Imam W. Deen Mohammed Speaks on Leadership, Youth, and "Youthful" Adults
Interview by Ndidi Amatullah Okakpu
(Ndidi A. Okakpu recently sat down with Imam W. Deen Mohammed in an interview in Hazel Crest, III., covering a myriad of topics related to youth and young adult leadership and other pressing and current affairs facing young Muslims today. Also in attendance were Khadijah Siddeeq and Amatullah Sharif. The following represents the interview.)
NAO: How do you feel about the spiritual growth of our young people?
IWDM: Good. Very good. I think a good percentage of the youngsters are really excited about the community and about my language, and they study it and their spirits are very good.
In fact, I hear comments to me from them occasionally when traveling, and their comments tell me that they are deeply devoted to respect for G-d, to the Qur'an and to Muhammed the Prophet (PBUH).
(*Note: Amatullah Sharif commented: "When we have the Open Mic Night during the Convention, the youth come in with their monologues and their poems. They love you so much. They make me feel so proud of them.
You really can see the growth in them. If you really want to see our youth: Visit Open Mic Night. They come out with out-of-sight and very dynamic presentations.")
IWDM: I feel our community is really among the few religious communities that really have children excited about what the religion is. I have visited a few of the denominations of the Christian faith, and I have seen
their children bright eyed and excited. And they participate and ask questions, too, of me during question time.
I think we are among that few that has a youth following that is really excited about religion.
NAO: What is the disconnection, if there is any, between what we are doing and what we should be doing as youth and young adults?
IWDM: Well, I know those young adults around the country do not have the chance to sit with me like those in this Markham area. So if anything is missing, it is direct contact with me, so they can hear me and ask me questions.
That's what I wish could be, but I can't be everywhere at the same time. And they can't afford to be where I am whenever I am speaking in this area. I think maybe that is the reason for one of the motives for me discontinuing the Sunday classes, because it's reaching a very few.
And Kalimah generates spirit and interest. I wish we had a Kalimah in every youth audience. She helps me with her spirit and her comments and questions. I have known her for 10 years, and she has always been that way.
NAO: What direction would you like to see youth and young adults moving in? And what would be the appropriate age ranges?
IWDM: Well, number one, when I think of a youth I think of someone 12 years old to about 20 years old. But I can accept what I saw in the paper recently in the Muslim Journal: Ages 17 years old to 30. I can understand that; I accept that. But I usually think of a youth as under 21 from about 12.
There is an Arabic word commonly used for youth, and it is for children when they reach puberty up until 18 or 19 years old, and not hardly beyond that.
So the age they have now, for the youth is OK I think it goes up to 30 years old, but for me it would be about 20 years old.
NAO: I remember at a Ramadan Session years ago, from which the Youth Dawah Program came about, you said that you wanted young people to study Sunnah, the spread of Islam in general and in North America and the history of our community.
You gave the age ranges (for those to study): 13-15, 15-18, and 18-40 (years of age). But I think somewhere in there, it was interpreted that youth or young adults were ages 18-40.
IWDM: Yes. You know, when I speak for myself as a male, when I turned 18 I called myself a man. If someone called me a youth, I would say: "No, I am a man, I'm grown."
For me, youth means not grown, so definitely under 21. If I am 21 and I can rent a car and use my credit card, why call me a youth?
NAO: What about the term "young adults?"
IWDM: "Young Adults" is fine. That language is perfect. It could go up to 35, maybe. But I think (at age) 40, one is no more a young adult. If you're 39, I don't think you're a young adult. But I think they are thinking about "youthful" as an adjective.
I am youthful, I am 73 years old. But I have a young spirit, and you are youthful, and you are very youthful (referring to Amatullah Sharif). The term youthful as an adjective is OK.
NAO: Many, based in the Chicago area, have had the opportunity to attend the classes, as well as First Sundays. Many of your students are not local and do not have this opportunity.
For that reason, many students were looking forward to dialoging with you at the National Young Adult Association (NYAA) Conference. Would you like to send a message to these students?
IWDM: I am very much interested in having opportunities to address a gathering of our children and young adults. That program that they organized did not permit me to attend.
The reason for my refusing to attend was that I didn't like that Senator Barack Obama and I were invited at the same time, and it being published that I am invited and that Senator Obama was invited.
I think that the youth leadership should have been a little more thoughtful of protecting Senator Obama's name and reputation.
In these times, right away, those who oppose Senator Obama's campaign for the presidency would take every advantage and say: "These people are Nation of Islam people; they come from the idea where they believe White people are devils," etc.
So it would be exposing the Senator to too much risk to invite him. And I think that the leadership of NYAA should have had concern for his successful campaign, more than for having him as their guest.
NAO: Do you think that NYAA should have canceled the Conference?
IWDM: No. It was not long after I became leader that I made a statement saying that all the Masajid are autonomous. That means that the local leaders are responsible to their congregations and not responsible to me. And that they lead their congregations with the support of their congregations.
They don't have to check with any other authority, whether it be another Masjid or whether it be their leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed.
I won't accept to run their Masjid for them. That has been my position since the day I became leader. I regard all of the independent organizations in that same way.
So we turned the Muslim Journal over to Sis. Ayesha and her board. I don't boss them or obligate them to go along with me in any matter.
That's the way I regard NYAA; they are an organization of our youth and they are not responsible to me at all.
They are responsible to the community. If they identify with my leadership, they are responsible to reflect that in their activities.
NAO: Do you feel that NYAA was reflecting that (identification with your leadership)?
IWDM: Yes and no. In their general makeup and activities, yes, they reflect that. But in their policy and methods, they don't reflect it.
NAO: With all the recent controversy regarding NYAA and critiques, would you recommend that NYAA restructure and continue on or disband?
IWDM: I don't see a need for them to have any drastic changes in the way that they are organized. But I know that if they invite Senator Obama, who is campaigning for the presidency and we all want him to be the next President, if that's what he wants, and I certainly would like for him to be the President after this election....
I would like to see as many strong supporters, supporting his campaign as possible, from the general citizenry of the United States and especially from the Muslim community.
I would like to see us strongly back him supporting his campaign, but inviting him to our meeting that we are having not to raise campaign money -- but a meeting that we are having to address our own interests, and to have him come and just be present there,.,to me, puts him in a situation where it could bring a lot of his opponents to use "ties to special Muslim groups in the United States" to undermine him.
NAO: From past lectures, you have criticized certain organizations that have had government or police affiliation. In what way do you feel that these affiliations have harmed our communities?
IWDM: Ever since I can recall, when I was a little boy, I used to hear about organized efforts of believers in the Temple to undermine my father's leadership. I've heard that all my life. I think we've always had tricks among us, who have come in for one reason or another.
Members of esoteric societies, they come in among us and they become members to learn our language and see what they can get out of what we got. And they form a little organization of them.
I referred in a speech many years ago, maybe 25-30 years ago, to the cuckoo nest and how the cuckoo bird comes and lays the cuckoo egg in another bird's nest. They don't build their own nest. They lay their eggs in another bird's nest. Then when the eggs hatch, they come get their children.
There are organizations that do the same thing. They hide in your organization, and they develop and strengthen their organization within the confines of your organization.
NAO: Do you think young adults should have a formally organized association? Should it be under The Mosque Cares? What should the age ranges be?
IWDM: It should be independent. We have to trust our youth. We have very intelligent youth in our community, males and females, especially if the age is going to go up to 20 years old or even older, I would be very comfortable with youth between (the ages) 18-20 years old, who have finished high school and started college, to be the president of that youth organization.
If they have an intelligent young person, who is devoted to the Religion of Islam, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be given the right to have their own organization and to manage their agenda or programs, and also the funds that will be contributed.
To be responsible for those funds, to deposit them in a bank account and run their own business without adults supervising them or being over them.
But in all cultures, there's a respect for senior members; to seek the advice of senior members in the community, who are well known for their respect for the religion and their ability to communicate clearly what is Islam and what are our responsibilities.
So they should seek such seasoned adults amongst our seniors, so that they can benefit from the wisdom of those seniors.
NAO: You specified youth or youth organizations being in the age range of 13-21 years old, or so, and a president of a youth organization being 18-20. What should those ages of 25-35 be focused on?
IWDM: That age to me, are those "youthful" adults who should identify with the general congregation or membership. They should not set up a separate identity based upon that age limit: 25-40.
We would like to see our "youthful" adults go forward and show us that they can lead the community, not just that age group. But they should show that they can lead the community.
There was no age group that Malcolm fell into. Malcolm was a young man; he was within that age limit that they are talking about right now.
NAO: What advice would you give to those "youthful" adults, ages 25 and up, who have tried to take on leadership roles within their respective Masajid and communities and have felt shut out by the older leadership?
IWDM: I do have some advice. My advice would be not to organize officially and have an office or something representing them as a group of "youthful" adults 25-40.
Instead of advertising themselves as such, just set an example for themselves as young adults in the community and identify members who are having the same interests that they have and are aggressive, and invite them to join them and join their efforts.
They wouldn't be looking for someone 53, 63 or 73 tike I am, to join their efforts. They would want people who can keep up with them.
NAO: Many young adults have inquired about the proper method to pursue relationships. How would you recommend they go about it?
IWDM: I think first we should make our intentions known to the parents. And then the parents, once they have been informed of the interest, that's the first step. And in that way, they are not put in a situation where they are charged with sneaking about.
They should first make their parents aware of their intentions, and they should both be present, the male and female should approach the parents of both sides and let them be aware of their intent.
When I say intent, I didn't necessarily mean intent to marry, but I mean an intent of associating with one another, with sexual interest behind it.
If they are interested in one another, they should first introduce themselves to the parents, to let them know that they are attracted to one another and they would like to have the parents' support.
NAO: The first part is getting to someone to see if this person you could see yourself being married to. So once you figure that "I want to pursue this person with intent of marriage," then you make your formal intention process or engagement declaration. Then after that, no long engagement marriage?
IWDM: That's right. In Islam, the expression is: "No sex without being married.'' But that's really not clear enough. To have sex is to be married.
In Islam, any couple that can be proven to have had sexual relations, they are treated as if they are married.
If they don't accept that they are married, then they are to be treated as adulterers or fornicators as punishable by the law.
Since we can't take the law into our own hands because we are under the laws of the United States, and punish them as adulterers, then there is banishment. So banish them just like the Nation of Islam did. They put you out for that.
NAO: This is not to say that any two can engage in sex and call it marriage...?
IWDM: No. As long as they respect the Law of Islam, the Law G-d gave us in the Qur'an, then they can pursue a relationship. And if they don't violate it by having sex with one another, they can break it anytime they want to.
They can say: "Well, we thought we wanted to get married, but we decided we want to just have a friendship."
That's fine, but to carry on by expressing themselves sexually not performing the act, but if you're hugging, kissing and caressing each other, your expression is coming from sex. If they do that, then that is a violation.
NAO: Well, I thank you very much for coming out today, and I appreciate you taking time out from your very busy schedule.IWDM: You are welcome. My pleasure, and I think you have accomplished something of good for us.