Young Muslims in America belong to the generation of Americans who are most severely challenged in society due to various conflicts that exist between the Islamic proposed way of life versus the one that is adopted by their peer group in schools and college. They do not want to feel alienated and left out by not participating in the activities that are considered norms in the society however are not permitted as per the Islamic values and guidelines.
Young Muslims struggle with social, cultural and religious factors that sometimes drive them toward the negative attitude that could interfere with their educational and social development. Identity crisis and problems in maintaining the Islamic beliefs are some of the challenges that Muslim Youth faces in an environment that is plagued with Islamophobia.
As Muslim youths get into adolescence, the conflicts between their religious beliefs and culture with the American society and their ways of life create confusion in their minds. Disrespecting parents, defiance and feeling disconnected from the way of life of their parents and family are some of the attributes of the negative behavior that is witnessed. Parents in return find this defiance as unacceptable and sometimes retaliate by applying more curbs that is further contrary to the American social norms. It becomes difficult for the parents to be supportive of the negative behavior and the teenage kids get further distanced from their parents.
When the Muslim youth engages with their classmates at school and the friends in the neighborhood, the peer pressure to participate in activities that conﬂict with their religious beliefs, such as drug and alcohol use, dating, urge to participate in the prom nights, school dance and premarital sex are some of the most prominent challenges encountered by the Muslim youth in the American society. Hence some Muslim youth in order to avoid feelings of isolation and alienation, join their Non-Muslim peers in activities that are not religiously sanctioned by Islam.
The sharp rise in the Islamophobia and the frequency of discrimination and stereotyping is another signiﬁcant challenge faced by the American Muslim youth these days. The negative image of Islam and Muslims created by the extremist organizations like AlQaeda and ISIS and the perceptions further facilitated by American politicians and media has infused doubts in the minds of young American Muslim teenagers. They feel shy and embarrassed in openly calling themselves Muslims as they fear being ridiculed by their colleagues and peers at school.
So how can the American Muslim community help their future generation in America to navigate through these difficult years of their teenage lives?
One of the most important element is for parents to maintain Islamic values and religious practices at home from the very beginning. Parents should not expect their kids to stick to their religious beliefs if they themselves have not followed and practiced the religion at home. Kids emulate their parents, as they grow into young adults, they will follow what they had seen their parents doing while they were growing up.
Also, parents need to continuously communicate with their kids and do not get raged by their teenage kid’s behavior. Try to understand what bothers their kids and how can they find a resolution for their challenges. It’s a struggle that demands patience and perseverance that every Muslim parent has to take up if they intend to raise their kids in America.
Local Mosques and Islamic schools in the community should organize programs that are tailored towards engaging the youth. We have seen that most of the time the mosques in the US are more focussed on lectures that are not very youth-oriented and does not involve a lot of youth engagement and feedback. Teenage kids do not benefit from these lectures even if their parents force them to join. Hence greater attention is needed in this area. Mosques need to focus on the contextualized religious education for youth to aid in their religious and spiritual development.
Young Muslim Hangout groups organized by ICNA through its Young Muslim (YM) chapters throughout the US are one of the best options for the parents to engage their youth in as soon as they hit their teens. These YM groups will provide an entertainment alternative for them which is within the boundaries of Islamic values, culture, and tradition.
Last but not least, American Muslim parents need to make sure that they never give up on their teenage kids. It’s a process that transforms day by day. Every day would be a new challenge and they need to deal it with patience and calmness. Do not put extreme curbs on your kids that they run away from it. Be considerate and moderate with them by ensuring that our religious values are sustained in them along with allowing them some liberty to freely exercise energies on some of the activities that teenage kids in America would normally get involved.