Defining the Purpose of Youth Work

One of the simplest and yet most important practices of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, was that he constantly attempted to involve young people in his community. I believe that youth activity is meant to instill iman (faith) into the young people and keep them away from corrupt environments. Given this, the most basic Muslim youth group comprises of Quran and halal activities, hopefully that are close to nature, as opposed to video games, for example.

Love of Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him)

One of the best things we can expose our children to is the love of Allah and the Prophet peace be upon him. We can do this by asking young people to reflect on the verses of the Quran pertaining to Allah the Almighty’s gentle attributes. For example, Allah states to his Prophet, "If My servants asks you about Me, for indeed I am near. I answer the supplication of the supplicant when he calls upon Me." (2:186). Asking young people to dwell upon these verses will help them see Allah the Almighty as a loving God and draw them nearer to Him. Having love for the Creator also means love for the best of his creation, His Prophet. About love for the prophet, Allah ta’ala says,"The Prophet is preferable for the believers even to their own selves…" (33:6) This is best done through relaxed gatherings that surround something to do with the deen. This was why many scholars of the past established a variety of celebrations to dot the Muslim calendar.

Of course, these are not equal to the main holidays of Eid al-Adha and Fitr, in which Muslims purchase new clothes and take off from work for a full day of celebration. Rather, these are more akin to mini-occasions. They are welcome diversions from daily life that will bring Islam back into the lives of people and create enthusiasm in young people about the faith.

We can all probably remember times when we were distant from the deen and by the time Ramadan came around, we had already cooled off, and it would take the first ten days by the time we got back into the swing of things. This we want to avoid by never having a long gap between events such as these.

For example, great moments in the Prophet’s history peace be upon him should be marked on our calendars and made as days to gather together and dwell upon in ways that are relaxing and enjoyable, not strict and stressful. In this way, when a similar occurrence happens in our society or personal life, we will be very quick to recollect how the Prophet peace be upon him and Companions handled them. They also serve as periodical rinse downs of our hearts, from the dust that accumulates from work or school.

Responsibility

One of the interesting things about American society is that from high school, the students lead organizations, such as the student government, and the teachers take them seriously. This is an important confidence builder; as those student come of age, they will be accustomed to responsibility and leadership. Go to any mall after school hours and you will find that most of the stores are operated by high schoolers.

Our Prophet peace be upon him is not lacking in this. He put Usama ibn Zaid in charge of a company of Companions that included some seniors like Abu Bakr and Umar. Years later, Umar may Allah be pleased with him used to summon Ibn Abbas to his meetings for important decisions. The latter was still an unmarried youth. Allah subhanahu wa taala, gave Prophet Yahya (John) peace be upon him prophethood when he was still a youth: "And We bestowed upon him prophecy as a youth" (wa aataynahu al-hukm sabiyya, Surat Mariam (19)).

Let us now think about the application of this idea. In today’s world, the best, if not only, way to involve a lot of people in something and guarantee they will work is through paid positions, just like regular work. While this may not the best avenue for attaining reward from the Lord (getting money for good work deducts 1/3 of the Afterlife reward), it is the best means of getting the job done, because there is the here-and-now incentive to show up. This again would depend upon the available funding, but that is an wholly separate issue.

Furthermore, having a part-time deen-related job is a great way to keep young people out of trouble: idle hands do the devil’s work. The Caliph Umar may Allah be pleased with him, stated once that his trust for a man increases when he works. More, the nature of their afternoon job will inevitably re-direct their consciences towards Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) and the deen in general.

Ethnicity and Race

In is natural for people to spend their time with those who have the most in common. There is one side affect, however, that may crop up as a result of being with a homogeneous group, namely, slight racial prejudices may arise, beginning in the form of jokes, and become acceptable among the group. For the most part, it has become completely unacceptable to joke about blacks, but ironically, it is common to hear jokes made about whites, assuming that because they have been blessed in these times, it is okay.

It is often considered fair-game to make jokes about those who pour great abuses upon Islam and Muslim. Still, no such attitudes or comments or jokes were part of the Prophet’s character, peace be upon him, irrespective of what the subject of the comment did. We should instill in our youth the love of being colour blind when it comes to people, and respectful of all races, religions, and nationalities.

We can disapprove of people’s deeds, but still have decency and respect. Ultimately, when we put down others, we bring ourselves down; when we respect others, we are really elevating ourselves.

One way to do this is to oft-mention the foulness of racism. In Islamic literature, we have the dhamm tradition, as in dhamm al-ghiba, dhamm al-hasad, dhamm al-bukhl. A good translation for dhamm would be ‘putting-down’ or ‘criticisizing’ or ‘making hateful.’ We can add the dhamm of racism, ‘putting down racism,’ and mentioning how hateful it is to the Lord, how senseless it is, and how destructive it can be.

A second way to teach our youths how to be colour blind is to create scenarios in which the youth will interact with all possible races: black, white, Asian, Arab, and Carribean. Each race has something to offer. After all, it is Allah Who created them, so we should – like bees – extract some honey from everything He has made.

When trying to overcome racism, we might encourage young people to dwell on the stories of companions and good people of the past such as Bilal ibn Rabah may Allah be pleased with him. The special relationship between Bilal and the Prophet, peace be upon him, is indicative of how the Prophet determined the measure of a person — not by his skin color but by his piety. Bilal displayed such love for the Prophet peace and blessings upon him not only in his life, but after his death, such that Bilal wished for nothing more than to leave the dunya and be reunited with his beloved Prophet.

In the worldly sense, this practice will make smooth the road these youth will inevitably traverse as adults, namely, interacting with all types of people at university and at work. In the 1990′s, many Americans undertook the effort to eliminate racism, more than any other people in the world. Let us take that batton and protect it and carry it out to the rest of the world.

By encouraging young people to embrace tolerance, responsibility, and love for Allah and His messenger, we are putting in place a firm foundation upon which all future Islamic endeavors can be built. Most importantly, the fruits of this effort will only become apparent when we observe young people pioneering activities and institutions in our communities out of their own deep-rooted resolve and conviction.

Walhamdu lilllahi Rab al-Alamın.

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