CC ISSUE: APR 2012 Last updated: Apr 5, 2012
Friday Night Live
I moved to Bridgeview in the summer of 1990. Ever since, I have lived with my family near the Mosque Foundation (except with the occasional travels overseas either to Palestine or Jordan). Like most conscientious parents in our community, my husband and I have struggled to teach our children to love the masjid, love Islam. But Islam does not surround us in our society so that we “grow up” with a sense of how Islam should be reflected in our lives comprehensively.
Therefore, it is a struggle and we depend on our Islamic institutions, our mosques mostly, to help in developing this “sense” and teaching how it, this way of life, can be realized. For me moving into such a condensed American Muslim community like Bridgeview, 20 some years ago, I was saddened to learn that we, as a community, were conflicted and we still are in some ways. Should we teach our children Islamic Studies in Arabic (the mother tongue of a majority of Bridgeview’s Mosque Foundation congregants) or in English? Should we bring all teenagers into the masjid, those who don’t pray or wear the hijab, too? Of course, we are progressing and finding our way.
I’m sure many of us have heard the arguments and some of us may have been in one corner and then switched to the other. Most of us try to reconcile our expectations not only on the youth but also on the mosques. If we think this struggle is great, it is even greater for our young men and women who want and need to actively seek this “sense,” but are constantly bombarded and then left with huge gaps in their knowledge of Islam as well as in their practice of it. It takes an exceptional youth to discern the sporadic, at best, and relevant activities that teach Islam and instill the positive identifying factors of “my masjid” and “my deen.”
But there are exceptions. To date and every Friday night, the hour and a half before Isha prayer at the Mosque Foundation, something unique has been taking place, specifically and only for those who fall between 13 to 17 years old (with the occasional 18-year-old, too).
It’s Friday Night Live, FNL! Youth programming for the youth, by the youth. FNL was born through a series of “coincidences” and activity by some very dedicated groups and individuals in our community, as well as spurred by some very troubling realities in this wider community (the alleged involvement of some young Muslims in a double homicide).
By the grace of Allah, MAS Tarbiyah, MFCC, MAS Youth, and by the many extraordinary young organizers who were more “older brothers and sisters” to the youth than the typical “Amu (uncle) or khaltu (auntie)” organizers that we have become so accustomed to in our community.
They came together to make quite the powerhouse of the FNL program.
Sometimes people belittle a name, saying, “a program is the same program, no matter what it’s called,” but as one of the youth organizers said, “I don’t know if they are right. But I feel that with the name ‘Friday Night Live’ the whole feel of the program changed and it really did become something that was in its very essence ‘live’: an up-tempo, high-energy program with short segments, a light, fast-paced feel, and a unique multimedia pull.”
FNL also pulls together the occasional “workshop,” not really work at all, but a specialized activity of sort. Recently, The Color Project, a surprise project with unknown purpose to the 300 or so participating youth, was designed to address racism commemorating Black History Month.
Upon arrival, the youth were segregated into Color teams, with a colored home island or base and matching balloons and then fed a series of misinformation about the other teams, the other colors, sometime even mean and ugly misinformation. Shortly thereafter, the teams were set out to debate who the preferred colors were, all the while being fooled to believe that this was a lesson in debate etiquette. In summation, after lessons learned, youth organizer Leena Suleiman announced to the teen participants, “Yes, there are different people in the world, different colors, races, ethnicities, cultures, mentalities, and beliefs. We won’t ever deny something so obvious. But the danger comes when we start placing those differences on a hierarchy. When you start saying one is better than the next. When Red says I’m smarter than Blue, and Yellow says I’m richer than Green. We begin to use the differences for hostility, animosity, and hatred, instead of unity, and love. God created differences so that we enjoy earth. Imagine if the whole room had only red balloons, or only orange balloons, it would be ugly. Boring.” But behind Suleiman, all the islands had been collected together. “All these colors together, they’re so beautiful!”
The participants of The Color Project concluded the evening, fully aware and fully inspired, but not before they had the chance to participate in written and spoken reflections and a very encouraging heart-to-heart talk by CIOGC’s youth development director, Amal Ali.
FNL was never really intended exactly by those involved. It just happened. Old and young, immigrant and native born members of our community came together to make it happen. It wouldn’t have worked any other way.
Director of Outreach at MAS Chicago
Article includes intense input from a couple of the youth organizers of FNL, Yusuf Salah and Leena Suleiman.