By Talha Bozkurt
Muslims who were born into the age of social media.
The world is rapidly changing and developing, and so must our modes of engagement when it comes to Muslim Millennials. According to a Pew Research study conducted in the year 2015, the average median age for Muslims globally was 24 years, the youngest cohort relative to all other religions. Thus, Muslim organisations ought to focus more on how to effectively engage and utilise the vigour of this young audience for the brighter future of our Ummah. But how?
Allah in the Holy Quran provides us with an eternal method for inviting people to His path.
اُدۡعُ اِلٰى سَبِيۡلِ رَبِّكَ بِالۡحِكۡمَةِ وَالۡمَوۡعِظَةِ الۡحَسَنَةِ
“Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good counsel…” [Surah An-Nahl; 125]
This article endeavors to put into practice divine advice entailing i) wisdom and ii) good counsel through 7 key points and real life examples that aim to bridge the gap even closer between Muslim Millennials and Islam.
- Stay Up-to-date with Social media
I am not referring to simply having a presence on social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat) and promoting an organization’s Islamic events. Stay Up-to-date with “why” and “how” it is that young Muslims utilize these platforms; enter their sphere to better comprehend “what” it is they find appealing. Social media outlets are the means with which we can establish a connection virtually, before venturing across to the bridge of reality.
Going through some snapchat stories, more recently a common infatuation amongst my young brothers is a game called “fortnite.” Knowledge of this game’s popularity might be the means through which such youth can potentially enter into Muslim youth organizations. I know of a good friend that began his journey to becoming an integral volunteer after participating in a games tournament organised by the youngsters at the local Mosque.
For Muslim women, “hijab tutorials” is a theme that seems to be trending on Instagram. The ‘modest’ fashion industry is exponentially growing and becoming more popular. Female organisations can organize ‘Hijab Festivals’ or Hijab tutorial workshops to draw in young Muslim women. Such events will not only be an opportunity to display the real definition of hijab, but also be the catalyst to further young women’s journey to learn more about their deen.
These are only two pertinent examples amongst many where staying up-to-date with young Muslim’s interests can be the spark with which to use to further their connection with Islam and their Muslim Identity.
- Physically reaching out
If the younger generation are at mosques and events today, it is mainly because their parents strongly encourage (pronounced “force”) them to be there. Ideally we would like to see these very youngsters having their own reasons for coming to the mosque. Yet as our discussion continues, we will be waiting for a very long time before this actually happens. It is for this reason that it is upon us to make the physical effort of seeking out these youngsters and meeting them at their places of interest.
A brother knew a group of young Muslims who had a passion for bike riding, but little connection with the mosque. With the intention of developing a stronger relationship with these young Muslims, he purchased a bike and participated in their rides together. Long story short, after a few rides, through the brother’s effort those same youth are now dedicated volunteers at their local masjid. This isn’t his method; It is the method of the beloved Prophet Muhammad . He first wrestled with Rukana and then invited him to Islam; which he accepted. [Tirmidhi (vol. 4, p.247)]
- Start Young(er)
When we hear the word ‘youth’, we generally think of teenagers. A lot of our events are generally directed at Muslims teenagers and above. It is the case that some Muslim parents aren’t able to provide their children with the correct Islamic education (tarbiya). The moment they step foot into society, they become extremely vulnerable. We should lower the age for our events and activities so that we can fill any gaps of curiosity and doubt before they reach their teenage years.
It is also paramount to acknowledge that this generation was born into a technological era unaware of what it was like for the internet to be too slow to connect. There is a famous Turkish proverb that says “a tree bends while it is young,” which depicts in essence our approach to getting our Muslim youth to take ownership of their identity early on in life.
- Address issues that are relevant and relatable.
The average attention span of humans, according to a study by Microsoft Corp, has now descended to an astounding eight seconds (apparently goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds). What does this mean for us? Your introduction is very important. The style of the message you’re conveying is very important. It must be appealing and relatable.
At the start of a talk given to a group of youth, the speaker informed the audience that his topic was an explanation of ‘Surah Al-Instagram’. When he mentioned this, all the youth in the room developed excitement and curiosity. Obviously the students knew there wasn’t a surah titled ‘al-Instagram’, but it was sufficient to draw in their attention. In that talk, the speaker elaborated to the youth some of the effects Instagram has on an individual. But to address such issues, we first have stay up-to-date with social media (see 1st point).
What not to do:
I once attended an Islamic lecture given to a group of Muslim youth (millenials) where the speaker mentioned that our pious predecessors would do “thousands of adhkar (rememberance) on a daily basis”. The moment young Muslims are presented with examples that are difficult for them to relate with, they can lose interest and deem themselves inferior. Wisdom entails saying the right thing at the right place at the right time.
- Food & Games are an ideal way of Da’wah
Some Muslims limit da’wah to every sentence starting with “Qala Allah , Qala Rasulullah ” (Allah said, the Prophet said). Da’wah however, can be in the form of any invitation that leads us to the goal; that is Allah . From reminding someone of a verse from the Holy Quran, to smiling at the face of your brother/sister, da’wah has a much broader scope than we think.
I once asked for advice from a local scholar with regards to dealing with youth, and he mentioned the following pearls of wisdom: “There are some youth you lead with your mind, and there are others you lead with your stomach.” The simplicity of this statement had a profound effect on me as it was both practical and effective. My local mosque for example continues to provide pizzas for the youth after their weekly lectures as an incentive, and it works.
- Sports and Sport stars
The influence of sports players has dramatically increased. Young people LOVE sports! And they respect successful sports players more than we think. We may not have many Muhammad Ali’s at this time, but we do have the Sonny Bill Williams, Mohammah Salahs, and the Khabib Nurmagomedovs that don’t shy away from their religious identity. One might simply say the sports these players perform is futile or haraam, and as a result dismiss its’ impact. Yet a lot of young Muslims will still watch and still follow them regardless of one’s religious stance.
On the other hand, you can utilize and engage with such sports stars to draw in the younger crowd for a greater objective. A seeming reality is that an Islamic reminder uttered by a successful sports star has greater impact on young Muslims than Muslim leaders themselves. So look out into your local communities to see if there are any prominent Muslim sport stars your organisation can engage with.
A friend of mine is a young, successful, and practicing Muslim BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) coach. Through his achievement in the sport on a global level, and his identity as a practicing Muslim, he is able to influence his Muslim students simply through his actions. He once mentioned to me that “during training one day, I told students I will be pausing for prayer and went to pray. After I gave salaam, I realized there was about 30-40 students praying behind me”.
(Note: World Cup 2018 is coming up in June, so make sure to utilise this massive event as a source of attraction for youth in your organisations.)
And finally, the most important point…
- Approach Muslim Millennials with the eye of mercy and compassion.
We have already established simple methods in how we can bridge the gaps between the years. Yet let us not forget we too were young with a lack of experience and it was only through the mercy of Allah that we found our feet before the exponential boom of distractions. We must be very sensitive and cautious in our approach towards our fellow brothers and sisters. We must understand the gravity of the challenges they are facing in today’s hypersexualized society before we begin to address them. We should not criticize them nor be overly judgemental. We should not complain about how “entitled” or how “corrupted” some of them may have become.
The golden rule in dealing with Muslim Millennials is that we approach them with the eye of mercy and compassion, and with sincere belief that we are not superior to them. This way, our relationships will be stronger and more effective, and as a result the Ummah’s future will be in trustworthy hands inshaAllah.
– This advice caters to the majority of ‘Muslim Millenials’ according to the established behavioral mindset of the times.
– Everything mentioned above can be implemented by any type of Muslim organization: youth organizations, schools, madrasas, mentoring institutes and the like. In short, anything or anyone that/who is related to engaging with Muslim Millennials.
Melbourne born and raised, Talha Bozkurt has qualifications in Islamic Studies from the University of Marmara, Turkey and is also a graduate of the Cambridge Muslim College, UK. He has also studied the Arabic language and Islamic Sciences under prominent scholars in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. He was a previous youth president for an Islamic organisation and has extensive experience working amongst Muslim youth both as a community member and as an Islamic Studies teacher. He is currently pursuing postgrad studies in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne.