An interview with ICC’s Youth Director, Shaikh Muhammad Khan
Originally from Guyana, in South America, Muhammad Khan is a relative newcomer to the Charlotte area. He moved to Chicago in childhood and was inspired by his father, Shaikh Abdur Rahman Khan, to pursue Islamic education. Over time, Muhammad was able to attend the Islamic University of Medina where he received a diploma in the Arabic language and in Sharia with a focus in Fiqh (understanding of Islamic law) and Usool al Fiqh (principles and application of Islamic law). His experience in both high school and college sports such as basketball, tennis and football give him a well-rounded background that youth directors need.
Why are youth directors important in our mosques? Shaikh Muhammad clearly states that it is a requirement in order for the community to function properly. “Many times our young brothers and sisters have trouble or feel uncomfortable dealing with an older person. Providing them with someone their own age and mentality helps them better express themselves in order to get the correct help that they may need,” expressed the Shaikh.
We asked Shaikh Muhammad to express what he felt was the greatest moral threat to the youth, Muhammad replied that it was the “…justification of open-ended understanding that morality is a free and open concept decided and understood by individuals as opposed to something set by society, faith or someone greater.” Muhammad Khan feels that this lack of a moral compass in society creates confusion and misdirection. He continued, “The purpose of faith, regardless of the religion, is to follow in order to better society and protect it from harm.”
How can believing parents prevent this conflict from arising in their children? Shaikh Muhammad says, “Rather than just preventing them from forbidden things, establish principles and values. So when they are faced with certain problems and put in a situation, those principles and values will come to stand as a scale or measuring tool to know what is right from what is wrong. Simply prohibiting certain actions would only result in pushing our children and youths to other actions of similar results.”
For parents of preteens and teens, the secular society throws people of faith constant curve-balls with issues such as drugs, open access to alcohol, casual approaches to sex and sexuality. Shaikh Muhammad says that in order to combat media influence on these fronts that parents have to maintain an open relationship with their children. “Accountability is important so the closer you are to your child the better you will understand them and easier it would be to confront them about any topic. In that way you will assist them and you will be together in this world and together you will enter paradise with the mercy of God (The Eternal and Absolute).” He also reinforced that when youth are provided with peer group environments in the masjid or youth halaqah, they are surrounded by positive peers to help them in this journey.
Speaking of peers and peer pressure, many Muslims have to send their children to public school, for teenagers this can be a breeding ground of morality that is against the principles of Islam. Shaikh Muhammad’s advice to parents is to understand your individual child. “Every child is different and it is the responsibility of the parents to understand their children from the time they are born and not wait for something to go wrong before they start trying to know them. … Don’t sleep when your child is young and wake up when you think they are in trouble. We need to be aware of our children from the very start.”
Shaikh Muhammad says that this sort of awareness of the child’s psyche and establishment of good relations directly helps us to provide good examples and correction throughout their lives. “Simply addressing the issue to them as early as possible would be extremely beneficial for them in the long run. A final advice for parents is to be on the same page as with each other in order to benefit your child,” Shaikh Muhammad concludes.
In an authentic Hadith, The Prophet Muhammad (prayers of blessings and peace be upon him) said, “Teach your children to pray when they are seven years old, and smack them (lightly) if they do not do so when they are ten, and separate them in their beds.” Many of us have been told that once a child reaches puberty that he or she is an adult under Islamic rules and therefore religion becomes a personal matter. This issue of accountability and when a parent’s responsibilities end has been asked many times in many ways; we addressed this issue to Shaikh Muhammad who responded, “It is true that at puberty, accountability starts. That’s when a child would be held responsible for their actions and would be questioned accordingly with regards to his obligations to Allah, and the other commandments and prohibitions.”
“With this said;” Muhammad continued, “a huge responsibility is on the parents to give their children adequate training in preparation for these days and stage of life.” Shaikh Muhammad went on to explain that there are many instances in the Qur’an and Sunnah where we are instructed to give our children the proper training in Islam before they reach puberty, “so by the time they are matured and are accountable that they would have already been doing what is expect of them with regards to their responsibility to God.” Shaikh Muhammad clarified.
He continued, “The responsibility doesn’t automatically stop when they reach puberty but continues, as the parent should always be giving guidance continuously.” While situations will always vary from one parent and child to another, there is a constant.
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.”- Qur’an 16:125
Shaikh Muhammad concludes. “Remember that ultimate guidance is in the hands of Allah, and that it is only required from us to make the efforts and strivings. Always make dua and supplication to Allah for your kids, never give up and do not allow your love for them be that which prevents you from standing up firm for what is right and pleasing to Allah.”
Shaikh Muhammad continues, “Remember that ultimate guidance is in the hands of Allah, and that it is only required from us to make the efforts and strivings. Always make dua and supplication to Allah for your kids, never give up and do not allow your love for them be that which prevents you from standing up firm for what is right and pleasing to God.”
We live in a chaotic society that seems at odds with morality and principles of faith, however, Shaikh Muhammad says, “Remember that Allah has created children with pure innate nature called Fitrah.” In a well-known Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad has said, “Every new-born child is born in a state of Fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a fire worshiper, just as an animal is born intact. Do you observe any among them that are maimed (cutting off or removal of an essential part at birth)?”
Shaikh Khan talked about the issues that face immigrant households and how the issue of colonization affects us all far more than we know. “For many families, we have to be conscious of the effect that colonization has had on the culture. In this way, the breakdown of family and morality is a planned event.” This is because when countries were colonized; their cultures, faith and social beliefs were colonized as well. Muhammad continues, “The occupiers made the people believe that children had to behave, dress and interact in the way of the culture that had been forced upon them.” We can see that this has not changed in America wherein the secular society is trying to enforce a colonization of the mind through media and political language.
Shaikh Muhammad expressed that positive reinforcement of a child’s behavior comes from the family, community and the Mosque. However, these three have flaws which must be recognized and corrected so that positive reinforcement for our children is consistently metered out:
Family: For immigrant families, Shaikh Muhammad says “The family unit is at odds with the fact that they come from a different society with different experiences and there is a great fear in dealing with issues straight on. Parents who take some time to understand this society instead of being insular do a far better job in communicating with the children who are being raised in this society.”
Community: Shaikh Muhammad shares that “Overall our community life in America is sporadic at best; most times we are an island in our own homes.” Therefore, more effort must be made to integrate and share the task of growth and development of the youth with others in our neighborhood, town or city.
Mosques: “Our Mosques are constantly dealing with power struggles and conflicts.” Shaikh Muhammad states grimly. The lack of vision for good governance at the masjid creates a structure where the youth are often left out. Too many mosques have little to no program for youth to gain spiritual development. This creates negative, non-inclusive environment that children will find toxic and abandon as they reach adulthood.
As parents, and as a society, we have much to do for the improvement of our youth. Shaikh Muhammad Khan’s presence at ICC will be a strong help, but it will take all of us. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.