As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu and Greetings of Peace:
I am co-teaching a a course at the Geisinger Medical Center, Division of Spiritual Care, called "Islam: Religion, History and Culture." The course runs four Tuesday evenings during the month of July. We are using Seyyed Hossein Nasr's book, "Islam: Religion, History and Civilization" as a required text.
There are no Muslims or Jews in the class, but there is a wonderful group of Christians who have a sincere desire to understand Islam and Muslims, Alhamdulillah. My colleague is a Buddhist, and there is one other Buddhist woman in the class.
At the very beginning of the class, we were talking about the general dis-interest of our youth and even some adults, in coming to the masjids, churches, and synagogues. We were putting our heads together and trying to come up with why this is so.
My colleague suggested that perhaps one reason may be that people have the perception of "what's in it for me," or put another way, some people lack a personal relationship with "God" separate from the rituals involved with religions and houses of worship.
I notice this trend with the Muslim youth in my area. Not necessarily the young children, but the pre-teens and teenagers.
At my masjid, we have a general musala upstairs, and of course, a women's section downstairs. On the ground floor, you can find the general entry way where people come in, hang up their coats, put their shoes on the shoe rack (wishful thinking, lol), and there are also some long benches in that area. Usually, the benches are used by people waiting for rides, waiting to collect the entire family to go home, or by people putting on or taking of their shoes.
A curious phenomenon happens though once the Family Nights or Eid parties get going in full swing.
The teenagers can be seen on the ground floor standing around or sitting on the benches, chatting to each other, usually both boys and girls together.
If their parents do ask them to sit with them, they are usually bored out of their minds, and many of them can be seen with their eyes glued to their Blackberrys and iPhones.
It seems that they really don't want to be at the masjid.
I see similar things with our Islaamic weekend school. The little children LOVE coming and participating. As a matter of fact, they cry when the school season is done. In our masjid, there is no summer Islaamic school because most of the families are traveling.
The teenagers on the other hand, do not like to come to the Islaamic school. Their parents make them come. The majority of the teenage students are actually children of our teachers. Given a choice, the teenagers wouldn't come at all. This is especially reflected in the fact that they do not come to class prepared. They have been studying the same surahs for the few years I have been there, and the teacher tells me they were studying the same ones before I got there. In reality, when most of them are 14 or 15 or so, they stop coming at all. After all, their parents claim, they are "busy" with school and other activities, and "we really can't force them, now can we?" they say.
Who's the parent and who's the child? When I was a kid, I did what my parents said. If my mom said, "get in the car," we got in the car, lol.
The big question is: why should the young people (and even some older ones) WANT to come to the masjid? What's in it for them?
Like my collegue implied, most people adhere to a religious life because of the perception that it means something to them. They have a personal relationship with "God." Religion to them is worth sacrificing for, worth dying for, and worth loving for. Didn't Allaah t'ala say in the Qur'an:
"I only created jinn and man to worship Me." (adh-Dhariyat, 56)
So, does it matter whether or not we have a personal relationship with "God." Do we have a choice? If we were created only to worship Allaah t'ala, that's that ... right?
Well, on the other hand, we are told that there is no compulsion in religion.
Why aren't our Muslim children getting this message? Do we raise them to understand that the only reason they are in this dunya is to worship Him? Or do we give them the message, directly or indirectly, that they have a choice in the matter? By allowing our children to give preference to a soccer game instead of Qur'an class, what kind of message do we convey? Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with activities and sports. But, where is the priority?
When I go to the masjid, I see sisters and their children dressed beautifully in the clothing of their countries, etc., but when these same children go to school, they are dressed like the other non Muslim children. Do we give the message that a hijab or jilbab is only for the masjid, and not for the rest of our activities? Why do parents allow their kids to wear skinny jeans and shirts/blouses that outline their blossoming figure?
In case you think I am overly strict, or a fuddy duddy, I am going somewhere with this.
My point is that if we don't insist that our children value an Islaamic lifestyle, we cannot expect them to "enjoy" being a Muslim. The result is that they don't have a personal relationship with Allaah t'ala.
Let's face it. As much as some of us like to think that our kids are Palestinian children or Egyptian children, or whatever ... the truth is that they are American children. Born and raised in America and in an American lifestyle. They don't even think like some of us from the "old country" do.
Do we insist that they identify as Pakistani, Palestinian, Egyptian, etc., as opposed to Pakistani-American, Palestinian-American, Egyptian-American? Do many of our kids suffer from identity issues?
In my little town, there may be only two or three Muslim children in the entire high school. I acknowledge that it must be hard for them, espcially if they are darker than most of the American white children. Children are cruel sometimes. But I think it may be a little easier perhaps if they are secure in their identity as Muslims, and if they know who their Lord is, and LOVE Him.
How do we get our children to love Allaah t'ala and the masjid? How do we ensure that they grow up developing a personal relationship with their Lord? What do you think?