2012 Conference: ‘World Muslim Leaders: The Next Generation’

The WMLF conference in 2012 focused specifically on Muslim youth leadership. You can download a copy of the conference report here.

The youth play an important role in today’s society as well as the future of our global community. The development, empower-ment and training of youth are tantamount to ensuring that there is greater prosperity for future generations through economic and political equality, environmental and social sustainability and stronger relations between nations and communities.

In 2010, the UN estimated that youth represented 17.6% of world population. The majority are living in developing countries. Furthermore, in these developing countries the youth are also the majority population. These statistics highlight the need for a greater focus on youth empowerment, for which youth leadership is critical.

Internationally, we find a number of issues which are hindering youth development; these include lack of education and training, high levels of unemployment, lack of opportunity for young people to participate in society and inequities in social, economic and political conditions. Such matters result in marginalised, disconnected, and frustrated young people who are unable to alter their living standards or even hope for a better future.

In the Middle East, the youth face signifi- cant inequalities, such as gender gaps in education, as illustrated in Egypt where two thirds of illiterate youth are female, and severe unemployment, which affects 30% of youth in Libya.

In countries like Tunisia, political activism, especially from the youth is not tolerated. Instead, young people are encouraged not to speak out about their issues with the government. These silent frustrations and fears exist in all spheres of the Tunisian community, including the police.

The situation is very similar across the globe. In Bangladesh, 76% of young people believe they have little or no influence over government decisions or are unsure of their capacity to influence. Whereas 95% of youth are willing and able to address local and community issues; this highlights the potential role that youth can play if given the opportunity and resources.

Due to adverse economic conditions, Pakistani youth, especially in rural areas have little choice but to start working. This, of course, significantly impacts youth literacy which is estimated at 53%, however female youth literacy is even lower at 42%. Education is strongly connected with better employment and political awareness and participation.

Africa is facing a demographic challenge as the population of youth grows and access to secure jobs remains problematic. This is causing the less educated young people to resort to illegal activities and joining rebel forces. A World Bank Report stated that youth employment is a crucial part of the peace-building process in many African states and further stresses:

“The demographic transition makes youth the most abundant asset that the region can claim, thus making it a window of opportunity.”

In more developed countries such as Malaysia, there are disparities in access to resources depending on the region one lives in. Furthermore, despite the fast pace of economic and social development, there continues to be age, ethnic and gender inequalities. There are, however, a number of major organisations which are committed to youth development and equality.

One of the negative and unjustified consequences of these issues was the devastating riots which took place in London in August 2011. This brought to light the social and economic plight of many poor communities in the UK; but the extent of damage and utter disregard for morality and hard work tainted the underlying issues. Instead, it painted the youth in a very negative light and added to the preexisting negative stereotype of youth. For example, in a recently released survey, the top three perceived causes of crime reported were drugs (67%), alcohol (62%), and ‘lack of parental discipline’ (62%). When asked which of the three respondents considered the main cause of crime, most said the latter – likely implying that they believe young people to be the main perpetrators of crime.

However, others recognise a clear distinction between those involved in the riots and the general youth population. In his speech on the fight-back after the riots, David Cameron clearly stated that rioters “do not represent our young people”.

The UK riots were nothing more than a hollow cry but the reality still exists that today’s youth are struggling to find a voice in the political, social and economic forum in the UK and abroad. Unemployment rates for young people are higher than ever in the UK, with 21% of 16-24 year olds out of work. However, this is not an unfamiliar statistic across Europe and the rest of the world. Egypt’s youth unemployment rate is currently 25%, Tunisia’s is 30%, Spain is at 40% and the USA is at 25%. These statistics taken in context with the global recession, high levels of corruption in many countries, and global poverty portrays an image of hopelessness and dead ends.

It is this image that is further exacerbated depending on an individual’s social, race and faith backgrounds. These elements play a large role in the qualifications, experiences and general ambitions of youth. The 2001 UK Census found that there were 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, 34% of this number were under the age of 16. 31% of young Muslims leave school with no qualifications. Furthermore, in 2004, 28% of Muslims between the ages of 16-24 were unemployed, compared to only 11% of Christians.

However, in Muslim majority countries, large numbers of the population belong to poorer backgrounds. These people are struggling to climb out of social deprivation and poverty due to inequality, lack of access to adequate education and training and low productivity. A study by the Islamic Development Bank found that Muslim countries were some of the poorest nations in the world, with people living on incomes below $2 a day.

Regardless of the barriers faced by young people they are finding a voice and are standing up against corruption, racism, dictatorships, and government cuts and holding their leaders to account. The Arab Spring states were just the beginning of a new political movement, and the next step towards a more organically grown democracy for many of these countries.

“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

The youth have further started to pave the way to a new and innovative global culture through social networks and other fast communication methods – through blogs, vlogs, twitter and facebook groups – information, knowledge and data are literally at ones fingertips. This phenomenon is the vehicle by which Muslim youth have initi- ated much change in their countries and have brought human rights abuses, political corruption and environmental issues and poverty to the forefront of international debate and international intervention.

The Middle East has seen the determination and courage of Muslim youth, and the rest of world has felt empowered by the passion of such youth who stand up and risk their lives for the right to be governed in an accountable and transparent system. The Arab Spring nations highlighted the collective power of young people.

In Turkey, despite the need for better youth institutions and policies, in Barak Obama’s visit in 2009, he engaged the youth; understanding the importance of Muslim youth in repairing America’s image in the Muslim world.

In the UK, the voice of today’s youth is clearly illustrated by the student protests against the recent rise in university tuition fees. Muslim students in particular are trying their upmost to take the lead in student union affairs and have succeeded in securing high positions in last year’s NUS Annual Conference.

Furthermore, a recent report published by the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, illustrates that a high proportion of Muslim youth are actively involved in voluntary work within their communities, demonstrating a desire to rise up in order to tackle a range of issues within their local community, as well as worldwide humanitarian causes.

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