YOUTH JUSTICE COMMITTEE: CULTURAL SENSITITY -
AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
SATURDAY 21 JANUARY 2001
TORONTO DISTRICT MUSLIM EDUCATION ASSEMBLY (TDMEA)
Concluding Remarks . 7
The prevalence of certain social maladies in society today has prompted even the most industrially/materially advanced society, such as ours in Canada, to make a serious assessment of our real achievements the kind of society we want or have, the general disposition of our youths and what future predictions can be made from past and present achievements or realities. Dysfunctional behaviour among both adults and youths is now openly promoted in society as a matter of freedoms and rights and other politically chosen buzz words without due regard to common sense, decency and the common good of all, let alone the values and standards set by religious moral codes. Such occurrences are now a matter of policy and widespread institutional practices boldly promoted. Expansion of the prison, courts or police systems is not the answer. Existence of the Youth Justice Committee (YJC) underscores this point.
Unlike the cherished traditional past, our children today are becoming more independent, openly rebellious and even violent in their way of life as a new generation. Insubordination is no longer confined to parents; it is now manifested elsewhere - disregard for civil law and order and authority, a general breakdown of our values, and little regard for the well being of society. Juvenile delinquency, youth violence and a range of dysfunctional behaviours (crimes) among our youths have marred any gains we might have made materially.
To cite a few obvious but sensitive examples, today, our children are less respectful of their parents; drop out of school at an early age; openly consume alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes; and engage in casual sex (fornication), sexual perversions (homosexual behaviour) and abortion without any regard to the health risks, dangers and costs associated with such practices.
Stealing, being abusive or violent in their behaviour and in some instances committing murder are manifestations of the quality of children/youths we have come to produce in spite of our laudable quantum material advances and progress.
These maladies are in fact vulgar manifestations of the symptoms of deeper and more serious social problems in our society. To really address these issues, one must deal with the causes not merely the symptoms. Social maladies and dysfunctional behaviour of these kinds are caused they do not just happen. Only a truly serious desire and firm commitment from all levels the government, the institutions, society and above all the family to address these causes would enable us to collectively preserve our material achievement with the cherished aim of truly excelling in the human fronts. We cannot work in isolation; we need to do this together through mutual efforts.
As part of this laudable collective effort, I do not wish to detract from the principal task of restructuring and improving effectiveness of the existing YJCs to deal with current problems, but rather, to bring home the importance of recognising cultural and religious sensitivities in addressing problems with children and youths. To help better understand this concern, let me offer some background information from an Islamic point of view to show its impact on childrens behaviour and the response it can generate if these sensitivities are not taken into consideration
In Islam, the family is first comprised of both spouses - the husband and wife as head - in a lawfully constituted heterosexual marriage. Children of the marriage form an integral part of this family unit and a sacred trust that become the privileges, rights and obligations of parents to dutifully exercise and discharge.
A prime example of this great responsibility is not simply to provide only the physical/material (food, clothing, money, secular education, etc.) and emotional amenities of life (love, care, etc.) to children, but rather to raise them with the finest manners in personal and social conduct. This latter issue affirms that parents have prior rights and obligations to instil strong religious teachings and moral codes to their children. Foremost of this is recognition of the Creator (Allah), full and complete obedience to Him and compliance with His Laws. Children are then taught to be dutiful and obedient to parents and to be law-abiding citizens, not because they would be punished by the apparatus of a secular system, but because this too is and inseparable part of Divine Law. Children are taught right and wrong according to the Shariah (Islamic Law), and their value system, moral conduct and practice (way of life) must be governed by this Divine Code. This is an effective way to prepare them to be good persons and model citizens.
In Islam, the biological parents (mother and father) have the first rights and responsibilities over their children which are not shared with any other entity except in exceptional and compelling cases only as designated by the Shariah (Islamic Law) itself. To undermine, dilute, negate or take away the rights of the parents do not only constitute a serious breach to the integrity of the family but a sure recipe for moral corruption and many social maladies in society as we witness today. For this reason, it is a necessary condition that the family the basic unit of society be preserved, protected, strengthened and supported, not undermined, weakened or negated.
In the context of juvenile delinquency and youth maladies, there are several areas of concerns to the Muslim family. However, great stress is placed on the moral aspects as follows:
This entails a strong sense of discipline and pertains to: obedience to the Laws of God as paramount; obedience to parents; be law abiding and good citizens. It should be noted that obedience to the Laws of God alone entails obedience to parents and to be law abiding. The converse is also true, except that one cannot be obedient to anyone in a matter which contravenes the Laws of God. Muslim children are taught to be obedient and dutiful as these lead to truthfulness, honesty, model character and order in society, whereas disobedience leads to harm, e.g. chaos, rebelliousness, disintegration of the family and a general breakdown in law and order to the ultimate detriment of society.
Thus, a child that is under the care of his/her parents is not free to do what he/she likes, how he/she likes, when he/she likes and where he/she likes. For example, he/she cannot go in and out of his/her home/residence as he/she likes. He/she must conform to basic house rules based on the higher moral codes. He/she must seek parental consent and approval and must defer with respect to the decisions of his/her parents whose duty it is to act in their best interests. Just as the law penalizes or holds culpable a citizen for any violation, so too parents may discipline their children in order to ensure that they are corrected and raised with proper beliefs, manners and behaviour.
Such activities are completely prohibited in Islam for all ages including adults. In Islam, sex is lawful only in a properly constituted marriage. Fornication and adultery are major sins in Islam. As well, homosexual practices and other forms of sexual aberrations are completely forbidden. Such practices are harmful to the individual, the family and society at large, e.g. the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, abortion, etc. Muslim children are taught this code as part of up their upbringing and religious practice.
Consumption of Alcohol/Intoxicants and Drugs
Islam strictly proscribes the consumption of alcohol, intoxicants or drugs. The indulgence in such substances leads to many evils and moral corruption in society and is clearly harmful to the health of the individual as well, e.g. air and road rage, accidents, deaths, homicide, rape, vandalism, theft, etc. This, like many other issues, is not a matter of personal freedom, choice or the like; no one is free to harm himself/herself and/or others. Muslim children are brought up to keep away from all such substances that may contribute to human degradation and unnecessary suffering and costs.
To dress properly and modestly is an essential part of Islamic requirements. This is equally compulsory for both men and women, although the requirements of the latter are more stringent. As well, a male shall not imitate the dress codes of a female and vice versa. Muslim children are brought up to observe codes of modesty in all matters and made aware of the dangers of improper dress that is immodest or seductive.
Life Style and Popular Culture
This in many ways sums up the apparent dangers of our society today. An amoral life style leads inevitably to moral corruption and decay with ultimate consequences and many social evils - partying, casual sex, homosexual behaviour, theft, consumption of intoxicants and drugs, etc. Popular culture adds to these maladies in which children feel it is an adventure to do certain things despite the apparent dangers associated with such acts. Muslim children are raised to believe that adherence to a morally upright Islamic way of life is the correct lifestyle and key to their success and a sound and healthy society.
In light of the very serious cultural/religious concerns of Muslims in raising their children in todays society, the mandate of YJCs must go beyond simply providing alternative measures or mechanisms to deal with violations of any kind away from the regular court system. Societys right to be protected from criminal behaviour is hardly attainable and tantamount to being absurd if the causes of criminal behaviour are not addressed or ideally removed. Much of the attitude, mindset and conduct of children today are institutionally conditioned. The law or the system often sends the wrong signals. Examples abound.
Like adults, youths comprise an integral part of society and their actions may themselves be the result of the kinds of values that are consciously being promoted in society. As much as the program would like to insist that offenders must acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions, society itself and especially the administration and all related institutions and agencies must first acknowledge that they themselves assume equal responsibility for their roles in creating a society with an atmosphere and the conditions conducive to the commission of morally wrong things and crimes. Commission of a crime, such as theft for example or any public nuisance, is a moral wrong as much as it may be a legal offence. That is why it is of paramount importance that parents strive to discipline their children in a manner that would prevent them from committing offences in the first place; the institutions deal with the issues only after the offences are committed - that is too late. The following recommendations may thus prove useful in assisting the YJCs to deal with youth offences as they occur and help to lessen or eradicate their occurrences in the first place from a culturally sensitive point of view.
The major emphasis of the recommendations are aimed at dealing with the presumed causes of offences. Many offences are committed not because of the lack or improper knowledge of the law but the absence of a strong moral code or belief system and morality may have more to do with the rehabilitation of offenders than simply the mechanical application/enforcement of rules or laws. The following recommendations are made:
No criminal record should be kept against any youth for any offence committed as a minor and no youth should be incarcerated even if the matter went through the regular court system. We should work to preserve our children and youths, not destroy them.
As responsible citizens, we hope that the policy makers would appreciate the seriousness of the causes of juvenile delinquency and youth crimes, the enormous responsibilities they must shoulder and the sacred public trust that is at stake. We need to work together for the higher good of society and humankind. Nothing should be done, in any shape or form, directly or indirectly, to undermine strong moral values. Good, strong moral value is the best police force, the best crime prevention strategy, the best rehab-facilitator and the best means to combat recidivism.