion and appear everywhere: home, school, streets, organizations, and places of worship. Government has budgeted millions, institutions have been founded, and experts have been hired to deal with youth problems. These problems have been categorized: single parent household, drug/alcohol abuse, violence in schools, sexual activity, peer pressure, obesity, and materialism. It is a grave fallacy to think that young Muslims are not affected by the issues. What mechanism is in place in the Caribbean community to handle depression, broken marriages, drug addiction, or domestic violence?
American parents sometimes find it difficult to visualize the world of their children. Parents cannot impose on their children for circumstances may dictate otherwise. In a home there will be probably a clash of cultures; poor communication; confusion with regard to morals, values, false beliefs; observing Islamic events, e.g., fasting in Ramadan.
Child rearing issues can very frightening. Parents become desperate and feel hopeless when they encounter problems with their children. Listen to this advice: “If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.”
For over forty years ago, despite the limitations, Caribbean Muslims have been making efforts to formally establish Islam in NYC and have been building Masjids and founding organizations. They now own real estate property to the tune of about US$30 million. They must be complemented. They did their best to ensure their children retain their Muslim identity, but now they have to focus on the building of men and women.
About eighty years ago, grave concerns were expressed about the future of young Muslims in Guyana. “It is glaringly patent that Muslims all over the Colony are not in dire need of anything else than they are of Islamic education which is a moral and religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim… regrettable though it is, one cannot but confess, that they are Muslims simply because they are born of Muslim parents…Is it Islamic to leave them thus and allow them to grow up in increasing numbers in colossal ignorance of Islam? If such a state continues can we imagine what the fate of their children and grandchildren would be? (ISLAM, July-August- September 1940) We have seen the truth of this statement in Guyana during the 1970s and 1980s.
Caribbean Muslims struggled to establish themselves in NYC. We are not an affluent community though very generous and have contributed to crises in all the communities, e.g., sending barrels to overseas and performing Qurbani in Bangladesh. Because of our history and culture, we have been relegated to the last rung of the social ladder in the Muslim community. We cannot depend on Muslims from other countries to cater to the needs of our youths. The cultural differences and social stratification will work against them, and they will soon be lost. Now is the time to develop a structure with cooperation from every Masjid and organization to cater to the needs of young Muslims.
It is highly commendable that parents have made sacrifices to ensure their children receive a good education, e.g., BA, MA, and PhD. We did not come here because of a denial of religious freedom. We came here for economic prosperity; therefore, we cannot neglect our religious obligations to our children.
Affording a basic Islamic education entails the inculcation of Islamic values and morals which reflect their character and their perception of life as Muslims. We cannot expect that young Muslims who did not acquire a basic Islamic education adjust easily to the teachings of Islam after fourteen or eighteen or twenty years’ exposure to academic education which imposes its own brand of values, morals, and distinct view of what is Halaal (permissible) and Haram (impermissible). The parents are responsible and they would be held accountable to offer their children a balance education (Islamic and academic). The leaders of Masjids and organizations have a complementary role. They are responsible and shall be held accountable in this world and the next to create an environment conducive to the acquisition of a basic Islamic education.
The acquisition of a religious education by young men and women is a not a problem encountered by Muslims only. Every religious denomination faces this problem. Continuous decrease of congregants has forced certain denominations to sell their places of worship, and Muslims have been buying. The possibility exists that if we do not take care of the young people, we may suffer the same fate.
Take a look at the age group that manages our affairs. They have built Masjids and founded organizations, and are anxiously looking over their shoulders for suitable replacements. They, like the Muslims of the 1940s, show great anxiety when discussing the conditions of young Muslims and their visible attachment to Islam. Masjid leaders have concluded unanimously that now is the time to look for those replacements that will be oriented to slip in smoothly as the leaders.
These young men and women are often more qualified than their parents with higher incomes, are professionals and hold executive positions. They are teachers, CPAs, doctors, engineers, and businessmen. Their achievements and social status will not mean anything if they are not allowed to play a role in the lives of Muslims. They must be organized and put to work so that the community can benefit from their knowledge and expertise.
The conference will involve youths from about ten organizations in a single day of compact activities: breakfast, lunch, dinner, short presentations, panel discussion, and debate, with emphasis on the achievements of youths. In the words of the youths involved: “Join us as we embark on a mission to empower our youths …create a vibrant network of resources and communication among Muslim youths…Dawah is an integral aspect of the development of the Muslim community as a whole and even more importantly a key aspect in the strengthening of the faith and dedication of a person’s heart to Islam…”
This conference will allow young Muslims to recognize one another, interact, and develop a bond that will enable them to execute plans in the interest of the community. The sisters who shall act as leaders will bear a heavier and more complex burden. They will be attending to women who have been neglected. But as women, they are a source of power and the catalyst that will make things happen in any organization/Masjid. The youths are future of the Caribbean community. Young Muslims have all the assets to absorb what we have to offer. Islam demands that all leaders support the youths in all respect. They are the architects of the future of generations yet to come.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.