Do you know the ways in which the personality of young Muslims is torn apart while living in a western society? We, in Pakistan, are fortunate that we were born in a place surrounded by people with the same beliefs and practices. Practicing Islam in non-Muslim societies is far more difficult than in predominantly Muslim countries. This is particularly true for Muslim youth; they have their work cut out for them.

What makes it difficult is that it involves matters of everyday life and not something encountered once in a blue moon. What should they do when their school mates (male and female) want to hang out with them on the weekends doing what teenagers do? How should they respond to the advances of the opposite sex? The thought scares parents because if they let their child socialize with their peers, it may lead to the deterioration of his/her morals. But if they don’t, the child ends up being alienated and ostracized. Young Muslims experience multidimensional pressures including pressure from the family to practice their Deen and be a good Muslim, pressure from the society for assimilation and pressure from the peers to fit in.

The Life of Young Muslims

They live in two worlds; one inside their homes where their parents and other family members try to maintain an acceptable level of religious identity and the other is the world outside, where they experience contradiction after contradiction to their beliefs. This causes an identity crisis because they try to live up to the expectations of both the worlds and then end up confused about who they are and who they should be?

Take the case of Ahmad, as narrated by Ibrahim J. Long, a Muslim covert and a chaplain.

“Ibrahim,” he asked, “can you speak with me?” Ahmad, 19, was a young Muslim man struggling with peer pressure at his community college to drink and engage in sexual activity….. Ahmad came from a practicing Muslim home; he did not feel comfortable speaking to them about the peer pressures he faced…. He confessed to me that he had been giving in to them
[drinking and sexual activity] and knew that what he was doing was wrong… Ahmad was looking for something inspiring about the religion he had known his entire life, or some practical advice that could strengthen him against falling prey to these pressures…it was not just advice he was looking for, he was also desperate just to find someone able understand his situation.
Though I worried and prayed for him, since then I have not seen him.”

Among the most difficult issues for Muslim youth are maintaining relationships with the opposite gender and how to deal with the issue of premarital sex. Ahmad’s case is not unique; many young Muslims are in the same boat. What makes this situation worse is that they do not feel that there is anyone around who can help. These pressures often manifest themselves in unacceptable ways such as young Muslims giving up to the social pressures and embracing the ways of their peers, or sometimes by adopting dual identities. They please their parents by acting like good Muslims at home and they fit in with their peers by becoming one of them when away from home.

Who Should They Turn To?

They don’t want to talk to their families because they feel that their parents or other elders don’t understand where they are coming form. In most cases, the parents were born and raised in a Muslim country under completely different circumstances. So relating to the issues of their children is extremely difficult for them. Other than family, one of the sources that can be
consulted for guidance is the imams of the local masjids and community centers. But a majority of the imams are also immigrants from Muslim countries and their frame of reference does not correspond to a Muslim youth who is born and raised in the west.

This leaves these young souls in a precarious and distressing situation because they find themselves struggling against the vices that could corrupt them. They want to preserve their religious identity but at the same time they also want to be a part of the society they are living in and want to be seen as ‘normal’ young people.

What is the Solution?

For complex issues like this, there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many aspects to this issue but one of the most important things to be done is relating to the youth and communicating with them on all levels. They should be able to reach out to people with whom they can share their thoughts and struggles and get practical advice that takes into account
the ground realities of everyday life of a young Muslim. Platforms that promote people who have been there and done that, can be a great help. When these young people feel that they are not alone in this predicament and there is someone who can help, they will get the strength to develop an identity that they can be proud of.