As every day brings a new and terrifying story of yet another person lost to terror, the question I want to ask is; where are the Imams in all this? I'm Muslim and was brought up in a traditional household. My parents would often have our local Imam round for dinner, a special biryani crammed with meat in a big pan, served up in mum's best crockery. My Imam was an old chap, bent over with a hump on his back, a wiry beard and eyes that watered all the time. His role in the community was to teach the children to read the Koran. In those days the biggest Muslim dramas were happening on the other side of the world; Kashmir and historical unforgiving current between the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. My Imam didn't speak much English or discuss much other than religion. He didn't need to. But times have changed; generations have new worries. We need our Imams more desperately than ever - but they must adapt their role and move with the times.
The Imam's role to the families back in the 1970s and 1980s was simple. Back then there weren't debates about Islam, no one to cloud our minds on the teachings, no politics mixed in. But now - ever since the Iraq War and then 9/11, the new generation of Imams have a bigger responsibility to their pupils, like teachers have in schools. They have a duty to discuss a wider range of topics. So, if young people are vulnerable; are not sure about their faith, are scared about their religion and what it means; may possibly feel under pressure of social media - Imams need to tackle this.
Whilst we are at it, isn't it time that mosques had an overhaul too? People on the outside - and young Muslims - see them as rather odd places where elderly Muslims go to...do what exactly? They aren't sure but bemusement and suspicion is now turning to hostility. Today, Muslims need mosques to act as the hub of the community; a place where people of all ages feel welcome and can learn and access resources. A bit like a library. Ten years ago libraries changed when they got the Internet, started book groups and social clubs and became much more about meeting wider community needs. Mosques could do the same and perhaps the Imams should hold weekly or bi-monthly youth programmes there, where guest speakers from authority such as police, education, military etc., are invited and youngsters are encouraged to meet and talk to them. Such activities are needed to attract the youth and educate them not only on religion but to help them understand and feel at home in their country, their world. The leaders could talk about all kinds of topics; jobs, education, confusion over their religion and yes... lets get it out in the open - Syria, radicalization, and why the war is going on and why it is not the duty of young British Muslims to go out there and risk their lives.
It is vital that the Imams are able to communicate and be approachable to youngsters. As I went to press send on this article, I read that an Imam was murdered in Rochdale by two young radicals who didn't agree with the way he practised his faith. If we are to prevent more bloodshed, the conversations and openness between different generations of Muslims needs to start right now.
Azi Ahmed is author of Worlds Apart: Muslim Girl with the SAS
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