45% of Muslim adolescents suffer from symptoms of depression. 86% of Muslim youth experience racial teasing. In 1999, 44% of Asian boys and 77% of Non-Asian boys had intimate relations by the age of 18-20.
These are just some of the findings of numerous studies conducted by a team of experts in social work as part of an ongoing project that seeks to bring to light issues that affect Muslim youth in the West.
On Saturday, May 5, 2012, the Youth Committee of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, Virginia, hosted the forum entitled, “Power in Numbers: How Research About Our Community Can Guide Youth Program Planning.”
Among the panelists were Dr. Altaf Husain, who holds a doctoral degree in Social Work from Howard University and is well known for his advocacy of social services in Islamic communities and his interest in Muslim adolescents in the US; Dr. M Taqi Tirmazi, who holds a PhD in Social Work, as well, and is a professor at Morgan State University, and Fatima Mirza, MSW, who is currently completing her PhD in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Together they co-authored the fourth chapter in the book, Muslim Youth: Challenges, Opportunities and Expectations, entitled, “Identity and Belonging,” which focused on acculturation and psychological adaptation of Migrant Muslim youth based on their investigative work.
The experts presented power point slides which highlighted some of the information from the Muslim Youth book. Dr. Husain expounded on Muslim immigration and ethnic distribution in the West, and Dr. Tirmazi and Mirza discussed their existing research methods.
The three also presented some of their findings on the psychological functioning of Muslim youth, depression, inter-generational conflicts within families and Islamic groups, identity development, gender differences, risk behaviors, Muslim gangs, tobacco use, substance abuse, and dating.
Dr. Tirmazi described one of his studies conducted in California, in which he surveyed over 200 Muslim youth and found that 45% display some symptoms of depression. Those who did not reported that they had more parental support and family cohesion, as opposed to those who did.
One major factor that contributes to the presence of depressive symptoms is perceived discrimination from peers due to their faith. Other findings showed that while alcohol use was not very common in Muslim adolescents, tobacco use, often a topic of debate, was most prevalent. Dr. Tirmazi explained that many Muslim youth frequent “shisha” bars and hold the false notion that hookah is not as unhealthy as cigarettes, a belief also perpetuated by adults.
After the presentation, panelists opened the floor to questions and suggestions about how to maximize the efficiency of their studies and increase participation. The interactive discussion, which was held in the ADAMS Youth Room, only attracted a small fraction of community members. The small turnout of 13 attendees, although due in part to a limited amount of time for advertising, is reflective of the apprehension many Muslim communities exhibit when approached by researchers. This trend may be the result of a lack of awareness of the realities the youth face outside their homes and a denial of behavioral and social issues amongst the Muslim community as a whole.
These are the barriers that Muslim examiners are tackling as they continue to gather information on the dynamics of Islamic centers and Muslim families. Dr. Husain mentioned that other groups, such as members of the Jewish faith, have established their own fact finding methods and surveys, rather than relying on mainstream polling, while Muslims are still in the beginning stages of developing such programs. “Unless we have a system in place, mere numbers will not do much for us in conducting research,” he said. This became the main topic of conversation, as the panelists engaged the audience members in an open discussion of what research methods may be most effective for Muslim congregations.
Mirza described the difficulty in obtaining consent from parents of teens for studies and participation in surveys, even though she ensures anonymity and confidentiality. Oftentimes parents not only want to see the overall results of her studies, but also demand access to their child’s individual responses to personal questions, something that is unethical in this type of investigative work. “We are at that edge, asking communities the questions that are relevant to them. It becomes an ethical challenge to gather the data without sharing it with parents,” she said.
Mirza, who was formerly involved with ADAMS Youth Committee, is working on her dissertation project entitled “Mosaics,” in which she hopes to collect a total of 360 completed computer-based surveys from Muslim youth from ages 12-17 living in the DC Metro or Baltimore Metro areas. She hopes to gain insight about what programs and resources are most vital to the Islamic communities and to form a support network for these teens. “Each perspective is important in building a picture of what we as a community look like – our strengths and our challenges – and that’s why I chose a 'mosaic' of people as my dissertation project’s logo,” she explained. The goals of Mosaics are to build understanding, learn from diversity, capitalize on community strengths, and create plans to work on weaknesses.
While there has been opposition to some of the surveying and polling within some Islamic centers, others such as ADAMS welcome the research as constructive. Deputy Imam Abdul Rafaa Ouertani, one of the outspoken audience members, was pleased that the experts visited to share their findings. During an exchange with Dr. Tirmazi, Imam Ouertani mentioned the effect numbers have on the human mind, citing Islamic history and Qur’anic verses about the Battle of Badr. He applauded the Youth Committee for arranging the panel. “Alhamdulillah, we should have done it a long time ago. There is a lack of this type of research. We need to move to another level of strategic planning. This was the way of the Prophet, peace be upon him,” he said.