Last February, high school and college students in the Muslim community in the DMV were offered a summer internship and an opportunity to make a difference in the community they lived in.
Students were asked to submit research proposals to the Muslim Youth Foundation of Intellectual Know-how and Research, MYFIKR—a play on the word contemplation. The top 10 proposals won $100 awards and competed for the summer stipend —a $1,000 for an eight week internship— Muslim Youth Scholar Training Internship (MySTI). On Sunday, September 21, 2014, the top three student research presentations were presented to a group of 50 community leaders, parents and mentors at Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) in Lanham, MD.
Top: Samad Husain, mentored by Saadi Patel and co-mentored by Zia-ur-Rahman, speaks on his research findings about "The Leadership Pipeline in American Muslim Organizations."
The team behind MYFIKR says that Allah implored humans to use their research faculties to understand the deeper meaning of life herein and the life hereafter. In many places of Quran Allah has invited us to apply these different techniques of research:Tadabbur – getting the hidden meaning [47:24], Tajakkar – open to be reminded [21:50] Tawakkal- applying reason [2:44,21:10], and Tafakkur – think and consider [6:50].
“After years of groundwork, preparation and contemplation, Alhamdulillah, we have been able to implement and execute our first ever summer research internship for our youth to investigate community issues of their choice systematically, the symposium and experience [shows] the potential of this platform in transforming ideas into reality,” said the organizing committee of the MY-FIKR, led by Mostafiz Chowdhury.
MYSTI board of advisors comprises of Dr. Farid Ahmed , Dr. Ziaur Rahman, Yusuf Khan, Dr. M. Eltoweissy, Saadi Patel, Dr. Ahmad Azzari, Dr. Hossin Abdeldayem, Dr. Nazrul Islam, Yusuf Slitine, and Dr. M. Chowdhury. Advisors were available in person for the mid-term and final review meetings and worked with the interns through the summer..
“We don’t need ad hoc work, we need scientific back up [to assess our social issues],” said Dr Zahra Ahmad, an observer and supporter of the project.
Samad Husain, mentored by Saadi Patel and co-mentored by Zia-ur-Rahman, explored "The Leadership Pipeline in American Muslim Organization" in a well put presentation. Husain felt that it was necessary to research why people leave and why people stay in leadership roles for future generations. The project hoped to spot commonalities and trends, which could be used for best-practices.
He examined links between parental involvement, Sunday school, and volunteering in the making of todays’ DMV Muslim youth leaders. He interviewed three male youth leaders who are now attending college.
“We have to start early and often with our childrens’ daily salah or with parents being active in Islamic mentorship,” presented Husain. Trends emerged in his research suggesting regular activity and interaction at the masjid (by way of parents) led to more responsibility being shouldered as individuals progressed. Husain said that he wasn’t able to make scientific conclusions based on his research.
An expert on the panel said that Husain may want to factor out bias in his research as the ethnic background of all three of his case studies was similar, and all three subjects came from a large Muslim community.
Adib Ahmad, advised by Yusuf Khan researched "Re-Branding Islamic Services”. Issues brought up with marketing Islamic events included posters with spelling errors, boring presenters, and the quality of venues. Ahmad stressed that his research is not about solving problems, but improving existing services. He designed two surveys and collected data on the Let’s Read event that he helps organizes. He hopes to use the results of his research to better allocate resources for next year’s event.
Ahmad discovered that the amount of time spent designing posters was not the best use of resources, as flyers were considered ‘outdated’. Word of mouth and personally going to the masjid introduced more people to the event then an anonymous poster, followed by a strong social media presence. After his project, he recommended that event organizers not focus improving one area, rather aim to slightly improve each aspect of their service.
According to his research, location and venue size should be of the highest concern for community events such as Let’s Read and key volunteers, such as the MC, should be engaging and professional, if possible. He also concluded that constantly engaging registered participants pre-event results in attendance. Due to the internship, he acquired survey design skills and learned how to do statistical analysis using Spreadsheets and SPSS.
Dr Zahra Ahmed questioned the premise of Ahmad’s research project and others in the audience asked for definitions as the title of the project made the audience members think that Ahmad would show them how Islamic events were successfully or unsuccessfully branded and how to rebrand them.
A confident, 17 year old high school senior, Doha Nassar, was advised by Dr. Mohammed Eltoweissy and Farid Ahmed on her research project, "The Muslim Youth Identity Crisis". She writes that the internship provided her with the opportunity to explore a topic that she is passionate about.
Nassar asked questions, such as whether the students changed their names in school or were embarrassed to be seen in public as a Muslim. To remove biases she also reached out to the youth who are not involved with masajid or with the Muslim community.
She concluded that parents do have an impact on their child’s identity and achievement and that there is not a correlation between achievement and identity.
Nassar advised future MyStI Interns
to pick a topic that they are really passionate about and to be conscious of the time commitment.
Small sample size was the largest challenge for all the researchers. Although Nassar had 38 students 12 parent responses, she said that some youth were scared that she would be able match their responses to their names, and others didn’t respond. Husain from the ISB community was only able to interview 3 student leaders for his project; veteran researchers recommend that at least 30 different perspectives be included to have a good sample size, he said.
Students have the option of continuing their work next year. Acquiring scientific research skills, even though they were researching social aspects of the community was the most important aspect of this internship.
My-FIKR summer stipends are sponsored by the generous contributors and friends of Mafiq Foundation, Inc. (Home to EPC and MYDT). The next EPC essay contest deadline is January 11, 2015.
For further questions, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: http://www. my-fikr.org