By Adil James, MMNS
Bloomfield-June 30-An estimated 3% of Muslim young people feel that they can go from home to school, comfortable in their own skins, without identifying as one person at home and another person at school.
This was the essential shocking fact that Omar Atia mentioned as he began his speech to about 200 people in the conference room at the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center. There is actually a larger percentage of Muslim students who just do not identify as Muslim anymore, than there are who both identify as Muslim and feel comfortable in that persona throughout their daily lives.
The theme of his speech was that young people growing up in the mosque are confronted with cultural baggage that prevents them from remaining fully active in the mosque. Mr. Atia did not fully elaborate on what cultural baggage he referred to, but spoke at length about talented young people who are deemed too young and inexperienced to actively participate in mosque affairs–who are passed over for important jobs that they are capable of doing, while older people in mosque administrations maintain their control or hegemony at the expense of those once-enthusiastic but now jaded young people.
Mr. Atia argued that Islam is meant to benefit all people, but that it cannot benefit all people unless they are able to come to it, just as a hospital cannot benefit sick people unless it admits them. He said that in fact now, despite our protestations to the contrary, all mosques already contain in them the same social ills that exist in the surrounding society, although those ills may be hidden.
In order to benefit humanity as much as possible, it is therefore necessary to allow people into the mosque who might have openly sinful lives, so that they can benefit from the teachings of Islam.
Mr. Atia argued that this is the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s), who did not exclude people. He also emphasized that he has seen the benefits of such openness in his own efforts toward working for Muslim communities.
This event at the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center combined an Ice cream social with the Omar Atia speech. Adults and small children attended the ice cream social, but only a few young people were present at the Omar Atia eventâ€”many adults were present, however, showing their keen interest in the religious safety of their children.