Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Do We Get Our Kids to Love Their Lord and the Masjid?

(Muslim school children in the masjid performing "Allaah Nay Banaya Hum Sub Ko" (Allaah Made Us All) - What Happens to our Precious Children When They Become Teenagers?)

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?


AlabasterMuslim said...

I can confirm everything you said is true. It was exactly like that for me, and for all of my friends. We went to an islamic school (most of them for all of their life) and as soon as we entered high school we all just lost Islam. Alhamdullilah I found my way back quickly after life took some hard turns, but its even worse for my friends. It makes me sick to think of the things they are doing and are going to regret.

I can't stand it when I hear parents say they cannot force their children to do something. Are you serious? You can't? You are the parent and you have been blessed with children and entrusted to raise them as muslims...but you feel like you CAN'T? Its hard for everyone, the children and the parents, but in the end its up to Allah swt and forcing your children to follow islam so they will one day appreciate it and inshallah not end up in the hell fire...i think its worth it.

The only thing I can think of is raising our children as muslims, strict muslims ..or rather don't raise them as lax muslims since there is no such thing as a strict muslim. Keep them far away from the kafirun. Honestly, home school! I know from my own experience, which is why I will inshallah do this with my own children. You are right though, when teenagers (or anybody) truly loves Allah swt and Islam and Prophet Mohammed sws, they will love going to the Masjid too.

C said...

Asalaamu Alaikum

I think what turns off most teens from the mosque is that they are not allowed to participate in any leadership role or really in any type of role. They wanted to be treated as adults which islam says they are but they are still treated like little children. Teens need to feel that the mosque belongs to them as well and not just the old timers and their speeches need to stop having the phrase 'we are all immigrants'. No we are not! I'm a convert so I am not an immigrant and neither are my children and the children of other immigrants. Being inclusive is what will make a difference. Teens want to serve Allah, let them.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the human brain is wired to reject religious activities between the ages of fourteen and ...

If so, then our only recourse is to cram as much in as possible before the gene activates.

I'm not being facetious here. The young person's job in life is to expand his/her horizons, take in all manner of change and new experience, including what looks like a rejection of religious education.

It would be interesting to poll people who, in adulthood, "got religion," and to study how they were raised and whether or not they passed their adolescence in rebellion or mere disinterest.

mezba said...

I think hated coming to an Islamic school (which was the one I went to being brought up in the Middle East) was the teachers being too strict and trying to punish people all the time, and being forced to pray etc. etc. It was not fun!

mezba said...

I was looking at your picture and I was thinking, 'wow that would NEVER happen in the Middle East'. The mosque and an Islamic school is a rather sterile no-fun place.

Safiyyah said...

@ AlabasterMuslim: Alhamdulillah that you "found your way back." And if I had small children, I'd be homeschooling them, too. I see a huge difference among my Muslim friends who homeschool and those who send their kids to the public schools.

@ C: Yes, you are right about the leadership and the teens. For one school year, we had a young teen teaching the pre-school class. She got frustrated with it, I think, and only taught for a year. Perhaps it is the fault of us adults who didn't give her the needed support and guidance?

@ Marahm: Salaams my dear! LOL perhaps the human brain is wired to reject everything after age 14. No matter how well a parent raises a child, they seem to need to find their own way after a certain age. We only say dua for the that they don't screw up too badly :)

@ Mezba: Yes, I think you are right. In my role as a Muslim chaplain, I try to focus on the beauty of Islam as opposed to always talking about punishment and the Hellfire. People come to prison with so many character defects and it doesn't do any good to beat them up with it. I need to help them and give them guidance for akhlaq (development of an Islaamic character).

And Mezba, yes it is unique to masjids in America and perhaps other places where Muslims are a minority that the masjid also becomes a community center. I saw what you were talking about when I was in Istanbul: people come to the mosque to pray and then they go. We did visit one Muslim girls' college and the girls seemed very happy, so I don't think that particular school was rigid.

We spoke at their school, and when we were finished, the girls lined up to hug us and thank us. Each girl had a big smile and tears in their eyes. I was so touched. Since they knew they would probably never see us again, each said, "see you in Jennah Insha Allaah" Wow!

Rukhpar Mor said...

I agree with all of the comments above and don't really have anything else to add.

InshAllah we can come up with ways to make teenagers *want* to come to the masjid...