By Hanan Seid
Community; noun; a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Being a community is hard. It takes effort. Being a community that gets everyone involved; black, white, women, men, youth, elderly – is even harder. The one group of people masajid are losing at a very fast rate are the youth.
“Do you think if the older generation was to leave the masjid that the youth could take over?” my uncle asked me the other week. I realized no we couldn’t; we are losing the youth to mainstream American media. Our Christian partners have lost their youth by not catering to them. Everywhere churches are being transformed into masajid because the youth weren’t interested in continuing. If we don’t see this as a wakeup call then masajid too may be transformed into something else. Our youth are our past, present and future leaders; if we neglect them in the present how do we expect to have them in the future.
If you, the reader, are interested in taking that step of incorporating the youth into the masajid, this is a 10 Step Process recommended by the Muslim Youth Ministry founder, Mohammed Kibriya.
1. Make the effort to know them
How many times have you asked that little boy in the corner that screams a lot during Jummah prayer what his name was? Actually made the effort to make him feel connected with you and with community around him.
Don’t force youth to be the outsiders you see them as, rather allow them to mesh with the community around them. In the definition of community the word fellowship was used. A fellowship is giving an open space where people of different minds can come together and help advance society— not to be shushed in the corner. Our Prophet once sat with a boy whose bird had died. He took the time to be there for everyone in his community.
2. Understand their culture
Every generation has a culture of it’s own. What moves the youth in your community; is it the hip-hop movement. Is tie-dye shirts or Polo; is it Tupac or Future. Get to know the culture that your youth come from. Learn their language. Understand the struggle and culture of being an American Muslim. The Prophet connected with so many people of all ages by knowing the culture they came from.
3. Pinpoint issues in your community
From understanding the youth and their culture you have the opportunity to understand the issues that surround them. What do your youth struggle with? Drugs? Sex? Bullying? Racism? Islamophobia? Whatever it may be, by getting to know them and understanding their culture you have opened up the door to knowing their personal issues. Many youth won’t just open up but this way you have given them leeway to do so.
4. Stay consistent
This is going to be a full time job that doesn’t pay. Before you delve more into this mission, be sure you yourself are consistent. Be sure that your heart is connected to the masjid. Be sure that you are willing to stay and be there for the youth even when it’s hard. Even if there are rumormongers trying to ruin the good work and your reputation, remind yourself you’re doing this for the sake of Allah and no one else. Always renew your intention.
5. Find their talents
Through getting to know more about your community’s youth, try and dissect what they are good at. Your community is probably drenched in artists, poets, innovators, leaders, speakers, and much more. Find those talents and find a way to incorporate them into your community.
6. Give them responsibilities
Now that you know the talents of the youth in your community begin to utilize them. Need a wall painted? Use an artist; Need a performer? Grab a poet. Need a khateeb? Grab a speaker. Need a flier for your next event? Ask a tech designer. Need a vision? You’ll find a creative mind; Use their talents and incorporate them into the Masjid community. Make them feel responsible, trusted and important.
7. Build programs
Many masajid have programs that stick to the mentality of the elders. Bring your programs back to life by simply making it apply to the youth. Have a suggestion box where the youth tell you what they want to hear instead of having programs that they are not interested in. Instead of you wondering why none of the youth showed up bring the youth what they want to hear.
8. Do not lecture
We all make mistakes, we all live different paths. The youth aren’t always looking for advice but just someone to speak to. So listen without judgment. When the youth are able to talk to you this is a badge of trust; treat it with caution, kindness and respect. Don’t turn every moment into a lecturing opportunity but a teaching moment. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak,” said the philosopher Epictetus.
9. You need a Youth Director
Take this position seriously. There should be one person who is responsible for all youth programs and a counselor to them. In every major masjid, there is an Imam and a resident scholar. There needs to be a youth director it’s essential to building the community. Remind the board members how important this is. Work with them.
10. Dedicate a youth section in the masjid
What makes a community? Another definition to community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” In order for your youth to thrive in your community they need to have a space in which they are represented. Build a youth department; if you don’t have, then budget for one; brighten up the darkest part in the masjid— the basement for example— and let that be the space. Have youth department staff and volunteers. If you are reading this in hopes of implementing these ten steps in your community—remember you can’t do this alone. Behind every movement, behind greatness there is an army of volunteers and people willing to help; so take it.
For more ideas on building your youth consult with MYM @muslimyouthministry.org