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Islam's young

At recent meetings of the Institute several people have drawn attention to the need to engage with the young.  Before discussing the form any engagement might take I think it’s a good idea to introduce myself, to set the context. I am a Christian but am developing a huge respect for Muslims. St Augustine of Hippo who lived 1200 years ago in what is now Algeria said of the Christian Church “There are many without who are truly within and many within who are truly without”. I hope to be the same kind of Christian as Edward Said and Arundhati Roy.

I am also a teacher.

Many members of the Institute are experienced speakers and writers but I recall the words of  TS Eliot in East Coker: "There is, it seems to us, at best, only a limited value In the knowledge derived from experience. The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies.”The task in hand, preparing for tomorrows world, suggests the aim should be interaction with the young to our mutual benefit. Pedagogy has no place in this enterprise.

Secondly we have to recognize that the 60% or so of people aged 16-24 who are preparing or engaged in higher education are very busy. In trying for that A* or good 2i they face demands of unknown dimensions. Unknown because exam standards, teaching skills and innate abilities are interacting and ever changing variables. Most of the young people I tutor divide life into three parts:

  • school/uni work
  • no brain TV/face book
  • animal pleasures like sleep and ice cream.

Asian young people also often have resident grandparents and not only the special issues of growing up but dealing with growing up with a parental response to that process that is best summed up as fear. I know Muslim mothers who would make their kids wear cycle helmets; when sitting in the back of the car!

By age 16 the nexus of mosque, family prayers, Qur’anic and Arabic lessons has become less demanding but it's still hard to see where reading Critical Muslim fits into the world of a 17yr old Muslim girl. Truth to tell it doesn’t fit in anywhere, unless your uncle is one of the editors! There is a wonderful moment when the twins in “The God of Small Things” memorise what they have been given to read and then recite it to Aunty; backwards!

 Many writers of non-fiction find a style that works and that pleases their peers and then they repeat it again and again. A composer of music who did this would be dog food in months.  Discourse aimed at the young needs to be made to measure; not longer than 1000 words and bearing no resemblance whatsoever to an academic paper. There is more to life than the Guardian.

Dare one suggest that the reform of the world’s religions will have more to do with hearts than with minds. I have recently read two books by Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things, which raises profound questions and The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire provides shallow answers.

If the Institute is to engage with young people it has to abandon any ghost of a “one size fits all” mentality. The Washington Post puts short articles on the internet.  Where meetings take place in an educational institution it should be easy to put out a general invitation to undergrads. A residential course for young people seems a good idea. At such a course the papers would not be so much simplified as distilled. Some sort of twinning arrangement with a handful of schools might also teach us much

I am not suggesting this blog is even a small part of a solution to the problem. Perhaps we are not headed for a solution but rather a heightened sense of shortcoming which may in the end be more instructive. Eliot once more:

"The only true wisdom is the wisdom of humility

humility is endless"

Any comments would be humbly accepted. 

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at same time though.