Raising Boys vs. Raising Men

FD

We’ve all heard the phrase “Boys will be boys” when a boy does or says something immature or silly. However, there comes a point when a boy becomes a man. However, having the characteristics and physical traits that a man has doesn’t make one a man it makes one a male. We need to make a distinction between men and boys. A guy can be well into his mid-20s, 30s, 40s or even 50s and still be a boy. This is due to the nature of his inability to emotionally, spiritually and psychologically mature. We cannot seriously say the phrase “he’s just a kid” for 18-40 year old guys. This phrase removes any responsibility or accountability for a guy’s actions by simply writing it off as “they’re just being boys” or “they’re just being kids.”  That argument won’t hold any water in the court of law and it most certainly doesn’t in our day to day dealings with others. Our actions and words have consequences. Every action has an equal or stronger reaction.

 

Yes, we’re all learning about life in every stage of our lives, but to not be in a mode of learning, self-reflection, self-improvement and introspection at every point in your life will not help you to mature. Many guys today simply live with their egos, lusts and desires. They seek to simply feed all three (ego, lusts, and desires) and don’t care if in their pursuit of self-gratification of harming others in the process. The guys I see today are obsessed with athletes, celebrities, movies, TV shows, food, and sports. This may not be the case for all youth, but is definitely a trend I see in our youth today. The question is how can we slowly transition these youth out of this mindset to a more mature mindset of thinking deeply about life, reflecting about how they’re living life, and how to better themselves every day? The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was surrounded by youth who took on positions of leadership, took initiative and were key figures in the early history of Islam.

The question is, do we see that same level of maturity in our male youth today?

Sadly, many youth are growing up with this mentality of fast and simple self-gratification. These youth then become college students, then young professionals, and then husbands of families. Yet, as they may have progressed academically and career wise they still are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually at the level of a middle school kid. It’s scary to think that one day the youth that I see at the masjid and in our communities will be future husbands and fathers.

 

It’s easy to think and acts like a boy for all of your life. You can think that your actions and words have no consequences. You can think that everyone needs to respect you, demand respect from other and if anyone disrespects you you put them in their place by cussing them out or yelling at them. You can think that everything must come to you immediately. It’s sad to say though this type of behavior will not fly in the real world. If you have this boyish mentality in your school work, your work life, your family life, and with others you won’t live a very happy life. You’ll meet conflict after conflict, drama after drama and get yourself into more trouble than you want.

 

This is why I say there’s a difference between being a MAN and being a boy or simply thinking you’re a man because you’re male. A man is one who has good character, strong morals, ethics, and principles. A man is someone who is self-confident, respectful to others, builds people up and doesn’t tear them down. A man is someone who doesn’t demand respect, but earns it through his actions. A man is someone who respects women and doesn’t talk about them in a derogatory manner. A man is someone who doesn’t use bad language, yell at others or lose his temper. My question is where are the men today?

 

When I actually sat down to think about why there is such a level of immaturity in our male youth today I can only find one problem: bad parenting. Yes, there are different cases here and there that may be contrary to my finding, but at a core level the level of immaturity stems from bad parenting. If the father or mother doesn’t play a big role their son’s life by teaching him early on about ethics, morals, principles and values then how do you expect him to start adhering to them when he’s well into his teens? If a father doesn’t encourage his son to come to the masjid in his son’s early years and stress the importance of deen (Islam) in their lives how do they expect their sons to know the importance when they become 19 years old? We have parents going to imams, youth directors and the “cool uncle” and ask them “can you speak to my son? Can you encourage him to come to the masjid and remind him about Islam?” It’s sad that it’s come to this point where parents can’t even talk to their own children about their concern for the way they’re living their lives.

 

Another issue that leads to this immaturity is that we’re pampering our boys.We provide them early on with the latest gadgets, clothes, toys and demands early on and continue this trend into middle school, high school, and college. They learn to expect to get their demands at the drop of a hat. They feel entitled to certain things. They feel connected or attached to their gadgets and clothes. They feel that the latest brands are what make them better than others. They feel that can do whatever they want with no consequences.

 

This sets up our sons for failure in life. You can’t expect by giving your sons every luxury in this life at their fingertips while neglecting their Islamic education that they’ll be good human beings and successful in their lives. If you’ve given all the luxuries in the world to your son and not a firm understanding, appreciation and love of Islam then you’ve given your son nothing. We stress the dunya (this world) to such an extent to our sons that their entire lives are consumed by gadgets, clothes, TV shows, movies, etc. Lastly, as parents we can’t demand our kids to be more “religious” if we aren’t even practicing what we’re preaching. If you aren’t going to the masjid on a consistent basis, not reading Quran, not learning more about Islam how can you expect your son to take your request seriously?

 

We can no longer afford to continue this trend or it will hurt our community and our world. We cannot look and say in retrospect “where did I go wrong?” when our sons don’t listen to us, or they go down the wrong path or don’t listen to you when you tell them they should go to the masjid. We reap what we sew. “It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men” as Franklin Douglass said. We cannot easily reverse years of lack of guidance and nurturing after-the-fact of realizing the wrong we did. Sadly, for most of the immature boys we have in our community it will take a tragic event or a life-shaking event to open their eyes to change their ways, wake up and mature. I pray it doesn’t come to that and may Allah protect us from tragic events (ameen), but it will take something to shake them to wake them up to change their ways and become mature adults and men.

 

 

We need to begin raising men and not simply raising boys. We need well-balanced men who live their lives with purpose, with a vision, with a mission, and understand how to live their lives with balance. We need men who live with a strong understanding of their Islamic identity, morals, ethics and values. We need men who can become strong husbands for their families. We need men who can protect our women from the ugliness of the world. We need men who can become strong leaders for our communities.

 

We need men, not boys. No more “boys will be boys,” let them be MEN.

Keepin’ it Real: Interfaith, Identity and Intentions

Interfaith

The importance of interfaith dialogue cannot be underestimated. Interfaith dialogue can help build bonds of love, compassion, respect and tolereance between faith communites. Also, interfaith dialogue when transitioned to interfaith cooperation can be a strong force for change.

The importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation is important as faith communities are  are under attack and being either ignored, undermined, ridiculed and slowly eroded. Faith communities are the last bastions and champions of universal values in the world today. The values of justice, equality (both racial and economic), transparency, truth, loyalty, generosity, sympathy, empathy, and other values are becoming slowly more rare in both a community level, national level and personal level. Thus, it becomes important that faith communities stick together to remain strong against the war against moral values.

However, when it comes to the purpose of interfaith dialogue and cooperation it is important to understand why faith communities should come together, how they should conduct interfaith dialogue and the maintenance and strengthening of relationships between faith communities. In order for relationships to be built between faith communities, interfaith dialogue must occur, then cooperation can occur.

Pre-Community Interfaith Dialogue

Prior to community interfaith dialogue, religious leaders should meet to get a general understanding of each others’ faiths and have a genuine discussion regarding basic beliefs, misunderstandings, and other issues that may arise. However, doing this must be done in with the intention of understanding each others’ faith not necessarily proving the other wrong or right or working to disprove the other. This dialogue can occur, but obviously in a respective manner behind closed doors.

The initial meeting should be an educational meeting in which the religious leaders learn about each others’ faith. Differences should be discussed and recognized, but common beliefs should also be highlighted. This discussion should be true to each religious leaders’ faith teachings, texts and beliefs. Once common beliefs are established and the faiths understood by the religious leaders, then the religious leaders can discuss how to bring their communities together to conduct an interfaith dialogue and lay the groundwork in their communities to be open to the idea of interfaith dialogue.

Community Interfaith Dialogue

Once religious leaders do reach common ground and get a good understanding of each others’ faiths they should conduct an interfaith dialogue in which they establish the need for respect, love, mercy, and cooperation between the various faith communities. The word “tolerance” should be phased out of interfaith dialogue events due to the essence of the word not being helpful in creating a genuine bond between faith communities. There are better words to use than tolerance to promote strong bonds between faith communities.

One of the challenges of most interfaith dialogue events is that the parties involved don’t know how to conduct themselves or don’t know the basic ground rules of how to conduct an interfaith event. Some religious leaders come into interfaith dialogues with the intention of preaching, others come in with the intention of proving the other faith communities wrong, and some may just be there as a PR stunt.

Keep it Real

Often times when interfaith dialogue occurs it can feel often very fake or ingenuine, in order for faith communities to avoid this, differences must be recognized, but common beliefs must be recognized and emphasized while remaining genuine to each others’ beliefs. Often time interfaith dialogue events can make some faith communities shy away from controversial topics or issues, which is understandable, but religious leaders should avoid being deceptive or purposefully unclear in conveying certain religious beliefs. For example, the translation of certain Arabic words or verses from the Quran into English for interfaith dialogue events can be misleading or dishonest to the real meaning of the Arabic. Or another example can include the removal of certain words or verses from Biblical or Torah.

Keep True to Your Identity

It is important for each faith community to remain true to its teachings when it comes to interfaith dialogue. There should not be an effort to whitewash or water down one’s beliefs to become more politically correct. This not only counterproductive, but deceptive and dishonest to the other faith communities who want to genuinely learn about other faiths. Being honest and clear in interfaith dialogue is important. All questions no matter how uncomfortable must be answered by religious leaders in an honest manner. There should be a level of respect however when questions are asked about various aspects of religious beliefs.

Build REAL and Honest Relationships

Lastly, interfaith dialogues should not be merely “let’s get together, hold hands, and sing kumbaya.” Nor should interfaith dialogue events be PR events for the media. Faith communities must go beyond these modes of interfaith and have genuine discussions about their faiths, the role of faith in society, and the strategy of the faith communities’ cooperation on common challenges and issues facing their communities.  A lot of Muslim organizations and masjids fear using certain Islamic terminology or fear answering the tough questions posed by non-Muslims about Islam. While in interfaith dialogues it isn’t appropriate to be blunt, it is best to be honest and open about Islamic beliefs, especially with the misinformation about Islam and Muslims out there. At the end of the day there will be differences between the faith communities and deep theological differences, however, those differences can be addressed in a mature manner in another venue or event. Having these open and honest discussions is very important to creating trust between faith communities.

Muslims: Stop Fearing Islamophobes and Islamophobia 

Muslims should not be afraid of Islamophobia or Islamophobes and seek to whitewash or change their faith to make Islam more politically correct or misquote the Quran or hadith out of context to appeal to faith communities. If we engage in interfaith this way it’s not only dishonest to the faith communities you’re engaging with, but also dishonest to yourself, your community and a huge dishonorable act to represent Islam in a manner not befitting to the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Many of the verses of the Quran can be uncomfortable to discuss especially when it comes to the position of Jesus (peace be upon him) in Islam or the verses that mention Moses (peace be upon him), but Muslims must be honest and open about these differences and speak about them in an intelligent manner.

Interfaith Cooperation

Once the uncomfortable questions, clarification, and understanding of each others’ faith beliefs faith communities can begin to cooperate on common issues facing their communities be it poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, welfare, economic equality, pollution, etc.  Again, to reemphasize the last point mentioned above, any interfaith cooperation should not be a PR event for the media. There must be a joint strategy to cooperate on common issues and challenges. Faith communities should share resources, exchange ideas, brainstorm and develop strategies to effectively impact positive change in their communities.

Maintenance of Interfaith Relationships

Lastly, interfaith relationships between various faith communities must be maintained. Regular meetings, events, and programs should be held to cultivate a culture of cooperation, love, respect and mercy between faith communities’ congregations. This is probably the most important part of interfaith relationship building is the maintenance of the relationships. Islamophobes, international, and national tragedies and events should not break interfaith relationships. Strong interfaith relationships between faith communities should be able to withstand the severe backlashes and forces that seek to spread intolerance, hate, fear and violence between faith communities.

Conclusion

Genuine interfaith dialogue is an important foundational part in interfaith relationship building. After genuine interfaith dialogues occur, the next phase in relationship building is cooperation. Lastly, the maintenance of the relationship and the strengthening of the bonds over time must occur.

As bastions of universal moral values and ethics, faith communities must stand together against forces within our faith communities and outside our faith communities that seek to hijack our faiths or infect our communities with hatred, fear, and intolerance of each other. We must be vigilant, genuine to ourselves and our beliefs, and not compromise when it comes to interfaith relationship building and stand together to protect our communities and help positively impact our communities and the world.

Neglected Communities (Part 5): The Elderly, Disabled and Those with Special Needs

D2

It first hit me when I was recovering from my car accident in October of 2011. I was using a walker and had a medical boot on my left leg to cover to stabilize my ankle. My masjid in Marietta, Georgia didn’t have a handicap accessible ramp, nor did it have any way of getting into the masjid for individuals with wheelchairs or disabilities. I began realizing just how unwelcoming our masjid are to those with disabilities, the elderly and those with special needs. When I returned to Virginia, I used to sit down during jumuah in the section where the elderly men sat who couldn’t sit normally on the floor as I sat down among them I realized just how much we had neglected our elders, those with special needs and the disabled. It was truly a humbling and eye-opening experience for me.

The truth is the Muslim community has failed to serve individuals who are elderly, people with special needs, people with mental health problems, or disabilities. It is understandable how this neglect happened due to a community’s lack of resources or maybe just an inability of how to solve the problem of how to best serve those demographic of our community.

The first step in solving a problem is realizing we have one. Now that we’ve identified demographics of people in our community who are neglected it is incumbent upon us to work on ways to assist those brothers , sisters and families who are neglected by the community.  Let us discuss each demographic one at a time.

In addition to the suggestions below, we must create programs and awareness campaigns within our communities to bring to light these brothers and sisters in our communities who are suffering silently and are neglected by our community.

The Elderly

Our youth look at elders as backwards and burdensome. Some of us even go to the extent of putting our own parents in assisted living homes. Is this the way the Prophet SAW would treat his elders? I think not.  We must respect our elders and work towards taking care of them with the same love and care they gave us when we were young. Simply putting them in an assisted living home is not only disrespectful but hurtful to your parents and elders. Imagine if our parents were to do the same and simply put us in 24/7 babysitting—how would that make you feel as a child? Would you have a healthy relationship with your parents?

Let us work on respecting our elders and begin to provide programming in our masjids that caters to the needs of our elders and helps them grow spiritually and feel welcome in our masjids and communities. We have much to learn from our elders and we must support them with the utmost respect, caring and love.

The Disabled

There are individuals in our community who have physical disabilities. Maybe some were born with them or others may have gotten them in an unfortunate accident. Some brothers may have a missing limb others may be unable to perform certain rituals or prayers due to their physical disability. Some may have gotten into car accidents and are unable to walk or perform basic actions by themselves. We have truly neglected these individuals and must not look at them with eyes of arrogance or disgust (may Allah have mercy on us and on our eyes and limbs for looking at those with disabilities with disgust or arrogance. Ameen).

We may say he/she will never get married because he/she is disabled or may make remarks unknowingly that are hurtful to individuals with disabilities. This is not the sunnah of the Prophet SAW and certainly would not be approved by him. We must watch our words around those brothers and sisters with disabilities and not let our tongues be the reason for us to  hurt others.

There are brothers and sisters who’re blind, crippled, and/or have physical disabilities that make life difficult for them. We must begin to build facilities and resources to help them make their lives easier. We must help them feel a part of the community.

In addition to changing our attitude, we must also create facilities and resources for the brothers and sisters to feel a part of the community and benefit from the same spiritual knowledge and programs that the rest of the community does. We must not prevent brothers and sisters from attending certain events or functions due to their disability.  Every masjid should have a wheelchair ramp, chairs for brothers and sisters to sit in during jumuah and other helpful tools to help them feel more comfortable at the masjid.  Imams must do their utmost to create an atmosphere and environment of love and caring for the disabled in our community and must work to educate their communities about removing misunderstandings, stigmas and ignorance about disabled individuals.

May Allah increase our love for our disabled brothers and sisters. Ameen.

Those with Special Needs

 This is by far probably the most neglected demographic within our community. Many families are either shy or ashamed to bring their children with special needs to masjid functions or events due to their special need or mental disability.  They may feel their child will cause problems or embarrass them in front of the community.

We must create support groups for parents with special needs and create programs and functions for families with family members with special needs or mental disabilities. At the same time we shouldn’t corner this demographic into a corner by creating these specific programs, but ensure that these programs help this demographic feel a part of the community. For this demographic we must create both support systems for parents with children with special needs as well as programs, events and functions for children and adults with special needs.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article was only to bring light to these communities being neglected. My hope is that those of you reading this will come up with solutions of how to help make these brothers and sisters feel more welcome in our own communities and think of ways to ensure our masjids and communities are doing our best to help serve them.

May Allah soften our hearts for our elders, our disabled and our brothers and sisters with special needs and grant us the ability to help them to the best of our ability. Ameen.