Over the past week alone we have witnessed young Western Muslims, both indigenous converts and second generation youth born into the faith, doing incredibly heinous acts while simultaneously gaining the fame that their social media glamour selfies had long craved. We have seen images of young, self-described “Islamic State” fighters literally playing with military equipment, and the highly polished video content of Western Muslims disavowing their origins for this perceived enlightened cause that provides more meaning to their lives than simply being a demographic as a consumer. As Muslims we claim to be mindful of our intentions, and while some will say we can never know another’s intention, we need to start asking, why? Beyond the paralyzing discourse surrounding the tragic events in Canada, the arrest of three Denver area teenage Muslim women seeking to join IS as “comfort wives” in Germany, or the ratcheting up of Islamophobic comments on both conservative and now liberal media outlets, we often forget to deeply think and answer that most instinctual question. “Why?” is powerful, with the ability to not only highlight the spiritual, pschological, and moral civilizational decline of the Other but also of our own selves as products of Western Civilization. Questioning the intent of these youthful adherents shows how slippery the slope of idealistic intentions that often predicate our actions truly is. As Kierkegaard stated, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This is most glaringly seen in the example in of a highly regarded Prophetic Tradition that states:
Abu Hurairah (radi Allahu anhu) narrated that Rasulallah ﷺ said: “The first of men (whose case) will be decided on the Day of Judgement will be a man who died as a martyr. He shall be brought forth. Allah will make him recount His blessings (i. e. the blessings which He had bestowed upon him) and he will recount them (and admit having enjoyed them in his life). (Then) will Allah say: ‘What did you do (to requite these blessings)?’ He will say: ‘I fought for You until I died as a martyr.’ Allah will say: ‘You have told a lie. You fought so that you may be called a brave warrior. And you were called so.’ (Then) orders will be passed against him and he will be dragged with his face downward and cast into Hell. [Book on Government: Sahih Muslim]
If you are a kid who aspires to greatness yet has only achieved mediocrity, a great four-year university degree, Fortune 500 position, and probably most important of all—the love and acceptance of those around you and in your greater community— may not be in the cards. But no worries, the Islamic State can fix your image of your self-worth. The community, national organizations, mosques, and most importantly our homes need to address the hazards of youthful angst. All teens go through similar issues of seeking greater independence, and defining their identity by testing boundaries. Driving fast, breaking curfew, flouting rules, laws, and authority go with the territory in most cases. Parents seek to patiently deal with the issue. Studies show that some of this insanity is due to brain developments that increase our abilities to analyze. Young people are also dealing with pressures to conform to behaviors that can have detrimental consequences. Muslim parents may be more vigilant about drugs and sex, and unfortunately pay little mind to the religious upsurge of their teen nor question the Youtube videos and (virtual) groups he/she prefers to spend their time with.
Before we get into a panic, like other statistics on teenagers regarding drug use and sex, we know that we are only addressing a minute percentage of youth; yet if we fail to address this statistical minutia, the probable consequences for our community are more dire. Criminal activity is really what we are looking at. In the end this is what these Jihadi aspirants, regardless of what virtues are extolled, are really involved in. While we may always have unanswered questions, prefaced by “Why?” it is an imperative that we start to open new channels to reach and communicate with our youth and new converts. They represent the most vulnerable to the poisonous promises of DAISH/ISIS and their ilk. Lone wolf activity, like it or not, is a collective punishment for years of reactive discourse and apathy. Unless Muslim Americans can elevate the discourse within our prayer halls and homes, we have no hope to change the rhetoric we hear daily outside of them. With a growing population, and stretched responsibilities, mosques no longer offer families and youth an intimate place to meet and discuss. Conversely, our mosques are now more diverse than ever. We need to leverage our strengths to overcome our gaps. The consequence of a lack of true connections is that those isolated will seek bonds elsewhere, to voice out their self-inflated import in the guise of grandiose religious virtues and self-righteous indignation. Our perceived need to rid ourselves of the impudence to change our Ummah is immaturely thought to be solved in the actions of groups like DAISH. We forget to the peril of our personal faith, and that, “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13:11).
If you have youth, or volunteer in good efforts in and outside of the mosque, or simply care about the future of our community, we need to start spending time together. Learn about your kids and their friends by offering to mentor them, even watch YouTube videos and TV together. For all its condemned evils, mixed media offers a jumping off point to discuss uncomfortable issues and opens us up to be honest. We all have ideals, but we live varied realities. The main point in our home and mosques is to communicate, make de-radicalization the topic of sermons, create youth programming to deter activity, have public forums, town halls, and dinner chats to start the discourse to rid ourselves of the thought that underlines the audacious fame-seeking actions we are unfortunately seeing more and more. We also need to start taking pride in our successes and communicate that more readily to balance out the images we and our children see of our faith. When we see success from within our community we should commend, even if these examples may lack in one’s self-image of orthodoxy. We have a heinous habit of tearing down ourselves by stripping the good works of those within our community because of this or that perceived flaw.
Positive communication may help steer all that youthful exuberance into more constructive action. Instead of praising ourselves of what we used to do, we need to start talking about what we are doing, realizing what is left to do. Ineffectual leadership here and abroad has bred a generation of vigilantes who are easily impressed. Examples that highlight our ardent desire as a community to be accepted as fellow humans—and that offer viable ways to live lives of non-contradiction and yet feel valued in our pursuits in following the path of Prophetic Dignity—are an imperative. We all have the greatest role model in the Prophet ﷺ; it is time that we got to know him. Our youth, especially new members to the faith, only see our dysfunction, our malaise, and weakness that is reflected in our leadership, institutions, and homes. Our Prophet’s life and message deserve better from us. You may not be able to change global politics, but you may be able to change a young man or woman’s mind. We have the ability “within ourselves” to change the outcome. Are you part of the problem, or are you a catalyst for change?
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