Two nights before Eid, I was at the public library looking for children’s books on Muslim holidays. As I was perusing the sparse titles, a woman in hijab approached me. “Do you speak English?” she asked me. “Do you work here? I need help finding books,” she said in Arabic. I explained that I did not work there, but was happy to try to help her. “I am looking for books on parenting skills. I need something on parenting teenagers.”
She told me that she needed help with her son, who was 13 years old. “I don’t know what to do… I just need to find him something.” Without knowing details, I quickly assumed many things. Having worked with teens for a long time, I was familiar with many mother’s nightmare. “Do you work? I thought you were a teacher,” she said.
“Actually, I work with young Muslims like your son. I’ve been working with them for years now.”
“Subhan Allah! I have been looking for someone, trying everything, talking to so many people. God wanted us to cross paths tonight,” she said. “So what kind of work? Are there programs? I am looking for programs. My son needs something.”
“Sure,” I offered. “I can help you find some programs in the area” I suggested as I sorted through my mental rolodex. I gave her my number and we agreed that she would call me the next morning.
Less than 2 hours later, my phone rang. I was grocery shopping and the number was not familiar to me, so I let the call go to voicemail. After I left the market, I listened to my voicemail. It was the mother I had just met. In her voice message, she apologized that she called so soon, but said she was really desperate to find a “solution” for her son. Again, I imagined every parent’s horror story. I quickly understood how determined this mother was. After all, this was her child. What could possibly be more important to her? And because it was the most important issue in her life, she was determined to make it the most pressing issue in mine. How could I be upset by that? On the contrary. I was happy to find a mother in the library, looking for parenting books in a language that was not even her native tongue, mingling with strangers and calling them late at night, all in an effort to “save her son.”
What was the problem? I finally learned… he was bored. There was no drug use, no girlfriend, no suicidal tendencies—none of the things a typical teenager would be involved in. But his boredom, and his frustration with his family—all absolutely normal behaviors and attitudes for a 13 year old—were enough warnings for this mother. She insisted she didn’t want “to lose” her son. She needed to get him involved in clubs with positive role models. His boredom had led him to start socializing with a “bad crowd,” the mother said. And when she forbade him from socializing with them, he became resentful, and she knew he needed a different, better outlet.
This should be every parent’s concern if they have children. How do we keep our children engaged in healthy, meaningful activities? If we don’t put forth effort to make sure they are occupied with something positive, they will find something or someone themselves. And we cannot be certain that that something or someone will be a positive influence on our children. That is one reason why parents should be encouraging their children to attend the Greater Chicago Muslim Youth Expo this Saturday, Oct. 10th at UIC. The expo will offer dozens of opportunities for youth to get involved in activities that are interesting and important to them. In addition to all the organizations and student clubs that will be present for youth to meet, there is a panel at the expo titled, “Calling All Causes: Youth Activism and Organizing Efforts.” At this session, young Muslims will present to the audience about an issue they are working on and give the audience members a chance to sign up to get involved with it directly.
Youth will also have the opportunity to meet with young Muslim professionals from a variety of fields. Young artisans will be on site selling their hand-made artwork, and perhaps that will inspire youth to get involved in art-making. And several other workshops are in store, along with spoken word, rap and nasheed performances. The show will be hosted by internationally renowned hip-hop artist, Chicago’s own Khaled M. Encourage your son or daughter to attend. In fact, offer to drive them to the expo!
Youth have a lot of energy and a lot of fantastic ideas. If we as adults can provide the framework and a healthy, safe space for our young people, they will do incredible things and take our community above and beyond. The Muslim Youth Expo will bring together close to 40 groups that work with youth. Hundreds of young Muslims are expected to attend, and even with 3 days to go, there are already over 300 people from all over Chicagoland registered. We are excited to be organizing this expo for the first time, and we look forward to your participation.
For more event details or information on how to register, click here or go to https://www.ciogc.org/index.php/youth-leadership/muslim-youth-expo