Calgary’s Imam Syed Soharwardy Advises How We Can Help Immigrant Muslim Youth
Moving to a new country is never easy. Everything is different…the people, your home, the environment. It takes time and support. Each year, Canada welcomes 250,000 new immigrants and each one of them goes through the process of integrating into a new society. It is not an easy process, but most seem to make it work.
However, there are others that just can’t make the connection. They become disconnected and isolated, desperate to belong and find a place in society. For some of Canada’s Muslim youth, this is their reality. The concern is that their reality is leading them down the wrong path…one that is marred by misconceived notions of Canada and what Canadian society stands for.
Calgary’s Imam Syed Soharwardy is an imam with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. Imam Syed has been keeping a close eye on the Muslim youth in Calgary, expressing concerns that the youth are losing their way and following a path that can only lead to destruction and sorrow. He says, “When the person will be isolated from that society, that person will try to find association somewhere else and that is why it is very important for the Muslim community to feel that they are part of this Canadian mosaic, and we are equal citizens there.”
Imam Syed’s greatest fears are well illustrated with the story of a young Muslim man he knew very well, Salman Ashrafi. This young man died for what he called “the greater cause.” In May, Salman Ashrafi was killed in a suicide bombing. He was not a victim but rather one of the bombers…a fighter for the Al Qaeda group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). He was publicized as a martyr and hero for ISIS. His war name was Al Khorasani (as confirmed by the CBC). In an interview for this article, Imam Syed told me he was shocked and saddened that a young man with so much promise threw his life away for nothing. In hearing about this story, there was a need to ask the question “How did this happen?”
So I turned to Imam Syed Soharwardy for some insight considering he was so close to the issue and so outspoken. He says, “These new immigrants, most of them are coming from third world countries or other countries. They don’t have the exposure that new Canadians have. There is no understanding of Canadian society, what Canada is all about, what Canadian society stands for, what Canadian society looks like.”
“The communities are doing what they can, but they do not have the resources or that much money or the techniques that the government has. It is a question of how we help them get integrated into mainstream society.”
He believes that the government is not doing all that they can to help these new immigrants to adjust into Canadian communities.
“There is not much help on the government’s part to help them integrate into society and to not to feel isolated, not to feel deprived, not to feel like a second-class citizen. That is very important to Muslim youth to understand we are here because we want to be here and society welcomes us. We need to contribute to society and not take from society.”
Imam Syed says this sense of isolation leaves Muslim youth vulnerable to ‘bad influences’ and ‘brainwashing’ that is geared towards focusing on a purpose, a fight for religion, and combating the western world. He says, “They want to link themselves with someone who respects their religion but those fundamentalist or hate-mongers within the Muslim community who hate western freedom, they also play a major role in disconnecting the Muslim youth from western society and that is because of the internet and TV. They are factors that exploit that situation and then brainwash them.”
So what is the solution? How do we get Muslim youth reconnected with Canadian society? How can parents make a difference?
Imam Syed says the process is not a simple one and requires efforts at all levels – the home, schools, the media, and government.
He says, “In this Canadian system, they have to not have been seen as fanatics or terrorists. Look at the media, they are called Islamist terrorists and this affects people in the Muslim community because they are Islamic but they are not terrorists or extremists. When these kinds of words are being used by the media or the government, as long as this is going to continue, it is going to turn off some of the Muslim youth in terms of that sense of belonging to Canadian society. This has to stop.”
On the home front, he adds, there are many things parents can do to keep tabs on their kids and find out how they are doing. With kids being on the internet and engaging in social media, it is critical that parents know what kind of sites their kids are visiting, who they are chatting with, what searches they are doing on the internet, and what groups they may be following or connecting with. In addition, parents need to know who their children’s friends are, who they associate with, which mosque they go to, which Imam they speak to, etc.
Imam Soharwardy also says parents should listen to the kind of language or lingo are they using in their everyday speech, and are they using certain catch phrases or words? It is a fine line, because parents do not want to appear to be too nosy, but they also should not be complacent and assume their kids are fine. He says, “If children are feeling isolated, parents have to help them to understand. If parents cannot help, then they should seek help elsewhere – go to their community leaders, there are some NGOs, etc, so they need to be very vigilant with their children – their association, their local association, their interactions on the internet, what kind of literature they are reading, etc.”
The bottom line is, as parents we need to have conversations with our children about what’s going on in their lives. We need to keep connected with our kids and in turn help them to connect with society. No one is saying our children could be become terrorists, but there is a chance our kids could veer off onto the wrong path leading them into a spiral of bad influences and even worse decisions. As parents it is our job to recognize the problem, isolate it, and address it immediately.
Interview conducted by Angie Seth.
**The views expressed by the interviewee in this post are solely of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of masalamommas.com, those who link to this website, or the author.
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