Red Alert: An Open Letter to the Parents of the Community

Disclaimer: The gist of this post was developed after analyzing certain parents of Toronto’s East End Shi’a community. The issues mentioned may or may not be relevant in your community.

How would you feel if I told you that your son smokes? Perhaps it may initially come as a surprise, but eventually you’ll brush it off – since after all, there are worse things that he could be doing. Well how about if I told you your son is smoking weed? Maybe that makes things a little worse. What if I told you that your son has a girl-friend, shoplifts, has no clue what he’s doing at school and certainly neglects the 5 daily obligatory prayers.  On the other hand unfortunately, your daughter isn’t all that either. Adorning the scarf on her head, she has made it seem like it is permissible for Muslim females to hang out with male friends, touch them and even hug them. She lacks any spiritual growth and life revolves around shopping, make-up and jewellery. As a matter of fact, a quick visit to her Facebook profile will show you that she even has pictures of her up without her scarf. Now that’s bad.

Having remained an executive on the Al Mahdi Youth Society and as well as by being a regular face in the community, I have seen many of the youth grow up in front of me. Some I grew up with and many I see as older siblings. For most of the regular attendees at the various mosques or community centers, we know that there exists a family-like environment. The youth in particular, are a “crew” and everyone seems to be on good terms with each other – for the most part.  However, while this bond of closeness exists, it also creates an opening for each of us to see the behaviours of each other from a distance far closer than a parent would ever see it from. The son and daughter that I described in the initial paragraph are descriptions of a mixture of general personalities who are regular attendees at the mosque – for now – however if things keep going on this path they will become what we commonly refer to as the “10 day Shi’as”. They are regular attendees, because you as a parent ensure that they attend every program. They may help out in youth programs, volunteer on other occasions; at times even hang out with individuals who don’t behave like them. Some even hang out with me. This means that there are areas of their personalities that the parents are totally unaware of, which I as a peer, am fully aware of. However, for far too long we have only been blaming the son or the daughter for their errors – trying to inform them of their misdeeds. After all upon reaching the age of maturity, they are responsible for the steps they take in life and will be held accountable for it. However, today I want to distribute this blame proportionally and give parents a reality check.

First of all, the descriptions I painted are not exaggerations. As a matter of fact, they may even be understatements. Your son or daughter could actually be doing a lot worse than just smoking weed. But the biggest issue is: you refuse to believe me. You can’t fathom that your son or daughter can be that bad, or have an ounce of evil in them at all. Well uncle or aunty, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that is far from the truth. Your son or daughter is indeed behaving like this. Because I and dozens of other community youth have seen them behave in such ways. Allow me to let you in on a little secret here today. You know if a certain event happens in the community, that may be particularly related to women, there is a whole network of communication laid out between women through which they disseminate this information. Each woman will know this piece of information – yet on the other hand, their men or the men of the community in general will have no idea a particular event or incident has even happened. This high level of secrecy, which even the CIA would have trouble decoding, is created to protect the vital piece of information or it is data that a woman may feel uncomfortable sharing with a man or won’t know how to share with a man.

Likewise, there is a network of communication amongst the youth which the parents are not aware of. It is there – you just don’t see it because we aren’t revealing it to you. This is how we all know that your son or daughter, amongst others, is misbehaving. There are numerous sources through which we can see how your son or daughter is behaving. We have them on our Facebook, we have their phone numbers, we have them on Blackberry Messenger, MSN Messenger, WhatsApp , LiveProfile and even Skype. Uncle and aunty, I assume that you don’t even know what WhatsApp and LiveProfile are – unless you are really tech savvy (and this blog post of mine probably won’t even reach parents that aren’t tech savvy). Likewise, the whole community has them on these social media communication channels. When your daughter uploads a picture without her scarf and accidentally forgets to alter her privacy settings (giving her the benefit of doubt here), it does get published on my news feed while I’m browsing Facebook at work during lunch. And yes, there are chances that even my work colleagues may gaze at her picture.

That’s not the end of it. I went to high school and university with your son or daughter. I saw how they transitioned from a goody-two-shoe to a na-mahram hugging celebrity. As a matter of fact, I even took a few classes with your son. They wouldn’t be paying attention; rather they’d be watching their favourite TV show on their laptop, while sitting in the back row of the class. A 3 hour lecture means four 45 minute episodes of a season. Then while walking from one class to another, your son had the nerve to pass remarks on the “hotness level” of blondes, red heads and other make-up infested Barbie dolls walking in the hallways. Then as I turn a corner, I see your daughter sitting in the laps of a random white man on a bench. Oh wait, that’s not a white man – it’s just another Shi’a youth from the other mosque she met at an event last year. What she has wrapped around her head loosely can hardly be called a hijab. Then as the semester ends, you have no idea that your son or daughter actually failed a course or two. You will never know this because they won’t tell you. They’ll very sneakily apply for some more OSAP and retake the course hoping to perform a bit better this time. Soon you’ll be wondering as to why your son hasn’t graduated from university even after 4 or 5 years.

Is all this scaring you yet? Well I really hope that it is, because the aforementioned scenarios were not fairy tales. These things may be happening even as I write them.

I want to give the parents a huge pointer which I have learned through experience in the last eleven years of being part of this community, as I have seen many youth come and go. Making sure that your son and daughter visits the mosque or community center every Thursday night, Friday and on every birth or martyrdom anniversary event all year long does not guarantee that your son will become the next ‘aarif.  Unless this regular attendance in the mosque or community center is nourished with religious upbringing at home – your son will end up like one of those who even has the audacity to utter swear words while sitting on the carpets of this building of worship. Implementing and instilling in your child’s mind the notion of responsibility is lacking. I notice that too often parents leave their child in the hands of “youth societies” to take care of them. The purpose of the youth organizations is not to do your job, dear parent. Our responsibility is to cater events for them and programs in order to create an environment of spiritual development and growth. This is not possible if the parents are irresponsible or lack spiritual development themselves. If for fifteen years your child has been engaged in haraam, you should not expect a mere youth society to fix your child no matter how many events we do. It isn’t going to happen, though we can definitely help you.

I ask the parents today to please recall the times when they were of this age. Surely you must have experienced certain issues amongst the youth during your time, of course in a totally different context. Please start realizing that these issues are still prevalent today, perhaps even worse, however the context and environment is different. The first step is to come to a realization that there exists a possibility that your child is engaged in un-Islamic behaviour. It upsets me to see your child behaving the way that they do, yet you are not aware of it and even if you are – you fail to accept it or take responsibility for it. You’ll pass it off as “it’s just a phase – they will get over it”.

While sitting in a gathering of concerned youth, we were discussing these issues with local scholar, Moulana Hassan Mujtaba. A bunch of us are seriously concerned. Where have we as a community gone in the last ten years? What were our goals and what have we achieved? Do we even have any goals? How many role model youth can you count in the community today? If you can count them on your fingers then we are in a sorry state, given the amount of youth we actually have. Each of us needs to be an exemplary individual.  I write this post during a time where I feel that we have once again lost a chunk of our youth to the norms of the Western society. Some are being lost as they reach university; whereas some are lost even before entering high school – and some lost in the middle. While the mothers organize regular gatherings of majaalis in their homes, their sons and daughters have instead changed their priorities to satanic acts. While some of these youth were brought to the mosque regularly for a good part of their life and still show up here and there, on a grand scale of things they have definitely slipped off the slope. Multiple factors can be and are usually blamed, but the negligence of parents this time cannot be ignored. They need help, and they need help fast before they become part of a group for whom it is too late.

I may not have been able to deliver the seriousness of the issues that prevail amongst the youth through this writing. However before I end this post off – some of you may be thinking what the solution is to the small can of worms I have opened up. I won’t be the most credible source to provide solutions as I’m not a parent myself. However there are numerous resources available online (See: Principles of Upbringing Children by Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini) and I believe that solutions will only be derived once these issues are even seen as a reality.

Thus, we at Al Mahdi Center have even organized an event at 6 PM on February 17th, 2012 – titled Building Bridges – In Their Shoes. It is an event targeted at mothers and fathers of our community and new parents that will cover issues parents need to be aware of and tips on how to build a strong communication channel between you and your child. The speakers are Moulana Syed Muhammed Rizvi & Br. Zafar Kazmi, an OPP Officer. All parents are urged to attend.

About Ali Imran 238 Articles
An internet marketer by profession, I am the author of Iqra Online. I am currently pursuing a MA in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London, and as well as continuing my studies in a seminary in Qom, Iran.