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Research to Practice: Building Supportive and Inclusive Programming for American Muslim Youth

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An Interview with Sameera Ahmed, Ph.D., Director of The Family & Youth Institute

In today’s environment, incidents of bullying against Muslim youth have risen, resulting in concern for schools and youth organizations. I spoke with Sameera Ahmed, Ph.D., Director of The Family & Youth Institute and a leading researcher on American Muslim youth, about what mentoring practitioners can do to build supportive and inclusive programs that meet the needs of Muslim youth and families, while promoting the safety and inclusion of all participants.

Where should mentoring practitioners looking to serve Muslim youth effectively begin? Dr. Ahmed believes that we must start by realizing that Muslim youth are not a homogenous group. While they may share a faith, there are many within-group differences that practitioners should consider in order to be effective. In addition to their religious identities, Muslim youth have other intersecting identities (e.g. race, gender, socio-economic, citizenship) that impact their lives. For example, a young black Muslim male may experience different challenges than a young white Muslim youth, a refugee youth, or a third generation immigrant female who wears a hijab (head covering)—despite all sharing the same faith. The intersection of identities often influences a young person’s view of their world, and in turn, how “the world” views them.

Dr. Ahmed emphasized that we cannot ignore the hate and ostracism experienced by Muslim young people and their families. These experiences may take many forms, from prejudice in the media we consume, to microaggressions faced by Muslim youth daily, to intimidation or hate crimes against Muslims in communities across the nation. Youth development professionals must acknowledge these experiences, provide opportunities for youth to express their fears and concerns in safe settings, and help them channel their energy in healthy ways. Dr. Ahmed noted that if programs who serve Muslim youth don’t address these issues head on, young people may feel ignored or that their experience doesn’t matter.

Dr. Ahmed and her team at The FYI recently published “The State of American Muslim Youth: Research and Recommendations”. This report outlines eight areas of recommendations for youth-serving organizations which may be valuable to mentoring practitioners seeking to create culturally inclusive, safe and supportive youth mentoring programs. The FYI has also worked in collaboration with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to develop two webinars: “Helping Educators and Counselors Prevent Bullying of and Discrimination Against our Nation's Muslim Youth” and “Strategies for Educators, Counselors, and Community Members To Build Protective Factors for America’s Muslim Youth”. These webinars inform educators on how to prevent bullying as well as build the resilience and strength of youth. 

If you are interested in learning more, please visit The Family Youth Institute website.

Here are some additional resources from other organizations that may be helpful to agencies serving Muslim young people:

Melissa Seidenberg is the Program Associate for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. In her role, she supports the OJJDP National Mentoring Resource Center Technical Assistance (TA) delivery process for mentoring programs nationwide.

The full version of this blog was published on Dec. 20, 2016 by the National Mentoring Resource Center Blog. It has been edited for length and clarity.