Spotlight: Mohammed Kibriya
By: Hanan Seid
Walking into the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center were often going straight into the designated Musallah (prayer rooms) or listen to the Jummah (Friday) lectures. Not noticing that underneath the blue rugs lies a youth department where Br. Mohammed Kibriya had been working as the acting youth director for the past five years. To start off the prospective spotlight series I want to focus on a secret community gem hidden in the basement youth lounge. Here is his story:
Q-What started you off on this journey of religiosity?
I grew up in a restricted household. I didn’t have much choice when we lived in Bangladesh. I couldn’t even choose the clothes I wore. When we moved to the states, my parents were busy with work and such, so I gained an overwhelming amount of choice and freedom. With that freedom, I lived a life of chasing money and fancy cars, yet I was still not satisfied with my life. Often felt as though I was running for something and when I got to the next thing; It left me empty. My soul was in search of something that my money couldn’t buy. Then I finally realized what I was looking for. Islam. I was always Muslim by name but not practicing. I took a more extreme route. If you didn’t wear a thob I didn’t want to talk to you. I had one image of Islam and what Muslims should be like. I learned so much from lectures, and now that I was religious I wanted everything to reflect my image of it. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops I found my answer and wanted others to do the same. I admit my approach wasn’t always the best. I went from extreme to lose, and I believe the best religiosity is in finding a balance.
We regularly see this in our masajids even today — men and women who are “awoken” to religion only to be continually judging of others. So we delve in unknowingly becoming judgemental of the people who we just were ten minutes ago. The new thob, new beard, new kufi, a new abaya, less makeup these are the exterior image of the awoken ready to debate you on religion and new muftis suddenly born from youtube lectures. Often after this phase, we rewind to old habits and slowly but surely gain our balance naturally.
Q-What got you into youth work specifically?
I just wanted to help people I wanted to scream the message “here is the purpose of life.” I took it too far in my approach. I learned how to approach people. I didn’t know much, but I wanted them to know what I did. I felt a responsibility to whatever knowledge I had. I tried to inspire the youth, not because I was the perfect role model but because I was inspired by the message and genuinely wanted them to know. I know how hard it is to find your identity. I had been in the field of life. I understood what they were going through because I went through it. The Jahalea (ignorant) life made me appreciate my experiences and humble myself. My sins kept me in check I am more relatable and understanding, and it made me less arrogant. I simply wanted to get to know them, all of them, the bad the good are all welcome.
In our interview, Br. Mohammed Kibriya brought up a concept that was important. I don’t think a lot of our parents and people understand that “if you put a person no matter their character into a room with smokers they will eventually join.” We can all talk about the big peer pressures and wouldn’t willingly fall into them. We also experience minute levels of peer pressure. The pressure to be included and have people look at us and not see the burdens that we may carry. Many people don’t understand. That the desire to be accepted can often dictate our lives and make us unknowingly fall into sin. Often we do try and turn to the masjid but its either far too clicky or too righteous so we’re afraid of being our natural selves.
Q- Do you have advice on the struggle to be accepted?
Its natural to seek acceptance, it’s hard to give general advice. No spotlight will deter you by accepting yourself first and God. Acceptance is internal. Be confident about your identity, and you won’t worry about others accepting you. It’s hard because of the way society is designed. Ive decided to step back in my journey. If God accepts me, then I’m good. But I wouldn’t want to give a generalized answer to everyone. I’m no scholar. Young people who want acceptance should turn to God. God who owns the spotlight that you’re trying so hard to fit into. Why turn anywhere else? If your name is mentioned in heaven why bother with being mentioned in some hashtag on earth?
Q- How has this work affected you in your personal life?
There is a hadeeth that talks about planting a seed and moving on. It says you shouldn’t wait for glory or expect anything to come back to you. This work has impacted me greatly I can’t even put it into words. I see mentees who I mentored ten years ago… it’s such an emotional moment when I see them. The feeling is indescribable. I’m not just thankful for the career but I’m also thankful for this journey. The many volunteers, mentees, and mentors that I have been able to learn from and grow with. Yes, I have a lot of negativity surrounding me, but I always have to set my intentions. I think of my son Jibril and my daughter Malak and how they could one day be impacted by the work that I do. Truly I am grateful for this journey.
Q- Any future goals/ aspirations?
I want to build a youth center dedicated to implementing programs that empower and inspire the youth. It would be a center specifically run by the youth themselves. A whole community center, not just a basement to continue the work with the youth.
In all of us, there is a journey of enlightening experiences that’ll take us from one spot to the next. One goal to the next goal. Maybe there is no gold and glory in our journey. Maybe our journey is filled with seeds and fruits that we will never get to eat… in this life. Whatever dream you have, whatever your journey your on, keep doing it. Despite any ramifications stand firm in what you believe you’re meant to do. Our first Spotlight deals with a lot of maturity, religion, and negativity. It’s about standing firm in the face of it all. It’s easy to point out what we don’t like in others but harder to point out what we need to fix in our selves. Religion is a beautiful walk take it in stride and take the time to find the balance that works for you. Your journey is your own. As I write this I’m learning to add this to my life, so thank you for joining in.
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey