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Youth Work is in Crisis, and We Must Act Now!

Youth Work is in Crisis, and We Must Act Now!

Over the course of 15 years, I have heard preachers at mosques continuously say “we are losing our youth,” only to have these calls fall on deaf ears within the mosques themselves. I have also noticed that the number of youth involved in the community has dropped significantly. 

With young Muslims increasingly feeling like outcasts from mosques due to their lifestyle choices, many had begun turning towards youth clubs to seek that sense of belonging. However, over the past few years, political parties have reduced the government’s budget, which has resulted in councillors taking bribes from construction companies to close down these clubs in various communities, and renovating them and turning them into high-end apartments fit for ‘young professionals.’ 

Building these homes for young professionals has – ironically – increased the marginalisation of many young people living in those communities, as many of them cannot afford to live in their areas anymore. 

This has resulted in many communities across the UK being heavily affected by gentrification and increased political and religious exclusion. Thus we began seeing many young members of our community getting caught up in gangs, and suffering from abuse and drug addiction. Furthermore, inside the home, many youth have begun to hide their beliefs and mental health problems from their family and friend circles in fear of expulsion and ostracisation. 

How many times have we heard members of the older generation say that depression is just a “lack of Iman (faith)” or merely “a test from Allah”? How many times have questioning young Muslims been met with severe backlash and with answers such as “because Allah says so”, “don’t ask too many questions”, “stop letting the devil whisper in your ear.” Do our youth not deserve to be answered, nurtured and cared for?!

According to the British Muslims in Number’s DDYS Survey 2018 which was published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB): 

  • 78% of teenage Muslims live a double life. 
  • 25% of Muslims in Britain consume drugs or alcohol regularly. 
  • 10,000 people in Britain leave the Muslim faith every year
  • 15.5% of prisoners in Britain are Muslims. 
  • 1 in 10 Muslims in Britain are diagnosed with mental health conditions
  • 91% of young Muslim women in Britain are unhappy with their body image
  • 10% of Muslims in Britain live in the most deprived areas of the country. 
  • 1 in 4 Muslims in Britain holds no qualifications. 

While these numbers are shocking, the situation is getting progressively worse due to the lack of efforts being made to resolve core issues, or even giving young Muslims a safe space to express their struggles. 

Indeed, there are many trailblazing young Muslims in the UK who have accomplished significant achievements. This does not negate the fact that a large portion of the young community continues to struggle from depression, physical and drug abuse etc!

While these issues have affected many communities and religious groups, I believe that we are ordered by the teachings of our faith to work together and tackle these issues as a community. Should that not mean something for us? 

The New Statesman recently reported that there are over 1500 mosques in the UK. I believe that these mosques have a massive responsibility towards the youth, especially that these problems may affect our sons, brothers, relatives and friends. 

With the political situation increasingly antagonising Muslims, we should not wait on government programs to give us handouts or provide solutions for our youth. We have the answer within us. We just need to take the initiative and make the real effort to reach out to these youth.

How do we do this?

According to some reports, British Muslims are amongst the most generous communities when it comes to giving to charities. These reports have stated that Muslim charities raise over 500million a year, with around 100 million in the holy month of Ramadan alone! These astonishing numbers show that we, as a community care about others. Unfortunately, according to the Islamic Finance Guru, most of these funds raised are disproportionately send abroad. Yes, there are chronic levels of poverty in Africa and Asia; however, we must keep in mind that many people are suffering here in the UK, most importantly; our youth. 

The reality is that many independent youth workers are doing the work in their communities with no funding or support, and I have to salute them for their services to our youth consistently. Sadly, many youth workers have left the profession because they have bills and their families to support.

With the problem now highlighted, it’s time to provide a solution: 

From our hadith books, scholars have often stated “al-aqrabouna awla bil ma’arouf” roughly meaning, “charity starts at home.” To many young Muslims, this country is home; they were born here, grew up here, have adopted its culture, and have no intention of returning to their parents’ country of origin. Thus, while we push most of our charity abroad, let us focus equally on developing our youth here; at home! 

If we only raise 15% of the funds raised by Muslim charities annually, we can invest in empowering and supporting young Muslims in the UK. We can establish youth clubs and centres where Muslim youth are able to attend and voice their grievances and discuss issues in a safe environment. We can support Muslim chaplains to go to prisons and provide support for our incarcerated Muslim brothers and sisters who have been largely ignored and shunned by our community. Furthermore, we should also encourage our mosques to reverse policies which have pushed many members of the younger generation away. If mosques donated only two days for youth engagement and youth clubs, our community will collectively grow healthier and stronger.

Before we blame the youth for going astray, we must extend our hands to them, and offer them opportunities to come back to us so that they become productive and valuable members of society.  

We need this positive change in attitudes to happen, and we need it to happen now!

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