By Shabina S. Khatri
Many of us heard the tarawih-time speech about masjid kids getting into trouble inside and outside of our hallowed halls. Apparently, some members of our youth have been caught smoking, joy-riding and stealing. It also seems that lately, too many of them have been mingling with members of the opposite sex. Haraaam.
When all this happened, the women around me began to murmur and moan. When it happened, there was an immediate chorus of “AstagfirAllahs” and “Tauba Tauba Tauba” from all of the moms. Following that was a similarly dismayed chorus, this time a refrain of denials, from all the young girls who had been praying their 20 rakat, day in and day out, all Ramadan.
When it happened, I almost laughed out loud.
Then I almost cried.
It was sad to hear that our youth are getting into so much trouble, but it wasn’t shocking or surprising in the least. What bothered me, in fact, was not the disclosure of such information, but the reaction of the people around me.
Did no one hear Jeffrey Lang when he came to our masjid less than six months ago? Did we not process everything he said about the discouraging foreign mosque subculture? Or is it just that parents think these problems will never happen to them, affect their children, harm their households?
Though I don’t believe the announcement we heard needed to be so dramatic, I do agree that our community has been largely oblivious to the problems our youth face – another non-surprising fact. On the one hand, who wants to assume the worst in people, especially if those people are your own children? On the other hand, perhaps it’s finally time to sit down and consider the serious consequences of looking the other way.
Oh, and of those there are a-plenty.
Let’s start with the basics. Whether your child attends public, private or parochial school, chances are he/she will learn about sex far before his/her 10th birthday, which is around the age schools start teaching them sex education. And by the time your child is a teenager, he/she will have already had been exposed to mountains of information via TV and the Internet – not to mention their non-Muslim and/or non-practicing Muslim friends.
Unless you decide to lock your kid in a closet for the first 20 years of life, the aforementioned facts are an unavoidable reality. But even if you can’t control all of your child’s exposure to sex, drugs, etc, you can still make a huge difference in how he/she processes everything she sees/hears/experiences. How?
Well, the answer is definitely not to get angry or make him/her feel ashamed about the matter at hand. As uncomfortable as the subject matter makes you feel, try to remember that it was a million times harder for your child to bring it up in the first place. Also, if your kids are confused, who else to turn to, but the people they’re supposed to trust and respect most? Still, the sad fact is, many young sisters and brothers stop telling their parents anything about their personal lives because they fear the dismaying repercussions. Instead – and this is dangerous – they look to television and their peers for guidance.
It’s totally understandable for a parent to cringe if their 14-year-old daughter tells them she has a crush on a non-Muslim boy (not unusual), or to be upset if they find out their 16-year-old son has been dating someone at the masjid (also too frequent of an occurrence). But then what?
To address these issues, we need to figure out why they’re happening in the first place. The obvious answer is that temptation is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere, and it’s easy to fall into – but only for those whose foundations are weak. And the thing is, while the masjid is supposed to be the place that nourishes and strengthens our faith, it seems to be doing the exact opposite for many of our children.
That’s because they can’t reconcile the norms inside these walls – partitions and inefficiencies, for example – with everything they experience on the outside. And if the masjid culture comes to represent Islam to our kids, and they can’t make any sense of it, they’re not going to follow it. Which brings us to the worst consequence of them all – the crumbling of our community.
Everything we’re struggling to build, all the fundraising we’ve trying to do – it’s for naught if our masajid will stand empty in 20 years – unless, of course, we continue to rely on population transfusions from overseas. This doesn’t mean that American Islam won’t thrive – it already is – but it means American Muslims will do without the masjid structure, without that central organization, without the strength that comes with community building. We can’t let it get to that point. Yet it has already begun.
I don’t mean to traumatize you, and I know discussing these subjects is awkward, especially because many of us hail from a culture that is so different from our children’s. I don’t want you all to read this and come away suspicious and distrustful of your kids, either. But what you can do, what we all must do, is start to pay closer attention to what’s going on around us, and try to head problems off at the pass.
You can do this in several ways. Consider moving your family computer to a high-traffic area like the kitchen, for example. It’s much harder to get into trouble on AOL Instant Messenger if your mom is looking over your shoulder. Or if you come from a household where both parents work, try to make sure you know what your kids are up to after they come home from school. This is statistically one of the most common times for bored teenagers to get into mischief.
You could also increase the amount of time you spend with your children. They may resent you at first for cutting into their social schedules, but something as simple as eating or praying together once a day can really improve the rapport you share with your kids. And, I hate to say it, but be sure to pay attention to cell phone bills. Has your son/daughter been having long phone conversations late into the night without your knowledge? If so, a (non-accusatory) conversation is definitely in order.
Finally, educate yourself about the deen. The more you can distinguish between cultural traditions and Islam proper, the more respect you will earn from your children for understanding their situations. Sadly, there are only a handful of people who we can hold up to our children as American Muslim role models, comfortable with both deen and dunya. That means that it’s up to us, as parents and mentors, to step up to fill those important shoes and inspire the (inshAllah) many generations to come.
Let’s face it. Kids these days are savvier than ever, but they also have the potential to be the best and shiniest reflections of our deen. So a few moments of discomfort are surely worth a lifetime of faith – aren’t they?