It was 2006 when I started teaching the senior students at Universal School in Bridgeview. Every year was an amazing one, teaching such bright students who have become the pioneers of their fields today. I always tried to enrich the students’ minds through discussions that related to their reality and connecting that to the themes in Islam as a faith. The generation gap issue between the elders and their perception of Islam in America versus the one that is viewed by the American-born younger generation was always a hot topic discussion.
I remember a student calling the older generation “FOBs” and said they should rest and leave it for the younger American-born kids who know the culture and can relate better to the issues. Another student replied: “Are you telling your dad who raised you and was one of the ones who established all these institutions for you to benefit from, that he cannot relate to the issues Muslims are facing in the West?”
We can take the heat from Islam-haters meaning to harm our community, we can tolerate injustices from some biased employees in government agencies against individuals or communities at large, but I believe the most challenging matter to our community is the idea of a Muslim group discrediting another group based on age, culture or generation gap!
Scanning our community now, one can fairly say we are the most diverse, young, well-educated and financially stable compared to other communities. It means that most American Muslims are now either born here or have lived 20 years or more in the US. So, my idea of this generation gap challenge has less to do with a culture of overseas versus local, and more to do with power struggle, different Fiqh views on best practices in the US.
The power struggle
This is a fact across the same generation and all generations. The idea of protecting the establishment creates, in some instances, a sense of self-oriented judgment of who fits in to join rather than proper credentials. In other words, the same complaints we speak out against in the power of governments are applied on a smaller scale within institutions. If the elders look from the angle of the youth’s lack of experience to exclude them in leadership roles, how can we give our youth the experience they need to lead down the road? If the younger generation rejects the idea that the older generation is not fit to relate to their issues, how can we ignore that one generation has raised the next since the beginning of time, and in our particular community has built institutions where there were none for the community to benefit from?
The elders should open doors to our youth to lead, and the youth should respect the wisdom and experience of the elders. Each generation can learn and benefit from another generation. The example of Omar (RAA) seeing the elders annoyed by the presence of the young Ibn Abbas in important decision-making meetings was clear when Omar (RAA) asked about what purpose Surat Al-Nasr served. Elders said: God (SW) told His prophet (SAAW) to make Tasbeeh and Istighfar after conquering Makkah. Omar (RAA) then asked Ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas (RAA) said: It was the sign for the prophet’s death (SAAW), and Omar (RAA) concurred.
Different Fiqh views
The reality I see is that many scholars who come newly from overseas have great knowledge but they lack the relativity to the environment we live in. They barely interact with non-Muslims except for some interfaith dinners, or lecturing some students coming to learn about Islam. Their fatawa often falls short from relating to the real challenges faced by Muslims who attend public schools and universities, or work in non-Muslim environments. Still, there are many scholars who have lived here for a while and have built a sense of relativity to the environment we are living in, and have more relevant views and rulings on issues based on that experience. On the other hand, there are many young activists who have great speaking abilities and charisma who lead Jumaa on campuses or give lectures about Islam, yet find themselves entering the area of Fiqh with no sense of proper Arabic language to understand divine texts better, or understanding the sciences of Sharia required for making a Fiqh reference!
We also have the historical differences between schools of thought like the school of (A’ql) logic versus the school of (Naql) text, or that between (Al-Zthaher) literal versus one of (Al-Baten) inner meaning.
We need the scholars to sit with our youth and listen to their issues in person and take their input and incorporate it into their Fatawas. We also need some of our brightest youth to learn Sharia here or abroad so they can connect the dots between Sharia and environment properly, and take on the future roles of American Muslim scholars.
The topic I chose to speak about is a huge one. An entire convention could be held on this topic and still barely scratch the surface, but I hope I can shed some light on a much needed discussion in these few paragraphs.
May Allah protect our Deen and bless us with His mercy, Ameen.
By Sh Kifah Mustapha
 Pew research May 22, 2007