Ask any educated Mus lim middle class youth aged between 20 and 22 what he expects from life. The majority will answer that they want a secure, high paying job and a settled family life. Repeat the same question to Muslim youth aged between 27 to 39, the answer will be that they want emotional stability and independence from mechanical life.
The rat race to earn more and more money to keep pace with the materialistic lifestyle is taking a heavy toll on the Muslim youth of today. The seriousness of the identity crises face by the Muslim youth can be gauged from the Muslim youth presence on the numerous chat groups and virtual communities on the Internet.
The genesis of the crises in the urban areas and amongst the Muslim middle class is that many Muslim youths are coming home to an empty house. TV, the Internet and video games have become the teachers and influencers of our community youth.
Erik Erikson, the psychologist who coined the term identity crisis, believes that identity crisis is the most important conflict human beings encounter when they go through eight developmental stages in life.
Islamic Voice, in association with Trends Research and Analysis Centre (TRAC), conducted a random survey based on 97 respondents in the age group 27-39, asking them a one-line, closed-ended question: What one thing do they want to overcome in their life? 39 per cent of the respondents said loneliness, 31per cent insecurity, 12 per cent unfulfilled desire, 9 per cent fear, and 9 per cent helplessness.
According to Erikson’s theory of developmental stages, the onset of identity crisis is in the teenage years, and only individuals who succeed in resolving the crisis will be ready to face future challenges in life. But the identity crisis may well be recurring, as the changing world demands us to constantly redefine ourselves. Erikson suggested that people experience an identity crisis when they lose “a sense of personal sameness and historical continuity”. Given today’s rapid development in technology, global economy, and dynamics in local and world politics, identity crises are expected to be more common now than 30 years ago, when Erikson formulated his theory.
Unfortunately the community is focusing on the past and at the top of its voice for what it does not have. The need is to focus on the future, and on what we can strive for and achieve. The youth of today are not interested in what the community does not have. They can be motivated by having well-defined short and long term do-able initiatives. In other words, the community needs micro projects so that Muslim youth can contribute and see for themselves the community progressing and restoring its self-esteem.
Phil Nuernberger, in his book ‘The Quest for Personal Power’, has identified three destructive conditions of the mind: fear, self-hatred and loneliness. According to him they are like fire-breathing dragons that usurp the creative force of the mind and corrupt our resources, creating disease, unhappiness, and suffering. He writes that they seem to be so powerful that we feel helpless before them. We don’t realize that we ourselves are the source of their power, and that we can take it away from them.
Most of us think of loneliness as being apart from loved ones, having no one with whom to share our feelings, hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, and our experiences. The more unable we are to communicate our inner thoughts and feelings, the lonelier we feel.
To solve this problem, we gather loved ones, build friendships and join clubs and organizations. We think that if we have friends and family and people around us who love and care for us, we will never be lonely. But it doesn’t work. As rewarding as family and friends are, they do not keep us from being lonely. They only distract us from our loneliness. We think that loneliness involves our relationship with others. But, it really involves our relationship with ourselves. It arises out of our sense of individuality.
Our life experiences seem to confirm that we are truly alone. We are born into this world alone, we die alone. No one feels our pain or our joy, nor do they digest our food, breathe for us, or feel what we feel. Even though we may communicate and share these experiences, it is still ‘me’, the ego-sense of individuality that tells me that I am alone. We don’t experience any ‘self’ that is connected to, or a part of, any other self.
We can conquer this dragon of loneliness, but we must turn to our deepest resource to do so—our core spiritual Self. The great spiritual sages of all traditions say that our loneliness lies in the ignorance of our spirit, the core of our being. When we become aware of this self, we experience the mystery of life, the unbroken and unending connection we have with each other and with the universe.
We become fully conscious of the universal Spirit that flows within and through us. Picture life like a large oak tree filled with leaves, twigs, and branches. Our ego-sense of self makes us feel like we are a leaf of this tree. When the winds blow, the leaves rub against each other. Sometimes this is a pleasant experience and sometimes it is very unpleasant.
It is time the Muslim leadership takes initiative and allows Muslim youth to meet and explore their ideas and share their experiences. The voice of our youth must be heard, interpreted, understood but also counseled and assisted in the growth process. Simply ignoring the problem won’t fix it. Unfortunately community does not have any setup where our youth can associate and rediscover themselves. On the one hand, the community is focusing on education and material acquisition. On the other hand, the community is bankrupt as far as the spiritual well-being of the Muslim youth is concerned. Hence, a major crisis is staring us at our face.
We need to think of initiatives whereby the community can help more young people to uncover their true proclivities and sense of self. Thereby, we may reduce the incidence of violence that occurs from youth who are searching for recognition, who use this as a means to alleviate the pain and anger they feel at being taunted, abused or ignored. We must learn that in positive self-identity and discovery of the self comes respect and success. By respecting themselves, the Muslim youths will grow into productive and reputable citizens, and will likely impact greatly change on the world of tomorrow in a positive way.