When you think of a teenager, do you think of someone who is always begging you for money to go to the movies, keeping your phone line constantly busy, or just sits around watching TV all day? Well, you are completely wrong! Muslim youth in America are a strong group of intellectuals (yes, intellectuals) who are striving in every way possible to do their part in building a better society. Interviews with Muslim young people of Southern California reveal that they will be the ones behind a better world.
The future Muslim leaders know more about leadership than many adults do. “A leader is someone who has a vision…a role model… someone to look up to,” stated Asra Aziz, who as a sophomore at Tustin High School. She is getting a taste of leadership through being Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’s public relations assistant. Omar Syed Shah, a freshman at Cypress High School, already has a vision. “It [leadership] has been taken over to extreme levels over the years, and we plan to stop and negotiate with other backgrounds, and it all starts now…that’s right, no fighting…I don’t stand for fighting against different kinds of people…we need to try to communicate with them.” Being a leader all starts “by making yourself good,” said Aamir Syed, a junior at Sunny Hills High School.
Muslim American teenagers care about being in places where they can make a difference. They are active members and officers of clubs and community organizations. Some of their commitments include: Habitat for Humanity, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Junior Statesmen of America (JSA), Red Cross Club, Debate Club, National Honor Society (NHS), California Scholarship Federation (CSF), Impact Club, and Key Club. It doesn’t stop there. Muslim youth are even dedicating time outside of school. Some take time to tutor their peers, while others volunteer at local parks. Outside of the mosque, “you represent your culture, you represent your religion,” said Saadia Kibriya, junior at Irvine High School “to better understand your culture you need to understand other cultures…have a kaleidoscope.” When you limit yourself to being around just Muslim people, “you become ignorant of other races and religions,” said Omar Bhular, a sophomore from Gahr High School who volunteers for leisure services in the city of Cerritos. “You should hang out with every crowd. They might change their minds [about Islam],” added sophomore Deen Sheikh of Redondo Union High School .
While some feel they must join other organizations, there are those that feel it is equally important to support major Muslim organizations. Many of these organizations consist of adults, but few youth members. “I think if the youth were more involved with the major organizations, it not only widens the variety of people the organization would eventually reach out to, but it makes the organization itself more stronger,” said Syed. “our generation is so much more different. It’s not that we have been in the U.S. longer, but rather, we were born, raised, and grew up through the hardships in this society.”
Being active now, rather than when they are adults builds character within the youth. “You are with different ethnicities “you can learn so much. It helps you to improve yourself, helps you become a better person,” said senior Nida Lakhi of La Quinta High School. “The sooner we act, the faster the results will be,” said Kibriya, because “we have to develop these habits sooner,” added Bhular.
For some, helping the community is on an individual level. “You don’t need clubs to be a good person,” said Shah. “I can do it through my actions” saying ‘hi’ to different nationalities is what matters, even if it is your enemy.”
In short, the Muslim youth really are making a difference. “Our input does indeed make sense, though others may seem to think otherwise,” concluded Syed.
Sana Saeed, 17, has written for The Pakistan Link and her school newspaper – The Corydon at Millikan High School in Long Beach, California. She has interned at The Signal, a weekly local newspaper, is a member of Youth Leadership Long Beach, and volunteers as a Sunday School teacher at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, California.