The Struggle of Youth & the Importance of Empathy


وَاللَّاتِي يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ مِن نِّسَائِكُمْ فَاسْتَشْهِدُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن شَهِدُوا فَأَمْسِكُوهُنَّ فِي الْبُيُوتِ حَتَّىٰ يَتَوَفَّاهُنَّ الْمَوْتُ أَوْ يَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ لَهُنَّ سَبِيلًا
Those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse of your women - bring against them four [witnesses] from among you. And if they testify, confine the guilty women to houses until death takes them or Allah ordains for them [another] way.
(Al-Nisa 4:15)


  • In our journey of exploration to understand what is the Deen of Islam, we began the discussion of Iman around our core beliefs, our world view.
  • Now we will highlight the specific challenges our young people face in navigating the world as it is.
    • Many of our young people are struggling to make sense of this world, their religion, and to reconcile between all the forces they have to deal with.

How to Think About Youth

  • A story from the Seerah captures this:
  • One of the great Companions of the Ansar, Sa’ad Ibn Ubada, was a chieftain and highly respected amongst his people. When he heard the revelation from Allah that spoke on needing 4 witnesses to testify on illicit acts (4:15), he felt strongly against it (i.e. If he saw a woman from his family having illicit relations, he would take care of it himself). He went to Muhammad (saw) clearly bothered, and asks, “Does the Quran say I need four witnesses?” The Prophet (saw) replied, “Yes”. Sa’ad then said, “No ya Rasulallah, I will take care of that man myself.” SubhanAllah, keep in mind that Sa’ad loved Allah, His deen, and the Prophet pbuh. This part of revelation really challenged him. The Prophet pbuh was told by Sa’ad companions, “Don’t hold him to his words for he’s a person that has a deep sense of honor and protection, a type of chivalrous jealousy. That’s what is speaking.”Muhammad (saw) then said to Sa’ad, “I know you are a man of deep chivalrous jealousy (ghira), but know that I have more of that than you, and Allah has more ghira than I do.
  • Sa’ad Ibn Ubada was the result of a certain social experience. He came from the Arabian peninsula. He lived in a tribe that had a certain view and expression of ghira. When the revelation seemingly contradicted his reality, it was a very jarring experience. So, his initial response was to reject it.
  • This tells us of the importance of understanding the context that many of us, especially young people, are living in. If we begin to analyze and understand their social and cultural reality, we will make better sense and have more insight as to why many of our young people are challenging our values and our ideals. This will help us understand why so many young people are seemingly rebellious against what seem to be the most essential values and ideals. Understanding context is required.

Challenges For Our Youth

There are three types of challenges:(Source: Yaqeen Institute study by Omar Suleiman)

  • Internalized Islamophobia
    • In a study of internalized racism called the Black Doll test, a young black child viewed white dolls to be more beautiful than black dolls. Internalized racism is the result of absorbing negative ideas of their image consistently over time.
    • The same was done at Stanford University in regard to Islam. The results were that the young people had internalized negative views of Islam. This comes from absorbing consistent rhetoric in the sociopolitical sphere that says negative things about islam (i.e. Islam is antiquated, dangerous, irrelevant, treats women poorly, etc).
    • Youth, are trying to understand themselves and their Deen while being bombarded by these negative ideas at very impressionable ages.
  • Internal Community Pressure
    • The Muslim community often offers a very rigid, aggressive, and dogged expression of Islam that is devoid of spirituality and love. It is simply a threatening disposition that is thrown at them of rejection and punishment.
  • These two challenges are constantly impacting our young people. The result is the state that we are witnessing now.
    • A 17 year old began to tell his classmates that he’s not Muslim, and that he’s going to prom. He told the girl he wanted to take to prom that he’s not Muslim and that his parents are upset with him for it. This was made up. T and he never actually told his parents this. As a result, the girl pitied him and became attracted to him. There is social capital in turning against Islam.
  • The Importance of Context
    • The situation forces children to become hypocrites. They put on a false image of Islam just to please Muslims. A dissonance within is created by the need to be accepted in two contradictory circumstances.
    • Be aware of the testimonials of youth. It is likely that they hide it out of fear. These thoughts are often shared with friends.
    • We must be aware of these overwhelming pressures on our youth, externally and internally.
  • Parents as a Fitna
    • Sometimes parents can be a fitna to their own children. It is when their expression and practice of Islam actually contradicts the Quran and Sunnah.
    • If the parents are being hypocrites by yelling at their children to follow Islam in a certain way, if the parents lying, cheating, stealing, deceiving, gossiping, backbiting, and are shy of religion, how will it reflect on the children?
      • It is painful to hear of parents that tell their children not to go to the masjid, not to dress “too muslim”. Although it comes from a place of protection, it causes the most harm.
    • Parents have become a fitna to children, especially in the realm of marriage. So many of our cultural expressions dictate the conversation (“Our children must marry from our kind/country/ethnicity.”). This desire is understandable because it has centuries of practice around the world as a form of self-preservation. Cultural traditions that are nourished by Islam are beautiful. However, when parents insist on elevating cultural practices in a way that contradicts the Quran and Sunnah, there is a problem.
      • Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When someone proposes marriage to one of you whose religion and character pleases you, then you should marry him. If you do not do so, there will be tribulations in the earth and the proliferation of corruption.” We must take the guidance of Muhammad pbuh very seriously.
      • This is a widespread fitna in our community. Parents threat excommunication, not attending the wedding, not allowing their children to call them “mother” or “father” again, etc. Parents are closing the doors to marriage. In response to this, one parent said that he would love his children to marry outside of their tradition, but it would mean social suicide for the parents.
      • We have a communal obligation to change this situation. This fitna is not only leading children to revolt against their families, but also to revolt against the religion and then run off to marry anybody.
    • Socio-Political Philosophies
      • Youth are constantly inundated with ideas and philosophies on media that clearly contradict the essential and core convictions and values of Islam.
        • This includes ideas of morality (sexuality, gender, drug-use, religion as antiquated) that completely contradict the core of the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah.
        • The language used is very toxic and powerful, and it is tremendously difficult to negotiate this when it is coupled with the other challenges stated. Society is normalizing wrong behavior.
        • This is why young people are questioning (quietly and openly) issues of gender and sexuality in Islam. Family Youth Institute has produced significant data on this.
      Remedies to the Challenges
      • Don’t overreact if you hear that your child has a very jarring idea. Muhammad (saw) embraced Sa’ad in his rejection. He (saw) reacted calmly as well when a young man asked him for permission to commit adultery.
        • He (saw) listened to them and gave them an opportunity to express themselves before speaking. He (saw) spoke with deep empathy and and an open heart.
      • Listen to youth with much empathy, and an open heart and mind. Have much understanding without justifying it. Make them feel comfortable and safe to share with you. Don’t let them doubt your love for them. Have mercy and empathy.
        • Muhammad (saw) reacted lovingly and mercifully when the man urinated in the masjid. He (saw) let him finish then told him, “This is the house of Allah; it was not built for this [action]. It was built for remembrance and prayer.” To the companions, he (saw) said, “Go spill some water on where he urinated. You were sent to facilitate ease; you were not sent to facilitate hardship and aggression.”
        • Living with pressure is suffocating. We must let youth openly release it.
        • If you do not embody love, mercy, and compassion, your children will seek it elsewhere. We must learn the language of love.
          • Muhammad (saw) was surrounded by love in his childhood by Halima Assa’diyya, Amina bint Wahab, Um-Ayman Baraka, Abdul-Muttalib (Arab chieftain), Abu-Talib, Fatima (wife of Abu-Talib), etc. The narrations clearly show the expressions of love. This produced a beautiful, empathetic, merciful prophet (saw).
        • Show deep love to your children, a love that is the love towards Allah and His Messenger (saw)- a love that you want them to have.
      • Be a role model. If you cannot be that role model, find a suitable role model for your children.
        • Youth need to see examples of people they can live up to and be inspired by.
        • Role models must openly express the religion and have deep love for Allah and His Prophet (saw). Prayer must be established in our homes. Quran must frequently be beautifully recited in our homes. We must take time to study the Quran to recite it

        • beautifully. We must know and be able to articulate beautifully the life of Muhammad (saw). Our children must see in us a beautiful, inspirational example of proactivity, institution-building, serving others, advocating for justice, cleaning, protecting, honoring.
        • (As shared by Muhammad Ali Salam) When the idea of establishing ISBCC was brought up for the first time in a church, it was welcomed. In Roxbury, Islam was synonymous with the Nation of Islam, which was organized, disciplined, and clean (beyond questions of theological differences). They knew they would take care of this neighborhood.
        • Ask yourself what type of role model you are. You are responsible for your flock.
        • We are faced with complex challenges. We must embody these remedies. Embody a “fighting spirit” and instill it in our children. They must not be timid and vulnerable. Be like Malcolm X, who would fight. He wasn’t afraid of struggle and sacrifice. A fighting spirit is a good spirit. This country was built on struggle.
        • If we teach our children to be docile, coy, timid, nervous, second-class, worried, and scared, and if they feel that from those around them, that is what they will become. They will be easily broken. Do not shy away from hijab, prayer, and all of the external expressions of Islam. Do not shy away from our “muslim-sounding” names. They are beautiful and must be celebrated. Our children must feel dignity, honor, and confidence within us.
      • May Allah help us, so that we can help ourselves and help young people.
      • May Allah help us to be true role models to our young people.
      • May we inspire them, empower them, and love them. May we be very empathetic toward them and open the doors of exploration to them. May we help them not to be tried and tested by us, but for us to be vehicles for them to love Allah and His Messenger (saw).
      • When my children question their commitment to being Muslims, do I threaten them with rejection and withdrawal of my love, or do I listen to their concerns?
      • Do I elevate my cultural/national/tribal allegiances above Qur’an and Sunnah when it comes to marriage options for my children?
      • Do I present and embody Islam with confidence, dignity, and honor?