A Letter to the Parents: This is it.
Once upon a time, there was a shy boy. His life revolved around going to school and coming home, eating and sleeping, and occasionally reading a book and maybe watching Naruto on Saturday mornings. The boy came from an upbringing that wasn’t necessarily isolated, but rather monotonous. Fast forward 6 years and that boy was slowly growing up, but still dragging along the same old trek. His life was, to put simply, boring. His community was not very present and his religion was more of a word than a practice.
Until one day, the boy received an invitation from his uncle to go to a camp. A camp full of “other Muslim kids like him.” The boy wasn’t sure what this meant. Was he a normal Muslim kid? Is this what it meant to be normal, just floating along the slow currents of the river called life?
But because of his uncle, the boy went to this retreat, and he did find other Muslim kids. Almost none of them were “just like him,” but that was okay, because everyone shared a most important common value: faith. Faith in the tradition they all called “religion”, faith in their counselors for guiding them through a fun program, faith in one another to help each other through the thunderstorm of “The Media” and the recent frightening volcanic eruption known as “Modern Politics.”
Consequently, he learned to have a community that was more than a group of names and a tradition that was more than just a word, “religion”. He became more interactive with his own local Muslim community. He kept his connections from this camp and created bonds and support groups that have lasted him for years now. He found his voice among dozens of amazing other boys and girls who shared his common value of faith; faith within themselves and faith within those around them.
And ever since that camp, the boy has grown into an adult, one who wants to see himself and his story replicated all across the nation, from small suburbs to huge cities. He went in and out of leadership to make sure that his story wasn’t the only one of its kind. Take a wild guess as to who that boy is :).
Muslim youth across the United States experience this type of drudge every single day, except without the happy ending that I, alhamdulillah, have been blessed with. They are raised in places that lack a Muslim community to help guide them through the hailstorm of American media, and are bombarded with external messages that bring their value down to nothing. The docility and “humility” that immigrants hammer into their children as the “right way to act” - not responding to, or even being aware of, the hate that is directed towards their faith and livelihood - has created a suppressed version of what Islam should be. There are numerous Quranic verses and hadith that talk about being educated enough to respond to animosity and conflict with poise and confidence, but it seems the only focus parents drill into their kids is to keep their gaze lowered and their heads lower in prayer. Because, as a famous sheikh once said, it’s all “God’s Plan.”
But this is not solely the parents’ fault; the situation in the United States as caused everyone to live in fear of acting out of line, fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person and suffering the consequences. Everything's meant to be brushed off into a folder in our hearts’ filing cabinet labelled “DO NOT OPEN,” to be handled by higher management in another life. And because of this, a void is being left in our parent’s wake. A void that even Drake cannot hope to fill. A void called Next Generation Islam.
I have spoken about MYNA many times to many people: about the program and activities that go on, about the great Islamic knowledge that is gained, and about the fun times that occur in just one week of societal hiatus. But what really has stuck with me is the faith that is seen in the committee members who organize the event and the youth who attend. The world has its eyes on Muslims now more than ever, and the kids who are affected by these eyes need to have confidence that there is a community to support and educate them through good times and bad.
That’s why I carry a deep love and passion for each and every MYNA event that I’ve have had the amazing opportunity to participate in, whether it be as a leader or a simple observer. MYNA teaches us to reconcile our Islamic faith with our American upbringing and brings confidence in our identity and faith. This is not something you, parents, necessarily fail at doing, but it is a dilemma you did not have the equipment to manage in the past. MYNA becomes a resource that kids desperately need: a space away from the world to find out why they are continuing on their path through the murky waters of life.
My story is not a unique one, and it is not one that should stop at the fall before the rise. So I say this: parents, if you want your children to prosper with the proper tools and drive that is necessary to survive as a young Muslim in today’s world, send them to MYNA. Support a community that will provide children with the confidence to make it through any obstacle and climb any wall growing up in 2018 throws at them. Community has the power of turning a word - religion or faith - into a way of living that will support them for the rest of their lives. Parents, the future of Islam rests in your hands. This is it.