In partnership with Open Path Resources, Minnesota Muslim youth explore their faith and civic identities through a cultural education immersion experience with the goal of gaining the positive developmental assets of connection, competence, confidence, and character, that builds their capacity to care and contribute to the civic life of their home communities. The immersion experience is designed to help expose young Muslim-Americans to a society where their religious heritage is the dominant practice within the country’s secular system of government. NYLC supports youths’ continued leadership development throughout the year through in-person trainings, peer-to-peer coaching, and monthly professional development.
As Imam Sharif Mohamed, founder of the first mosque in Minneapolis (Dar Al-Hijrah), notes: “One of the challenges the youth in our community face is the struggle to associate their own faith and senses of self as appreciated identities in America. It is not easy to claim the idenities of refugee, African-American, and Muslim and feel that you are going to be treated fairly and respectfully in all situations.”
Our program emphasizes faith identity and connects adolescent Muslim youth with positive youth development theory through faith-based experiences, history, and culture to help them develop as leaders capable of serving their communities. Through a culturally responsive approach to service-learning and civic engagement — a pedagogy “immersed in the complexities and ambiguities of how we come to make sense of ourselves and the world around us” (Butin, 2005, p. 98), young people become agents of positive change able to exercise their leadership skills across cultures, rooted in strong senses of themselves.
Previous participants have made positive contributions including:
- Developing a fundraising and social media campaign to provide support to war victims in Yemen.
- Helping organize an East African immigrant community gathering to better understand the importance of vaccinations in young children. At the meeting, one of the travelers said, “I know that I am a leader now and I have to make sure I am active in important issues of my community.”
- Submitting articles for academic journal publications.
- Serving as a school board member for a new charter school. That young person noted that the support of the adults during his travel to Turkey was instrumental in his decision.
- Serving in leadership roles with the Islamic Civic Society of America, meeting with the Executive Director monthly, exploring how Islamic and democratic principles align and how this understanding can guide youth programming.
- Joining NYLC’s Youth Advisory Council to advance leadership skills and the ability to make positive change in communities
The eventual change in community resulting from this program is articulated by a 2018 youth participant who is optimistic about the groups’ larger civic roles.
“This trip has proven to me that we as Muslims have a lot to add to our state, in business, through our mosques, in schools, and in government. We are a pretty powerful people.”