The current of generation of Muslim youth are a product of mostly a previous immigrant generation. Our parents came to North America in search of a better life for us and for them in those times, it was about finding a job and putting food on the table so that we could go to school, become educated and not have to struggle as much as our parents did. As we were growing up and as our parents tried to hold on to cultural and religious values, as a society, we failed to address the challenges and peer pressures we're faced with growing up in the west.
As an entire Muslim community; from within the home to the institutions we have in place (Islamic school, masjids etc), we somehow were under the impression that the Muslim youth would be immune to the mainstream pressures every single child/teenager/adult faces. The reality is that we were and we are not immune. Drugs, alcohol, the dating culture and everything associated with it...these are all the realities of Muslims today. I know young Muslim brothers and sisters who are:
- Addicted to drugs and alcohol (beginning in their early high-school/university days and now in their early to mid-20s, still doing that while parents are asking them to settle down with good, religious men/women).
- Dating and having relations outside of marriage - and yes, I'm talking about kids both inside and outside Islamic schools (yes, Islamic Schools)
The above are just two examples (I bulleted the above two points so that they would stand out). I need not go through the entire list - I'm sure you can keep the list going. The unfortunate reality is that these issues are now trickling into our society and have manifested into many more complicated problems - the immediate effects include mental health issues including depression, and when the youth can't take it anymore, suicide is the ultimate, final resort.
I know of two completed suicides of Muslim youth, and one, was ready to do so but alhamdullilah, found some support. At a lecture I was recently at, an Imam talked about how he was getting calls from Muslim families of youth who had committed suicide, and was asked to silently come, complete what was needed to be done and leave - the family not saying a word, in fear of shame of what people/society would think.
As Muslims, one of our obligations and rights is to our neighbours. Here we are, in 2014, where Muslim youth are committing suicide and what are we doing about it? Absolutely nothing. What are we going to say to God when He asks us what we did to help them? Nothing?
We have to come together, unite and help the Muslim youth. They are the future of Islam and tomorrow's leaders.
It all comes down to us failing as a community. We need to realize that Muslim youth are prone and are facing the same challenges non-Muslim youth are facing. There are numerous support systems that are available for non-Muslim youth and they are able to take advantage of it. For Muslim youth, there are a two main challenges I see:
- If they are going through issues (drugs, alcohol etc), they know it's forbidden in Islam. As a result, out of fear, they don't talk to anybody, and don't know where to turn to for help or support. It is this lack of support and hopelessness that is potentially leading them to commit suicide.
- Our masjids and communities - very few - have designated services, most importantly counsellors for Muslim youth who they can talk to to help sort out and work through these challenges - at a spiritual, emotional and practical level.
Alhamdullilah, I think our communities are starting to change and we have religious leaders who can relate to youth start talking about some of these issues but I have yet to see someone explicitly say, ok today's talk will be on suicide. Again, it's a taboo topic in our community but it's up to us to untaboo it so we can talk about it, make the youth who are struggling to realize that there is a way out, there is help and there is hope.
If you're a teacher, an educator, or work with Muslim youth in any capacity, be a source of support who they can talk to - youth need someone who they can trust and relate to, and before you know it, they will open up and express their fears.
Please also refer anyone who may be going through any situation and need a confidential support, there is the Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline (1-866-NASEEHA, http://naseeha.net/).
I'm hoping to focus and do more work on this, so stay-tuned inshAllah. In the meantime, please feel free to comment.