By Yahiya Emerick
It seems that the most interesting topic of discussion amongst Muslims these days is the education of their children. Hardly a meeting of Muslims passes without some reference to the declining hopes we have for their spiritual and moral development. Many of us are well aware of the types of pressure this society and its culture exerts on our youth, but how many of us realize what the Muslim youth themselves are concerned about?
It may be that Muslim parents are faced with a double adversary in their struggle to keep their children on the straight and narrow. In addition to a fight with crass materialism, Muslim parents are also facing a ferocious generation gap as well.
Many years ago I was asked to be a volunteer teacher in the local Masjid’s Sunday school program. At first, (and at second) I declined the offer but was eventually corralled into the system by a very dedicated and persuasive brother. I was, understandably, very apprehensive for I didn’t think I could feel comfortable with teenagers, (I was, after all, not much removed from their age group to begin with,) but Allah blessed me with the stubborn determination to at least give things a good effort, so, with no prior experience in teaching, in I went.
Now I may have technically been the one giving the instruction, but I began to feel early on that they were giving far more to me than I was to them. The youth opened up to me and told me what they really felt, what they really wanted, as well as what they consider to be the most pressing problems facing their age group. Many Muslim parents would be shocked at what their children are thinking!
They may even seek to deny that any cause for complaint is valid. But that is up to Allah to judge. I only wish to let you know how your sons and daughters are interpreting the world around them. Lest you think what I am about to say is from an isolated group of youth, I also have worked with youth groups cutting along ethnic and economic lines in a variety of places. So brace yourselves for what is to come.
The most frequently voiced complaint I have heard from the youth is that they feel their parents are trying to impose an alien and foreign culture on their American born and raised children. The youth say that they have to act in an unnatural and artificial way when they are at home, and that it is only when they are away from their parents that they are in the “real world.” There was one girl in my class who lamented that her parents were accusing her of becoming a “Christian” because she couldn’t read Urdu. It was encouraging for me, however, when she herself said that Islam is not about what language one speaks, but about belief in Allah.
On the extreme side, I know of one boy’s parents who kept him a virtual prisoner in their home to keep him from picking up features of American culture. This has nothing to do with Islam, it’s not even good parenting. But the love and commitment some people have for their own national culture is stronger than their love and commitment to Allah and their children’s welfare. Understandably, this boy told me he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to leave them. How many are the Muslim families that are plagued by a conflict over culture!
During one of my final classes that spring, I asked the students if they noticed some discrepancies between the pure Islam they were learning and the behavior of Muslims around them. My point was merely to try and explain why Muslims were in a state of disarray by leaving Allah’s path, but I was instantly overwhelmed by tales of parents failing to practice what they preached.
The complaint of the youth here was that mom and dad demanded a higher standard from their children than they were willing to follow themselves. One girl lamented that her mother forbade her from listening to American music but then listened to Pakistani music herself with abandon. Allah said, “O you who believe! why do you say what you don’t do? It is hateful in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not.” (61:2-3)
There is no doubt in my mind that the Western educational system is a sham. It produces functional workers like replacement parts, but fails to nurture students into competent, thoughtful beings. Which leads me to a third major issue that the youth dwell upon, and that is that parents expect their children to be top achievers and good believers, while only encouraging them in the first half of that formula. To illustrate: One day one of the boys was bragging about his academic prowess in school, which was considerable. But when I had the chance to meet his father, he had nothing but negatives to say about his son’s behavioral problems. His boy had no sense of Islamic manners even though he was as smart as a three-piece suit. The public school system does not lead a person to have faith in his or her Creator, it just churns out batches of spiritually neutral graduates like so many cookies on a baking sheet. Only a full-time, well-organized Islamic school has a chance at delivering the best of both worlds.
To further elucidate, I once knew a young senior in high school who had enough Eman and Taqwa to power the whole Muslim Ummah. He was such a powerhouse of sincerity that I felt lightheaded around him. He told me he wanted to study to be an Imam and his only goal was to be an Islamic scholar. This young man was born and raised in America and he loved Islam to his very core! Guess what? His parents crushed his dream and forced him to enter dental school. They told him he wouldn’t make any money being a scholar and that they would only pay for education they deemed financially profitable. Their real motivations became self-evident: the world comes first, the next life can wait. (Last time I heard, America was in short supply of Islamic scholars and that the job market was good for this type of calling.)
Perhaps the most contentious issue raised by youth all over the country is the one involving marriage. Whole books could be written on just what I’ve been told and shown by Muslim youth. I’m telling you, but still most Muslim parents will probably remain heedless: as long as your child’s spouse is a Muslim, you had better let them marry whoever they want, regardless of race, ethnic group or profession. The worst nightmare expounded by every teenager and college age student I’ve met is that their parents are going to marry them off to some semi-literate, culturally backward person who just came from “the village” back home.
The youth know the saying of the Blessed Prophet when he advised that the most important consideration in choosing a mate is Taqwa (awareness of Allah) and if you put that aside in favor of ethnic and financial preferences, you could be marrying your child to someone who is Muslim in name only and who will kill Islam in your future family tree.
Of course my young friends griped about many other things, but those were of the type that parents everywhere are “guilty” of, such as not giving enough weekly allowance or allowing enough freedom. That’s a normal part of the parent-child relationship. But what I mentioned in the preceding is neither a normal nor healthy situation for young people, especially Muslims, to find themselves facing. Such issues tend to make fresh minds cynical and tired. It’s the greatest threat to the survival of the next few Muslim generations here.
I’m not going to offer any ways or solutions to rectify the feelings of our youth in this article. Consider me a conduit from which you get information about the “other side” which you may use in your deliberations. One thing I can say, again from personal experience, is that as long as the Masajid of this nation remain antagonistic to youth and are not user-friendly, their will be little to no progress in our efforts to pass Islam to our second and third generations. Ponder well and may Allah bring forgiveness and healing between the generations. Ameen.
“O you who believe! save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is human beings and the stones (of false idols and objects of devotion)!” (66:6)