Fighting for our Youth

>> Friday, March 18, 2011

Asalamu aliakuam!

Guest writer, Heba Ahmed, shares with us the story of a group of girls who wanted to help out their fellow Muslimahs through their journey of discovering themselves and their religion. This is the inspiring story behind "Daughters of Eve", a group by young Muslimahs, for  young Muslimahs,  just like YOU....




Fighting for Our Youth: A Case Study of a Muslim Youth Group


First published in Muslim Matters and reprinted here with permission.



“I had a really hard day today”, Mariya explained to me over the phone.  “I see lots of overdose cases, but today I was shocked to find out two Muslim girls, around 13 years of age, were found helping each other in a double suicide attempt.”
Mariya was a toxicology fellow at the local hospital and took her job very seriously.  She dealt with rattlesnake bites, medication overdoses, and illicit drug use. It was the intentional overdoses that affected her the most, especially when they were Muslim.
“We have to do something!  We have no programs for the youth in our community and we are slowly losing them!” Mariya continued in a frazzled tone.
The incident hit very close to home for Mariya because it reminded her of how she had felt when she first moved from Saudi Arabia to England as a teenager.  She explained to me how being suddenly thrust into such a foreign environment left her feeling hopeless, lost, confused, and overwhelmed.  She recalled a growing hatred towards school and family and an increased sense of despondency. The worst memory was her inability to share these emotions with anyone. She could relate to the feelings of the Muslim girls who had attempted suicide and remembered writing her own will at the age of 13!  The medical case had sparked a deep desire to create a safe, understanding space for Muslim girls and channel her negative experiences into a positive way to help others.
“Okay, so what are you proposing?” I replied.
Of course there had been attempts to address the needs of the youth.  As with most communities, this usually manifested itself into some kind of halaqa (learning circle) for girls, usually led by an elder auntie who spent the time telling them why they needed to wear hijab and obey their parents. Attendance usually consisted of those whose parents (being friends of the said older auntie) had forced them to attend. The result? A bunch of yawns and protests that “she just doesn’t get me.”
Mariya and I wanted to stray from this failed formula and instead help the young girls of our community in a way that was relevant and appealing.  We began to deeply analyze our own struggles as Muslim girls growing up in the U.S. and England.  We thought about the issues we dealt with and what type of group would have helped us through the hurdles, temptations, and pitfalls of adolescence.  We also researched other youth groups such as Crescent Youth in Houston in an attempt to build on our predecessors efforts.  Several conversations led to the eventual formation of a Muslim girls’ youth group for our community.
Our mission statement for the group is the following:
We seek to establish a Muslim Girls Youth Group that strives to provide guidance and support to Muslim girls in developing their identities as righteous Muslim women, daughters, wives and mothers through directed activities and discussions on issues specific to Western society.

Our objectives are:
  • To build confidence as Muslim women
  • To increase God consciousness in every aspect of life
  • To educate about the rights and responsibilities as Muslim women
  • To develop skills to cope with peer pressure from non-Muslims
  • To instill courage to speak about Islam to non-Muslims
  • To effectively communicate with parents in resolving issues
  • To create an Islamic social environment and increase sisterhood

We began by developing a simple formula for our activities.  We would have a once a month “peer event” that was topic-specific.  The events would last 3 hours and the format would include an ice breaker, free food, a physical activity, and a discussion period in which the girls would participate in defining the topic and discussing the problems they were facing. We would then explain the Islamic perspective on the topic, collectively explore solutions, and offer support to each other.

The events were held at an outside venue (a private home, community center or on the local college campus) to give it a “retreat” feel, and we put an age range to discourage very young girls as well as mothers and aunties from attending.  This was in order to create a safe environment in which the girls felt the freedom to speak openly.  We never prevented a mother from attending, but once the trust was built then the mothers naturally stopped coming.  We also made the conscious decision not to affiliate ourselves with the local Masjid or hold events there.  This was due to the fact that there was an unfortunate stigma in the minds of many of the girls towards any “Masjid event”.  We also did not want to worry about being censored or limited in what we could talk to the girls about because of how it would reflect on the Masjid.
We went through some trial and error in the beginning until things picked up.  Our first peer event was entitled “Miss Understood: Muslim in America”.  Attendance at this first event was low, around 9 girls whose mothers were, of course, our friends.  We attributed the low turnout to the “trauma” resulting from past attempts at addressing the youth, but hoped that if we stuck to the model, the tide would eventually change.  Nevertheless, the event was a success for those who were present.  We munched on snacks during an ice breaker in which each person had to tell the group something new about themselves. We then divided the participants into groups of 3 and gave them various scenarios of the culture clash between the first generation and their immigrant parents.  These scenarios included difficult conversations between a girl and her immigrant mother about her changing body and developing feelings as well as the various peer pressures a girl feels from her non-Muslim friends.  Mariya and I acted out the first scenario in a very humorous way to break the ice, and then each group took turns acting out their assigned scenarios.  After each skit, the group discussed similar experiences they had had and ways to solve the clashes from an Islamic perspective.  We then took turns giving each other manicures.  The girls loved it.
It was during this first event that the name of our group, Daughterz of Eve (DOE), was voted on and decided by the girls collectively. Mariya and I determined that this event was a success from the energy of the girls and the hugs we received as they were departing.
At the next Jummuah prayer, we tried to meet more girls and get their e-mail addresses so we could send them an announcement about the next event.
“Oh, are you the one that started Daughterz of Eve?  I heard it was cool!” one girl responded after I introduced myself.
“Yeah sure, you can take my e-mail address.  Let me know when your next event is,” another girl exclaimed.
Word was already starting to spread!  The buzz was building.  Now we were really feeling the pressure to make the next event fresh and exciting.
Our next event was entitled “Body Talk: Health and Beauty in Light of Islam”. We rented a large private room at a local community center and led the girls in a yoga stretching session with complicated poses that left the girls rolling on the floor in laughter.  After food and socializing, we discussed body image issues that teens face and why the modesty of Islam is key to accepting and protecting oneself.  We also gave nutritional tips and cautioned against junky food and its negative effects. We ended the event by making our own inexpensive homemade facial masks.  The turnout bulged at nearly 30!
An e-mail from one of the participants after the event really encouraged us and made us feel we were moving in the right direction.  It read, “I am proud to call myself one of the Daughterz of Eve. My name is Hadjer, I wanted to say that the Body Talk this past Saturday was so brilliant and such a success. We have been waiting for something like this to come along here. You ladies are such great role models and an inspiration to the young girls in the community. I know for a fact, that many girls after the discussion continued to talk about what we had discussed. Many girls after definitely got a confident boost, because I know I did. MashaAllah and Alhamdullah for this organization. I unfortunately missed the first meeting, but now I will try my hardest not to miss any of them. You ladies are wonderful and are definitely great at what you do. Inshallah the next one will be soon!!”
After the second event my sister, Sarah, joined our ranks and gave us a much needed image boost.  She created a visually appealing and relevant website (DaughterzofEve.com) to enhance the vision of the group.  She also developed professional, modern looking flyers to advertise our group and events.
Examples of other DOE peer events included:!


  • “The Velvet Underground: A Discussion on the Drug Subculture”, complete with biryani, dodgeball and an obstacle course with vision impairment goggles to mimic drunk driving (borrowed from the state’s Dept of Transportation).  The girls were then divided into groups, read articles, and presented posters on the various effects and statistics of different social drugs.  The use of a strobe light, disco ball, and glow-in-the-dark sticks set the mood.
  • “American Idol: Role Models in Islam”, asking the girls to identify their role models, discussing the effects disbelieving role models such as actresses and athletes can have on one’s deen, and understanding the consequences of posting certain words and images on Facebook and other public websites. Frito Pie and kickball complemented the event.
  • “Lean on Me: Sisterhood in Islam”, in which we confronted backbiting, the rights Muslims have on each other, and bullying.
  • “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Love and Relationships in Islam”, working with the girls in coming up with ways to deal with inappropriate situations such as being asked out and ways to deal with the sexual feelings Allah created us with.  We also discussed the concept of so-called “platonic relationships”.
  • “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.: How to give it and get it from parents”, in which we discussed the complicated relationship between a girl and her parents, and how to evolve that relationship into one of mutual respect and open communication.  We talked about the Islamic rights children and their parents have on each other, how to treat parents during a conflict, and the power of dua (prayer).
In addition to the “peer events”, we had some purely social activities such as bowling, Eid and henna parties (without music), and private swim parties including renting an indoor pool with a massive water slide.  We also encouraged social consciousness by showing documentaries, arranging for the girls to volunteer at a soup kitchen, participating in Project Peace Pals (an organization that arranges pen pals with girls in Afghanistan and other countries), supporting presentations about the French hijab ban at a “Human Rights in Islam” event (open to the public), and starting a youth book club.   The girls even organized bake sales in order to raise the money for our activities (which were almost always free).
One of the important ways that we connected with the girls and helped them to relax and trust us was the constant use of humor.  This showed the girls that we could be silly and fun rather than stiff and proper.  From the beginning we wanted the girls to see us as one of them, not elders talking at them.  We did this by constantly bringing pop culture into the discussions, making facebook pages that allowed us to be easily accessible to the girls, and relating to the girls by discussing our own struggles growing up.  This helped create a relaxed and accepting environment that allowed the girls to really open up, much faster then we even dreamed. Rather than having to drag them out of their shells, we found that they were actually waiting for someone to offer them an outlet and take the time to care about them as individuals.
As expected, there were many people in the community who welcomed the effort and there were many who confronted us with skepticism, denial, and condemnation.  One father took issue with the name of the group, claiming it was too feminist.  He believed his daughter was fine and resented the fact that thanks to (positive) peer pressure, his daughter was begging to attend our events, giving him an unnecessary headache.  We also had parents and educators at the local Islamic school that applauded our efforts to deal with the girls who attended public school and who had non-Muslim family members but denied it was needed for the girls who attended Islamic school.  Considering the Islamic school ended at grade 8, after which time the students were thrust into a coed non-Muslim high school environment, we thought they needed it just as much if not more.
Over time we won over the majority of our critics, Alhudmulilah, and are now seen as an integral, vibrant part of the community.
Daughterz of Eve has now entered its fourth year.  We recently began a weekly Quranic Arabic and Tajweed class that many of the DOE members are attending, and we are in the process of planning a 4-day Young Muslim Women’s Retreat in the summer (www.DarAlIslam.org).
The high school and college girls are begging us to have more activities and are stepping up to take leadership in the group.  We have watched as the participants have evolved and grown in their identities as strong Muslim women who fear Allah in their actions and have become examples for others around them.
I asked some of the girls to share their thoughts about DOE for this article. The following are their responses:
“I believe [DOE] is very important because it gives the youth something fun & educational to look forward to every month. I have personally benefited from DOE in the sense of learning so much about this beautiful religion that I am a part of. I used to just be content with what I knew, which was very little, but this made me hungry for more and I’m so glad I got involved. I’ve met so many girls who have simply inspired me to strive to do better in learning my deen. DOE helped me become a better person and I’ve gained so many wonderful friends from it.” –Shahira (age 20)
“[DOE] allows teenagers to talk about their feelings and pressure about school to people who understand. I have benefited a lot and I know others have too. I now have a better understanding of why my parents set boundaries.” –Sarah (age 14)
“DOE is very important to the community because it helps to build a sense of sisterhood in the community so we can support and help each other. [It] has made me more knowledgeable not just in Islam but many other aspects of life. I learned that there is always hope, no matter what you’ve done, as long as you turn to Allah (SWT). I gained confidence by helping the younger girls when we would do activities. [DOE leaders] are my role models and have helped me to better myself so that one day, InshaAllah I can help make a difference in someone else’s life.” – Saba (age 24)
MashaAllah, these girls have become a true inspiration for me and the other girls around them.  I now overhear them advising each other to wake up for Tahajjud (night prayers) when they want something in their lives, and they are the first to sign up for Islamic classes.  They are even influencing their parents who marvel at the changes they see.  It makes me wonder if I would have had their strength when I was their age.  The most amazing part is to observe the positive peer pressure that has developed among the group and how it has actually made Islam cool.  These girls have convinced me that our youth are definitely worth fighting for!
******
Many times we see problems in our community and wait for someone else to fix them.  Or we simply enjoy complaining, being too lazy to do something or assuming we are helpless.  I use to be one of those people, but then I realized that my energy would be better spent empowering myself and others.  I wrote this article in order to encourage each and every one of us to face our Ummah’s issues by thinking outside of the box, harnessing our personal talents, and becoming part of the solution.
And then share so the rest of us can benefit!

9 wonderful sprinkely thoughts:

Anonymous,  March 18, 2011 at 3:01 AM  

mashaallah. what a great idea. Allah keep it successful.

Fatimah March 18, 2011 at 7:04 AM  

Wow-- this is amazing to read about. I dream about this happening in my hometown because it's so needed for the girls (and youth in general) here and this is something I would have loved to have myself. Alhamdallah-- thank you for the inspiration. I'd love to keep in touch to see if this is something I could model after. JAK for sharing.

Anonymous,  March 18, 2011 at 4:35 PM  

Very inspiring!

x@hu March 19, 2011 at 4:22 AM  

Masha Allah! Wow! Wow! Simply Wow! I'm almost in tears! This is so inspiring! And the last paragraph! May Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala make their work a success and reward them immensely!

I've always looked at the straying youth in my country and grumbled that someone should really do something to get them back to Islam. I've never thought I myself could do something!

Jazakiallah Khair for this wonderful article. It's really made me think. I'm going to keep it, as motivation for a future goal. And maybe, insha Allah, one day I will be able to do something similar for the youth back home :)

Asma Khan March 19, 2011 at 5:46 AM  

Yes we have to play our own role, instead of comlpaining and waiting for help... :)

ummkhaleelmujahidah March 19, 2011 at 7:38 AM  

Subhan Allah! I wish there's such a programme just for sisters in Sgp/Australia too! Sisters need to stick together as in times of Fitan like this, we can't afford to be on our own.

Well, at least the wonderful sisters who set up this youth group give others hope that it's possible to do the same back in our countries! Insha Allah!

athoofa March 19, 2011 at 2:13 PM  

Wow!!!!!! mashaAllah!!! This is such an amazing read!! I loved it. What you guys have accomplished really amazed me. And it was so touching reading the changes in the girls. How beautiful. mashaAllah mashaAllah. May Allah reward you all for your efforts and give you all more and more success.

I would love to use many of the ideas mentioned here inshaAllah. Have been trying to do something similar for the girls in the community I live in. But after 2 halaqas (which were nice mashaAllah) I was looking for ways to make it more lively and use an even more interesting approach. This was an awesome read, eye opener and INSPIRATION! InshaAllah hopefully I can contact the author for some help :)

Jazakillah for this post Heba and little auntie for posting it on here.

MoOn March 21, 2011 at 7:04 AM  

Just passed by to say Salam as I haven't visited your blog for a while, coming back to read your posts inshallah xxxx

Bubbli March 21, 2011 at 11:17 PM  

You got an award: http://bubblezisland.blogspot.com/2011/03/blogger-awards.html

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Asalamu aialkum!
Well, what do you think? You know, you're part of the team, as well. Please help a sister out and share your own advice/experiences/etc. One for all and all for one =)
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