Who will inherit the Muslim community?
Have you ever been to a mosque or a conference and heard the speaker say that the hope for a better future lies with young people? Speakers and khateebs who wows the crowds tells captivating stories of `Abdullah ibn` Umar, Mu`adh ibn Jabal, Fatima bint Muhammad and A’ishah bint Abi Bakr. These great young people were able to take the words and the legacy of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and the message of the Quran and transform the world.
Over time, I have listened to uncles (and sometimes aunts who dared to say something) say that young people need to make a difference and help Islam grow and flourish here in North America. It seems to me that we are meant to make these magical leaps to success unprepared in the same way the youth of the Prophet’s age were prepared.
Consider the fact that the Sahabah youth did not have a âyouth groupâ per se, which worked on planning a conference or camp from time to time. Nor was the idea of ââtheir involvement simply relegated to stacking chairs and cleaning up the mosque after a community event.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) demonstrated his belief in their leadership potential by including them in his Shura, treating them as adults after the age of puberty. Therefore, we have had the growth and flourishing of a civilization of individuals unprecedented in the history of mankind. Their was not a civilization of buildings and structures, but a civilization of humanity and society, which was based on the higher virtues of human beings. These young people were well prepared to be leaders. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) guided them, showed them respect and took their opinions into consideration when doing his job.
Today, however, many of our elders and youth have subscribed to current societal definitions of youth. The term adolescent is a fairly recent phenomenon, created over the past hundred years and used primarily as a marketing tool. As Muslims we understand that we are children first, and after puberty we become adults. There is no in-between, no period when we are part a child and part an adult. Now more than ever, there is a need to rediscover our traditional understanding of youth and to remove societal norms, which we have mistakenly adopted in our mosques and institutions.
The potential of our young people should not be capped or limited to the âyouth groupâ. And I am by no means against youth groups – they have their place in the grand scheme of things. What I am talking about is what is known today as âsuccession planningâ and which was best illustrated by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Very often adults control all the work that is done, and so the expression of the work (from a youth perspective) has been limited to camps and conferences. To a large extent, then, we preached to converts.
Many of the young people involved are disillusioned and tired of trying to convince the elders of their views or ideas that are outside the norm; they are tired of being patronized and told they don’t know anything. Much of our focus on community growth and development has been on designing boards that do not include young people. There is no sense in training our youngest members to take ownership of these objectives and eventually to work to see them achieved. This has only served to distance our community further from the larger society around us.
In the current climate of fear and paranoia, it is important that mosques and other community organizations consider their viability. Success is not measured by the work we see happening when we are in control, but rather by continuing the work in our absence. Our uncles who run institutions must begin to train and attract young people, brothers and sisters, to get involved at the board level. They must be prepared to relinquish control and relinquish some of the reins of power while continuing to act as sources of guidance, wisdom and experience. Most importantly, we have to understand that we are here to worship Allah while doing His job. In this way, the work focuses on what needs to be done for Allah’s sake and not on who is doing it.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ensured that the mandate of Islam was promulgated after his death by developing, empowering and helping young people to understand its goals and mission. Muhammad did not work for himself but for Allah. Until our leaders do the same, we will continue to lose the best and brightest in our community as they are taken over by larger societal organizations that recognize their worth and worth. Worse, if we don’t think about it, we condemn our community organizations to possible failure, because when all the uncles realize their time is running out and they need help, no one will be there to offer. help. It will then be a question of responsibility towards Allah.
Including the voices of young people in community leadership is as essential as having the voices of experience and wisdom to guide us. The exclusion of young people, as well as the other extreme, young people who think they âknow it allâ, are both counterproductive to the needs of the Muslim community around the world.
* By Jeewan Chanicka