The Whitechapel and Poplar areas of East London have a large Muslim population, one of the largest Mosques in the UK, many Muslim businesses and a distinct atmosphere. Walking down the road, you can come across brothers and sisters going to the many local Islamic institutes in their jilbabs and thowbs to study tajweed, fiqh, Arabic and other Islamic sciences or going on convoys to deliver aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Some days ago, this image was shattered with a piece of news that Ajmol Alom, a 16-year-old Muslim boy in that area was stabbed on a housing estate. Apparently, he was not part of a gang but seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time where some local youth gangs had a fight, someone pulled out a knife and he was stabbed. A 19-year-old Muslim boy has been charged with the stabbing. How must the parents feel? How did we get here?
I spoke to a friend who is an Islamic activist in the area. He talked of how youth who were previously, in gangs but had now become reformed and practising Muslims are trying to reach their former gang members to get them to change their ways – but it is a tough task.
To see the extent of the challenges facing Muslim youth in the West, I asked a range of people what challenges the youth face and here is a snapshot of their sometimes depressing answers.
• A life of crime and gangsterism, attachment to money and fame. Peer pressure, daily indoctrination of liberal values via education system, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, gang related violence, the list is endless.
• Identity issues – worry about how/what they are perceived as.
• The thing most brothers find hard in the west is the fitan of nisaa (temptation by women) and the hardships of getting married. Also the fact that families are sucked into the western life and way and the youth try to practise (Islam)”.
• Parents panic when their children go astray, instead of teaching them about Islam they refer back to cultural (Asian, Arab, African…) expectations; which often make things worse.
• Single parents, lack of a father figure.
• Lack of guidance /leadership from ulema (scholars).
• Trying to navigate through the hyper sexualized culture of the west and not being affected by the concept of narcissism where the utmost importance is giving to ‘the self’.
• It is so easy to do haram and it is challenging to do what is halal. It is like trying to swim against the tide of the western society and culture.
• Identity Crisis – Media proclaiming that Muslims are extremists and youth lack confidence in Islam so some become ashamed to practice Islam.
• A genuine challenge for many boys is that the families expect greatness in the dunya, but also greatness in Deen, which appear to contradict for the youth. His peers choose dunya and he cannot choose Deen as he will be an outcast, but his parents don’t understand his struggle. So who can he turn to? He has few role models.
• After working with a few youth groups I can say one of the greatest challenges is the absolute pressure that comes from wanting to feel pleasure all the time. Because society floods all our senses with pleasure all the time, finding avenues to be able to even open a discussion is extremely difficult. The mouth is flooded with sensations of sweetness until it no longer tastes fruit, the ears are flooded with sensations of music until they cannot hear words of wisdom, the eyes become accustomed to sitcoms and movies until they can no longer perceive the realities of life.
Being able to open avenues of communication with the Muslim youth is by far the greatest challenge we face, because when you can no longer even reach their thinking, we cannot do anything for them.
What are we the Islamic groups, Mosques, youth groups and others in our community doing to aid our youth? Masha’Allah, many are trying several initiatives on many fronts but it is little compared to the extent of the problem our youth are facing living in a Western society where we are constantly bombarded with secular liberal ideals, values and practices that contradict our our Deen. We need to step up our efforts to save our youth as Allah سبحانه وتعالى ordered. Otherwise, in a decade’s time, people who are youth today may end up as Muslims who will have a nominal relationship with their Lord, Allah سبحانه وتعالى – as do most Westerners.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ
“O Believers, save yourselves and your family from the Hellfire whose fuel is men and stones”
Media Representative of Hizb ut Tahrir in Britain