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Nouman Ali Khan | Shield of Honor


Please note this transcript has been edited for readability purposes. The raw and unedited transcript can be downloaded here.

I wanted to dedicate this one session to what I feel is one of the most pressing issues in the lives of Muslim youth and one that I have come to experience myself personally at one point in my life. As I’ve had the opportunity to travel more recently and interact with many young people across the country, I’m noticing it’s not a problem localized to one community or limited to one specific kind of person, but rather it’s happening pretty much almost universally. I guess I want to term it a crisis of faith, and a crisis of confidence in the religion.

Alhamdulillah, many of you that are sitting here are Muslims that are eager to learn something more about their religion and they want to advance further. Insha’Allahu ta’ala you guys are the hope for becoming the ambassadors of religion not just to non-Muslims but even to your struggling Muslims friends and family that are Muslim but they’re barely holding onto their faith. They’re barely holding on to any semblance of Islam in their lives and you are, at this point, the only connection Allah has provided for them to Islam. So the fact that you are here is already speaking volumes for the kind of commitment you have. You might not think very highly of yourselves, but actually, I do, and perhaps Allah (‘azza wa jall) holds you in very high regard. May Allah accept this gathering and gatherings like this one, and make us sincere in them.

#1: “Is this from God?”

Now what I wanted to talk about, this crisis of faith. I’ll share a couple of stories with you and then I’ll talk about it in general. The first story is from a couple of years ago. I gave a khutbah in a city that I don’t want to name. At the end of the khutbah, a father came up to me and said, “I’d really like you to have lunch at our house. I want you to talk to my daughter.” I said “Okay, I guess, I have time”. He took me to his house, which was right next door to the masjid, and said, “If you’re okay with it, my daughter has some questions about Islam, so if you don’t mind, could you help her answer some of them?” His daughter comes out – and by the way, this is a Muslim family, born and raised Muslims, parents are born and raised Muslims, children are raised Muslims – and she has piercings in strange places on her face: on the side of her eye, and like a couple on her forehead. Weird places that you look at and you go “ouch!”. But anyways, she sits down and I’m kind of weirded out at this point, but you know what, let’s have her ask her questions.

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She had about thirty questions, and I didn’t answer any of them. I just said, “So what else?” I kept saying, “What else?” and she kept adding stuff. She had questions like, “Well, you know, I have some friends in high school and they’re gay. They’re not bad people and they haven’t killed anyone, so why do we hate them so much? And why did God make a hell, why did He have to do that, like…what’s the point? And if He wanted to make a Hell, then why did He create us to begin with if He knows we’re going to go there? Then why’d He do that to us? And what’s so bad about having a boyfriend? It’s not like murder, you know. I’m not that bad. What’s the big deal? Why do we make such a big deal out of everything?”

At this point internally, I’ve already had three heart attacks, but externally, I’m saying to her, “What else?” And she just keeps going, and going, and going. And mind you, her father is sitting there, so if I’m having seizures…you know, I felt really sad for him, I really did.

And she just kept going and going. At the end of her thirty questions, I said: “Okay. I’m willing to spend time with you and discuss these issues with you, but I’d rather you just answer one of my questions first. If you could do that, then we can probably have a good, well-directed conversation.” There was a copy of Qur’an sitting on the dining table, so I picked it up and said, “Do you really actually believe this is from God through an angel to a man, (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)? And whatever this has is perfect instruction for you and for me to live our lives in the best possible way, and if we live our lives this way, we’ll find happiness here and forever, and if we don’t, we’ll find misery here and forever? Do you actually believe that?” She goes, “No, I’m not so sure.” I said, “Well then, all of those other questions don’t matter. None of that stuff matters.”

That’s what I would call a crisis of faith. That’s the first crisis of faith, and she’s not the only one. I’ve seen this story play itself out. A lot of people have those kinds of questions but they don’t ask them, and you know I’m not just picking on girls here. Muslim guys will be raised in a religious family, will know certain things are haraam, and in their head, they’ll say, “Why is this haram? Why can’t I do that?” Then they’ll hear, “Well, Allah said so.” “You say that for everything!”

“Islam’s no fun.”

And then if somebody was to ask them, “So what’s Islam?” “Everything’s haraam, here’s my summary.” [Laughter] You know, Islam equals “‘Don’t smile, Don’t have fun, Don’t live life”, because all of that stuff is haraam, it’s forbidden. And of course, it’s reinforced because when you come to a typical masjid across the country, all you see are people that are frowning. All the time. It’s like, “Mam’nu’u at-tabassum”: “it’s forbidden to smile here.” It’s like if they even see a child running a little bit with a smile: “Hey, Masjid! Don’t you see the sign that says, ‘Sadness Only’? [Laughter] It’s like a depressing thing.

So for a child, even growing up, in a Muslim community, in an Islamic school…I’m not knocking on any Islamic schools here in Maryland since I don’t know enough, but generally, it’s run by some very angry aunties. [Laughter] Kids that are in class are just seeing angry people all the time, and the more religious they are, the angrier they are. The longer the beard gets, the bigger the frown gets, like it’s very hard to smile. So they’re in this environment all the time and there are some questions that start popping in their head. “Why am I even Muslim? Everybody around me is so miserable. We can’t do anything! Every time I want to do something fun, they say haraam! They say wrong! And all the friends I have in school, they say they’re going to hell! What do you want me to do?!”

Internally, a young man, a young girl, a young boy starts getting a little turned off by the religion. And then on top of that, let’s be honest, most parents, even if they want to put their children in Islamic schools, can’t afford to. It’s a tough economy, it’s not easy to afford, so most of our kids go to public school. That’s a reality and it’s not something you should embarrass people about. It’s just a reality of Muslims living in this country that they go to public school. So parents feel guilty that they’re not themselves able to give a quality religious education – they’re certainly not getting one at school – so they put the child in Sunday school. That’ll help, right?

It won’t. It doesn’t. Ask your child if it helped. [Laughter] I love Sunday schools by the way; I think they’re a blessing, and that they’re an important effort in the effort to educate our children. Nonetheless, ask the average child that is sitting in Sunday school on any given Sunday. You just take one random kid, especially a teenager. Pull them aside and ask them one question, “Do you want to be here?” Just ask them that one question and what is the overwhelming answer you will find? Uh-uh.

They’ve already served five days in prison at school. Prison for a child is behind a desk. What do parents do? “You need to serve some extra time. Here’s a sixth day in prison.” By definition, kids hate class. I used to be a teacher at a school, and one of the ways I would punish students if they were misbehaving is when the bell for recess would ring, I would say “You can’t leave yet, you have to finish ten more problems.” And you see all these kids sitting there and as the bell rings, the temperature in their seats rises. It hurts for them to stay inside their seats. And then they look outside the window and they see others entering the gates of Paradise. [Laughter] And they’re like, “Aww…can we go? Please, please, please! Just anything but here!” They hate being in class, and you know what we do, we just stick them in another class! Oh well, at least it should be fun, right? No, it’s not going to be fun either.

#2: Best Story Ever?

Okay, my second story now.

This actually happened in a Sunday school I used to be a part of. The class next to me was a bunch of preteen younger guys, like 11-13. Teacher walks in and says, “Today, children, I’m going to tell you the best story of all time. The best! Do you know what it is?!” This kid raised his hand. “Yes, tell me what it is.”


This kid next to him goes “No! Yu-yu-Yugi-oh! Yu-Yu-Hakusho!” This other kid goes “Naruto!”, and they start arguing with each other. “No, that’s the best story! No, that video game had the best storyline! And the sequel was even better because it went backwards in time!” The other one goes, “No did you see that movie, oh my God it was awesome! Have you seen the third season of this, or that, or the other?”

Oh my goodness, this argument breaks out in class, and the teacher is standing there in shock. His jaw is dropped and he doesn’t know what to do. “No! No! No, this is all wrong! I meant the story of Yusuf (‘alayhis salaam) in the Qur’an!” Allah says it Himself, “We are narrating unto you in fact the best of all possible stories.” This  is a claim made by Allah, and so he was expecting the child who raised his hand to say, “Yes, I know the best of all stories, it’s the story of Yusuf (‘alayhis salaam).” But nobody said that, it wasn’t even a contender! So he says, “No, no, no, children, you’re all wrong. The best story is the story of Yusuf (‘alayhis salaam).” And the kids go, “Aww, I already know that one. Okay, yeah, sure it’s the best. Mhm.”

Do you think they really believe it’s the best? Uh-uh. That’s a crisis of faith right there. Allah said something, and our children, sitting in a Sunday school in the House of Allah, don’t believe it no matter how badly you want them to. They’re just saying it because you want to hear it. That’s a crisis of faith. That’s a huge crisis, and we have to understand how to address that crisis.

All of the other problems we have for our youth; [you probably] want to make a list, and have programs about them: “How Facebook is a fitnah”, “How YouTube is a fitnah”, “How the Internet is a fitnah”, “How stepping outside of your house is a fitnah”, “How high school is a fitnah”, “How the mall is a fitnah”, “How your friends are a fitnah”, “How your car is a fitnah”, “How your cell phones is a…”- I mean goodness gracious, oxygen is a fitnah at that point! The list just keeps going.

I’m saying that list is superfluous. I’m arguing that stuff is fluff. We have to look underneath that fluff and look at what the real problem is. The real problem is a crisis of faith. We need to understand the problem, and the problem is that our youth are not confident, not proud, and not in love with Islam. They’re not confident in the Qur’an. They’re not confident that the Messenger of Allah (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is the absolute best role model, that no one deserves to be loved more, no one deserves to be followed more, no one.

#3: Justin Bieber Mania

My third story. It’s part of the crisis of faith. I mentioned this story at the ICNA convention too. We’re flying to the ICNA convention and I usually take my whole family, all 28 of them. I have 6 children, and I lose count sometimes. [Laughter] But anyways, we’re flying together, and since my kids are little, they’re short and can’t really see over the seats in the plane so they’re just sitting there. My wife and I are taller, so we can see the TV screen when it drops. So there’s a movie playing. We didn’t want to see it, but it was right in our faces. And of course Alhamdulillah we don’t have headphones, so it’s a silent film at that point.

It was the Justin Bieber documentary. [Laughter] Yeah, imagine that. Well thankfully, it was a silent film, right?

So, for this documentary that is playing, I’m trying to avoid looking at it, but I can’t help myself. I can’t help myself because they’re showing this kid come and start singing his songs, and girls in the audience are crying. You could tell they’re just like, “We love you so much, I’ll die for you.” Mothers are bringing their daughters to concerts. And then somebody’s handed a voucher that says you get to meet him backstage. You should see the family, how they’re jumping up and down in joy. And in the course of that video, I was like, “Oh man, these people have nothing to look up to. This is all they have to look up to and they’re so happy at this! How sad of a life can it be?” In the next clip, there’s a Muslim girl, wearing a hijab, and she’s handed a voucher, “You’re going to get to meet Justin Bieber!” She goes around a tree, hugging it, and going crazy. And she’s not the only Muslim girl that would do that. She’s not. Don’t say “Astaghfirullah, what kind of Muslim…?” Hah, that’s the average Muslim girl. That’s normal.

So now, we have a crisis, not just of faith but of some of the fruits of faith. What are some of the fruits of faith? The faith itself is you’re convinced Islam is true, but beyond that, a step above that is that you take pride in it. And a consequence of that is that everything that is NOT Islam no longer appeals to you. Everything that contradicts Islam makes you not only not attracted, but makes you feel sad for people who are. You look at it as something beneath you.

Let me tell you what a great thing for Muslims this would be. A point of pride for Muslims would be that instead of a young Muslim man thinking, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I can’t do that either, everything is haram, look at my friends, they get to do this, and that, and the other”, instead of a Muslim girl who’s going to high school wearing hijab, and everybody makes comments at her, pokes fun at her, and says weird things to her like, “You look so ugly because of that thing on your head…” and it makes her think in her head, “I wish I could be like those other girls who get to do whatever they want. I can’t do anything, I can’t have any fun in life. The only thing that’s keeping me from being happy is Islam.”

[Short interruption: Personally, I think what he’s trying to get at here is if those young people were instead sad for those same people who viewed them like that, but he got distracted.]

Proposed Solution #1: Create A Culture Around Strong Friendship

So I didn’t want to just mention the crisis of faith. I wanted to also try to mention some of its solutions. It’s easy to talk about a problem, but it’s hard to talk about its solutions. It’s hard, and my disclaimer will be that I don’t claim to have absolute answers. I have some ideas, and I’d like to share those ideas with you. These ideas are the results of discussions with scholars, counselors, and youth. I don’t want to give you generic kinds of answers, I want to try to give you some kind of practical answers that may not be the absolute solution but insha’Allahu ta’ala with your own discussions amongst yourselves, you’ll come up with some better things.

The first part of the solution is that we have to create a culture around strong friendship. Identity itself, and not just Islamic identity, revolves around who you hang out with, who you spend most of your time with, and who you identify with. When you spend most of your time on a computer, you start taking on some of the qualities of the stuff you’re reading and the stuff you’re watching. It starts invading your thoughts. The kinds of people you spend time with affects you: if they’re studying Islam all the time, you’ll want to study Islam too. If they’re playing basketball all the time, you’ll develop a habit for playing basketball also. If they’re going to watch movies all the time, you’re going to want to go to the movies too. Your environment has an effect on you. The people you surround yourself with has an effect on you. The Muslim community, starting with the Muslim family and then evolving to the community, needs to actually have a campaign to ensure our young children are in the company of good role model older kids, like a Big Brother, Big Sister type thing. So when our girls are 12, 13, 14, when they’re coming up in their ages, some of the more leading Muslim girls in our community – that are 17, 18, 19,  going to college, holding on to their religion and learning their deen –  are role models, they don’t even know it. And our younger girls need to be spending time with these older girls, it’s really important – that they have someone to look up to, who’s strong in their deen. And they aspire to want to be like them.  That’s really important.

The same goes for the guys at a younger age. It’s not like what we do; we keep the little kids by themselves and the older kids by themselves and it doesn’t work out. There needs to be a kind of mentorship happening at the community level, so that our younger boys are spending time with some of the older boys, especially the ones that are mature in their religion. And we have, Masha’Allah, if not a lot of those, we have enough of those. We have enough young people who are mature in their religion, they really want to learn more about it, and they’re good role models! You know, they have youth, they have energy, they have good looks. You know they could go any number of ways in their life and they chose to submit themselves to Islam – that in it of itself is huge, and that already makes them a role model. Whether they’re ever grabbing a mic and speaking publicly or not doesn’t matter; they’re STILL role models.

And we need to put them in that position. It does two things. One, it gives young people someone to look up to, and two, it gives older kids a sense of responsibility. It makes them realize that other have their eyes on them, that they have to answer to a higher standard because they set the tone for others. And that kind of mentorship thing needs to start happening when families start doing that, and utilizing the community as a place where that kind of mentorship can happen. That’s one, that’s one suggestion.

Proposed Solution #2: Create An Open Forum

Another really important suggestion – and this is a long term thing – is that we have to be able to have forums where our young people can talk about the real questions they have without being afraid of reactions from their parents, their imam, their scholar, or their speaker. The speaker should NOT be in a position to say “You are so wrong – what you said is so bad, go make istighfar, go slaughter a goat and then come back.” We shouldn’t put them into a position of them feeling intimidated for them to even want to be able to ask a question. We need to create a space, we need to create an environment where they feel comfortable enough to be able to ask certain kinds of questions. And I say this, because of some experience. Muslim community, generally, are very conservative people. We have certain expectations of ourselves, we have expectations of our children and we have expectations of other Muslims. Within even our own family, like if your boy, for the first time, got asked out on a date, or some girl came up to him and said, “You want to go to the prom with me?”, he’s thinking about it but he’ll never tell his mother. He’s thinking about it but he’ll never tell his dad. Because you know what’s going to happen if he tells his dad, right? Inna lillahi wa inna ilahyi ra’jioon, that’s what’s going to happen! So he can’t talk to his parents about this stuff, even though it’s on his mind! He can’t talk to her parents, or even the imam, because you know what’s going to happen when she asks the imam? Next week the imam will give a khutbah: “You know what this sister came and told me?” They’re afraid of being called out. They’re afraid.

There needs to be a space where they can ask their questions. There needs to be a space where they can feel comfortable asking their questions. There needs to be training for our du’aat in how to answer those questions in a sensitive way. Realizing these are not just questions on a piece of paper that you can give a black and white answer to, there’s a person who’s really having problems. There’s a human being who’s really going through some serious struggles. And to want to spend some time understanding where this problem came from, and the best way to try and help them, this is a training in it of itself. It’s not black and white, just telling our youth: “This is wrong you can’t do it” isn’t enough! You need to understand: “Why are they attracted towards it anyway?”, “What led to that?”, “How did they end up in that position?”

I’ll tell you a story about a good friend of mine, AbdelRahman Murphy. He used to be a youth director in Chicago, and when I saw his work in Chicago, I kind of forced him to move to Dallas with me. And Alhamdulillah he’s served as youth director in Dallas for sometime. And this is a huge masjid, I mean there’s like 1000 people easily on a Friday night. It’s insanely big, with 300, 400, 500 people regularly for Maghrib and ‘Isha everyday. It’s a big, big community with lots and lots of youth. This was the first time the community hired a youth director and his announcement was: “If you’ve got a problem, come to my office and we can talk about it.” So this kind of offer has never been made to the youth before. “Come to my office, you can talk to me about whatever and it’ll stay between us.” First week: “I’m thinking about killing myself”, “I think I’m gay”, “I’ve committed the ultimate wrong act, what should I do?” All kinds of crazy stuff. And when he first came, about a hundred people just came one after another: “I think I left Islam, I don’t think I’m Muslim anymore.” All kinds of stuff! The first week he fell into serious depression. I didn’t realize…how bad things are. And it’s not that Dallas is crazy, this is average. This is happening everywhere. But our youth don’t have someone to talk to.

And I’m saying that I’m not even qualified, and for those of you who are activists, that want to serve Islam in some capacity, think a little outside the box. Yes, we need scholars, yes we need du’aat, yes we need khateebs, yes we need speakers, but man, we need counselors, really badly! We need people properly trained in psychology both in the Western sense and the Islamic sense. We need these people. We need teen counselors and mentors. We need leadership trainers, people that instill a sense of confidence and love in youth. This stuff is important! And to me, these things come first.

Internalization, Then Islamic Knowledge

And when these things are in place, then Islamic education on top of that makes sense. It makes sense because the people that are trying to learn now are already convinced of what they should be learning. Our assumption for a long time has been: “If we give people knowledge, automatically they’ll be convinced.” It hasn’t worked! Our kids will tell you about the life of the Prophet (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). They are really intelligent children that are really good readers, children that get good grades in social studies, in English, in reading subjects. If you give them an Islamic studies textbook, they’re going to read it, they’ll be really smart at understanding the text, and they’ll get a hundred on the tests.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve internalized any one of those principles. That just means they’re good readers, they’re good at taking tests, and they’re going to get an award at the end of the schoolyear for getting a hundred on that test. That does NOT mean they’ve internalized anything. Our gauges and measures of instilling Islam into our youth are very shallow. It’s not the same as measuring whether your kid is doing well in math. They’re two very different things. And then our children are very smart, kids are very adaptive – especially teens – and are very cunning. They’ll tell you exactly what you want to hear. “What’s the best story of all?” “Yusuf (alahyis salaam)! (Haha got ‘em again!)” They’ll tell you because they know that’s what you want to hear. The scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Scariest thing: Murphy was doing a youth program, and he asked. “How many people believe that when you make du’a, raise your hands and make du’a to Allah, that Allah is actually listening?” Everybody raised their hand. Then he said “Okay, think about it for one whole minute, and then tell me.” Three people raised their hand. Three people, that’s the scariest thing. This is the crisis of faith, and this is what we have to address first.

Psychological Crisis Among Older Youth

This is at the younger youth level. I want to talk a little bit about the older youth. The next level of crisis I want to talk to you about is more psychological in nature. But there’s one higher up that’s more intellectual in nature. A fundamental crisis, again. You know, we’re living in a time now where obviously Islam is constantly under attack. When you think of Islam now, you think of criticism before you think of anything else. And there are certain ideas that are associated with the word Islam, with the word Qur’an, with the word Shari’ah, so if you say the word “Shariah” to an average person, what are the things that come in their head immediately, without you adding any adjectives yourself? What are some ideas that immediately pop into their head? Beheading, cutting hands, barbarism, stoning, this kind of stuff. This is popular society. And you cannot imagine and assume that Muslims that live in a society – rather, world- where Islam is constantly being bashed, will not have some residual effects on them also. It will. It has an effect on us. It impacts us.

So our youth already have some contamination in their views of Islam because they have mixed in with what others say about Islam and what they’ve come to learn about the deen themselves. A lot of times, the real foundation isn’t there to begin with. Then they go to college. And when they’re there, they already felt bad about looking Muslim, being weird, being different, being the guy that’s being criticized all the time, and then they end up in Philosophy 101, and they end up in Anthropology 101, and they end up in Middle Eastern Studies 101. And you know what happens in these college courses, right? This youth, who felt bad about Islam this whole time, who didn’t feel confident in the faith to begin with and was almost embarrassed about it, now have some philosophical arguments in his hands that justifies, “Well, yeah, I’m not that interested in Islam anymore, because you know…how do we really know if God exists? I took this course about whether God exists or not, and there’s all these arguments!” But the real problem isn’t that they have new philosophical arguments. The real problem is, they never had a real love, conviction, and loyalty to Islam to begin with. These courses only made it easy for you to make an excuse, to hide behind the façade of an intellectual excuse. That’s all it is. But they’re being equipped with those excuses.

Studying Islam in Secular Universities

And then of course you take people who want to study Islam in the west. They want to study Islam at the University of Chicago, or they want to do a Master’s in Islamic Studies from George Mason, or wherever else. All over the country there are Islamic Studies programs now: these are ANTI-Islamic studies programs and these are UN-Islamic studies programs. The entire idea behind them is: criticism. The religion you’ve learned to appreciate, love, and admire your entire life: now you’re going to do a Master’s degree, and the entire time your teachers will constantly be doing one thing with Islam. What will that be? Criticism, criticism, criticism, criticism, criticism. You don’t think that will have an effect on you? You don’t think that’ll start messing with your head eventually?

I met a friend who’s doing a Master’s degree in Islamic studies at Harvard. And he told me he was learning Islam in high school, so he got really interested, went to Syria, did some Arabic studies. When he came back, he said, “Man, I should learn more about Islam, so I’m deciding to join the Master’s program at Harvard.” So he joined. The first semester was “Introduction to Hadith”. Sounds awesome. You know what the premise of the textbook was? “The more saheeh a hadith is, if it’s agreed upon by both Muslim and Bukhari, the more it just means the authors went out of their way to tell people that it’s authentic. So the more authentic the Muslims say it is, that’s the more fabricated it actually is.” That was the premise of the course “Introduction to Hadith”. You take that for a semester and see what happens to you. Are we even equipped to handle that stuff? No, we’re not. And I’m arguing that that’s already happening. A good number of youth are in Islamic studies programs, they are developing some very strange understandings of Islam, and they are going to be the movers and shakers in the world. You think that these people that are on CNN, that come out, the Irshad Manjis of the world, are weirdos? There’s a whole army of them on the way. There’s a whole slew of them on the way. You think that’s wacky? You haven’t seen anything yet. The real show’s about to begin.

Equipping Our Youth to Leave Being Defensive

We haven’t equipped our own youth intellectually. Our Islamic schools should not be there to protect children from the “world of kufr”. Our Islamic schools are supposed to be: “This is what you’re going to find them saying about Allah’s deen, and this is how we respond.” So when you go out there, you’re not there to answer their questions, but you become the people that follow the nation of Ibrahim (‘alayhis salam). He was not asked questions, he was the oneasking the questions! He was not shaken about his faith, he was making other people shaken about their false beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our entire approach to Islamic education has become entirely defensive: “There’s too much fitnah out there”, “We need to save our children and hide them from what’s going on outside”, “I fear for them when they go to college.” No! Everybody else should fear when Muslims go to college. It should be the other way around! We should be the carriers of confidence! That’s what it should be. It needs an entire rethinking on our part on how Islamic education is conducted. We’re constantly on the defense.

This is my last point about building this kind of character and mindset. We’re continuously, continuously on the defensive. I’m tired of it, personally. We don’t have to constantly explain ourselves. You know, that’s a really easy strategy that was employed even at the time of the Prophet (alayhi salaatu wassalam): just keep him busy answering those questions because if he’s constantly answering your questions, he’ll never get around to asking YOU any questions. So some Jews of Madinah would ask, “So, uh, who brings you revelation? Jibreel? Oh okay, that’s interesting.”, “Who are these people of the cave? Oh, okay, you know who they are? All right, okay.”, “What’s the ruh? Oh you got an answer for that too? Oh okay.” “How come sometimes a boy is born and sometimes a girl is born?” If he answers that, what are they going to do? Ask another, and then ask another, and then ask another. And you’ll be explaining yourself. So Allah answered a few. And then they moved on to another question. They said, “If we’re going to be reduced to decayed bones – nothing- we’re going to be created again? Really?”

This time Allah did not explain. Usually He does, right? When they asked about the People of the Cave, did Allah explain it in detail? He did. When they asked about Jibril (alayhis salaam), Allah explained it in detail. This time however, Allah drew a line: “Tell them: forget bones and decay. Even if you turn into rock, turn into metal, Allah will bring you back anyway”, which basically means: “Shut up and get lost. I’m done answering your questions. Go ahead, turn into whatever you want, Allah will bring you back. Whatever your imagination can come up with that’s even harder to mold, go ahead.” “They say, “Who’s going to bring us back?”: “Tell them the one who got you back the first time. Now get lost”. Straight answer now.

We have to see the fluff for fluff. We have to see through that not just for the sake of others, but for our own youth. We need to build confidence into our youth, as part of our education of them. If we don’t do that, we will be paying the price for that in the next ten years. I say that very fearfully as I say this to you: we are not, as the leaders of the Muslim community, doing an adequate enough job thinking about how to instill the confidence of faith, how to fight the crisis of faith among our Muslim youth. When they have philosophical problems, we tell them, “Go make wudu’ and make two rak’ah over there. If that doesn’t work, come back, and I’ll give you a special du’a. Recite that, and your problem will go away.”

If they have a philosophical problem and have doubts already, the spiritual solution is there, but you cannot ignore the intellectual solution. Our deen is intellectual and is not blind faith. Our deen is powerful. We have to believe that and have to instill that belief into our kids, especially at a time when everybody thinks they’ve got something on Islam. Christians are attacking Islam, do you know how ridiculous that is? Do you understand how absurd that is? I live in the South, or close enough. I live in Texas, and I drive around in the South a lot, and my hobby is listening to Christian talk radios. Most Christian talk radio is about Islam because they have nothing much to talk about anyways. “Oh these Muslims, their Koran thinks that we’re doing shirk. Us believers are doing shirk! And we’ve got a Koran expert here who’s going to explain everything to us!” And then they’ll have their whole show. And I’m listening to this stuff, and I’m laughing my…It’s such good comedy. It’s quality comedy, except they’re talking about “the contradictions in the Koran, and its grammatical mistakes”. When they talk about that stuff, I’m sitting there laughing…and at that the same time I start crying. Because somewhere, there’s a Muslim listening to this, who has no foundation in faith, and he’s listening to this and saying, “What?: to himself or herself? “Oh my God, that makes sense. They’re on to something. They got us!”

You know, we haven’t yet done our job of planting the right seeds. That’s my only premise, that’s my only point. We have to do that at an early age, and forums and regular programs like Young Muslims (YM), where youth get together and have company of each other, are components of building confidence in your faith because you’re around other people who have similar confidence in their faith. Confidence feeds confidence. That’s one part of it. But now we have to think even further, and really have to give some serious thought on how to develop these kinds of institutions, how to evolve our current institutions, and make them ready for these real challenges that are coming. We need to see the symptoms as symptoms, and see the actual disease that needs to be attacked. Most of the time we talk about the symptoms, but we don’t talk about the disease. May Allah (azza’wajall) allow us to see the disease, and empower us to be able to find a cure for those diseases through His Book and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallalAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

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Nouman Ali Khan is the director of the Bayyinah Institute. He is well known for his contributions in the fields of Arabic and Quranic studies - most recently starting a full time on-campus institute for this purpose in Dallas, TX.



  1. um aneesa

    January 27, 2012 at 12:29 AM

    Excellent alhamdulillah.

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  4. Carlos

    January 27, 2012 at 1:01 AM

    Just become an atheist. We never have crises of faith.

    • sister B

      January 27, 2012 at 9:54 AM

      carlos-no offence brother but i see ‘atheism’ as a new ‘religion’ :) whose deity is a nameless force that acts randomly and has created science after the big bang. richard dawkins being its current prophet. :D

      and carlos, crisis of faith is only for those who havent understood the meaning of islam . those who have understood it well have no problem whatsoever. life becomes peacful, its purpose becomes very clear and we then know how exactly to lead our lives.

      • Carlos

        January 27, 2012 at 5:37 PM

        According to the great professor of atheist studies, Dr. Benjamin Kenobi, who has worked with Professor Dawkins, the force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.

        • Inqiyaad

          January 29, 2012 at 12:01 AM

          …or that is what he ‘believes’! Did he demonstrate that the galaxies fell apart when all living things are/were dead? ‘it surrounds us and penetrates us’, really?

          Sister B, you are right, atheism is indeed a religion. It is a belief system. Its primary belief being that there is no God. But of course, it is not a new religion. It is quite old and has been addressed in the Qur’an.

    • Rifaie

      January 27, 2012 at 4:51 PM

      Just go bald.Bald people never have bad hair days.

    • Brother

      January 27, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      Atheism itself is a crisis of faith, but the irony is that atheists don’t even realize it!

    • Ibn Percy

      January 27, 2012 at 10:37 PM

      Lack of faith is worse.

    • Dahlia

      January 2, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      Why Are u here?

  5. Carlos

    January 27, 2012 at 1:02 AM

    That is a decent article, Nouman Ali Khan. I see you live in the real world.

  6. Carlos

    January 27, 2012 at 1:03 AM

    “Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone!” – Pink Floyd.

  7. Umm Sulaim

    January 27, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Thriller article.

    Some people act as if the prohibitions in Islam are not sufficient and declare completely innocent activities as haram because of the fear of some remote haram; very ridiculous.

    As a teacher, I allow my young students to freely express themselves in their own words; that is the only way of knowing what is going on in their heads. My classes are interactive, so my students do just as much participation as I or even more.

    The second most common problems expressed after family issues is intellectual. My method is to first calm them down and in a jovial tone, explain the correct understanding without explicitly telling them they are wrong.

    You are right that young adults need people to talk to and that censorship does not efface that intellectual process. I know that as a teacher and from personal experience.

    So many questions buzzed in my head as a child for which I got no response, except censorship, which only multiplied my rebellion.

    Umm Sulaim

  8. ummMaryam

    January 27, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    salamu ‘alaikum Br. Nouman,

    jazakAllah khair for your reflections. we are at a crossroads. personally as a family and the ummah at large. as a family, we see the problems in pub. schools. ; ironically though, we see problems in the islamic schools too. so, what to do? we are thinking of homeschooling starting next year.

    my husband is a principal of an islamic school (just for 3 years now) and he sees the problems first hand. The kids feel a sense of entitlement (spoiled brats), they treat teachers as “khalas and ammus” and don’t take them seriously. they beg their way to get their A’s (ie keep asking for extra credit to make up for laziness in not studying), but WORST OF ALL: they have zero akhlaaq/adaab. ZERO, ZILCH, NADA, NICHEVO. Aside from the majority of them being lazy, slackers who consider the school to be their servants, the few that have intelligence enough to be National Merit Finalists also have arrogance to match in size. They treat volunteer teachers as dumb elders who don’t know a thing. They mock teachers behind their backs and in their faces; they don’t say salaams in the masjid to those they know (let alone those they dont) and they flirt in classes too. At least at this school they do. Don’t know how widespread this is but my husband is thinking it’s time to jump off the sinking ship… or at the least to evaluate why is the Islamic school project failing so terribly. They may have memorized some quran, know some arabic, but why are there hearts empty, void of the beauty of Islam? What has gone wrong with this experiment that you feel that the graduating seniors will not be fit to be a husband or wife to anyone? (due to their rude snyde remarks and lack of desire to do anything that requires commitment). What should Islamic schools be focusing on from the earliest years onward to save this character catastrophe…this akhlaaq assassination? yuck. i don’t want my kids associating with such bad mannered kids. but I wish we didn’t have to homeschool them but we can’t knowing that we will be asked about how we raised them dump them in a zoo of bad manners. subhanallah.

    and this is not a post of mere venting. my husband is utterly sad, and disillusioned. some of the kids he thought the world of, thought they were such good kids, the cream of the crop you could say, he recently found out about their behaviors and attitudes…and he is in a state of loss…what has gone so terribly wrong? what pieces of the puzzle have we missed as an institution, as a community?

    please advise with practical tips on curriculum focii that you recommend.

    jazakAllah khair

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 27, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      One recommendation will be to halt the undeserved credits. I always remind my students if they get a zero, I will put a big zero in their score.

      I even add two eyes, a nose and lips to make sure they get the point. Everyone has a good laugh and the affected student has a frown and tries to force a smile. It motivates them. Of course, if the student weeps, the way I handle it depends, but often includes making him/ her laugh and offering encouragement to do better.

      Umm Sulaim

    • Nayma

      January 27, 2012 at 11:51 PM

      I really agree with Br. Nouman that students don’t want to be behind desks. Maybe we should first try to reach out to our teens, ie become their friend. When they like you, know that you really care, the knowledge can follow.

      I know what you mean sisters about behavior, it is so sad. But there has to be another way to reach out to them. We need better speakers in our communities. Unfort. we don’t have someone like Br. Nouman, but we have his tafsir videos, Br. Wisam’s videos, etc.

      I think we should use their talks regularly and part of the curriculum of the Islamic schools.

  9. Ahmad

    January 27, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    The home and parents are the first and sometimes the only shield the child needs to grow as a strong Muslim. Most Muslim households are negligent in their Islamic duties, many of the observant households have demonized Islam.

    The factors mentioned are all valid and relevant to the idea being presented but almost every time its the parents and family who make their child that he turns out to be. That is why Muslim parents and every grown up needs to straighten their act and themselves become what they want in their child.

    • Sobiakhan347

      February 11, 2012 at 11:18 PM

      Agree completely as Yasir Qadhi once said ‘You can say but not teach until you practice what you preach’.  I think there is a serious problem that many first generation parents push religion on their teens when they are getting out of hands – using religion in reaction when if they had practiced religion and its teachings from the beginning then the children would be more willing to accept it. 

  10. ymr

    January 27, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    The article was good islamic education is very important. Naruto is awesome!! Its not just a kid show by the way.

  11. Bint A

    January 27, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    Most important and relevant lecture yet, mashaAllah tabarakAllah. really opens your eyes, and shows the dire need for Muslim schools, and also parents to realize what is actually happening to our youth.

    BarakAllahu feek Ustaadh Nouman. May Allah preserve you and continue to use you for khayr for the Ummah ameen.

  12. Yahya

    January 27, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    WOW! I am so often dissappointed in the lack of real world insight that Islamic leaders have, but this was truly exceptional. I pray Allah uses Numan as a source of guidance for youth and their parents. I only wish Numan had mentioned that the parents themselves need to step up their game. Being a role model through proxy, ie. youth counselors and youth groups, seems to sidestep the real heart of the issue; If the parents themselves don’t live and breathe a vibrant and compelling understanding of Islam, how is it possible for their kids to see Islam as anything but a bunch of fables and rituals?

  13. Umm Ousama

    January 28, 2012 at 12:12 AM

    Many years ago, I heard in a tape Shaykh al-Munajjid saying that teenagers need to consciously accept Islam when they become teenagers.

    Teenage years / early twenties are when children put into question what they have been brought up with. This is why, alhamdulillah, many people become Muslim. Many people too give up their culture to practice Islam properly. Unfortunately, the opposite is true too. They will question your practice of Islam and will need to be convinced on their own and do their own homework. My daughter told me that a brother asked her husband what to do as his son became Shia!

    We do our best to teach them Islam properly and make du’a to Allah to keep them on the right path. We ask Allah to keep our and our children’s hearts firm on Islam but let’s also not forget that al-Khidr killed a boy because he was going to be a big fitnah to his righteous parents! We also need to correct ourselves and have the best akhlaaq and be the best example for our children to see the benefit of the religion. And we need to practice the religion with wisdom.

  14. Moaz Aslam

    January 28, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    Assalamualaikum, can we re upload this article with linking back to your site?

  15. Ibrahim

    January 28, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    Who is Carlos anyways? And why does he spend a lot of his time on these comment sections?
    A question asked with all due respect–it’s rare to find a constant non-Muslim presence in such places.

    • Hala

      January 28, 2012 at 3:27 PM

      I was wondering the same thing.

    • umm Abdullah

      February 9, 2012 at 2:12 PM

       Brother, Its a good thing for him to listen to search lectures. InshaAllah we hope Carlos can understand more about Islam. We should encourage not discourage

  16. Umabdullah

    January 28, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    I didnt read the whole article yet. Just the end..but man this article deals with my fears for the youth in america exactly…your core deen being shaken. I started feeling my deen going weak after 9/11. Thconstant criticism got to me so i opted to save my deen and move to a muslim majority country. Not perfect but deen wise so so good i honestly never wana go back and pay taxes to kill other muslims.

    I needed breathing space to grow in my deen instead of feeling like im CONSTANTLY supposed to be answring questions.

    I Badly Hope that muslim leaders in america will create some instituteions or avenues for these very real doubts of the youth to be addressed. We are in the end of times in general….this is the time to be very very strong in our core faith.

  17. Pingback: Dealing with the Modern Crisis: Islam vs Ahmadiyya | Ahmadiyya

  18. Carlos

    January 28, 2012 at 9:20 PM

    I just watched your video, Mr. Khan. Good speech. You are an excellent speaker; very convincing. You are teaching me much about Islam. Thank you. You also seem like someone to whom I could relate if we were sitting across a coffee table from each other, talking. I can see the attraction young Muslims would have to your speeches.

  19. Abu Muhammed

    January 29, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    Bismillaah. Great speech. Very thoughtful and striking examples.
    And most importantly RELEVANT. I find today many Muslim speakers
    not in touch with reality on ground.

    Br. N Ali May Allaah strengthen your health and increase your knowledge.

    I advice those who read this valuable article to PLEASE forward this article to our brother and sisters.


    UK brother

  20. Pingback: Growmama Picks for January 2012 | Grow Mama Grow

  21. Omar

    February 6, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    MashaAllah. Bro, you had me read through the entire article with full attention, it resonates with me. Islam has

  22. Omar

    February 6, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Islam has been on the intellectual defensive (and in many cases not even defending) for far too long.

    I am struck by how different the Quranic tone is as it speaks to nonbelievers from our tone. We tend to be timid, apologetic, uncomfortable, almost feeling ‘they have a stronger case’, whereas the Quran speeks with such confidence, with demeanor of one is assured of his belief that the sun exists, and outright questions their mental capacity for not being able to recognize God.

    We need to genuinely develop this confidence, not artificially, but to critique the alternatives, and we will realize what a gem we have …

  23. Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    February 7, 2012 at 5:16 AM

    I love the way brother Nouman explains things. May Allah preserve him and grow him in knowledge.

  24. fzahra

    February 9, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    Excellent insight and definately something to think about..

    I use to have role plays in my evening Madrasa classes (age 7-11), I didnt really like the thought reading for two hours. They need a break in between! They would act out stories from the Islamic books and it gave a lot of self confidence, then they would reflect on the messages from they play. They loved it and they loved singing nasheeds. I must say when we had a school play my kids performed the best and they were so confident! I also found that they began to concentrate more with their reading and their understanding of tajweed and they were eager to listen to stories.

    I guess it goes back to the teacher, if they can make story time animated enough, children would love to listen. There needs to be a balance however. I’ve always been a smiley person and kids recognise that, especially the times I didnt smile, they would ask whats wrong, I find that sweet now reflecting on it.

    I havent taught in over a year, but it has been my observation that evening and weekends schools need to pump that motivation for children to love it, its not only a place for them to learn but it should be used to create bonds of friendship for years to come.

  25. Zamzam114

    February 9, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    It’s so true, his worries is my worrries over a decade long..muslim counsellors…

  26. Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    February 20, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    Just had a chance to listen to this fully. I think I need to listen to it yet again. This is a problem being faced by Muslim youth in Pakistan also. Forget the youth. It is a problem being faced by many of the adults as well!


    February 22, 2012 at 3:50 AM

    Mash’Allah excellent lecture may Allah reward you for this brother Nouman. I definitely agree with what you say about the dire need for more Muslim counselors. I also agree that we should teach our youth who are motivated on ways to be effective da’is to others, particularly those younger than them. May Allah make us all be amongst the Righteous Amin.

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  29. Nahyan

    September 21, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    came across this while doing some khutbah research and found it very insightful. mashaAllah.

  30. Sarah

    December 24, 2012 at 8:26 PM


    This is SO true, as a teenager, from a RELIGIOUS family and totally practicing, mind you, I can bear witness to what Brother Nouman is saying.

    Firstly, we definitely need the kind of ‘open forum’ he spoke of – I know for a fact that I simply have no one who I can go to, who I can confide in and ask for advice. I can tell you for sure, a private session thing would be flocked to. This isn’t necessarily because parents are horrible or anything – for example, a religious teen may fear confiding in their parents because they don’t want them to feel let down, or to be shocked, or to suddenly think that their kid is leaving Islam.

    Excellent mashallah!

  31. Fatima

    January 31, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    So I’m a teenager (14) and I go to an Islamic school.
    I found that it is true that Muslim kids do think of Islam in a negative way but thats cuz when ever we want to do something were told that its eather haram or that were gonna go to hell instead of telling us the reason behind why its haram.
    thats y most kids will memorize at our school but forget it after a while cuz we don’t have intentions on wanting to learn it. But maybe if the teacher told us that in our age what ever good we do we get more good dead’s that if we were older, maybe it would make some of the smarter kids in class actually want to do good.
    But there in a stage where all they think about is about there friends and when the’ll get to go home from school. They don’t care about anything cuz they have been raised in a world were nothing else really maters. When u tell a child to do something the’ll do it but won’t want to cuz well they think that its not important. I’m a child who looks forward to death so there fore I like to do things right and when someone needs something I want to give them the best cuz I know that if I would ask someone to do something for me I wouldn’t want it done the wrong way then I would feel as tho I’m not cared about. I love everyone, so I like to give them what I would want them to give me, and its said that ” u should give othere’s what u would want for ur self ” so that what I follow.
    But when I’m told by my parents that what I’m doing, I’m doing wrong, I feel like not wanting to do it. I’m only doing things my way. even when I’m told too do the dishes I have an organized way of doing it I don’t just randomly put soap one everything. I divide kitchen utensils into one group then do the plates or sometime the biggest
    object first so that there is room for everything. Its quite hard to explain. anyways..
    Kids want to have fun not have to sit on one spot and read we all know that don’t we?
    I think that if what is going on in this world today about how everything is haram (forbidden) I worry that the Muslim population in North America might decrease, I’ve already heard of kids in my class and in school saying they don’t like being Muslim cuz the girls don’t get to do anything, everything they want to do even just simply play gets taken to a negative side where the child gets taken away from being happy to not wanting to be Muslim at all.
    They see other kids playing living there life up and having fun while we have to follow strict rules and do nothing… nothing at all..
    Music actually can make a child more happy but when its said that all music is haram. even that little thing that can make them open minded gets taken away from them. They should at least be able to listen to music that don’t have any lyrics. Like Sabrepuls (its all electric and dubstep mixed) they just have a bunch of remix of Nintendo game songs that r really good. I listen to them and find nothing haram in becoming happy by noise.
    that y I can at least find something to cheer me up.
    Something that has really nothing haram in it. I think when ppl say that music is haram they mean the stuff that ruins a kids mind but music that is simply just sound can’t hurt anyone.

  32. MuslimNuts

    May 29, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    Salam aleykom,

    Very interesting, jazakallah Ustadh !

  33. lumpen prole

    June 8, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    You might psychologically be able to convince people to love Islam, but not intellectually. A doomed attempt if I do say so myself. In fact islam is more problematic than atheism when one takes into account the free will vs predestination enigma. What I find insidious about your article is that you’re downright condescending towards sceptical islamic youth because you possess pseudo-persuasive gnosis — how bourgeois is that! If you want to empower islamic youth you won’t be able to do it on grounds of faith, which, I hasten to add, is the worst kind of egoistic onanism conceivable.

  34. Pingback: Even the “Friend of God” had doubt | The Zaadialogues!

  35. Tasneem Mosam

    February 13, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    Need to desperately have some information that can make me stronger in Imaan and be able to help others in a small way.

  36. Tasneem Mosam

    February 13, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    This is what our youth desperately

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