Challenges of Being a Youth Today

By: Ryan Ramchandar*

Growing up as a Muslim youth is not easy and can be a daunting task. Muslim youth are constantly pushed, pulled, and bombarded from every direction, expected to act in a certain way by their peers, teachers or parents. The youth are struggling to find a place in this society while trying hard not to fall into the wrong circles, or straying along the wrong paths. How can we engage the youth, and encourage them to stay close to the community? Similarly, how can we motivate the youth to be better Muslims?

The transition from high school to university opens up a whole new world for the youth. Suddenly, they are now young adults and accordingly they are given many more freedoms. No longer is there anyone checking up on them on a regular basis, and for some this much freedom can pose to be a struggle. This is when the values they’ve learned from an early age begin to kick in and it is up to them to stick by them. Do they skip class and play pool all day in the Pool Hall? Or do they study in the library or finish an assignment in the computer lab? While getting a good education is important, so too is making sure that they are mindful of their Islamic duties: praying on time, staying away from things that are haram and doubtful, and making sure that they are mindful of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. This can be done by surrounding ourselves with good Muslim friends and, insha’Allah, a lot of the struggles that youth face in these environments can be over come.

Having good friends who will remind us on a constant basis is key to overcoming the different temptations we face. However, it is not enough to say that I have surrounded myself with good people and therefore I can relax. We must also struggle to become a better person ourselves, to benefit others. In order to do this we must seek knowledge and be able to interact with others in a positive way. This especially holds true for when we interact with those who are younger than us, namely in high school or junior high. They are at a period in their lives when they need a mentor or a role model, someone they can relate to, who will not be overcritical with them. Before we can begin to advise or mentor others, however, we must have some basic understandings.

One way we can gain an understanding of what it means to be an examplary youth is to look at the character of the Prophet, sallahu alayhi wasalam, and how he interacted with others. Of the Prophets’ attributes, he was eloquent and concise, a good mentor and teacher, did not forget favours done to him, kept his word, was very generous, and smiled often! Abu Huraira, radiallahu an, said that he never saw someone smile more than the Prophet. By incorporating these characteristics into our personality we can grow as individuals, insha’Allah, if these attitudes/behaviours of the Prophet are reflected in how we act with others in our daily lives. This knowledge of the Prophet’s life can be gained by actively taking part in halaqa’s, lectures and study sessions that happen on a regular basis in different areas of the community. In addition, there are many good books written that any youth can learn and read from.

Alhumdullilah, we have been blessed with our youth and we will surely be asked, by Allah, on how we spent it. While we are busy at school, we must also remember that a healthy balance is important and should make time for others. Remaining active in the community is essential, and from being active we can gain knowledge which we can use to teach and benefit others, insha’Allah.

* Br. Ryan Ramchandar is a University student and a member of the editorial board of Manitoba Muslim Magazine.

The first phase of the new center project.

By: Ismael Mukhtar

The official opening of the new center was a historical moment of great significance for the Muslim community in Manitoba. The historical significance of this event can’t be fully appreciated without going back and looking at the years of hard work, planning, and relentless efforts by members of the community at large. Most of the early pioneers of the new center project didn’t have the opportunity to witness this historic moment; some of them passed away others moved to other locations. The beginnings of the new center project can be traced back to the late eighties when there was a growing sense among community members of the need to establish a larger center with a full time school, a community center and a mosque. Discussions on the feasibility of such a project and the community’s ability to sustain it were becoming increasingly more common. The Friday and Eid sermons, conference lectures and community forums were more than ever emphasizing the need for such a project, in particular a full time school. Outside speakers who visited Winnipeg were encouraging the community to undertake this project and were positively sharing their communities’ experiences with such projects. Some members of the community were actively searching, on their own initiative, for suitable piece of land and making various proposals to MIA Executives.

As the momentum for the project kept on growing the executives were obliged to take the first step towards making the project a reality. A regular annual General body meeting was held at the Hazelwood mosque in the late eighties. The agenda items of the meeting included: the formation of a land committee. The meeting ended with the establishment of a land committee with a mandate to purchase a piece of land as a future sight for the new centre. The new committee was to work in conjunction with MIA trustees. Included in the committee were Br. Gulam Kibrea as a chair person, Dr. Riaz Usmani as a treasurer, Dr. Mujeeb Al-Rahman as a senior trustee and other brothers. The committee started its mandate with out a penny in its account and had to begin the whole process from scratch. Regular meetings started in earnest, mostly held in Dr. R. Usmani’s residence. The committee struggled for some time, but gradually things started to fall in place and take shape. Brochures introducing the project were made available in English and Arabic. Letters of endorsement were secured from National organizations such as ISNA, ICNA and others. The land committee set its criteria for the ideal land as a 4 acre land, in a fully serviced area, with an estimated cost of $150,000. Fund raisings at small scale begun at various levels within the community. A major fundraising dinner was held where Shiekh Abdulah Idris (former ISNA President) was invited as a speaker and fundraiser. The event was a huge success; more than $80,000.00 was raised in cash and pledges, a record by the standards of those days. Members of the land committee along with other members of the community started to actively search for a suitable piece of land. All most every potential land in the south was considered and enquired upon. The search finally narrowed down to a 4 acre piece of land on Chevrier Blvd (off Waverly). The land was on residential area, fully serviced for an asking price of $200,000. Negotiations ensued with the vendor and offers went back and forth. As the negotiations were going on, a member of the community informed the land committee of the potential availability of a piece of land on Waverly through the provincial government. The land committee immediately applied for the purchase of the land. After some delays the offer was accepted by one level of government bureaucracy, but later rejected by another level. A relentless and exhaustive effort was made by the land committee, particularly its able chairman, Br. Gulam Kibrea in contacting politicians, department officials and ministers to reconsider the decision. The effort bore fruits the deal was approved.

The community finally took ownership of a 13.5 acre land on Waverly for a total cost of about $60,000. There was a great sense of excitement and jubilation at the community. The late Dr. Usmani was so elated, that he took pieces of stones from the land and kept it at his home. The excitement, however, was muted among some members of the community who questioned the suitability of the land; they felt it was too far, there was no development in the area, no services available and it was in agricultural zoning. The land committee, however, bought the land with the expectation that the area will develop in the future and if for some reason the land wasn’t suitable for our purposes, it would still be a worthwhile investment which can be sold at a much appreciated value. With the acquisition of land, the mandate of the land committee came to an end; MIA Trustees became fully responsible of the project. To ensure continuity of the project, at least two members of the land committee were elected as Trustee and Br. Gulam Kibrea continued as the lead person in the next phase of the project.

As preparations were under way to move to the second phase of the project, the community was hit with a major conflict that halted the whole project and pushed it to the side ways. A simmering and unfortunate conflict between the Imam of the day, Imam Mohammed Safi and MIA Executives became public and took center stage. All efforts to resolve this conflict reached a dead end. The community was polarized between supporters of the Imam and the Executives. Cynicism set in, mutual trust was lost, and the community fell into a terrible turmoil. The Muslim community of Winnipeg has never experienced a conflict that was so intense and polarizing such as this conflict. Finally, as the tension peaked, the Imam was abruptly dismissed by the Executives (1994). His dismissal brought some quite to the mosque, but the tension and split within the community continued for some time. The new center project became the victim of this conflict. There was a sub-conscious decision made by the Trustees to freeze the project until there was a positive change in the mood of the community.

Fortunately, with the passage of time, the rift created by the conflict started to fade away and a new spirit to move forward set in. A brain storming meeting initiated by the executives of the day, particularly Br. Iqbal Siddiqui, the secretary of MIA, was organized in the summer of 1996 at the University of Manitoba. Participants were divided into small focus groups to discuss a selected project. Out of this meeting came a new volunteer group to solely focus on the school project. As well, the new center committee was revitalized and a plan of action was put in place. The full time school group set an ambitious goal of establishing the school by the end of summer, to be temporarily housed in a rented facility until the new center project is finalized. The full time Islamic school, named Al-Hijrah school, became a reality and opened its doors in September 1996. The school was housed in a rented facility on Pembina Hwy with about 30 students. The new center committee directed its effort towards the development of an architectural design of the center, fundraising and creating a new momentum for the project. There were suggestions from some members of the community to buy an existing building and turning it into a new center instead of building on a distant, un-serviced Waverly land. The trustees were open to the idea and willing to look at what becomes available case by case, but the stated goal was to build on the Waverly land.

As the community started to grow, new comers started to take greater role and volunteer in community projects. Among them were the late Br. Haseeb and his wife Dr. Sabeeha. They were keenly interested in the new center project and wanted to share the experience they gained in volunteering for similar projects in other cities. Br. Haseeb later became a trustee and started taking a leading role in the second phase of the project. After years of hard work in various fronts, within and outside the community, with the leadership of the trustees of the day: Brs. Haseeb, Pirzada and Asim the first step towards building the new center took place with the ground breaking ceremony on June 2003. Three and half years later the center was finally opened for the community in January 2007.

One missing component from the new center structure as was envisioned originally is the full time Islamic school. When the project was initiated originally, the school was viewed as the most pressing and most central element of the project. However, the center project took longer than what was expected; as a result the Al-Hijrah full time school came into existence ten years earlier. Currently, Al-Hijrah is in a separate location, close to downtown. Perhaps it is time to start planning to move the school to the new center or, depending on the needs of the community, to establish a second branch of the school in the new center to serve community members in the south. That will bring the original vision to its full completion.

The beauty of the new center lies in the fact that it is the outcome of years of collective community wide effort. From penny drive by children, to brick sales, tree planting, fundraising sales and dinners etc; all done with a spirit of sharing in building of the community by across section of our community members: men, women; seniors, young; old timers, new comers; residents, foreign students; all ethnic groups etc. It is indeed a community success story that should make all members of the community proud. Going forward, the main challenge isn’t in maintaining the center physically, but in transforming it into a bastion of love, mutual respect, cooperation, care, empathy and understanding.

Note: this article is solely based on my re-collections as a member of the land committee and MIA trustee for 6 years. Its focus is mainly on the 1st phase of the project.

Next Challenge: Developing a Higher Collective Self-Esteem

By: Dr. Asim Ashique*

Chances are that as you read this article you are either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. As such, you are in the early stages of laying down your family roots in North America. In relative terms, this is the infancy of your family history. This is where you begin the story of your inclusion into the Canadian social fabric.

Statistics from government funded studies confirm that of all religious communities in Canada, Muslims are by far the youngest with an average age of 28. We are also growing faster than any other community and, until recently, most of that growth was happening by indigenous birth rather than immigration. We also are more educated than the average Canadian.

Immigrant families and communities have needs. On a basic level, these needs are the same from community to community, from nationality to nationality. The initial focus is on survival. This includes having a roof over one’s head, harnessing a stable income so that the basic necessities can be met, learning the language and the culture, and so on.

The danger is that as individuals, and as a community, we can remain stuck in a survival mentality. This mentality works very well in the early stages of establishment because it provides a quick fix to each immediate need. The danger comes from the lack of longer term vision, foresight and creativity associated with survival thinking, and this can stunt a community’s evolution.

Every person, family and community needs to evolve. We need to move from surviving to thriving. Is it possible that as a community we have failed to make this change in thinking?

Many years ago Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It’s an important observation. Adapting to the changing conditions is critical to survival. In other words, beings survive if they remain engaged in a dynamic process of change and adaptation. Remain static, or the same, and you’re done!

One could argue that the same principle is applicable to the dynamics of communities. It relates not only to survival but whether they grow to become dynamic and cutting edge. Becoming a well organized, advanced community is no small task. The many elements that make up a community’s dynamics mean that it’s a comprehensive process to understand and facilitate that change.

But there are small steps that we can take as individuals participating in this process. For starters, many of us need to consciously acknowledge the hardships we had in the early years as our families immigrated and settled in this great land, and the dreams for a better life that accompanied those hardships. Then, we need to acknowledge that many of us have evolved past that stage. Things have changed and our community too has evolved. We are no longer struggling to have a masjid that is open for more than the jumm’a and Sunday salah, as in the early days. We don’t drive to the farms and slaughter the animal ourselves if we want zabiha meat, as we did before. The average Canadian no longer stares when encountering a hijab clad sister. We now have many masjids, multiple Islamic schools, regular publications in Canadian newspapers and we’re becoming better represented in all major professions.

We can’t stop here. And the way forward will require awareness and management at levels not seen before. There are elements of the big picture that can’t be missed. Seeing this requires a broad and clear perspective which is not currently commonplace. By neglecting to develop this perspective, we are in danger of failing as a group. It’s very real possibility.

It is time for a change in our collective identity and our communal self esteem. We should set higher standards for ourselves. We must acknowledge that we are no longer passive participants in an existing social and political system; we can take a leadership role in that system and make it better. We can be role models and examples, not just followers. As Muslims, playing an exemplary role in our society is not optional; it’s an obligation. When people give examples of communities that are raising the bar, improving their neighborhoods and contributing to the greater good of our fellow man, they should point to our Muslim community. The opposite is true as well. Muslims should never be seen as included in the weak and dysfunctional of Canadian society.

It’s a collective responsibility to create this kind of progressive community. Each one of us needs to participate. Alexander the Great said, “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all”. It’s a team effort. Let’s allow ourselves to dream a little. Without a dream there is no dream to come true! Envision a community that is empowered, self-sufficient, influential, and successful. We have the option of creating this community – in which success is contagious, and we’ll leave no one behind! The secret? We have to all want this; and we have to be willing to put in the work.

Those of us who had the benefit of struggling through the early years must remember that there are new Muslims arriving here every week. They are at the beginning of their journey, as some of us were many years ago – the difference being that they have a (somewhat) established Muslim infrastructure that they can rely on.

But the problems these days are different. We now deal with a growing problem of the passive poverty cycle in which people fall into the trap of relying on social assistance. Too many newly arrived Muslims dismiss education or training in the skilled trades. For some, these decisions lead to a lifestyle of apathy and isolation. Hopelessness may prevail and a cycle of poverty, abuse and addiction can flourish.

An increasing number of Muslims consider social assistance acceptable despite the teachings of our Prophet (SAW) that the “upper hand is better than the lower hand”. Social workers are reporting an increase in domestic abuse, child abuse and addiction involving Muslims. There have recently been many high-profile incidents in Winnipeg involving Muslims and youth gang violence. We have over one thousand Muslim youth in Winnipeg. How many do you see at the masjid? This does not bode well for the future and the time to act is now, before the damage is irreparable.

The current rate of Muslim immigration to Canada is unprecedented. How is it that Muslims are leaving the struggles of their homelands, arriving at the land of opportunity and then not benefiting from that opportunity? How can we help all Muslims to develop a higher collective self-image and self-esteem? How can we show new immigrants that in this great country their progeny will not only get by, but they could thrive and do great things?

In this time of rapid change it is important that our community appropriately adapts. It is time we put into place a strategy for helping new Muslims obtain education, training and employment and discourage anyone from long-term reliance on welfare or other forms of passive social support. We need to have the collective attitude that it is cool to work hard in one’s profession or trade, and to take pride in the independence that comes from that. It is cool to own property, a home or a business. Let us educate our newcomers, as well as the old-timers, and create a new level of awareness in our community. Let’s talk openly and get the word out!

I don’t presume to have all of the answers. But my instinct tells me that we are near a crossroads in our young history in Canada. With affirmative action we can take control of our destiny and flourish. If we choose the path of least resistance and fail to intervene in the conditions of our own people we may have big problems ahead. The solution will have to involve a collective and well-thought out effort.

“We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Dr. Asim Ashique is a pain and physical injury specialist. He practices as a chiropractor in Winnipeg. He has served as an elected or appointed volunteer for several Muslim organizations including MSA, MSA National, MIA, and the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Laughter is cool, and it’s healthy too!

By: Dr. Asim Ashique*

In the hussle and bussle of our 21st century world, an increasing number of us are reporting elevated stress levels. Studies show a consistent trend in increased workplace stress. Marriages are pushed to the limit as we put our time management skills to the test. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to juggle all of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, this build up of stress has very real effects on our health. Studies show that heightened stress levels cause a proportionate increase in sickness and disease, although much of it can take years to be expressed on the symptom level.

We know that many different systems are negatively affected by stress: Cardiovascular (high blood pressure, heart disease), digestive, (ulcers), musculoskeletal (back pain and headaches), nervous system (sleeplessness), hormonal (cortisol – stress hormone response) and mental (anxiety & depression). In fact, a recent study estimated that 90% of all visits to health practitioners of any kind are directly or indirectly related to stress. So what to do about this?

One of the simplest remedies is laughter! Did you know that the average preschooler laughs 300 times per day? Adults? Only 17 times per day! What happened to us?

Laughter is therapeutic. A recent medical study involving children found laughter helped childrens’ recovery from illness. They found the healing power of humor could reduce pain and stimulate immune function in children with cancer, AIDS or diabetes and in children receiving organ transplants and bone marrow treatments. Other research carried out in the US suggests that laughing and having a good sense of humor can protect older adults against heart disease.

Two recent studies documented improved immune function for many hours after watching a humorous movie. One of them found T cell levels to remain elevated for up to 12 hours after laughing. In fact, there is evidence that laughter stimulates production of Natural Killer Cells (which fight cancer), B cells (natural antibiotics), and endorphins (natural painkillers). Laughter lifts depression and anxiety.

Laughter adds years to your life and life to your years! Happiness is a choice. You can view yourself as a victim when faced with adversity or you can take control of your life and steer it in the direction you want it to go. Remember that you can’t control 100% percent of your environment, but you CAN control how you react to the world around you. Empowered people make smart choices, then they get to work and make the most of what life gives them. The reality is that most of us are blessed just by virtue of living in a great country like Canada. In the grand scheme of things, even when things look bad, they’re usually not that bad.

Make a commitment to laugh more. Avoid the resentful person in your workplace. Seek out optimistic people. Consciously spend more time laughing with your family. Give yourself permission to laugh at silly things. Watch funny movies. With such busy schedules it’s easy to loose perspective – why not take joy from the simple things in life? Next time someone asks you how you’re feeling, instead of murmuring “I’m surviving”; try smiling, lift both hands in the air and say, “I’m thriving!” Take charge of your health, your life and make a conscious decision to be happy. You’ll be glad you did!

Dr. Ashique is a chiropractor practicing in Winnipeg. He is Winnipeg’s only chiropractic orthopedics specialist. With 16 years of post-secondary training is he one of the most highly trained chiropractors in the world. He can be contacted at dr.asim@mts.net