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5 Lessons Learned From Being A Youth Counselor at MMYC

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mmyc2008.jpgI recently attended the MMYC 2008 Spring Conference in Michigan this past weekend. The conference is a annual retreat for high schoolers, and I served as a counselor for a group of young brothers attending. The conference is a success every year, and this year it sold out around 300 seats to high schoolers spending a weekend away from school and life to come closer to Allah.

My wife convinced me to apply to be a counselor, and alhumdulillah I am grateful for being accepted and having the opportunity to go. I learned a number of lessons from counseling at the conference, and feel they apply just as much to anyone else involved in Da’wah.

[#5 – Be Flexible and Accommodating in Da’wah]

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Ibn al-Qayyim gave some really slick life advice. “Take from every garden the best flower.”

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Coming from another community, there were small tidbits about the conference and its methodology which raised some brows for us brothers who came from Chicago. Things in the Chi are run a certain way, and it was a change of pace to view them being run another way by another organiztion. But for every small nitpicky issue we found in the conference, there were dozens more that were full of blessings, w’alhumdulillah.

No organization or event is going to go 100% the way you want it. While events and organizations you encounter and work with aren’t what you feel to be perfect, ignore the bad and run with the good. It can go a long way.

[#4 – Hijab is the flag of the Muslimah in the West]

Two events hit this home for me.

After one night of the conference, a brave young girl got up on the mic to share a few words the next morning. Coming all the way from Kentucky, the sister was a bit shy but still managed to say what she wanted to say through all the giggles of her spotlight moment.

She told everyone how much she loved the conference, how she didn’t want to come and felt she wouldn’t enjoy it or fit in. But standing tall and brave up on the mic, holding back tears, she announced to the entire room that from that day forward she was going to begin wearing Hijab, just because of the conference.


Audio clip from MMYC 2009 trailer: [audio:http://www.saqibsaab.com/audio/superstar2008.mp3]

The room erupted with clapping, cheering, and takbeerat from 300+ kids and counselors. Instantly, the brave young now-Muhajibah became the star of the conference.

I approached one of my old friends from Michigan who helped organized the conference to pat him on the back on a job well done in organizing the event, and asked Allah to reward and accept it from them, only to find him holding back tears from the powerful Eman launching scene that just took place. I honestly cannot recall a moment like that in 22 years of being a Muslim youth in the West.

After that moment, every speaker mentioned her accomplishment in their speeches, and every sister in the audience struggling with Hijab now had a shining role model to look up to and think, “I can do it, too.”

Later that weekend, in a workshop Q&A session, another young girl asked a question about an older friend of hers who has been having trouble getting pregnant with her husband for 6 years, and how that relates back to Du’as being accepted or not.

In the question, the young sister mentioned, “and she’s a good person, too; she’s Muhajibah.”

Both of these events really touched me and opened my eyes about Hjiab. These girls truly knew the importance of Hijab, way better than I could ever imagine (especially since I’m a male growing up in a house with no sisters).

I really sympathize with all Muslim sisters struggling with wearing Hjiab. I used to think it was so easy, that you just slap on a headscarf and walk away. It’s not. The whole world around us is saying Hijab is ugly, whether it’s non-Muslim friends or Desi culture. It’s not as easy as I had imagined it to be, and for the first time I can say that I finally understand, if even just a little bit.

I ask Allah (SWT) to make it easy for all Muslim sisters struggling to start wearing Hijab, and to continue with Hijab for the rest of their lives.

[#3 – The Power of a Youth Camp/Retreat]

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When the Prophet (SAW) grew up in Mecca, he would escape to the Cave of Hira to get away from society for a moment and reflect on life. After Prophethood, this practice of temporarily leaving life continued every Ramadan when the Prophet (SAW) made I’tikaf in the masjid year after year.

My wife, a Michigan native, has been attending the conference as a kid since it began in 2001 and continues today serving as a counselor. She wrote on her blog about the conference.

“I decided to come back again as a counselor this year at the conference, and it’s safe to say, that MMYC magic is still alive and well. I don’t know what it is about the conference that just *works*. Maybe it’s the speakers. Maybe it’s the hype of no parents + spring break + hotels. Maybe it’s the yearning to seek knowledge. Or maye it’s that all throughout the conference I was surrounded by a new batch of Muslim youth, soaking in the MMYC experience, making friendships, and being revitalized.”

I have attended just a few camps and retreats in my life, but every single time they change your life in ways you can’t while living life “normally” with school, work, and home. This is especially so for youth camps and retreats.

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A lot of the kids attend public schools, and are unable to spend time with large groups of Muslims their age. When they come and find hundreds of others just like them who share the same experiences and struggles, it goes a long way in solidifying their Muslim identity.

It’s important to attend a conference, camp, or retreat, at least ONCE every year. We need more camps and retreats for the youth, more ways for us elder youth to get active, and we need to build our events better every single year.

[#2 – Grassroots Da’wah is Important Critical in the West]

A’isha (RA) said that if the verses of Quran prohibiting alcohol were to be revealed first, none of the Muslims would have stopped drinking alcohol. The reason the Muslims of Medina were so easily able to mend their entire lives for Islam was because the Quran first solidified the hearts of the Muslims on Allah SWT and the reality that there is a Day of Judgment, Hellfire, and Paradise.

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We all want to mold our youth to make the best leaders in the world, but where do we start with them? In the age of what I call “The Hollister Generation,” the generation of text messaging, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, I found that nothing worked better than connecting hearts with a few key basics: Allah (SWT) and His Mercy, Paradise and Hellfire, and loving Islam and being Muslim.

Counselors would try and talk to kids about what they reflected on the lectures, or what they thought about some issues here and there, and the conversation would be okay. But when we sat down and talked about repentance, the Day of Judgment, how to get into Jannah, who Allah (SWT) is, how Merciful he really is, etc. their hearts were aching for some baking. You should have seen how these young brothers were hanging on the edge of the story of Barseesa, or about the Hadith of the man who killed 100 people who still made it to Jannah because of repentance. It was awesome!

Also grassroots Da’wah is an activity every Islamic worker in North America should be involved in for two reasons, especially for those seeking higher knowledge.

Firstly, it takes you back to the basics of Da’wah and use your knowledge in interacting with Muslims who are in need of the fundamentals. The Prophet (SAW) asked Allah (SWT) to increase in his ‘ilm, but that’s not all he was involved in like some of us. He (SAW) was still very active in teaching Islam to the Bedouins and laypeople.

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Many of us love to sharpen our swords of knowledge, but without experience on the field, how can we expect to wield them efficiently and effectively? Your knowledge is useless if you can’t convince kids that there’s a Hellfire and they can to repent to Allah to avoid it, and you can’t convince them too well without the knowledge in the first place. Getting involved in these types of efforts helps.

Secondly, working with organization specializing on grassroots Da’wah can go really far in dealing with the sectarian problem in our communities. A lot of complaints are made that the knowledge seeking Muslims, college aged and above, are focusing on certain issues, Madhabs, Manhaj, Aqeedah, and Fiqh, while the youth are getting owned by Shaitan. One of the best ways to find that “balance” is to get involved with grassroots Da’wah. Not only does it help us bring focus back to certain priorities, it helps build foundations of brotherhood for those of us with differences.

At MMYC 2008, the organizers appreciated the coming together of brothers and sisters from all sorts of different backgrounds and styles in the interest of the kids and their development. I have to admit, it was wonderful to have that playing field with no labels, no preassumed agendas, nothing. Just old school Da’wah and getting one another to fear and love Allah and His Deen.

[#1 – Your Students are your Counselors]

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On the last day, as we were leaving the conference, I told my guys that they were the best counselors I ever had. Each of them looked at me confused, but I explained that we all learn from one another, and that they taught me more than I had ever learned before. The main point of the conference for us counselors was to take charge of a group of kids and guide them through the weekend in helping them increase their Eman. Yet, in taking on the responsibility of counseling four young and ambitious brothers, I found that more than anything, they were shaping me up!

Just think about it. You’re in charge of what they can and can’t do. You’re the one who has to wake them up for Fajr. You’re the one who has the responsibility of striking engaging Islamic conversation in a hotel room with a 40″ HDTV with ESPN and movie channels. In the end, you learn a lot more about yourself than you thought you knew before.

I understand now why Imam Malik’s mother wanted him to learn the adab and manners of his Shaykh before anything else. She knew that if he was a person of Eman, his manners would be the most amiable thing about him. This is what Islamic workers need to be, examples of people with Eman and high moral character. You can explain to them a mountain of stories and Hadith, but nothing speaks louder to your kids than the way you carry yourself.

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My advice to everyone is to run towards these kinds of events, and stay with them for the rest of your lives. If you’re young, go attend them, ever year/month/weekend. If you’re getting older, go volunteer and run them. And if you’re passed all of that, then go and to speak at, guide, and mold them.

I ask Allah (SWT) to continue to allow us to participate in these spectacular events and guide us to what’s best. I definitely wanna hit up the conference next year, inshaAllah, so if you’re down to come with, holler. :P

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SaqibSaab is an average Desi Muslim guy living in Chicago. He enjoys videography and design as side hobbies, and helps out with AlMaghrib Institute in Chicago, Wasat Studios, and other projects here and there. His go-around vehicle is a 2007 Volkswagen Jetta 5-speed Wolfburg Edition. Originally born in Michigan, he and his wife reside in Chicagoland with his parents who come from Bangalore, India. He blogs personally at SaqibSaab.com.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Shan Ali Siddiqi

    April 11, 2008 at 1:49 PM

    you da man Saqib Saab!

    YOU DA MAN

  2. Wiam

    April 11, 2008 at 2:11 PM

    Assalamu Alykum WRWB,

    MashAllah… true words spoken by a true brother. I am so glad you decided to share this experience with us.. bringing back memories that seem like so long ago. I got goosebumps a countless amount of times reading this amazing article (mashAllah) from the truth that you spoke of. Sometimes it’s just shocking to hear words that are so true, and I noticed so many of them in so many parts. I love all the lessons and I think we can all benefit from them as well, mashAllah. I especially agree with the fact that as an MMYC counselor, you get shaped by your students. SubhanAllah, I learned a lot about myself as well since it was my first year as a counselor (previously a student) and I don’t think I’ll ever let myself miss another year of this. I love that while attending the conference, we can all benefit from the “imaan rush” moments… whether we’re 12 or 18 or 26.

    The only problem with MMYC is that (from my past experiences there and from others) that we go and we get so close to Allah(SWT) through the retreat, yet on the third day when our imaan is at its’ peak… it ends. And then we go back to our lives and we slowly fall back into our old habits. I remember the last speech at MMYC was given by a brother who spoke of this. I wish we could tackle ways to solve this and to stay connected to Allah(SWT) through our brothers and sisters. Alhamdulilah, many of us are blessed to live in areas with many Muslims but some of my students and many others are not. Many communities with a lot of Muslims aren’t any better because the some members of the Muslim youth influence the others negatively. I hope that perhaps in the future we can have some sort of mentoring program for the youth to stay connected to their faith year-round. (That includes counselors!)

    May Allah(SWT) continuously increase our imaan and taqwah and aide us in keeping our worship and faith at its highest point throughout the year, and not just during MMYC.

    Ma Salam,
    Wiam

  3. inexplicabletimelessness

    April 11, 2008 at 6:38 PM

    MashaAllah! May Allah swt help this grassroots da’wah to grow, ameen.

    The point about speaking from your heart about the deep topics of Paradise, Hell-Fire, Death and Allah’s forgiveness really resonate with me. As a youth myself, I sometimes have a hard time inspiring myself and my peers about the Deen when there are so many distractions around us. But going back to these topics just refreshes one’s eeman like no other.

    Where is next year’s conference going to be? Is there a website?

    Jazak Allahu khair.

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  5. SaqibSaab

    April 12, 2008 at 4:54 PM

    The conference is in the northwestern suburbs of Detroit every year, and their website is http://www.mmyc.net.

  6. Amad

    April 12, 2008 at 5:34 PM

    Everyone should hear the audio clip that you have here… it catches some really emotional moments.

  7. AnonyMouse

    April 12, 2008 at 5:42 PM

    SubhanAllah… amazing post, and what an amazing experience! May Allah reward you all abundantly and increase the khair being spread, ameen!

  8. AbuAbdAllah

    April 13, 2008 at 12:17 AM

    bismillah. that was really worth reading, mashaAllah. jazak Allah khayr!

  9. Zahid

    April 13, 2008 at 2:22 AM

    MashAllah. May Allah swt reward you and everyone involved. The weekend was awesome. I miss you bro, inshAllah we keep in touch….or at least see each other around.

  10. Shoaib

    April 13, 2008 at 6:05 PM

    Salams,
    Masha Allah great post… really captured the spirit of the conference

  11. Navaid Aziz

    April 15, 2008 at 6:21 PM

    As Salaam ‘alaikum,

    Jazaaka Allahu khair Br. Saqib. It’s nice to see that at least one community is trying to fulfill the rights of the youth. We honestly do need more of this programs in North America. The sad reality is though, I don’t think we have enough qualified people to run an event like this (especially practicing counselors).

    At any rate, what you wrote is quite inspiring and would definitely be interested in applying as a counselor for next year (even if just for the experience) time permitting insha Allah.

  12. Sarah

    April 22, 2008 at 12:07 AM

    Jazak Allah khair for posting this!

    The full trailer is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEI3mL9Qpq8

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