The Disenfranchisement of the Muslim Youth
This month’s article has been prompted by a number of debates that have taken place recently concerning the detachment of the Muslim youth across the UK from mainstream Muslim communities. Thus, one intends to critically examine the issues and challenges facing the Muslim diaspora with specific reference to the Muslim youth.
In subsequent months, we have been fortunate enough to discuss the many pressing issues that currently face the Muslim community but seldom do upcoming young Muslims receive any attention from our community leaders. To all intents and purposes the average Muslim youth is considered to be an afterthought rather than being seen as a pressing issue that deserves our undivided attention. This has been compounded by a number of factors that we shall examine in the remainder of this article.
In Muslim communities across the UK, North America and Europe, a person is designated youth status if he or she is between the ages of 18-30. If we directly compare this to the Asian Muslim community, we find that a youth is defined and characterized as being aged between 18-50. Many of our readers may raise an eyebrow at reading the above, but nevertheless we have to be brave enough to admit that some of us who are professionals have been rebuked in a stern manner in meetings held by Asian Muslim community organisations not due to interesting remarks or solutions being put forward for the benefit of the community but for not being old enough!.
It is as if somehow age transcends intelligence which goes as far as saying that our Asian Muslim communities have not evolved sufficiently despite being in Western Europe for just over 70 years. If we look at European organisations, one discovers that there is more transparency, accountability and most of all a true sense of professionalism that seeps into the very heart of the organisations apparatus. Young individuals are treated as equals and afforded respect and more importantly given a platform to air their views.
Asian Muslim organisations need to change their philosophy when dealing with the younger members of the community and not solely make cosmetic changes that provide the appearance that we are somehow accommodating the needs and requirements of the youth going forward. Failure to address these attitudes will result in an ever widening and burgeoning divide that in time will be near impossible to bridge.
It is on this note, one will go far as to say that the young Asian Muslim professional sector is expanding rapidly and finds itself in a unique position where it possesses the vision and philosophy to take the community to heights where the community leaders are not in a position to do so.
Many young Asian Muslims individuals whom I have regular conversations with constantly air feelings of deep discontent and sheer frustration going as far as saying that community leaders have marginalised them to the extent that they do not exist. Thus, it is high time that the community apparatchiks reached out to the young rather than expecting the latter to come to them. It is quite distressing to find that a significant minority of the youth feel disconnected from wider society seeking solace from the winds of change brought on by none other than globalisation.
Many a young person will argue that they are struggling to come to terms with being British, Asian and Muslim as they are expected to meet the requirements expected of the multi-identikit that very much forms the fabric of our society today. Furthermore, some of our very own young people have sought refuge in drink and drugs and underage sex but rather than deal with these pressing challenges and issues of the 21st century, we refuse to tackle and engage with the situation at hand and wave the vaunted taboo card in order to avoid being stigmatised or being labelled a mischief-maker at best.
Having discussed the current malaise that exists within the current young Asian Muslim community, we should take stock and evaluate as to what steps need to be taken in order to remedy this situation. The Asian Muslim community needs to develop an strategic framework whereby young Muslims who are at best disaffected for one reason or a multitude of issues are identified and support structures need to be put in place to provide encouragement and support.
Outreach services need to be incorporated into existing community organisations tasked with the sole aim of providing assistance on an ‘as and when’ basis. This type of provision is becoming all the more necessary as more and more of our young people are highly reluctant to come and open up to community elders and Asian Muslim organisations when they are facing pressing issues.
The credit crunch and the ensuing economic slowdown has left a generation of young people who have lost all hope and are highly pessimistic about their life chances.
A significant minority of those young people are an integral fabric of our society but there is little anecdotal evidence is available in the UK to show that the community is creating pathways to facilitate the Muslim youth to escape the cycle of unemployment which often brings with it a sense of despair and not to mention a raft of health problems that have the potential to affect whole families if not properly addressed.
Our communities are always looking for funding to deal with these problems but in reality you do not need cash in every instance to put things right. What is required is putting your arm round a young aspiring Muslim and making him feel loved and welcomed and giving them the respect that they very much deserve. After all these young Muslims will be inevitably be tomorrow’s leaders and it is in our interests that we prepare them for tomorrow now rather than leaving it someone else.
By Dr Abdul B Shaikh
Deputy Editor of PI Magazine