As a single Muslim father, I know that liberal parenting is the key to tackling the radicalisation of our youth

We must ensure that no one is raised under a needlessly isolating doctrine when the benefits from all those who have happily integrated are so clear to see

Nav Mirza
Tuesday 29 August 2017 13:10
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We need to involve young men and women in the modernisation of Islam in Britain
We need to involve young men and women in the modernisation of Islam in Britain

As a British Muslim, my childhood was full of doubt, tensions and a desperation to balance my place in a Western world with a semi-strict Eastern home life. Now, many years on, as a campaigner for single parents, and watching the chaos of terror unfold across Europe, I know that for young people of my faith compassionate, tolerant parenting is everything.

In Europe, we’ve had a brutal few months. The atrocious bombing in Manchester, the savage attacks of London Bridge, and now Barcelona. As the death toll rises, I find myself looking, with increasing glumness, at my religion. Knowing, as someone who has been on such a journey, that the conflict between young and old, and the ever-shifting battle for Islam needs to urgently be resolved.

In the 1970s, my parents, who had recently migrated from Pakistan, moved my family to a predominantly white area in Kent. Here, myself, and the few Muslims I knew, struggled to balance a young Western lifestyle with the expectations of our Islamic parents, causing untold family conflict as ideologies clashed. My parents were typical of the approach Islamic families took towards parenting – using often potentially fabricated Islamic rules to control and resist a more integrated Western lifestyle for their children. Parents strove to keep us Eastern – even to the detriment of our mental health, family life and happiness.

As a result, my Islamic peers and I formed strong bonds with the parents of our friends and girlfriends who provided the compassion, understanding and room to grow that was so lacking at home. In these Western homes we were accepted as fallible adolescents – as all young people are – slowly growing into adults and given the space to breathe. But at home we had no one to talk to who would understand, or empathise with the feelings and lives of young hearts and minds.

But luckily, through contact with the families of our Western friends, we learnt to question the world around us and to strive for harmony and adopt the positive aspects of both cultures. However, while we fought to resolve our own conflict, those raised in the dense urban ghettos sadly and dangerously lacked this wonderful chance to seek balance and belonging – and radicalisation came in.

And, indeed, this parental deficit extends across British mosques, where young British Muslims meet not love and understanding, but a band of older people, who cling to the old ways, and try to resist, by any means necessary, any attempt to breathe new life into the religion and make it relevant to the times. How many young modern Muslims do we see heading up a Muslim association, mosque or institution – without a beard? Or indeed, even a woman? None that I’ve seen so far.

Muslim mother says all women should wear hijab to experience Islamophobia

Worryingly, this combination of rigid parenting and outdated religious institutions creates a tension between young and old that plays dangerously into the hands of radicals.

With no sane sanctuary, and young people surrounded by parents who don’t understand and are unwilling to listen, such youths are inevitably left hungry and desperate for belonging. And hence the rest of the blame falls on to the opportunistic “extremist” preacher/imam, whispering perverted interpretations of religion and playing a parental role that exploits the deficit in young peoples’ family lives. The religion is not to blame – but these factors are driving a minority of British Muslims increasingly further away from the positive, community lives so many others lead – and so we must act.

Muslim Council of Britain: Newspapers are helping to spread Islamophobia

Faced with the bleak realities of terror in Europe – and with the wellbeing of so many young people at stake – we must continue to push for an inclusive, modern face of British Islam led by young men – and importantly, women, to soften its exterior and achieve representation. We need to spread our values to young people, ensuring the next generation will be proud, loving parents – capable of listening, capable of understanding. And we must end the ghettoisation of towns and cities that starve young people of the contact needed to make rational, informed choices that lead to harmony, integration and balance. Ultimately, we must ensure that no one is raised under a needlessly isolating doctrine when the benefits from all those who have happily integrated are so clear to see. As we’ve seen from this summer alone, an inability to do so can be devastating.

So as I look to my own role as an Islamic father, I know my son, as with any son, will do things that I will not approve of. But all I can do is provide the solid, loving foundation for him to learn, grow and find his own inner peace and belonging.

Because he’s growing up in a country where it should always remain okay to get things wrong. A country where liberty, learning, freedom, choice and opportunity make us who we are.

Nav Mirza is the founder of the charity Dads Unlimited

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