By Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
Confronting Social Malaise in the Muslim Community
Considerable material progress in recent decades has brought about some serious social challenges and issues of social malaise in developed societies. Commercialisation of life, sexualisation of our young people and individualism that often expresses itself through self-gratification are now haunting post-modern Britain. The Guardian reported on 23 June 2009 that Ofsted inspectors investigating an increase in exclusions from primary schools have discovered “worrying” levels of sexual behaviour among very young children. The inspectors also reported high levels of “trauma”, such as family breakdown, and domestic violence. London Assembly recently published a report that reveals ‘young people from Muslim communities, whose Islamic faith forbids alcohol, are now drinking far more than before- girls now as bad as boys for underage drinking’ (The Guardian on 16 June 2009). In a society where nafsaniat (sensuality, permissiveness, promiscuity, etc.) are abundant, the pressure on individuals is tremendous.
Here are a few areas where we need to concentrate, now and over the next ten years.
Social Malaise and Young people
Young people generally lack maturity, are vulnerable to social ills, and susceptible to social pressure. Allah, in His divine wisdom, has instilled in man the dual nature of good and bad (fujur and taqwa). Schools have always been established to create good human beings that can make a positive contribution to society, not to train rapists, paedophiles, gangsters, and drug users. Rather, these kind of individuals have found themselves in a society that has lost its direction.
Loss of Childhood Innocence
Increasingly early sexualisation of young people via tools such as TV, internet and magazines is having an impact on their innocent and balanced growth. This is having an unwholesome impact on their attitude towards life: what should be innocent youngsters enjoying their childhood is being tarnished by an early over-awareness of sexuality.
Bullying destroys the self-image of the victims and can leave long-term psychological scars. A bully is most often an unhappy or frightened child who has an angry, bitter or defeatist attitude to life, and often chooses a loner, a socially passive child, or children of minority groups as his target.
Sex and Sexuality
Sexual promiscuity has given rise to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In Britain, thousands of women suffer some form of sexual assault every year. In several religions, including Islam, homosexuality has been treated as a sin. However, this is now accepted as a social norm in British society.
Some beneficiaries of women’s exploitation hide themselves under the guise of women’s liberation. Paedophilia, pornography and nude modelling have contributed to the making of an unhealthy sexuality.
A stable family environment is essential for healthy growth of children. Domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, and unhappiness among children in Britain has become disproportionately high. Marriage is losing its importance in society and divorce is increasing at an alarming rate, giving rise to more confused children. Modern technology, including mobile phones, computers, and TVs, are decreasing the need for physical communication and are keeping people apart.
Delinquency and Crime
According to some studies Britain’s young people are not faring well in their behaviour. Is it because our children are unhappy, as UNICEF report of 21 developed countries in 2007 suggested? Anti-social behaviour and petty crimes by young people are costing the society financially, as well as resulting in a loss of a significant section of our youthful energy.
Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
Drugs, sex and violence are intertwined. Addictions can negatively affect the educational and social progress of the community as well as the health, economic and social lives of individuals.
Racism and Islamophobia
The Lawrence Report in the late 1990s highlighted how deep-rooted racism is present even in today’s Britain. Everywhere from schools to workplaces, racism creates fear, distrust and a disturbing environment. The atrocities of 9/11 and 7/7 have given rise to a significant rise of Islamophobia in Europe, endangering community harmony and social cohesion.
Laissez Faire Morality
Over the centuries materialism has marginalised religion and, as such, societies have fallen in the grip of amoral or often immoral values. Morality has become selective and double-standards have taken over in most political decision-making. In the social context this has given rise to permissiveness.
Tackling Social Malaise
The challenge of combating social malaise is daunting, especially in the context of the weaker socio-economic condition of the Muslim community. This cannot be tackled by one group or community in isolation; it needs a holistic approach and national consensus.
Religious leaders, professionals and other community activists must develop socially sound interventions and strategies that conform to Islamic values.
1. Positive Parenting
Mosques, community organisations and youth centres must invest in educating our parents in positive and assertive parenting. This empowers parents in understanding the world of youth in a post-modern society and gives them confidence through useful techniques of addressing the challenges.
2. Youth Services
Young people are energetic and need strong role models. They need help in understanding Islam and the values of meaningful, sound and stable family life. They need basic life skills training, e.g. communication skills, anger management and decision-making based on Islamic teachings.
Premarital counselling should be provided as part of social service delivery. There are a large number of professional social workers that work with the mainstream society. They need to be provided with Islamic aspects, while Imams and scholars should be provided with professional tools in this area.
3. Mental Health Services
Problems of depression, family disorders, poor parenting, drug and alcohol related stress have now become common and contribute to development of mental illnesses. Mental health therapists who are well grounded in Islamic strategies should be included to assess and treat such individuals.
Most Muslim children are educated in state schools and mainstream public schools. Holistic education of all these children, who are the future of the ummah as well as productive citizens of Britain, is essential.
In addition, the composition of the Muslim community and its diverse background demand that adult education through mosques and community organisations is important for the social improvement of the Muslim community.
It is imperative from the teachings of the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition that each one of us is charged with an obligation to help promote spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual and social well being of all. Individuals and Muslim institutions must volunteer to help tackle these issues over the next ten years and beyond so that not only can we achieve these aims, but we can also develop the society for a better future.
With greater awareness, necessary targeted interventions and positive contributions from concerned sections of the community, social malaise can be overcome. The age-old proverb ‘desperate diseases need desperate remedies’ is now the demand of time.
Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, MBE, FRSA is an educationalist with a PhD and PGCE from King’s College London and a Management degree from the Open University. He has worked as an Air Force Officer, researcher in physics, science teacher and SEN specialist in London. He is chair of the East London Mosque Trust and a board member of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games Ltd.
He is an author of several books on parenting, and issues of youth and identity. These include: ‘Building Muslim Families’, ‘A Guide to Parenting’, and ‘Race, Religion & Muslim identity in Britain’. He is the current Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, having been elected to the position at the MCB’s Ninth Annual General Meeting on 4th June 2006.
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