5 Years Later: An Update on DC Muslim Youth & Appeal for Supporting a Worthy Effort

NOTE: This article was originally posted on May 20, 2012, featured on a temporary blog that we created to raise funds for a group of youth and volunteers to attend this year’s SeekersGuidance Appalachian Retreat. Please disregard the dates–no fundraising is needed at this time. We are simply in the process of moving all of our previous posts to this new blog.

We would like to take a group of DC youth to the SeekersGuidance retreat in Tennessee again this year, and we need your help to do so. Our current fundraising goal as of Sunday, May 20th is $3,2oo. We have one month to go. If you are prepared to contribute toward youth and volunteers’ registration and transportation costs, please go to PayPal and send your donation to: travelingminds@mac.com. May Allah (swt) reward you immensely for your generosity, in this life and the next.

As you read on, you will find that this fundraising effort is about more than making traditional Islamic knowledge accessible to youth from inner-city DC…

Youth A and Youth B participated in the trip to the SeekersGuidance Appalachian Retreat in Tennessee last year. Youth A recently informed me that Youth B told him, “If I didn’t go with y’all to Tennessee, I don’t think I’d still  be Muslim.” Where does this comment come from? Should not the beauty of Islam be sufficient for this youth? In order to understand Youth B’s comment, one must understand the environment that he lives in.

The inner-city environment is a challenging one; one that can stifle motivation, growth, and a positive sense of purpose and vision. People that reside here are often made to feel burdened and trapped by their circumstances. Many of us know that Islam, properly understood and practiced, has the power to transform the lives of individuals and communities, no matter where they are. About 5 years ago, a glimmer of possibility shined as Islam emerged as a serious trend among young people in DC’s inner-city starting in the fall of 2007 (read more about this curious phenomenon in the article below, entitled “On the DC Shahadah Wave“). That trend reached its peak in the summer of 2009. In the past 5 years, it is no exaggeration to say that DC’s masjids saw hundreds of young people embrace Islam.

Out of that totality, there were some who became Muslim but did not demonstrate a seriousness or sincerity about their newfound faith; they were “Muslim” merely by name, but not by character or action. They showed no interest in learning. Being Muslim was actually a means of being part of a larger group through which they could afford themselves a sense of power and security, in schools and neighborhoods, inside and outside of detention centers, jails, and prisons. We have heard stories of some of these young Muslims robbing stores, stealing cars, and worse. (We are mentioning facts, but we acknowledge that there are many factors involved here.) Trends have a time limit. As such, in the past year or so, many from this group have decided to “drop” their Islam (in their words, “I took back my shahadah”). However, this is not the case for all.

For some DC Muslim youth, in spite of whatever reason they initially embraced Islam (whether with a clear, sincere motive or not), and in spite of past transgressions (however serious), Islam has grown on them. It has realigned them with their innate fitrah and they have chosen it as their definite way of life. If and when life throws them big challenges, they have an Islamic framework and foundation to turn back to. This growing generation has gotten to know their Creator, Allah (swt), and come to understand the true purpose of life.

After returning from Tennessee last June, in the absence of youth-centered, Islamically-oriented programming in DC and its border areas, and in seeing the need of having something consistent which would keep certain youth that we were acquainted with Islamically stabilized and somewhat “afloat” over the course of the summer of 2011, we initiated low-key weekly halaqah sessions at a local masjid. These halaqahs have continued over the past year, switching to a later time as the school year came in. We have felt the sincerity/will-to-grow of each and every youth who we have involved, and we believe it is important to nurture and further strengthen this via consistency, good company, group spirit, camaraderie, and an open and comfortable environment.

Our weekly halaqahs serve as the nucleus of a broader effort to engage DC Muslim youth via Project REACH, an emerging Muslim-led grassroots community development and social justice organization seeking to address the challenges and struggles confronting marginalized urban communities in the DC area. The halaqahs, known also as “Real Talk” sessions, are essentially mentor-mentee discussion circles that are intended to help participants improve their knowledge and implementation of the basics of Islam; develop positive social bonds with other participants and mentors; adopt a tolerant understanding of Islam with a general emphasis on developing good Islamic character; and encourage participants to become contributors to the general improvement of their respective communities.

For many of these youth, outside of Jumu’ah (and their own personal reading in some cases), there is very little or no consistent Islamic engagement, and they have expressed a strong desire for this kind of engagement. All of the youth who are currently involved in our halaqahs are new Muslims from the shahadah wave that swept across DC. A basic, wholesome understanding of Islam will help set the foundation for their positive growth. We are committed to placing our youth in environments which assist in their proper spiritual, moral, and social development via mentorship.

As demonstrated by Youth B’s comment at the beginning of this post, our trip to Tennessee last year served as a landmark experience in the lives of these youth. To get a glimpse of how penetrative and significant this experience was, read this blog entry. For some of these youth, getting out of their immediate environments is something that rarely happens. They have spoken very nostalgically about last year’s trip, and have been excited about the idea of going back. Going on trips like this opens their mental taste buds to new places, new faces, new experiences, and a general healthy spirit of exploration and adventure; they also create important opportunities for self-reflection and close companionship with fellow strivers–something that has been critical for many successful re/converts to Islam.

Update (06.08.12): Alhamdulillah! Fundraising Goal Reached!

Alhamdulillah! After about two weeks of focused fundraising, we’ve been able reach our fundraising goal!!! A special ‘thank you’ and ‘jazak Allahu khair’ to two amazing brothers, Khuram Zaman and Hassan Abdullah, who took the cause up and diligently continued until we reached our fundraising goal.

As for those who were able to donate (and those who had the intention to do so): We pray that Allah’s (swt) mercy be with you. May He reward each and every one of you immensely for your assistance and generosity, both in this life and the next. Your help is deeply appreciated. We, the youth and volunteers, will make sure to keep you in our du’as before we depart later this month, insha’Allah.

If you still would like to donate to help advance relevant and reliable Islamic knowledge, you may donate directly to SeekersGuidance. SeekersGuidance offers online courses in many of the Islamic sciences and all of their classes are FREE via their monumental Knowledge Without Barriers campaign, serving hundreds of converts, people with limited means, and a global student body. This noble endeavor takes the support of the community. You can donate to the SeekersGuidance KWB campaign by clicking here.


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