10 tips on instilling optimism in Muslim youth

The Gallup Center reported in 2009 that Muslim youth in America aged 18 to 28 are the least happy and the angriest compared to youth of other faith groups in America.  Twenty-six percent of young Muslims, compared with 14% of young Protestants, say they experienced anger.

There seems to be a lot to be angry about. Apart from the usual stresses and pressures of the tween and teen years, ranging from the physical and hormonal, to the emotional and psychological, Muslim youth often have to deal with subtle and open discrimination based on their faith. It’s easy to fall into pessimism and despair, which is why parents and other family members, as well as community leaders and mentors, need to step in and help kick start some optimism.

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, advised, “Give glad tidings, and do not scare people away; make things easy, and do not make things difficult.” (Abu Dawud).
Here are ten ways we can help instill optimism in young Muslims.

1. Adjust your own optimism level

Are you a cynic? Or have you become jaded with time? Of course, it’s understandable. Life can have a way of tinting those rose-colored glasses, but they shouldn’t become so shaded that we allow ourselves to fall into pessimism or despair. We need to be very careful about what kinds of comments, for instance, we make in front of our youth, who carefully watch what we say and do.

Whether it’s a sarcastic comment about a politician or simply a snort in response to the idea of a Muslim fundraiser starting on time, start becoming conscientious about these small but significant expressions of cynicism that kill optimism in you and others around you.

2. Bedtime/Dinnertime burst of optimism

Bedtime stories are a staple for many households, and with older kids, the shorter tuck in and good night kiss remain so for a number of years. Take less than five minutes to ask your Muslim youth about three positive things that happened during the course of their day. It can be anything, but it can help them reframe a seemingly bad day into a good one, as well as boost their optimism muscles. If there’s time and the inclination, share three of your own.

If bedtime is difficult, try to do this over family dinnertime. If you aren’t there during these times on a particular day, have them text them their list of three to you.

3. Family optimism listserv/FB page

Set up a Facebook page or listserv only open to family members that will allow you to share positive Muslim news, in particular. It could be about your family in particular, but better yet, share news about good things Muslims are doing worldwide, something you will certainly not come across in the mainstream media on a regular basis.

4. Find and share positive Muslim news

In line with the above-mentioned idea, set up a Google alert for the terms “Islam” and “Muslim”. Sift out the usual negative stuff from the gems of positivity that do come up on occasion and share that with youth via texting and tweeting, maybe even posting it on their wall on Facebook, if they don’t mind.

You can also find this kind of news by using the same search terms on websites like World News, which collects information from media outlets around the globe.

5. Encourage them to take the Weekly Good Deeds Challenge

The Prophet said, "Indeed, the deeds of humanity are exhibited every Monday and Thursday. Then Allah will further pardon every Muslim for every behavior, except the two believers who part from each other's company; Allah will say to the angels delay the two of them” (Ahmed).

Encourage young Muslims to aim for a number of good deeds to be completed by every Monday. See if they can do 10, 15, or 20 specific ones, and “match” their contribution by engaging in your own good deeds. Then discuss what you both did on Thursday.

Good deeds can range from getting someone a glass of water to holding the door for a person on crutches to donating a large chunk of allowance for a good cause.

Doing good makes you feel good, thus instilling a higher sense of optimism all around.

6. Read and reflect on Surahs 93 and 94 of the Quran

During a family study circle, discussion, or before bed, talk about these two Surahs, which are among the best pieces of Divine advice about being upbeat and getting through life’s rough patches. In particular, talk about how Allah reminded the Prophet of the many blessings He had given him in Surah 93, as well as the verse, “with every difficulty there is ease” in Surah 94.

7. Help them develop those Tawakkul muscles

Tawakul is a major concept in the relationship of a believer with his or her Creator. When a Muslim fully practices Tawakul by putting his or her full trust in Allah, this person realizes that they are not all-powerful, Allah is. Although we all control some variables that Allah has given us in our control, He ultimately controls all the other variables known or unknown to us.
After any type of disappointment, in particular, help a young Muslim see that as long as they did their best in a given situation, we all need to exercise Tawakkul and not succumb to despair or frustration.

8. Smile

Yes, not only is it Sunnah to smile, it’s scientifically proven to lift your mood. It may be hard the first few weeks if you’re not the smiling type, but make an extra effort to do so, smiling particularly at your favorite young Muslim and encourage them to do the same. The short burst of good mood will eventually, insha Allah, become a habit.

9. Question media cynicism

Cynicism and pessimism are cool in youth culture, particularly in sitcoms and movies. They are also reflected in the dark humor you’ll find in them.  Take some time to watch a couple of television shows or movies with youth and openly question these displays of negativity, without attacking the program or film. Simply ask so that they can come to their own conclusions.

10. Help them reflect on the rough patches

Remember that nasty flu the family came down with a few weeks ago which has now vanished? Remember that huge fight your son or daughter got into with their brother or sister which has now been forgotten? Remind your young Muslim about how the bad times have only gotten better, and we need to thank Allah and be grateful to Him for it.

© Sound Vision Foundation

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