What are the steps parents can take in dealing with a youth involved in Gangs?
If we look at the youth, we can see that there are particular phases, which youth go through when they join a gang. They don’t just wake up one morning and decide to become a gangster! It is a gradual process that they go through.
There are 3 basic stages:
Interest and Admiration
This stage occurs with youngsters’ aged 7-9. ‘Interest’ is seeing those who are gang members as successful, in the sense that they have money, prestige, big and fast cars, fancy dresses (Nike, Jordan) and all other ‘supposed’ symbols of success. They are looked at as heroes. In spite of the system, they have made it.
- Once you see this happening, as a parent, you need help. You need to seek help. Something is happening which you don’t know how to deal with. You are in a difficult situation because you are limited to what you can do. The amount of time you get to spend with your children is limited because both of you are working. Therefore, if it is something, which is beyond your ability to handle by yourself, you need professional help. This is the first step, to recognize that you need help. This will help you to catch things at the very beginning before they go beyond your ability, even with help.
- Such young people may be helped through group therapy, sitting them down with other people of the same age, and discussing things which are on their mind. Clarify for them, that what they feel is attractive, and successful, in reality, isn’t. All this, in order to get them back on track, to have a proper view of the reality of life.
- Educate them about substance abuse, because that is the next stage, which is going to be a common factor. They must be educated about how they have to reject it when it is offered to them. Otherwise they will get into these practices without your knowledge, and once they get involved in it, it is extremely difficult to bring them back.
- Parents having similar problems should come together and form parenting groups. Parents who have children who are at risk should share their problems and discuss different strategies to handle such children with the help of psychologists.
- The most important thing that is missing from the picture is the relationship between the child and Islam. Obviously, something has gone wrong. The Islamic connection is missing. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) had instructed us to teach our children Salah by 7 years of age. They should ‘know’ Salah does not mean only knowing the physical movements –‘the monkey salah’, not this. The Sahaba informed us that there were amongst them those who led their whole community at Salah at the age of 6. This was because they had memorized most of the Qur’an. The Prophet (ﷺ) had said the one who knows most of the Qur’an has to lead the Salah. He has to know what is wudu, what breaks it, what has to be done when it is broken in Salah, Sujood as Sahw, and all other things related to Salah. Knowing Qur’an, does not mean plain memorization of Qur’an, but along with that all the important matters relating to Salah. Children should know all this at the age of 6. This kind of knowledge should be connected with a consciousness of Allah. They should know that the prayer is not to please their parents, but for Allah alone. One of the mistakes that tend to happen in the early stages between 3 to 6 years, wherein personalities are developed, is that we in advertently train them to pray in order to please us. This is something, which is natural at 3. The child sees you standing to pray, so he/she prays along with you, and you say MashaAllaah! It touches your heart and others around you, it is impressive. The child sees that you are happy with it, and does it again. Now, if you allow this to grow as it is, then the child identifies pleasing parents with this act and so they will do it merely to please the parents, as they grow older with a better conscious. If they are upset with you, all they need is to pray! It becomes a powerful tool in their hands. So we need to connect them with the idea that this act of worship is not to please parents but to please Allah. Parents are pleased because Allah is pleased. The children are seeing the parents, but you need to get them back to Allah. You need to make them understand that it is Allah that is pleased and that is of utmost importance. In that way, even when you are not around, they will pray because they know that it is Allah that they are pleasing. But if they are doing it only for their parents, then when you are not around, they will not pray. This is the essence of riyaa’. The Prophet said "Of the things which I fear for my Ummah, the thing which I fear most is minor Shirk (Shirk al Khafi). Then he was asked about minor Shirk, and he said: It is ar-riyaa. While on one hand, this is natural for little children, but as they grow older, we have to nurture and give it real meaning. And this goes back to the parents. If for them Salah is just a duty for Muslims to do, for some only on Fridays and Ramadan, then what can be expected from the children. There will be no chance for you to elevate the chances in your children because you are not yourselves good examples. So first and foremost, for you to be able to nurture that consciousness, you have to be clear about your prayers. That you are truly praying to please Allah, you are not praying as a cultural ritual. I, being based in the Middle East, during my dawah, often people say that they see their manager, supervisor, pray all the time. They pray Dhur, ‘Asr, Maghrib, etc. But they say that he cheats them! He doesn’t give them proper wages, makes them work overtime and doesn’t pay them. They ask me, “What is the value of such a prayer?” I only reply Allahu ‘alam. Because Allah clearly says, Salah prevents evil speech and evil deeds, so how could someone be so contentious in their prayer and at the same time oppressing the people Allah has put them in charge of. It is contradictory. It only means that there is something wrong with their prayer and not with the They are not praying the prayer that Prophet (ﷺ) taught. They are praying the monkey prayer! ‘Monkey see, monkey do.’ An individual’s prayer is supposed to change a person’s attitudes, his Eemaan, his emotions, his tongue, and his actions.
So in the first stage, we need help externally but we also need to work internally because external help is the last resort. If we have our programme in order, then we wouldn’t be faced with this. So it means that something is wrong, we have to correct what is inside first, so that the combined effort InshaAllaah will bring about a change.
The Introductory Level (10-13 year old): The gangs, seeing that these youngsters are admiring them, give them small jobs to do, which makes them feel more attached to the gang. They give them the job of looking out for the cops. They are the ‘lookout’. They give them that type of jobs.
At this stage, you definitely need help.
- The group therapy is not enough, they will need to sit with psychotherapists and others who can talk and walk them through their situation to get them back on track.
Full Membership (14-21 years): Now they have become full members of the gang.
- At this point, when you are dealing with an individual who insists that he wants to smoke dope in the home, you have to bid him farewell. You have to put your foot down because you have to protect the rest of the home. If you do not have the authority to maintain a clean home, then all the other kids will fall into the same situation.
- If you are able to intervene, you will have to admit the child to substance abuse programs. Of course, this will only work when they realize that they have hit rock bottom, because you have kicked them out, and life on the street is not so easy. Only when they want to change, can these programs help.
- The Mosque: The mosque plays a big role in such situations. You should have them involved in the activities of the masjid. There should be youth programs in the masjid especially for this age group because they are most at risk.
- Employment: Since most of them have dropped out of school, we must have jobs available for them to re establish themselves in the community, to find a base for themselves. We have many Muslims who have businesses. We should be able to process the youth who are at least trying to pull themselves back together. We should try to create opportunities where they can engage themselves in wholesome works providing them with alternatives. This does not mean you gain him a scholarship for Medina. This guy was a gang member, a drug addict, what do you think he will do in Medina? Will he transform into an angel all of a sudden? He is going to go there and do the same thing, because there is dope there too! If you are looking for it, you will find it. To send such a young person to Medina or a Madrasah, as is typically done, is simple chaos. This is not the solution. The Madrasahs are not the place for troubled youth. This has been a tradition in the Muslim community, especially in the Indo-Pak region, to send the failing, troubled kids to Madrasas. These bad kids go there, and the people in the Madrasah are from the previous generation, what do they do? They beat the kids! They will twist their ears, arms and kick them! This is a huge problem that we need to tackle. This is not a solution, because those who go to a Madrasah are going there to become teachers of the Qur’an. They should be the cream of the Muslim society so that when they come out as the best, they will give their best. But when you put in them the worst, the bottom dwellers, the ‘garbage in, garbage out’! He may be called a maulana, but he was garbage in and yes he is garbage out. This is not a solution; we need to tackle this problem, which is a global problem that Muslims face today.
So we have to tackle the gang from the earliest stages before it reaches this level. Once they become full members, they are lost cases, in most scenarios. There is no bringing them back. It only reduces to picking their body from the morgue and burying them and we do not want to be in that position.
 Imam Ahmad< Back to Questions