On April 19 I was invited by the State Department to represent MFI at a 90-minute Digital Video Conference (DVC) with a group of Ghanian Muslim youth leaders at the US Embassy in Accra, Ghana. I was joined by Aly R. Abuzaakuk, Washington DC Office Director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and MFI Vice-President.
The format of the program was as follows: 1) A question submitted in advance by the Ghanian participants on a particular topic would be asked to us; 2) Aly and I would give our responses and; 3) our Ghanian colleagues would briefly provide us with their perspectives on the prepared question and our responses to that question.
The ‘meat and potatoes’ of the DVC began with the first question asking what American Muslims’ overall educational performance was. Aly first responded, noting that excellence in education is important to the Islamic ethos and that most American Muslim youth attend public schools. I added to his observations by noting that the average media household income for Muslims tends to be higher than the national average and college enrollment rates for Muslims are close to double the national average.
Our Ghanian colleagues responded by noting their problem was exactly the opposite: they had too many programs supporting local religious education, but not enough people enrolling in non-religious education schools and subjects like science, medicine and law. Those who do seek this education many times are forced to go to Christian schools where they become indoctrinated by Christian teachings and leave Islam.
Other questions about American Muslims youths’ interest in global politics, competitiveness in the national job market and connection of local civil society development to Muslims’ communal welfare were also asked.
Both Aly and I felt that there was a higher interest of global affairs among American Muslim youth, compared to other youth largely because higher education levels, the extremely diverse ethnic composition of the American Muslim community (at least 80 different countries), youths’ connection to fast means of communication technology (i.e. internet and television) and the negative political spotlight cast on Muslims at home and around the world.
Some Ghanian representatives responded by noting that while there is a keen interest in global affairs of Muslims, they are also extremely concerned about local issues and global poverty issues which tend to affect their communities the most.
Concerning the job market, one Ghanian Muslim woman noted that there were some cultural/spiritual problems with Muslims entering into the job market. In her personal observations she saw that many Muslims were getting jobs but would hide their identities when they became successful. Another individual felt differently, citing the lack of Muslim entry in Ghanian job market by citing the University of Ghana as an example, where there are 45,000 students, but only 5,000 are Muslim in a country that is 40% Muslim.
On our end, we responded by noting that while American Muslims are successful in the job market, according to our offhand observations, this is limited to certain career paths because of cultural reasons. Many immigrant parents, particularly those of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin encourage (or force) their children to become private physicians, engineers, information technology specialists, or businessmen and women. As a result there is an alarming lack of Muslims in humanities and social science majors who head into public policy careers.
Our time, like the space in this blog, was limited and could not allow further exploration of other questions, comments and general ideas exchanged. This and the occasional technical communication glitch were main drawbacks to the program. In particular I was extremely disappointed by the small amount of time with which we had to talk about local civil society growth and its connection to the welfare of Muslim communities in our respective nations.
Nevertheless I was able to exchange ideas with my fellow sisters and brothers in Islam from Ghana, contributing to our intellectual and spiritual growth. The experience was an incredibly enlightening and motivating event and I sincerely hope to contact and stay in touch with many of those brothers and sisters with whom I conversed with that day.
Alejandro J. Beutel
Minaret of Freedom Institute