The Gradual Downfall of Islam in the West
First and foremost, let it be stated that everything that I will be talking about in this article is from what I have observed growing up as a Muslim in the America.
“My views are mine and mine alone.”
My opinions are formed based on the communities I have been in, the people I have interacted with, as well as my visits to Iran. Now that I got that out of the way, I do want to state that the things I will be discussing are what I have found to be a common theme and if we do not address them, it will result in the demise of Islam (or at least the Islam that is taught by the Quran and the Prophet).
I have decided to write these findings so that leaders in our Muslim communities may read it and maybe start looking for solutions and ways to address the issues.
It is without a doubt apparent that the generation of Muslim youth who are now young adults and all the generations of youth and kids after them are facing a crisis when it comes to faith. This crisis can be described as being a lack of caring about their religion and the concept of faith coupled with a lack of knowledge surrounding their so called belief. In essence, Islam has become reduced to little more than a culture. As with any culture, it has special religious days, certain traditions that take place year after year, a routine that is occasionally followed, and something that you do because your parents did it. Just like a race or culture, you are born into it. We see the Muslim youth having changes in their clothing, becoming more and more influenced by pop culture. We see them becoming more “modernized” in their interactions with others, having less modesty. We are seeing more and more of them becoming atheists and agnostics (most of them keep this a secret), and while the majority may play a front that this isn’t the case for them, if you have a deep conversation with them, you will see that this is indeed the case.
Most people will be quick to point the finger at someone else for the problems, and that is what is currently being done with this major issue within the Muslim community. People are pointing fingers at the media, the west, schools, and anyone or anything that could have a potential role in the problem, but very few people point a finger at themselves.
The issues facing the Muslim community are 100% due to our own communities and our lack of vision and preparedness to face the issues faced by our children, our communities, but most importantly, the issues that we face ourselves individually .
If I were to go into the greatest level of details, I would have a book on my hands and most likely the people who I want to read it would not have the time to read it, so instead I will make a summary document and keep it simple. I will break down the causes of this downfall into three overarching categories:
- Lack of Direction
- Lack of Cultural Awareness
- Lack of Interactions
I am very open to criticism and if after reading the article in its entirety you find yourself thinking I am absolutely wrong, please comment your opinions and counter my points.
Lack of Direction
I will start with the biggest issue. Our communities have a lack of direction. They don’t have a goal in place for what they plan to achieve with their youth. Growing up, I attended the Sunday schools, the Friday Prayers, and the weekend programs and lectures. You would expect a kid growing up and attending these programs from middle school through college to have gained a considerable amount of wisdom and spiritual insight. That is not the case. What is taught is usually some very surface level morals and ethics, mostly history, and if you are lucky a small (very small) insight into philosophy or spirituality. You might say that not much can be learned by attending once a week for a couple of hours. Sure, but when it is over such a large period of time, you would expect something, anything really that would have made all those hours attended worth it.
The lectures given do not follow a theme and direction. When we attend school in kindergarten and first grade, they start by introducing us to numbers. Then in second grade they introduce addition and subtraction, then we go into multiplication and division, etc until by the end of high school many of us have worked our way through Calculus. They start with a foundation and work their way to deeper concepts. Islamic lectures and Sunday schools in our communities however do not follow this flow. Things are repeated many times and most kids have a sense that they are not learning anything valuable to them by attending these lectures. Over time, kids become bored and many do not want to attend and if they do, most likely their parents are forcing them to be there. Those who do attend and pay attention may become frustrated that they are not learning something new, that they are being told the same thing in different ways. Even for the adults, it feels as if attending the mosque is more of a social gathering than a destination to seek to improve one’s spiritual connection with the all mighty.
In some mosques/centers, their boards may have an idea of where the direction they want to take their youth is, however, this may not align with the direction that we need to be taking our kids. This falls into the next topic of discussion.
Lack of Cultural Awareness
In the previous discussion point I mentioned that most communities lack a sense of direction. Well, lets say you read that and disagreed. Lets say there are communities out there that have boards who are very focused and ambitious and they have laid out their visions and goals. The majority of the Islamic Centers and Mosques in the US are run by board members that are entirely foreigners (and usually not very diverse), people who have moved here for schooling or work and have stayed here and established their families here. This is a big problem as their cultural upbringing is for the most part different with that of the youth growing up here. Their problems and challenges growing up are different than the problems and challenges of the Muslim youth in America. What they see as being the direction may, and I would argue isn’t, the direction that needs to be taken. Proof of what I am saying is very easy to see. Look at your Muslim communities. Think of how many kids you had in your elementary school Sunday school classes 15 years ago. How many of those kids are religious today? How many of those kids attend the mosque? How many of those kids would you be able to tell are Muslim if it weren’t for their race? Clearly, whatever has been happening so far in these communities has not been addressing the youth and in my opinion, has been the cause of the sheep going their own way.
In the west, so much time is spent on science and the value of observations. The youth want to understand their religion in the early stages of their doubts. When they approach their parents or someone who is knowledgeable in their communities, the answers they receive are very surface level, often they contain logical fallacies, and rather than answering the person’s questions, it shows them that they were right to have doubt. There is a lack of preparedness in how to answer the questions of our youth. These are questions that to the elders in the communities, may not be seen as important or things to worry about and address. This is due to their lack of awareness and disconnect with the culture that they live in. The youth’s questions aren’t baseless. In fact, the question that the youth have are very important and can cause the youth to potentially achieve higher levels of understanding and spirituality than their elders if they are properly addressed. For our youth, philosophy, logic, and other areas of wisdom are required for spiritual growth, however these are topics that they will not learn in their schools. Islamic scholars that the elders respect take these classes and use these concepts to build the foundation for which they will attain their level of spirituality. But when a youth asks questions that require deeper approaches in terms of the answer, the elders will be quick to judge and blow them off, seeing it as them having weakness in their faith.
This lack of cultural understanding is apparent in the lectures as well. Most times we have scholars/speakers who are giving lectures that are about 45min-1 hour long. The youth these days do not have the attention spans to sit through such a long lecture. In classrooms in school, this has been realized and different methods are incorporated to keep to students focused. Teachers use power points, visuals, discussions, group activities, etc to facilitate the learning experience. Sitting down for one hour listening to something you have heard multiple times before is boring, not conductive or learning, and will cause the youth to go on their phones or not attend. Then when they don’t attend or when they are caught playing on their phones, these youth are criticized, making them less enthusiastic about Islam and more likely to not care about the religion.
Lack of Interactions
I have a question. When is the last time that you heard of a Muslim community’s board members/leaders sitting down exclusively with the youth and gaining their feedback, asking them what they think is important, and bringing them into the decision making and planning process? If this ever happens, I bet it is very rare. Without having this interaction in place, it becomes impossible for the board members to know the issues and know how to address the issues. So much can be learned by just having a simple dialogue, unfortunately such dialogue may bruise egos and out of such fear, they do not take place.
Instead of lectures, group discussion or panels even would be more beneficial for learning. It would allow for the different members of the community to interact with one another, share their wisdom, actively participate as a part of the community, and allow for greater engagement of the audience. True, such a format would open the floor for people to share opinions that may not be accurate, but that is the beauty of a discussion. Such views would be brought out and addressed. If you never talk about it, then how will you know where your community members have it wrong? Let me share with everyone the benefits of having a discussion format. In my current community, I helped set up a round circle discussion group for our youth where they would be able to discuss topics, share opinions, and allow for the opportunity to answer and address their questions and concerns. It took place for three weeks. The first week we had an attending group size of about 7 people. The second week our group grew to 16 people. The third week we hit 25 attending individuals. The fourth week our center’s board shut us down. Their argument for shutting us down? It was taking away from the attending population of the lecture that was happening before our discussion circle. They were also concerned that they would not be able to control what people said and the topics that would be brought up. Now, in the month of Ramadan, guess how many youth attend the lecture? The answer is 5 people on average with 5 being a high estimate. That is not to say that the youth are not in the vicinity, they just aren’t in the lecture hall. Instead they might be found chatting with one another outside about topics completely not relating to Islam.
I would like to bring up one more instance that I think is important in regards to lack of interactions before I wrap up this article. There is a very large lack of Muslim scholars in America and an even greater lack of Muslim scholars who were born and raised in America. This lack of scholars wouldn’t be that big of an issue if the scholars were active in spreading the wisdom and disseminating the knowledge beyond their local mosque, but they don’t do these things and as a result it is a big issue. When is the last time you have read an article written my a scholar in America in English be it online or in print? When is the last time you heard of a podcast that was by a scholar? When is the last time you have seen scholars make an attempt to build audiences online through instagram, snapchat, youtube, facebook etc? Besides one or two exceptions, for the most part it is lacking and if it is out there, it wasn’t the scholar himself who was making the effort to do so. Access to scholars to ask questions is next to impossible in the west.
The method that the scholars approach spreading Islam and their wisdom is stuck in the historic traditional ways of the past. It is like they are making an active effort to not to use the modern platforms of media that have been developed in the past decade. When you have a lack of scholars, the logical solution would be to use technology to spread the resource. Instead communities that don’t have the funds opt to either stream youtube videos of lectures or occasionally pool their money to invite a scholar for a one off lecture. They don’t look into developing ways to use the internet to interact and stay connected with scholars in other communities so that their communities can have the chance to have their youth interact with a scholar. In my current community we have recently had a scholar become a “long distance” resident scholar. He is from California and in October it was made a big deal how he was going to be leading our center from afar and how he would visit occasionally and stay connected with us if we wanted to ask questions or interact with him. Well, it is now the end of June and I have yet to see or hear from him again. I have not been told how to approach him, how to use him as a resource. Quite frankly, he is to me nothing more than a figure head, a sign of the bigger problem and lack of awareness of the community elders of the problems that exist.
The points I brought up are only a few of the problems that I have seen that has been resulting in the demise of Islam in the west. I bring out these points not because I am trying to criticize people. I hope to start a conversation and to bring change into the communities. If we progress in the way that we currently are progressing, I think that it will have huge ramifications for the future of Islam in America and other western countries. When these deeper problems are not addressed, it is no wonder that our youth struggle with problems with their Muslim identities, especially in a time where that identity will bring them social problems and challenges in school, work, etc. If I have offended anyone I apologize. I am concerned and I believe that the elders who have brought us into the current situation are also concerned. Everyone may have good intentions, but not all good intentions have good outcomes.
Peace and blessings be with you all.