It’s been over 1400 years since our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, taught us how to love Allah, follow Islam and be strong in our faith. But with each passing generation, we as Muslims are getting a little bit weaker in our faith and more distracted in the world.
Today’s Muslim teachers, along with parents of Muslim youth, are struggling to bring that love and strength of Islam back into the hearts of young adults. Many Islamic school teachers want to know how they can engage the students that are walking into their classrooms, full of gadgets and distractions and questions that are hard to answer. Adults, who have been raised in Muslim countries, don’t often have those questions, and hence do not know how to answer them.
Here are some suggestions from the Sunnah of the Prophet that have been working out for teachers and parents who have used them with their youth:
Remember the Makkan Period of Islam
When Islam came to Makkah, it was a time to make the Makkans realize the importance of One God and establish a connection with Him and His book. There wasn’t much of that book that was revealed at the time, but the parts that were revealed talked about being mindful of Him. There were no “rules” of “don’t do this and don’t do that’ except the rules of Justice.
As teachers of young adults living in a predominantly non-Muslim country, your students are still in the Makkan period. Rather than focusing on “Haram and Halal”, focus on the concept of One Allah; His attributes; what He has given us; how to establish a connection with Him because only He can give us anything we want. Youth gravitate toward the concept of “doing good to others”, so focus on that.
Establish a Relationship with your Students
Every human, young or old, wants to please the person who makes them feel good. It's basic psychology. Before you expect them to listen to you, develop a strong relationship with your students. Make yourself available to them. Ask them individually how they are doing. Remember them by name and praise them in front of others. Be conscious of their moods and ask them privately if they’d like to talk about anything. Let them know they can trust you. Even if what they say to you shocks you and you think its “Haram”, don’t say it at that time. Think about the best response so they don’t feel judged. Rather, bring it up at a different time in class in a way that doesn’t make them feel targeted.
Walk in their shoes
Remember that you were once their age. Based on your circumstances, you had your own challenges with the adults around you. Don’t forget that and realize that the challenges are harder now to deal with. Let them know directly and indirectly that you understand how hard it must be to be a visible Muslim nowadays. Once the students realize that you get it, you are not just some adult who tells them what to do without realizing what they have to face in school and life, they will listen to you more, open up more and ask you for help more. Practice more empathy and you will create that connection. Ask them as well about their challenges and be honest about being lucky that you might not have gone through the same ones.
Don’t be in a hurry for results
Allah waited 40 years of the Prophet’s life before giving him the first message. Then 23 more years to send in small doses so that his Companions could also digest it properly. He also sent rules down much later, after they were all in a predominantly Muslim land and had faith firmly established in their hearts.
Remember that before wanting to see results in young adults as soon as you teach them something. First establish the faith. Then take them to the level of Ihsan, or excellence in being conscious of Allah. Let them realize that knowing what Allah wants, and taking steps forward is a long journey, and only connecting with the Quran regularly can do that. Repetition of the same message (also done in the Quran by Allah) is what will help them remember. Connecting the Quran with real life experiences will make them see it as relevant to today.
Gifts go a long way
Young people (and old) love gifts. Have a budget for small, fun activities and challenges in class during the year that help them win gift cards. But at the end of the year ,make sure there is some party, food, and gifts. If the budget doesn’t allow for you to get them all gifts then do a secret Sheikh type of thing where each person gets assigned a name to bring a gift for someone that costs under $20. Ideally, the school should give you a budget to do that, so advocating to the school would be great. You can also ask the parents to donate so you can buy gifts.
Being happy in your classroom means they want to come back and in the long run, once they are older, they have good memories of Islam because of their time in your class.
Teaching them about Duas
Helping young people realize that Duas are very important is critical. Do collective Duas out loud with the youth so they know how to make Dua for each other, for their families and for Muslims around the world. Tell them you make Dua for them, so they realize you love them in their absence as well. Be sure that your out-loud Duas sound like: “May Allah keep our faith rooted in our hearts, give us strength to deal with the challenges around us, protect us from our enemy, the shaitan, give us friends who will increase our Iman and keep us strong, keep us happy here in this world but also in the best place in heaven…etc..”
This helps them realize what things are important to ask for and that we should make Dua often. Towards the end of the year, you can ask them to lead a Dua session so they get in the habit of it and give more thought to what they want to ask for.
Finally, it’s important to let the youth talk. As a teacher, it’s important to ask questions and not interrupt when they are talking. If you have shy kids and you see that they are not asking questions, have an anonymous way of collecting questions at the beginning of class. If you are teaching online, there are many websites where you can have them go and sign in with another name and ask their questions, which you can then collect. Then you can go over some of those and answer them properly in the next class so that you’ve had time to think of the best way to answer. Sometimes it's good to let other students answer those questions first to get them to think of solutions. You can even call it the ‘Ask Away’ session or give it a fancy name. This helps them find a safe place to ask questions without judgement.
As a teacher you might not be around for more than a few years in their lives. The best you can do is to help them understand the importance of seeking Allah’s pleasure and forgiveness, turning to the Quran at all times, and realizing the extent of Allah’s mercy when they do slip and fall. The rest is up to them, and if you have established that through love and patience, as well as by leaving the door open for them to ask you questions, then insha Allah you have done the best you could do.