The youth are vital because they keep us in check and make sure we are paying attention to the current issues, and less on what was before.
In patriarchal cultures, the youth is silenced and are expected to sit in the back and listen to their elders. We don’t accept that. Youth have rights, and those rights are the right to life, survival, and development, including mental, emotional, cognitive, social and cultural development. We understand that the importance of progress relies heavily on valuing the voices of our youth. The youth are inherently representative of such improvement for future generations. The youth are vital because they keep us in check and make sure we are paying attention to the current issues, and less on what was before.
When we look at the history of the Abrahamic faiths, whether it is Judaism, Christianity or Islam, we find that many of the prophets were older men when they took up the challenge of their prophecy. However, in some instances, other prophets and their assistants began their journeys in their youth. Beginning with Abraham, we have Yusuf (Joseph), Musa (Moses and Aaron), Daud (David), Sulayman (Solomon) and Isa (Jesus). Additionally, we will find throughout this history a number of these prophets were also leaders who were very youthful when they began.
As it relates to Islam’s Prophet Mohammad, it was Ali ibn Abi Talib, as they were cousins. As Prophet Mohammad began his journey, Ali was one of the believers and supporters from the very beginning in Mecca. Ali was often very instrumental in working with Prophet Mohammad during very crucial times throughout the Prophet’s leadership of the Muslim community until his death in 632. Having such a close relationship, we can see that Ali came to understand Islam’s importance in changing the Meccan society, and due to his exposure to Prophet Muhammad at almost every event, when he was called upon to take up leadership of the Muslim community in 656, he was not persuaded by the reestablishment of the neo-paganism that had led to Prophet Mohammad’s challenge to the Meccan society. Though his Khalifat was short-lived, which came later in his life, it was during his youth that he inculcated the true spirit of the Islamic faith.
Similarly, the youth of today are the evaluators of the present, learning and assessing the best of the traditions that make sense to them in today’s world, and will be the processors for the revival and reformation of how the Islamic faith will be understood and utilized in the future. The youth are part of the social issues within which they live, and yet the older generation demands that the youth agree with them because it contradicts their worldview.
What is incumbent upon the Muslim community’s leadership of today is the utmost need for them to understand that the youth bring the much-needed curiosity, creativity and open-mindedness to the religious beliefs that will shape it for their generation and future generations. No matter how insistent the leadership demands adherence to their beliefs, the past remains the past and the present leads to the future; therefore, the past cannot imagine the innovative methodologies the future will demand for the youth to accomplish the forward movement of the Islamic faith into the future.
Progressive Islam recognizes the important role that the youth plays in the continuous evolution of Islamic faith — following in the 1500 year history that has gone before us — and will be the foundation for future generations of Muslims. Support our youth — the future of our Islamic faith depends upon it.
Imam Daayiee Abdullah is an American man who converted to Islam in China in the 1980s. He has lived in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. He has appeared on major media networks worldwide, on behalf of LGBT Muslims. He is currently the Executive Director of MECCA Institute, a progressive Islamic institute with a think tank and a school.