50 Leaders & Activists Put their Heads Together for “The 95%" Muslim Youth

By Taha Ghayyur

"How do we reach out to and engage 'the 95%' Young Muslims?"

This was the question that 50 inspiring thinkers and leaders from the Muslim community met to answer on December 16, 2012, in the Council Chambers hall of the Etobicoke Civic Centre. It was a day-long session of collective brainstorming on Engaging Young Muslims. The attendees of Thinking Retreat included Imams, community leaders, youth activists, MSA leaders, artists, social workers, teachers, and concerned parents.

The retreat, organized by Muslim Youth (MY) Spirit, a youth engagement initiative by DawaNet and Sound Vision, commenced with a recitation and reminder from the Quran by Imam Sikandar Hashmi from Kingston, Ontario. Imam Hashmi reminded everyone about the need to be kind and non-judgmental toward fellow Muslims and our neighours, and our youth in particular. The retreat was led and emceed by Nargis Naqvi, an educator and artist from Milton, Ontario.

Following the opening remarks by Arif Zia, the President of DawaNet, and Taha Ghayyur, Development Manager of Sound Vision, the attendees eagerly listened to Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid’s eye-opening PowerPoint presentation on the challenges of disengagement, negative peer pressure, Islamophobia, and identity crisis faced by young Muslims growing up in the USA and Canada. He stressed on the need to reach out to the 95% of young Muslims in North America who are not connected with Islam or the Muslim community.

When the floor was opened to collective brainstorming on “Challenges Faced by Canadian Muslim Youth”, the participation was electric, as the attendees identified over 110 problems experienced by young Muslims. The hour-long brainstorming process concluded with every attendee voting for the top 10 challenges based on his or her knowledge and experience. 

The votes were then tallied and a list of 10 top challenges faced by Muslim youth emerged based on the items that received highest votes collectively (special thanks to Nabeel Hasan, Namaraig Ahmed & Shakera Nagil for recording and tallying up the data):

1.      Absence of Halal entertainment for youth

2.      Identity crisis for youth

3.      Lack of youth & women representation in Masjids

4.      Absence of tolerance within Muslim community

5.      Generational and cultural gap

6.      Lack of funding for non-Masjid projects / youth organizations

7.      Lack of mentorship & role models

8.      Absence of counselling for youth

9.      Irrelevant Khutbas & Islamic institutions

10.  Lack of unity and networking among Muslims

These challenges are not necessarily new to those who are involved in the Muslim community. This exercise simply reinforced the reality of needs and struggles faced by young Muslims, their organizations, and their supporters in Canada.

Following the Duhur prayer and a hearty lunch, when participants got a chance to network and connect with each for, perhaps for the first ever, the retreat attendees were groups into the following FIVE tracks:

1.      Engagement through Arts, Culture & Recreation

2.      Engagement through Religious Education & Institutions

3.      Engagement through Media & Outreach

4.      Engagement through Civic Participation & Volunteerism

5.      Engagement through Counselling & Mentorship

Each group collectively brainstormed creative and practical ideas to effectively engage young Muslims. Each track discussion was positive and engaging, led by two young professionals and leaders. These facilitators included: Majied Ali, Abdullah Sabree, Sikander Hashmi, Omar Zia, Maryam Dadaboy, Sara Rangooni, Imran Mian, Fatema Dada, Khaiam Dar and Namaraig Ahmed.

After the Asr prayer and snacks breaks, all track members re-convened in the townhall to recap their track findings. A 15-minute powerpoint was presented by each track, where facilitators passionately summarized the ideas from their own group’s brainstorming on youth engagement.

This day of inspiration and positive energy concluded with a reminder and a moving Dua by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, the President of Sound Vision visiting from Chicago, IL. "I have been to so many brainstorming sessions, retreats and think tanks around the world, but whenever I come to Toronto, I am amazed by some extra-ordinary talent in this city," observed Imam Mujahid.

All attendees were requested to leave with the following action items: 1) Build on & write about whatever ideas you liked today; 2) Take ownership of these ideas; 3) Network and work together with other organizations involved with youth engagement. The retreat by itself would bring about a change in our community. The organizers hoped this retreat would be a stepping stone to a movement of youth engagement and development initiatives in the Muslim community.

All attendees, who sacrificed an entire day of their busy weekend, were there because they genuinely care about “the 95%” among young Muslims and are passionate about making a positive difference. This gathering was blessed with three great and gracious pioneers of the Canadian Muslim community: Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick, Abdullah Sabree, and Wahida Valiante.

The discussion of this enlightening event would not be complete without recognizing the efforts of the selfless volunteer team: Farah Baig, Fatima Baig, Tauqeer Chishti, Ahsan Aqeel, Hasan Chishti, Nabeel Hasan, Namaraig Ahmed, Maha Siddiqui, Afaun Mandol, and the last but not least, Nargis Naqvi, the retreat coordinator.

Note: The summaries of this retreat’s brainstorming are published BELOW. Check out MY Spirit page for the retreat photos.

List of Challenges Faced by Muslim Youth in Canada

MYS Retreat 2012_Challenges.pdf MYS Retreat 2012_Challenges.pdf
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Summary of Ideas Brainstormed by 5 Tracks at the Thinking Retreat: 

Engagement through Arts, Culture & Recreation

Engagement through Religious Education & Institutions 

Engagement through Media & Outreach

Engagement through Civic Participation & Volunteerism

Engagement through Counseling / Mentorship 

Retreat2012_TrackArtRec.pdf Retreat2012_TrackArtRec.pdf
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Retreat2012_TrackEducation.pdf Retreat2012_TrackEducation.pdf
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Retreat2012_TrackMediaOutreach.pdf Retreat2012_TrackMediaOutreach.pdf
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Retreat2012_TrackCivicEng.pdf Retreat2012_TrackCivicEng.pdf
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Retreat2012_TrackMentorship.pdf Retreat2012_TrackMentorship.pdf
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