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From Boys To Men: Addressing The Masculinity Crisis

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masculinity crisis

It happens too often these days. A parent calls me complaining about her child who is immature and refuses to grow up. The age of the child: 25-30. The problem: he has no goal in life, and refuses to move out, get married, start a career, or get off the couch. Stuck in perpetual childhood, the problem of the man-child has grown into a pandemic in the modern era.

The crisis is not limited to the Muslim community. Many authors and researchers have tackled this issue from a variety of perspectives, like The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It by Warren Farrell and Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax. In this article, I will analyze the problem from an Islamic lens and propose some practical solutions.

Manhood in Islamic Scripture and History

In Islam, a boy becomes a man upon hitting puberty. Historically, boys were raised to embrace manhood upon the onset of puberty. By age fifteen, most men were already working, married, and contributing to society. The expectations of men were clear and well known. A man needed to provide, protect, and lead.

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To fulfill this role, he needed to be brave, strong, hard-working, just, and religious. Societies provided boys with many functions to learn how to fulfill these responsibilities like the futuwwah guilds of the sufis that trained boys in work skills, social skills, and chivalry. (Futuwwah, Dawud Walid, pp. 35-37)

Modern society functions very differently. Boys are told that they are children until they complete their education or reach a specific age (sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one) but are rarely taught what societal expectations of a man in the modern world are. Left to their own devices, many boys see no reason to grow up, and so drift along into a state of perpetual boyhood long past puberty.

Symptoms of the Masculinity Crisis

In my video “Is there a masculinity crisis?”, I discuss some of the signs today that boys are experiencing a masculinity crisis. The fact that many boys never grow up and have no concept of what a man should be is proof enough of the crisis. There are multiple signs in a young man’s life that he is experiencing a delayed onset of adulthood and is drifting through an extended childhood.

If a young man in his twenties shows no signs of taking ownership of his own life, taking on responsibilities, starting a career, or working towards some long-term vision, then this is a sign that he is not mentally mature yet. Additionally, if he shows no inclination towards women and marriage, spends most of his time in his room engaged in frivolous entertainment, and exhibits boy-like mannerism, these are all causes of concern.

By age twenty, a man should have an idea of what he wants to do with his life. He should have an internal drive and motivation to work hard, start a family, and make something of his life. He should have a vision, mentors, goals, and a strong work ethic. If all this is still missing by his mid-twenties, then something has gone very wrong.

Soft Times Create Weak Men

“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.” (G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain)

There is a theory in sociology that men are affected by the era they grow up in. The theory states that boys become men due to necessity. The trials and horrors of life are what cause a boy to man up and take charge of his life. Forged by trials, a boy becomes a man when he faces his challenges head on. But if a society lacks trials, and is designed entirely for comfort, a boy has no reason to ever grow up. Life as a boy is comfortable, so why embrace the responsibilities of manhood?

Yet society suffers without strong men to lead families. In the absence of strong righteous men, evil men take control and society falls apart. Anarchy and the breakdown of civilization occur, creating hard times which in return creates strong men. The cycle begins again.

The modern world, especially in upper-middle class communities and higher, has made life very convenient for young boys. Video games, streaming services, and especially pornography have given young men access to instant gratification in every aspect of life. Spoiled by instant gratification, these boys lose the desire to work hard and accomplish anything. Life becomes a hedonistic pursuit of instant pleasures, bereft of any long-term goals.

The solution though would not be to make life purposely difficult for men. Society has developed various forms of ease for our benefit. Some like pornography are pure evil and must be shunned completely. Others like halal entertainment and the convenience of modern technology can still be used for good. The solution would be to raise boys with an awareness of the dangers of overindulgence.

From a young age, boys need controlled exposure to difficult situations (think youth camps, competitions, hobby clubs) so that they can experience the real triumph of hard work and develop their masculinity. These boys also need to learn how to navigate the conveniences of the modern world in a balanced manner. Moderation in entertainment and balancing that with hard work and deep thinking need to be taught from a young age. The key is not a rejection of modern comforts, but learning to utilize these for a greater purpose, instead of hedonistic pleasure.

Developing a Life Vision

An alternative path to manhood is to develop a life vision. Boys from disadvantaged backgrounds become men faster due to necessity. Boys from privileged backgrounds lack the desperate situations that force boys into manhood, and so their path to manhood needs to be different. From a young age, these boys should be made aware of the privilege they experience from having wealth and stability, and taught that it is their responsibility to use their privilege for a higher cause. Their growth, therefore, is linked directly to their life vision.

Mehmet II is a great example of this. As an Ottoman prince, he was raised with every type of luxury and privilege. Yet he was mentored well and developed a vision of conquering Constantinople at a very young age. He eventually conquered the city in his early twenties. This showcases how a boy from a privileged background can become a man early if they have good mentoring and a strong vision.

If a boy is struggling to find his place and purpose in this world, begin with working on a life vision. Figure out what you want to dedicate your life to, and work on a plan to make that a reality. A vision should take into consideration your strengths and skills and be of benefit to others. Once a strong vision is developed, he should work on goals along the path of making that vision a reality. When a boy becomes clear about his purpose and vision, he grows up overnight, and becomes a hardworking man dedicated to making his vision a reality.

Addictions Holding Them Down

A primary caused of delayed manhood is addiction. This could be an addiction to drugs or alcohol, but it could even be a pornography addiction, or something seemingly lighter like video game addiction. Addictions consume a person’s mind and becomes their primary concern. When a person is addicted, they have no concern for anything in life that does not fuel their addiction. Work, studies, family, or any sense of responsibility becomes a burden in the way of achieving their instant pleasure.

Addiction is closing linked to the desire for instant gratification. Pornography, for example, gives men the feeling of instant sexual gratification without having to work for it or face rejection. It gets men accustomed to quick selfish pleasure whenever they want it. The dangers of pornography are many but linked to our topic are the following: decrease in testosterone, decrease in desire to work, and decrease in desire for physical intimacy, as well as destroying his ability to physically please a woman. Pornography addiction kills masculinity and prevents a boy from thinking clearly or pursuing real world goals and relationships.

Video game addiction is less harmful but still dangerous for personal growth. Video games are permissible in moderation and can be beneficial if enjoyed moderately. The problem here is not the activity itself but the addiction. Video games are designed to give people a virtual sense of achievement without any real-world consequences. The illusion of success, along with a similar dopamine hit, cloud a boy’s mind, and distract him from the real world. Real world success takes decades of hard work, while a video game can give the same (but fake) sense of achievement without any real work.

The result is a lack of interest in the real world, which feels too hard. To hide their sense of failure, many boys dive deeper into video games and their addiction can consume them and become the only thing in their life that brings them any happiness. From a young age, boys must be warned about the dangers of video game addiction while trained to prioritize real-world success and hard work. Video games are fine as a pastime after work hours to re-stress or relax, but they should never be prioritized over more important things like work, family, and religion.

The Need for Mentors and Father Figures

Another cause of the boy crisis is a lack of role models and mentors. More than ever today, we have boys raised by single moms without any father figure in their lives. Boys need father figures to mirror so they can see what a man and aspire to be like the male heroes in their life.

The solution to this would be to link boys with male mentors, be it local scholars, community leaders or members of their extended family. Especially during the teenage years, boys need to spend a lot of time around good male models so that they can witness masculinity and learn it through modelling. They also need men in their lives whom they can have open discussions with on topics like sex, women, and gender roles. Boys find it easier to learn these thinks from a male mentor than a female family member. Attaching young boys to male mentors is crucial for their personal development.

Mixed Messages about Masculinity

Another cause of confusion for young men is the mixed messages they receive from society. They are told to man up, while also hearing about toxic masculinity. They hear that all men are trash, but also that they need to provide for and protect women. From a young age, they are shamed for being male, and given confusing messages about what a man is and what the role of a man should be in modern society. Confused and alone, without anyone to answer their questions, they either hide away and refuse to grow up, or turn outward towards extreme groups to learn masculinity.

We must open the conversation of masculinity for our youth. They need spaces in which they can ask their questions, deal with their doubts, and learn about masculinity in a healthy manner. This is linked to having strong mentors who are willing to have the difficult conversations needed to work through these problems. Our boys need to hear from a young age that being a Muslim man is a good thing and something they should look forward to.

Long-term Solutions

The problem of the man-child will only get worse if we ignore it or continue to contribute to it. In the long-term, we need to focus on developing communities in which boys can grow into men that are assets to the community. To solve this, we need to rethink our education system to one that helps people attain maturity at a younger age.

We need spaces where boys can learn about Islamic masculinity from the right role models. We need to set up events where boys can meet role models and grow into men in a controlled environment. We need dedicated centers that can help solve the addiction problems, and we need to parent our boys with more awareness of how our parenting styles are shaping their futures.

All is not lost. People have realized that we have a problem and discussions have started on brainstorming a solution. Together, we can work towards a future in which our boys and girls grow into amazing young men and women who benefit this ummah together, living up to the Qur’anic description of the ideal society:

“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They call for goodness, forbid evil, perform the prayers, practice charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. These, Allah will have mercy on them. Allah is Perfectly Noble and All Wise.” [Surah al-Tawbah 9:71]

 

Related reading:

Why Fathers Matter

Why Fathers Matter

Podcast: Pornography Addiction and the Muslim Community | Abida Minhas

Podcast: Pornography Addiction and the Muslim Community | Abida Minhas

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Shaykh Ismail Kamdar is the Books PO at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. He is also the founder of Islamic Self Help and Izzah Academy. He completed the Alimiyyah Program in 2006, and a BA in Islamic Studies in 2014, specializing in Fiqh, Tafsir, and History. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Islamic Studies and personal development.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Osman Umarji

    January 26, 2023 at 11:30 AM

    Wonderful article. May Allah reward you Sh Ismail.

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