It was 2003 that I remember walking into Brondesbury park hotel sitting down and seeing a lecturer on the pulpit about to deliver his speech, he was shrouded in the traditional clothing wearing his black turban to signify that he was from the bloodline of the Ahulbayt. In my mind I was elsewhere thinking about how quick the lecture would be over and how soon I could get my hands on the food.
The lecturer began and no sooner had he started I was instantly amazed, gone was the broken English and in was English as clear as crystal. English that appealed to me and in a manner that drew me in, I wondered who is this guy and where had he come from. That first day the hall was empty but by the end of the 10 days (muharam) the hall was absolutely packed to the rim people had heard of this new man on the block, with this eloquent English and topics that were both relevant and inspiring to the youth. I used to go back home and contemplate his words and by the start of the next day was eagerly awaiting his next lecture. So began my own journey into my religion and my purpose in life but what also began was the start of pure English lecturers for young Iraqis who had previously only known the Arabic lectures.
Cemented were these majalis and each year they would inspire others in their lives, as the demand for these lectures grew a new breed of individuals came about. These people worked endlessly for the youth and ensured that they were facilited with activities that fulfilled their needs. Soon after a weekly programme was launched in which young people would gather and listen to lectures week in week out. These lectures were inspirsing they drew in the crowds and somewhat fulfilled the spiritual need that they sought. These lecturers also empowered the audience and gave them the tools they needed to answer any misconceptions surrounding their faith, I would say it gave them a sense of identity and belonging. New friendships were formed and I found myself looking forward to Friday nights for all the good reasons. It was now ‘cool’ to be religious the individuals that made these events happen were both young and very much connected to their audience they showed them good from bad and guided them in a way that would shape their future.
Fast forward to 2011 and the weekly programmes have ceased, the yearly programmes attract only a handful of people, a stark contrast from the packed halls of 2003. Yesterday I attended a programme in which the attendees could be counted on my hands. The lecture was far from inspiring in fact it felt draining and a pain to continue listening. I had no interest in attending this programme but only did so because quite simply I had nothing better to do and so out of ‘boredom’ decided to attend.
So what has changed since?
Every time this topic is raised amongst peers many reasons are brought about these include
- The organising individuals have married and no longer have the time to give
- The youth today lack the initiative and boldness to organise events, activities etc
- Transition from a struggling generation where English programmes, activities were rare and thus extra effort was made to organise them and get youth together. Whereas the generation of today take for granted these events and thus no longer inspires them
- A lack of organisation and structure to the management committees to ensure continuation and progression for the future (although one organisation seemed to have this in place but has seen also dissolved)
- A lack of belief in God which in turn means a lack of fear and ultimately a distinguished flame to motivate youth in organising programmes
- A feeling of isolation from management or organisation bodies which leads to individuals shying away from responsibilities. Perhaps feeling that they are ‘not good enough’ to organise or lead in bringing about events, activities etc
- A hate for the Iraqi community in which individuals feel that the community offers no positives so why should they bother in trying to serve
- The community becoming fragmented and going back to “You are from Rasool Adam” or “You are from Dar al Islam”. Whereas before the two began to unify and youths from both mosques/ideologies started to mix and create friendships.
- No feeling of ‘community’ or the need to establish an identity
I have offered many reasons above all of which can be brought together in analysing why or how the community has changed since 2003. Now of course the word community is a big one and each individual defines it differently, click here to find out how I define it and perhaps it will shed better light on this article.
So what next?
Its not all gloom I think this is merely a natural progression from generation to generation, we are at a phase where the lantern as you say is being passed over. In 2003 it was the first generation of Iraqis that began to become active they saw the gap and filled it with what was required. They were always under the shadow of their fathers who had one eye on going ‘back home’ and in sense left that generation confused with what their identity. They felt that the elders always looked down at them and never engaged to support them or facilitate their needs, perhaps they felt that they did not know how facilitate them.
This generation however faces new requirements mostly born and bred in the UK , grown up with events/activities around them and never really appreciating the value of an English lecture like the first generation. This feeling of belonging perhaps does not exist as once did with the weekly programmes.
I think I’ll leave this topic for another blog to delve further into what really is next for the youth of today.