by Abdul Malik Ryan
It is a cliché that the youth are the future of any community, yet it is equally cliché to note that youth feel that older generations “just don’t understand” them. A diverse group of people committed to working with Muslim youth gathered over the weekend of March 5 and 6 at the Islamic Center of Wheaton for a two day interactive workshop on Understanding Muslim Youth, which was organized and sponsored by CIOGC and presented by the Family & Youth Institute (FYI). Among the group were university chaplains, mosque youth directors, therapists, and parents, as well as some older youth mentors.
Although the attendees came from diverse backgrounds and levels of experience, they shared a deep commitment to understanding our youth and gaining and sharing the perspectives, knowledge, and skills necessary to be more successful in doing so. Youth and adolescence are challenging times for anyone and this can be especially true for American Muslim youth at this time in history. Most of those who work with youth in our community are volunteers and many lack any specialized training. While their willingness to contribute to our youth is a good thing, one of the underlying messages of the workshop was the harm and damage that even well-meaning people can do to vulnerable youth if they are acting without knowledge and skills.
The first day of the training was dedicated to presenting some research to give participants an idea of the issues facing American Muslim youth today. If anyone is still in doubt, research shows Muslim youth are dealing with all of the same issues that all other American youth are confronting. Drug and alcohol use, relations outside of marriage, body image, bullying, and challenges such as depression and anxiety are all present among Muslim youth in America. Participants were given exercises to practice how to assess situations and identify some of the different factors which can contribute to or jeopardize the well-being of individual youth. These factors are known as the risk factors and the protective factors that any scenario may or may not have, which exacerbates or protects the vulnerability of the youth in that given context. The presenters, Mr. Sadiq Patel and Ms. Hiat Saleh of the FYI, were engaging and dynamic. They also reminded participants about the importance of intentionality and inclusivity in programming. That is, that a program for the sake of programming may not be effective if it is not reaching, engaging and meeting the needs of those that are vulnerable.
The second day of training was dedicated primarily to communication skills that help to ensure that our youth feel comfortable talking to us and sharing their struggles and challenges. Unfortunately, some of the common instinctive reactions that some adults may have to youth who share their challenges may be off-putting. These reactions may include: condemning, shaming, or even advising, and these can act as barriers to communication. This doesn’t mean that youth don’t need or want role models with firm values, they do, it just needs to be coming from someone with a background in how to be supportive in any given situation as per the research. The participants engaged in hands-on role-plays and other exercises during the workshop to practice the communication skills that have been found to be helpful in navigating these challenges.
The workshop was extremely beneficial and, although, surely no one can become a qualified counselor or even an expert youth worker in two days, Mr. Patel and Ms. Saleh, did an excellent job of making sure that all participants left with an overview of relevant considerations and an insight into some successful skills and techniques that are extremely valuable for anyone who works with youth.
May Allah reward the trainers, the participants, the Islamic Center of Wheaton, and CIOGC for hosting this important training. For more information on the Family & Youth Institute, click here.