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.

14 thoughts on “Red Alert: An Open Letter to the Parents of the Community

  • This is very scary but true! It’s unbelievable how things considered absolutely taboo 10 years ago are not a big deal anymore. Please post tips given at the seminar for those of us who are not able to attend.

  • Salaam Alaikum

    Good, apt and gutsy article, you are sure to loose quite a few fb friends.

    I think we need to be more actively involved in your Childs life, from a young age, not after they get to their teens. You got to play good cop bad cop (wife and husband).

    I was at a open house at Bur Oak, where the principle clearly said that if your kid is on the laptop for over an hour a day, they are not doing their home work or project, but playing games and social networking or doing stuff on the internet they should not be doing. Saying that, we should not restrict them from these social networking websites (then they will be social outcasts), but control their internet usage and also ask them to login to their account and see who their friends are (If the parent doesn’t have a fb account) or have full access to their fb account, by having them as your friend.

    Brothers and sisters, we have to be involved in our kids lives a little more than what we do now, your child might be good, but peer pressure and influences from the outside world can make them waiver. The move from Middle to High school and High school to University or College is a big move, we need to do some hand holding here.

    Looking forward to the event at CIG.

    Regards and duas.

  • Very well said Ali Imran! I totally agree that we need to pause for a second and do a reality check of where we are, what we have done and what our strategic goals are to achieve what we want to achieve….

  • I believe that youth are best kept on the right path by constantly reinforcing their fundamental belief in Islam through (a) logical, advanced instruction on the tenants / virtues of the religion and (b) positive reinforcement by socializing with other religious youths.

    As for (a) This kind advanced instruction is not being made regularly available to our youths at the high school and university age. With so many influences to the contrary, our youths must continually receive reinforcing messages that Islam is the right path and its rules are in their best interest now, in the future and in the hereafter.

    Many youth may only start with a weak belief in Islam and then when they are tempted with ‘haram acts’ at school, they fail to see harm in the haram, because they have not been educated enough in why these things are haram.

    Our youth are much smarter and intellectual than you may think, but they are far from mature. Maturity only comes from knowledge.

    I call upon our religious scholars and community leaders to arrange regular Islamic theology (Aqeedah) classes that go well beyond what is currently taught in our Madrasah, in a way that is geared to our mainstream youth, the ones in trouble, not just the ones already well on the right path. Such classes need to be easily accessible and geared for these youth. This kind of instruction is not provided well just by Majalis, children’s madrasah or yearly camps.

    This is a minimum. Do not give up on any youth until they have been thoroughly exposed to advanced Islamic theology (Aqeedah). It could be that they have not been shown the right path in an intellectually convincing way. However, one warning to all – after a youth (or any Muslim for that matter) is exposed to this knowledge, they may still not be fully convinced of the right path and may choose not be religious Muslims. This is their choice and parents need to come to terms with that. This is unfortunate but possible consequence of living in an Un-islamic society. In that case, parents and all of us, should pray for the youth that have gone astray, but not over-sensationalize their choice. Nevertheless, we have done no where near enough for our youth to give them this deep knowledge of Aqeedah and as such, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Ultimate responsibility is with the individuals and their parents, but the community can do more to help.

  • Salamun Aleykum WRWB:

    This is the true picture it is sad to say but it is.

    I hope and pray to Allah that teenagers get it through their head.

    But definitely the session on the 17th should Insha Allah be a productive one.

    I would like to know is it just for the parents or are the kids also allowed.

    Thanks.

    Rookaya

  • Although i agree with this article through and through…. knowing most parents of our community, this is what will happen once they (some of them) read this article:

    1.Parents to the daughter: if we see you without your headscarf or walking with a boy, we’ll take you to Pakistan & marry you to your cousin (true story).
    2. Parents to the son: if we hear that you have smoked, i’ll beat you up with my belt until your skin peels off.
    3. Parents to the girl: You have disgraced us, you are not going to school anymore.
    4. Parents to the son: If we see you with a white girl, we will ask your aunty to start looking for a girl in India right away.

    Mean while, parents in scenario 1, the mother never bothered to wear a hijab until the girl was 16 & was matured into the non-hijab environment & while growing up mom & dad watched Indians movies with shameless dances with the kids. Parents in scenario 2, mom & dad were too busy making money while son would come back to an empty home during his impressionable teen years & never got exposed to Islamic values except for the 10 days of Muharram. Parents in scenario 3, the girl was never taught the definition of the word grace. She saw no grace in parents, while dad mocked people with less income & mom gossiped endlessly after returning from mosque, the girl picked up the exact values she got taught at home. And finally parents in scenario 4, while the kid was growing up, parents idolized everything that was “white”. Neither the role models nor the atmosphere at home were Islamic, rather the foundation of everything at home was “white”, the kid is obviously going to prefer “white” now that he’s older… why confuse him now!

    This is also in no way an exageration, many of these kids are product of ultra hypocrisy of the parents. While the parents Zahir (outward) is Islaimc, their Batin (inward) is slave to the world. Their kids are only manifesting the Zahir & Batin 10fold more due to the nature of Western environment & the fast paced technology. They are the way they are b/c thats exactly how mom & dad were! Also b/c they didnt know how to raise kids when they were little, they wont know it now either. Instead of establishing reforms at home starting with themselves, they will use backward punishments that will only drive the children much farther away, from both themselves & true teachings of Islam!

  • As Salam o Alekum,

    JazakAllah Ali, being a parent of young teens I can say these are things that I feel everyday. And I am sure many other parents are as apprehensive as i am. Thank you for brining ut out in the open.

    Whatever Al Mahdi(A.S) youth does (and they do a lot) and no matter how many classes are conducted by the Ulema, the major responsibility lies with the parents.

    I am thankfull again for this article and am sure with youth of Al Mahdi(A.S) and hopefully more alert and responsible parents we may still be able to get back on track.

    InshAllah

    • Syed Jamil,

      You are totally right. I have been saying this for months and years, but no one listens. Ultimate responsibility is the family, as our Qur’an points out in 66:6. I would put the blame, majority of it, on parents. That’s because I see it, gone through it, and not only on one or two one-offs. CONSTANTLY!

  • Assalamualaikum,

    Bravo Ali Imran,You are right, things have changed a lot in the last decade.
    Zeero in to the problem,a big part of these issues are generated due to mom & dad’s ill relationship.The parents should have a bigger picture of their responsibilities, regarding the kids.They should build a tolerance towards each other & try to give the kids a loving & welcoming environment.Todays kid of our community don’t get enough love at home.After all true love & bondings, are where,this society is lacking.The power of love is the strongest diverting force.

  • Bravo, fantastic article what a wake up call. The good news is second generation parents have a different sense after growing up in this society.

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