By Habib Quadri
The years 13-22 are probably the most fun, energetic, and stressful years of a person’s life. Yes it’s the time when an individual is full of energy, beauty, and vigor, but it is also a period in everyone’s life when they are finding themselves, choosing lifestyles, and career paths. In these years young adults are looking to belong and fit in. That’s where a Muslim Club comes in.
One of the hardest things when growing up for my friends and I was battling our dual identity. For me, at school I was an American and at home an Indian; throughout the day I was struggling to be a Muslim. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I found a medium of who I was and what role my American, Muslim, and Indian background played in the shaping of my identity. It was the Muslim youth groups in high school, college, the local mosque, and national organizations like MYNA and ISNA that aided me in this formation. Ideally, Muslim student organizations provide an anchor for Muslim youth for the daily challenges they undergo in maintaining their faith as well as a source of education for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Growing up, teenagers receive guidance from numerous sources, but peer guidance and influences outweigh all others. A child’s mother scolding him to pray will not have the same impact as a friend stopping a basketball game to fulfil his prayers. It is natural for teens to challenge their authorities and view them as “lame” or “outdated” people. It’s a common phase youth go through. That is why it is imperative to have student organizations that provide a sense of pride and ambition towards Islam for our youth. Youth bring an enthusiasm and flavor to the community that is unique and essential for our growth.
Although America is an amazing country with endless opportunities, it is also a society with many cultural practices that conflict with basic principles of the Islamic tradition. For example, alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, obscene and violent music, rebellion towards parents, and commercialism are all commonplace and acceptable in our society. Students need alternatives or outlets to deal with these pressures.
For example, if all the sophomore girls are going to the spring dance on Friday night, what alternative does a Muslim girl have? Is there a group of girls in her Muslim Club she knows are like herself refraining from it? Is there an alternative event? Or does she deal with this dilemma on her own without peer support? This doesn’t mean that the Muslim Club must plan a counter event to every school activity which may be questionable to a Muslim; it simply means that the Muslim Club should take responsibility to provide alternative social discussions and events to make Muslims on campus more conscious of religious decisions and help them realize they are not alone in their strife.
Lastly, Muslim Clubs become a source of education for all individuals on campus. When I was in high school, teachers, students, even administrators would confront active members of the club regarding questions about Islam. We’d answer questions about culture, jurisprudence, and even politics. Muslim Clubs should provide documentations and notices to teacher and students for pertinent matters.
For instance, if the day of Eid was disputed in the community, the Muslim Club would provide information to the administration in advance. A simple letter explaining the holiday and the reason for the varied celebrations handed to the principal or department chairs prior to a teachers meeting would allow the staff to discuss the matter and save numerous students from having to explain the issue. This also eliminates the confusion and misrepresentations that would arise from individual explanations. Similarly, if a Muslim male youth chooses not to participate in swimming classes because of the dress code, the Muslim Club should provide him with prepared documentation from the mosque.
Organization and unity are key to the success of any community. Muslim student organizations can provide these elements from the ground up. Imagine how much easier the life of a teacher who is seeking to understand the culture of her students becomes when the association takes an active role in educating him or her? Imagine how a young freshman feels when he is guided by a senior mentor and taught that, yes, being a good Muslim is compatible with being cool?
Re-published from Habeeb Quadri’s “Youth Manual Jumah Book”.
Habeeb Quadri is an Educator, Author, and Youth Activist. He is an Elementary School Principal and part-time staff at Harvard Graduate School of Education professional development programs. Habeeb recently has been appointed to a four-year term at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Principal Advisory Board. He has co-authored five books and published two others. Habeeb is board chair of MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) and board member of CISNA (Council of Islamic School of North America).