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A grassroots movement: Noor-Ul-Islam Youth Mashaal Mir chats to Shamaila Hussain about inspiring and engaging the youth in our communities.

“Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” [Al-Ra’ad:31] Probably one of the most powerful messages from the Qur’an, the beautiful verse reminds us that that we cannot sit and wait for change to happen; we must be the change. It is this philosophy which has inspired the beginning of Noor-UlIslam Youth; a volunteer based organisation in East London, UK, aiming to provide extra-curricular services and activities for young Muslims, girls and boys alike. The youth group was brought to life when a group of Muslims, unhappy and dissatisfied with the lack of activities for young members in their community, approached the local mosque. They requested permission to set up a youth club where young Muslims could have fun, be social and engage in activities in a safe and Islamic environment. The mosque granted permission and the youth club was officially launched in 2008. Within a span of three years, the group grew from having a couple of activities, to fully providing services.

Sports for boy and girls While participation in sports is rarely an issue for boys, it still remains a common concern for many Muslim girls. Whether it is for religious reasons, cultural reasons or simply self-consciousness, many girls often find themselves excluded from sports and other physical wellbeing activities. But Noor-Ul-Islam Youth opens the doors for girls to feel comfortable and be active without any concerns. The youth club offers a range of only-girl sports such as basketball, tennis and badminton. The youth club has also recently decided to offer kickboxing for the more martial-arts savvy girls. With her black headscarf neatly covering her hair and a voice softer than honey in warm milk, Shamaila Hussain, the youth work leader for girls at the group, tells me that Noor-Ul-Islam Youth is an organic,

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grassroots group fuelled by the demand from young Muslims in the community. She says that many of the girls are shy when they first join the youth club, but don’t take long to become fully active and engaged. “When the girls first come in, they are very shy and very hesitant to try out sports for many reasons,” she says. “But they start learning, coming together and being more confident in themselves. Now, they are all enthusiastic and are always looking forward to the games”.

A safe haven for building character and confidence Indeed, the sport activities primary goal is not only to get Muslim girls (and boys) active, but also to help them come out of their shells. “We can see them become more confident in front of our very own eyes,” says Shamaila. “That’s why we also run team-building exercises and workshops. The activities we do are all focused on how to build the youth’s self-esteem and make them more confident in themselves, as individuals and as Muslims.” The youth group tries to act as more than just a temporary hanging out place. Shamaila told me how the group aims to build a strong relationship with the youth, providing counselling for young Muslims for any issues or problems they may have. According to Shamaila, many of the concerns often trace back to sex, bullying, the dilemma of ‘fitting in’ and especially being confused about the hijab. “Girls come to us with normal teenage problems, stuff to do with parents, boys and fashion,” she says. “These girls feel guilty over having these feelings and we tell them, ‘we’re not here to judge you’

We want to make the youth

appreciate their religion and have them be actual positive Muslims in their own community.

and that it’s okay to have these feelings, the emotions are normal. It’s all down to how you deal with them, so we give them help, support and positive advice.”

Not for the money, but for the cause “We never take money for what we do”, says Shamaila. “It’s all run by volunteers. Twelve volunteers to be exact; six brothers and six sisters.” It is a heavy burden on only twelve volunteers who also have jobs and studies to take care of, and Shamaila admits that it’s hard work. But she says the reward for the hard work is in the positive feedback. “When girls say that we have had a positive effect on them, or if parents tell us that they have seen a positive change in their daughter, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. It also gives a sense of gratitude that you are doing something for the sake of Allah I.” The youth club is funded by donors and has managed to find sponsors so young Muslims don’t have to pay the full price of joining a sport. The money is used to hire sport halls and equipments. Despite the workload and the restricted amount of funds, she believes that the youth group has been lucky and blessed. “If you are sincere in what you do, then inshaAllah, Allah I will bring the means to you,” she says confidently. “I am positive in that belief.”

It’s not only an organisation, it’s a movement Shamaila believes that the message of Noor-Ul-Islam Youth is clear: the youth is important because the youth is the next generation. “We cannot ignore the youth, they have valuable contributions. Mosques and community centres need to recognise what the youth is going to contribute to,” says Shamaila. “It’s also to teach the youth that Islam is not only ritualistic. It’s not just about praying or about

going to the mosque. It’s a way of life and you can have fun. You can do sports. We need to encourage the youth to see Islam in a positive light and not as a burden, as it is often put out to be.” Before our interview ends, Shamaila says something that not only strikes me, but also sums up Noor-Ul-Islam Youth brilliantly: “We want to make the youth appreciate their religion and have them be actual positive Muslims in their own community.” As I pack my things to leave, I cannot help but smile. It is efforts like those of Shamaila and the rest of Noor-Ul-Islam Youth that make all the difference. These efforts often go unnoticed, ignored and are underestimated in the eyes of humans. But Noor-Ul-Islam is a powerful driving force that is encouraging young Muslims to be the best versions of themselves and to inspire other Muslims to be so as well. And that is where real change begins. Mashaal Mir is a Danish-Pakistani second year BA Journalism with Politics student at Kingston University London. She enjoys heated debates, dry humour and good food. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mamashaal or visit her website at www.mashaalmir. com

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A grass-roots movement  

A grass-roots movement