The Moral Panic over Youth Conversions

· Conversion,Youth,Dawah

Some news articles get stuck and haunt me until I decide to find time to write about them. There is close to always more that can be said about the reality descriptions we get served. As a Norwegian saying goes, 'Se ikke skogen for bare trær': 'Don't see the forest for the trees only;' a reminder to be aware of the whole picture. We should try to get an overview and ask ourselves, what are we really seeing here? When reflecting over what we are served, we use our own framework. The 'Being-Knowing in the world' of a Muslim: How we see things, highlight other factors, and make sense of this Dunya, produce other questions, other types of analysis, conclusions, and life lessons. We should, all of us, increase in being true to our framework, to be open and proud of it. As a genius said about being confronted with the question “Why do you have to drag religion into this?": Such a question shows 'the imposing of the atheist or agnostic framework for discourse.' A framework that is 'not the default framework for everyone'. Neither is it unbiased or un-ideological, and 'our Muslim perspective is not less valid than theirs. As he said in another conversation that we as them, 'believe in the supremacy of our values and belief system', and 'there is nothing wrong with that'. Just like thaaat. The brothers working with dawah are excellent at this, to some people's irritation as we'll come back to. But first,

I remember the in-depth article on Norwegian youth taking their own lives, published one year after the Government published a zero vision for suicide. Norway has at least 700 suicides yearly, with suicide as the number one death cause for people under 30. There are also 9000 yearly suicide attempts, most of them by adult men, but now researchers and politicians struggle with the fact that more and more of them are young. ¾ of the youngsters who succeed in their suicide attempts are boys. A researcher quoted in the article, sees it as a big and underestimated problem. The number doesn’t go down. Heartbreaking. What's going on?

The journalists dug into the lives of nine of these young people who are no longer with us. Their families told about their children’s struggle with bullying and hopelessness ahead of the suicides. The article gives a glimpse into the notes left by the youth, which described a lack of meaning in life. Another article summarizes a study of 23 suicide letters left behind by Norwegian youth, by professors in Psychology. They found mainly four topics addressed in the letters which surprisingly were pretty much identical in their content and form. These were not letters written in despair but showed that the suicide was well prepared: They declared their love for their family and friends. They wanted to make sure that they would not feel guilt over their decision to leave this world. They explained the guilt and shame they felt for something they had done or experienced, which led them to see suicide as the only solution. They concluded with wishes and testaments. The 28 letters included in the study were written between 1993 and 2004. One of the researchers thinks they would be more about shame if they were written today. An interesting thought. What can be said about the cocktail of shame and meaninglessness? Without seeing meaning in what befalls us, how can we find hope and patience when facing difficulties? How can we then stay confident in knowing that after hardship comes ease?

About a year later, I watched an episode of the documentary series “What I Must Do Before I die” where people on the street are asked about the meaning of life, and I couldn’t help connecting what I heard to the suicide statistics. In a way, their answers give an insight into what individuals in societies with a severe lack of faith, answer when suddenly faced with the question of meaning with their life:

“Meaning of life? To have a good time, the time we are here. Yes, to have a good time.” - Elderly woman

 

“Well, that is her (watching his child). To carry on the generation” - Family father.

 

“Meaning of life? …… It must be to enjoy life." “Are you going to enjoy life?” “Yes I will enjoy life”. "How?” “Well, now I’m going to enjoy this ice cream. - Male teenager.

 

“Hm, meaning of life.. When thinking about that, you just find yourself sitting and thinking about that for several hours. Why are we here? What is the purpose? I don’t have any clear answer.” - Young man.

 

“I guess it is to live until we die” (laughing) - Elderly woman

 

“Meaning of life is to live and have a good time” To have people you love, and to show them that you love them.” “Are you good at living life?” “Yes I've become good over time. I was in a potentially deadly traffic accident and got disabled, and after that I experienced what life is really worth, and what it is. I learn to appreciate the sunrise instead of rushing from meeting to meeting. I also learned to value what I had. That I was alive. I learned to enjoy what I had with family, wife and children, og that is life.” - Family father.

“I don’t know what to answer. It must be to take life as it comes! - A grandpa

“The small things. The everyday life, that the kids grow bigger, to have a good time as a family” - A newly established father

 

“Meaning of life? I haven’t figured that out yet. I have been thinking about it.” - Young woman

 

“I have got four nice girls. I have got eight grandchildren. And, I'm proud of that.” - Elderly woman.

 

“For me freedom is very important. I think that is the most important for me, yes.” - Middle-aged man

 

“ I think….. that when we come to the end, we will have found the meaning of life..” “Yes maybe, that there is a long journey to find it?” “Yes.” - Middle-aged man

 

As a Norwegian brought up with that trivial way of dealing with one of the most essential questions of life, I find these answers to be pretty representative. I know that the societal answer is that there is no clear-cut answer: It is up to you to find out the reason for your existence, to make your life worth living, and of course presented as a goodie bag, as a mindset part of progress and liberation, like, ‘remember you are your own god, no one decides for you!’ All while people, and especially youth suffer of its consequences. No wonder individuals struggle how they struggle, and life gets covered in total darkness if you think life is just about enjoying time, getting children, and that there is nothing more to it. The path is then, for many, short to begin thinking that life is unfair, that you are not worthy, that you are a failure, only a disturbance on earth, that there is only luck and back luck governing your life. What a gift it is to grow up with absolute confidence in the meaningfulness of your existence.

Everyone can find life hard to handle, and also in Muslim communities, some end their life in this tragic way, but faith and community matter when it comes to what type of solution to the problem people find closer at hand. “Suicide is more normal in societies that more easily accept it, and who have fewer attitudinal barriers” (my translation). I learned a lot by reading this article. A psychology specialist tells the story about how the Munk and the Suicidal were seen as similar as they both threw away this worldly life in early Christian times, the first centuries after the birth of Isa. As it led to an epidemic of suicides, the Church Father Augustin (354-430) stepped in and took one of that time's most drastic moral turn operations: He included suicide in the 5th law ‘ You shall not kill.’ Suicide went from a shortcut to Heaven, to become the worst of all sins, as life is a present from God that no human being has the right to put an end to. (My translation). The article continues by describing how Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) put a secular touch to the rhetoric, seeing suicide as unnatural and a betrayal against society and fellow human beings. Then during the 1600's a dean called John Donne, followed by Hume in the 1700’s argued for suicide as neither a sin against God, fellow human beings, or ourselves; a philosophical analysis that challenged Churche’s view. We can also read that the punishment sanctions related to suicide ended gradually in Norway, with the last ones in 1902. It wasn’t before 1961 that suicide was completely decriminalized in England and in Ireland, 1994.

As Muslims, we can not separate the meaning of life from the fact that we are created by a Creator who has given us all the info we need to manage it. We are told by the one who gave us life that we are created for the sole purpose of worship. Not worship of life, its entities, or our desires, but worship of The Creator of everything that exists. We are told that this life on earth is a tiny, tiny fragment of our existence, but at the same time extremely valuable with huge consequences for the continuation: We know from the Quran that life is a test, and everything in it, is part of the test. “It is He who created life and death in order to test you. which of you is best in deed. And He is the Al-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.” How beautiful. Khayr, goodness will increase in an individual, a family, and in a society when good deeds are so central for existence. A life goal of a Muslim will naturally be to increase in faith through valuing striving, patience and endurance. The life hacks we derive from the Quran and Sunnah are complete and balanced. Faith is perfected through balancing hope and fear. No wonder you can visit Muslim countries or observe Muslims in hard, hard situations but still sense so strongly their sakeenah. How many people worldwide have found Islam through observing the strength and tranquility of our brothers and sisters living amid the grotesque ongoing genocide?

How thought-provoking that Norwegian news articles express moral panic on Norwegian Youth conversions to Islam, all while the social media tell the story of a mass conversion. Where people express so bluntly how they found themselves, peace, hope and meaning in Islam. The article's headline is “Norwegian convert says he helped a 16-year-old with converting - gets critique.” A TikTok profile accuses the Norwegian convert Yousuf Dawah of assisting youth in their conversion. The Tiktok profile acknowledges that he doesn’t know for sure what it means to convert, but that Yousuf has a position where he can influence others: “That is very sad and I mean the parents should be involved. If my children did something like that, I would like to know it in advance.” A researcher on Islam is interviewed, who confirmed that missionary work towards ‘children at such a young age’ can be problematic. He says (my translation:) "It is about showing strength in the group he belongs, to show that he is capable of converting to Islam.” Yousuf Dawah doesn’t care about the critique he gets. He explains that he only speaks with those who contact him after they have studied Islam and want someone to talk to, and he never forces anyone to take the last step. He himself converted as a 16-year-old and refuses to see youth at this age as vulnerable children: “In Norway, people choose the religion they want.”

Yes, that is exactly what we are raised to believe that we have the freedom to do. Then reality hits in and you see that converting to Islam makes you an outcast in society, and for some also in the family. Many converts experience that becoming everything else, even a drug addict, would receive more acceptance than becoming Muslim. At the same time, faith gives you a worldwide family and makes you strong and aware that they will never be satisfied with us unless we become like them. Still, we never hear politicians speak of negative social control practiced by mainstream Norwegians towards Muslims, as they only preach correct Norwegian-ness and frictionless interaction. The Political Actionplan against discrimination of Muslims, comes hand in hand with special policies in the name of integration and concern, but experienced by many Muslims as discriminating, profiling and limiting, who invades their souls, homes, families and concrete attempts to build a vibrant Muslim community. Many Muslims know from their experiences that they are, in reality, second class citizens in Norway despite how much they are told with words and financial benefits that they are worthy of having freedom of speech, thought and way of life. Norwegian Muslim's ongoing flight to Muslim countries finds itself in a longer historical thread of departure from Norway by religious minorities, as well as part of a broader flight of European Muslims to the Global South.

We read in the same article that 16-year-olds are considered vulnerable regarding exposure to Islam. At the same time we see they are considered mature enough to handle the truly risky alcohol- and party culture they have been socialized in, now resulting in the highest Gonore outbreak for years. Indulging in this 'inevitable youth rebellion', the journey from childhood to ‘adulthood’ motorized with shamelessness and irresponsibility, is what is expected. The youth meets a relaxed attitude towards the severe risks they face, shown through the adult responses quoted in media articles, like 'Use condom, please'. 'Come and test yourself for sexually transmitted diseases', and “Parents, please pick up your drunk 14-15-years-olds.” If the youth truly were considered vulnerable in this context, they would rather be warned from sleeping around in the first place. They would be forbidden to use alcohol which they by law aren’t even allowed to buy and consume before they turn 18. Parents who take responsibility, wanting to protect their youth from destructive behavior, risk to be faced with the accusation that they unjustly restrict their children’s rights to a ‘free life.’ Also some non-Muslim parents find it highly frustrating that no one can make totally clear where the limits go: When they have the right to interfere, or when they are considered to break their 'children's rights.' How incredibly ironic isn't it that conversion to a faith that molds the youth to practice personal responsibility, a civilized lifestyle and to a meaningful life is what creates moral panic and concern for the youth.

I remember vividly how we had a Christian missionary as a teacher during our first years at elementary school. Even though our class had many children from Muslim, Hindu and atheist families, our teacher gathered us around her piano in the classroom to sing “We put the devil under our feet,” “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” and that “the victory Jesus wan is ours.” Imagine I remember these songs better than my national anthem. This teacher got fired when some parents started to grasp what was going on, but I also remember that a controversial Christian youth organization had access to all of us some years later. The auditorium got filled with hundreds of pupils for them to preach to us. Afterward, they wanted to speak with us to hear if we ’felt something,’ a feeling that could be salvation. They also attracted us with street dance courses and cool hoodies. Even though I was young, I found their approach highly cynical and kept my distance. I still find it hard to understand how they got access to the Public schools, as they apparently still do. All while an activity centre for Muslim youth that would be the only one of its kind in Norway, is considered so 'dangerous' for the youth, that politicians and other voices have been struggling for years to make sure it will never be a reality.

For sure, Allah will continue to guide individuals despite all faith-allergic tendencies in the societies they reside in. The Dawah organizations will continue to receive calls from Norwegians of all ages and get the blessing of witnessing their transformation to tranquility. Conversion to Islam is nothing else than finally letting the soul be at ease. Everything falls into place. Life begins to sparkle when the energy gets channeled to truly enjoying life and handling its moments of hardship in a responsible and dignified way.