The Muslim Youth in America: Problems and Solutions
by Maha Ezzeddine
Entrusted to generation after generation, the banner now lies in dusty battlefields, neglected and enshrouded with dust, guarded by only a few enduring soldiers. The once numerous trustees of the banner have struggled in countless battles against ignorance, corruption, and greed. The banner of which they are guardians flutters slightly, a witness to the masses who fled from its side to cower in but a temporary refuge in the life of this world. Now, it is supported by a few exhausted hands and is protected by a mere handful.
Brothers and sisters, this banner is Islam, and we, the youth, are the next soldiers. In but a short time, Islam will be passed into our hands to protect, to preserve, and to fight for with the help of Allah. The banner of Islam glows with its light and sheds hope to the oppressed of this world. It is time for Islam to be carried throughout the world, into the remote corners of South America, through the narrow streets of Pakistan, through the war stricken villages of Bosnia, and into the frenzied bustle of New York, Chicago, and Washington. Yet, will we be worthy of such an honored trust? Are our ranks so firm with faith that the lofty banner will strike fear into the hearts of the army of Shaytaan? Or will we shrink from it and throw Islam aside at the first hint of difficulty? We must awaken to our impending responsibility and repair our gaping weaknesses so that our triumphant banner can be raised to new heights.
I can take up my pen to extol the accomplishments of the Muslim youth in America in the past two decades, comparing an almost undisturbed silence for many generations to a sudden burst of Islamic awareness. With as much ease, I can mourn our profound flows and gaze into the contorted future of Islam. The wisest road to take, however, is to adopt a middle route, neither contentment with our present situation nor hopelessness at our future. Through determination and much effort, we can conquer our weaknesses, with the help of Allah, and succeed.
Living in North America, we are assaulted from all sides by pitfalls and snares of this life. Numerous diseases seek to infect the beauty of walking on the straight path. We have been warned strongly against the vices of drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, and television. These problems are acknowledged by us all and every Muslim youth is aware of the countless temptations and difficulties he or she is forced to face every day. Yet, despite our awareness and preventive steps, there are no prominent attainments. Even though we are fully informed by the Qur'an and Sunnah of the thorns of this life, we still become entangled. In order to be the fortified wall that will protect ourselves from the furious waves of a disbelieving society, we must have a strong Islamic foundation and faith as enduring as stone. Perhaps, then, we should try a new approach and begin with the weaknesses that are birthed inside us.
The most conspicuous shortcoming I find in myself and others is a drastic scarcity of knowledge. We hope to be the guardians of a most noble religion, yet we know so little of it. We appeal to others to embrace it through our Da'wah, yet little do we realize that we have not truly embraced it ourselves. At our finger tips lies a wealth of invaluable books and resources, such that is withheld from Muslims of some countries, yet we hesitate. Through knowledge of our religion, we can become spokesmen, rather than mere shadows of Islam. Knowledge should be the requirements from which we select the leaders of our youth. Instead, we have mistakenly adopted the western standards with which to select our leaders, such as persuasiveness, charisma, and leadership. Though these are of benefit to any leader, the leaders of our youth require more than what worldly affairs require, and knowledge is surely a foremost determinant. Some of us have the zeal, the ability, and the will power to become new leaders in the light of Islam. However, our lack of Islamic knowledge sometimes impairs us and is as debilitating to our abilities as is the loss of sight.
I appeal, then, to myself and the thousands of American youth who truly posses a desire to serve Islam, to establish in ourselves a harmonious combination of wisdom, knowledge, and ambition. How many of us read not only the Qur'an everyday, but also strive to understand it? Have any of us taken time out to memorize a few hadith and surahs? We must turn to the pages of our books and the Halaqahs of our scholars and learned ones so that we appreciate and realize the blessing of the gift of knowledge.
A second problem that threatens our Ummah so dangerously is our lack of piety. When we read the accounts of the Sahabah we should be moved to tears as we see the gaping fissure that lies between ourselves and them! How often do we find someone willing to give even a quarter of his or her savings for the sake of Allah as the companions so often did? Muslim dwellings often lay dark and silent throughout the night, rarely stirred by a fervent prayer. We tend to forget Allah as we step out of the gate of our Masjid and do not remember Him until our next prayer. How many of us, when we are sitting at a bus stop or taking notes in a classroom, actually whisper a few words of Dhikr? Surely the effort is trivial when we remember the reward!
Our purity of intention and piety also lay vulnerable to the insidious workings of pride. A watchful eye must be ever on the lookout inside ourselves for prayers best composed when in a congregation, money that is only given to charity in front of others, and a code of dress that is only observed in front of Muslims, for these are bold signs of an insincere heart.
Another predator that lies await for us in western society is that of affluence and self-indulgence. In the schools we are taught that we are "special" individuals. We become tricked into thinking that we are deserving of privileged rights and kingly treatment. We convince our parents to spend excessive amounts of money so that we can remain in fashion. We take money as something that originates from our own selves, and not as blessing endowed by Allah. Our free time becomes devoted to the pursuit of our own delight and pleasure, not realizing that this time is a gift. When we attend lectures and Halaqahs, we worry whether it will be interesting to our innovative minds or whether there will be any sports or refreshments. This egotism must stop. We must realize what lowly and humble creatures we are in the sight of Allah without our faith and love of Him. We could be cast out of our homes and be inflected by destitution were it not for His mercy.
The final problem I will relate is the matter of priority. Our neglect, lack of knowledge, and occupation with this world can be accredited to giving Islam a second place in our lives. It is easy to be caught up in this world; distracted by college decisions, school activities, sports, and scores. For those of us who attend Sunday school or other classes, why do we not pay as much attention to these matters as we do to those of public school or college? The youth should grant Islam the right of priority in all matters of their life. Our close friends should be chosen for their character, the Qur'an should be given its rightful part in our day, the Masjid should be attended more often than the basketball court, and our thrill and pleasure should be found in working for Allah rather than in the odious company of a television. Only when we give our undivided attention to become the servants of Allah and His religion, will the brilliance of Islam be recognized.
By repairing these internal cracks that weaken our Islamic resistance, we can resist the challenges American society hurls at us. By mending these weaknesses, we can become the capable reinforcements sent by Allah to lift the banner of Islam from under trampling feet and raise it in victory.
When we compare the youth of Islam to the youth of other peoples, we are pleased with what Islam has done to us. It has purified us from the majority of the both physical and mental poisons of this life. Alhamdulillah, we are not faced with the problems of murder or crimes among ourselves. Among us we have those who have surpassed American society's role models in sincerity of character and have become role models ourselves. We are at the top of a tower of society in terms of commitment to morals, devotion to family, and close knit communities. It is very easy, brothers and sisters, to breathe a sigh of relief when we are appreciated by the non-Muslims of American society for our values. Yet, do we dare slight our modern role models for the dazzling challenge of taking the Sahaba as our examples? For if we do, we slip down from our lofty level in modern society to an infinitely more humble level in the sight of Allah. In the stillness and darkness of our depth, we have only the tattered, yet exalted, banner of Islam, and the pressure of Allah. And as we gaze at the expansive height that lies between ourselves and the scintillating stars of the companions, we wonder, who will be the first to take the banner and climb?
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