By: Zaheer Abbas Karim, Toronto Canada

“…This day have I perfected for you, your religion, and have completed my Favor on you, and chosen for you ISLAM (to be) the Religion…” (V: III)

The above verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw) upon the declaration of Imam Ali (as) as the leader of the Muslims after him. The Holy Qur’an was the final revelation and with the event of Ghadir-e-Khum, Allah (swt) declared His religion to be perfect. In the past 1420 years, Islam has spread to all the corners of the world. Wherever it spread, it created a moral and spiritual revolution in the people and among the people. Islam remained the same, however, it is the people who changed. Likewise, in Europe and North America, we must strive to reform and better ourselves, rather than attempting to ‘modernize‘ Islam. It is a common belief in the West that Muslim youths must adopt the North American/European lifestyle in order to fit into the western fabric. This usually comes at the expense of Islamic and cultural values. In East Africa, it is commonly believed that all that which comes from the West is good and that Muslims in the West are more ‘religious’ because they are in a tougher position to keep up the religion. On a recent trip to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania for my engagement, I had the opportunity to explore some generalizations in our community such as the above. Having lived in Nairobi, Kenya for the first 11(eleven) years of my life, and then in Toronto, Canada for the next 11(eleven) years, I had a chance to approach youth issues from a unique perspective. From my observations, it seems that we have an inferiority complex when we compare ourselves to Westerners and a superiority complex when we compare ourselves to the local Africans. This is not healthy, as dedication to Islam and the level of taqwa (religious rulings) are the only criterion to attain greater status, not nationality, skin color, language, or standard of living. In North America and Europe, infidelity is all around us. Youths must be properly equipped to face the challenges in the universities, colleges and in the workplace. Very often, youths are not ready to face the challenges when they are tested. In addition, youths need to learn to value language and cultural heritage, not shun it like it was something out of the dark. The notion of ‘generation gap’ is very conveniently blamed to be the cause of all problems. In East Africa, currently the main challenge is to safeguard religious and cultural traditions in the face of western influence. Computers and the Internet are now a household phenomenon in East Africa. Although there are many advantages to such technological advancements, parents and elders of the community must fully be aware of the vices of Internet and ICQ. Instead of watching TV for endless hours, parents should sit with their children and gain knowledge from the resources on the Internet. Much work needs to be done in both East Africa and the West. The issues are slightly different but the challenges and the solutions are similar. Some of the aspects of youth development that I feel we need to address are the following:

1. We need to explicitly instill the love for Ahlul-bayt (as) in all our youths. This love will keep them away from sin because when you love somebody you do not want to hurt them in any way.

2. Youths must have a clear identity as Shia Muslims. We must be proud to spread the word of Islam. Youths need to have a radiant conviction/certainty (yakeen) about our religion. They must be able to prove through Holy Qur’an and Hadith that Islam is the one and only religion and path to salvation.

3. Youths need to have a very tangible and definitive purpose in life. Many of us do realize this, and thus strive to become lawyers, or dentists or doctors or successful businessmen. These things are useful, but they must be part of the grand goal in life to serve the religion of Allah (swt) and to seek His pleasure only. Without the ultimate goal in mind and in practice, we will only be limited to the temporary commercial material world.

4. We need to intellectually develop our youths. Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), we do a good job when it comes to organizing sports events, fairs, banquets, retreats, etc., but how often do we hear of a youth session with an Alim (Muslim Scholar)? We need more debates, more seminars, more lectures, and more education. It is rather disappointing to hear that some Madrassahs (schools) in East Africa are reducing classes or opting to have classes only once or twice a week, when there are ample resources to hold multiple classes in a week.

5. Youths need to develop a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for the great scholars of our time, i.e. Marja’ Taqleed and the Ulema. These personalities should be our role models as they are our guides towards the path of Allah (swt).

6. Adults must set examples and not act as contradictions for the youths. Why do so many adults sit outside our centers when dua(petition prayer) or majaalis (meetings) are going on? Why do so many adults prefer a nick name over their given Islamic name? Why are so many men beard-less and women hijab-less? The consequences of one’s actions must always be kept in mind, especially in an Islamic atmosphere where Amr-bil-Maroof (encouraging good) and Nahi-anil-Munkar (forbidding evil) are so crucial.

7. We need less mixed gatherings. Why do some adults and youths insist on having all events for both men and women? Successful gatherings can indeed be achieved with men/boys only or women/girls only. We have to look no further than the last winter’s ski trip led by Br. Hasnain Rajabali in the USA, or the recent sisters camp led by Sr. Hajar Machado in Toronto. Mixed gatherings ought to occur only where absolutely necessary, and where all participants observe full Islamic Hijab.

8. Upper and middle class families need to fund/sponsor the higher education of our youths (particularly in East Africa). By providing scholarships, we invest in the future of the Shia community. There are very limited scholarships available at the moment and there is an enormous demand for more. A successful community is a knowledgeable community with professionals in all fields, thus professional development of youths through funding of education should be one of our priorities.

9. Youths need to be encouraged to choose the path of marriage at a younger age. Also, parents should accept the fact that the young couples still require their financial support while they complete their studies.

The above are few of the most important issues to be addressed. Granted, some of the above are easier to accomplish in East Africa, where we have an abundance of religious programs, more frequent Madrassah, regular programs at the cemetery (kabrastan), and smaller cities for easier accessibility to services. However, we can have all these facilities and more if we really wanted them in the West. For instance, Toronto has about ten different Shia centers, four weekly Madrassahs, Juma prayers in all corners of the city, regular wafat/khushali programs, etc. We are blessed to be a very resourceful community, however the greater task it to gear the resources in the proper way feesabilliah (way of Allah). Therefore, significant changes need to occur in both East Africa and in the West for the moral and spiritual development of our youths. We must learn to properly live an Islamic life, according to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Ahlul-bayt (as). The opportunities for progress are endless. It is time to take advantage of them and prepare for the coming of the Imam of our Time (as).

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