One of the key aspects of building a successful community is to invest time nurturing young people. For the Muslim community in Britain, this is a particularly relevant issue given that 48% of Muslims in Britain are under the age of 24, according to the recent census. A fundamental facet of establishing a thriving Muslim community in Britain for generations to come lies in equipping young people with the necessary skills to succeed in a godly manner.
Many Islamic organisations have rightly recognised the importance of investing time in the youth. Various Islamic courses with a preacher-cum-comedian billed as being in touch with the youth along with a Hollywood style trailer has typically become one of the most popular strategies of tempting the youth into attendance; other wide-spread strategies include ‘Qiyaam’ nights for the youth, which consist of all-night fun and games in a mosque with a peppering of Islamic talks to get young people off streets and make mosques a ‘cool’ place to hang out. Ultimately, the intention of such endeavours is to encourage the youth to take Islam seriously and dedicate their entire lives to the Islamic cause.
The initiation of such initiatives ought to be congratulated; however I do question the efficacy of these events in inculcating godliness amongst the youth en masse. When examining these measures via the theory of operant conditioning, it is clear what Islamic organisations are trying to do (perhaps without even realising). They try to bring about a change in behaviour (e.g. attending Islamic gatherings) within the Muslim youth, by using positive reinforcers (such as comedic value and entertainment) so that they are more likely to stick with it.
I wonder whether it is appropriate to positively reinforce religious behaviour with calorie laden pizzas, pro-evolution soccer and a stand-up comedy show in the guise of Islamic development. What kind of message is being portrayed to the youth by associating faith with these activities? Do they diminish the faith to a form of junk entertainment? More importantly perhaps, are these endeavours really successful in instilling a meaningful form of godliness amongst the youth which isn’t short-lived?
It might be argued that such actions are employed in order to attract the youth towards religion, and subsequently through the gradual process of nurturing, they can be shown the beauty of Islam as a holistic way of life dedicating themselves towards the cause of propagating monotheism. However, is it not paradoxical to entice people towards Islam with behaviour that diverges from the solemnity of the religion? Isn’t it a slur upon our religion to associate it with crass comedy? Whilst it is important to positively reinforce righteous behaviour, I believe this should be done with things which are inherently faith based. The challenge therefore lies in identifying positive reinforcers that might attract the youth whilst simultaneously being appropriate in an Islamic context.
A good case study against such measures is that of the Christian community who have been using these measures for decades. I remember going to my local church youth club every week where numerous activities were available to partake in, ranging from pool tables, table tennis and even a tuck shop. The only thing we needed to do in order to enjoy these activities was to take part in a half hour bible studies session. I would switch off during the bible studies session, as would many of the other children present. We were all thinking of which sweets to buy next from the tuck shop, or who would be the first one back to get the table-tennis bats. Undoubtedly, the organisers were trying to make the Church an appealing place for young people whilst educating us about the teachings of Jesus to make Christianity a significant part of our lives. But these endeavours achieved little else other than giving young children a place to play. Twenty-five years later, the number of regular Church-going Christians appears to be on the decline. If all these Church youth clubs were aiming to create a generation of practicing Christians, then they most certainly have failed.
So how should we nurture the Muslim youth in Britain? The overarching aim of the nurturing process should be to inculcate a sense of Godliness into the youth, and the process needs to originate from local Muslim community leaders, who in theory should be best placed to identity the needs of the Muslim youth in their locality. Such initiatives need to provide the Muslim youth with a place where they can meet one another on a regular basis to share ideas and perhaps more importantly, a place where the youth can discuss problems with responsible community leaders. The initiative must also provide the youth with skills that may be of use to them so that they can excel in life. A good example is perhaps The Empower Youth Academy in Leicester which would be a good model to replicate in other local communities. A significant number of such local initiatives would be far more likely to generate a future generation of Muslims who practice their faith and excel in their respective fields. Moreover, localisation would make it easier to identify potential future leaders of the Muslim community.
Some may ridicule my suggestions as being extremely idealistic. I agree that they might be to a certain extent; after all, success in these endeavours requires unity, an ingredient grossly lacking in the Muslim community. Moreover, are our community leaders really in touch with local youth such that they can correctly identify their complex spiritual and social needs?
Despite this, when one looks at the attempts many British Muslims are currently making to nurture the Muslim youth, I believe there is definite room for improvement. If the Muslim community in Britain is serious about nurturing the Muslim youth in Britain with a view to creating a successful community for generations to come, it must stop acting on impulse and start producing serious initiatives that have clear goals, which ultimately will equip the youth with the necessary skills to further the Islamic cause.