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By Selma Cook
With the current climate of unrest between the Muslim and non-Muslim community as well as the emergence of violent Muslim youth gangs, there is a growing need to accommodate young Muslims in terms of spirituality and skills development.  In response to this need a number of girls’ clubs are popping up around the London south-eastern suburbs.
The coordinator of one such club, Um Abdullah, along with her friend, Um Adam, focus on girls between the ages of 13 and 16 but she will accept any girl who would like to attend. Having two teenage girls of her own, Umm Abdullah saw the need to have Dawah sessions and general activities for the Muslim youth. She sees the need to strengthen the girls’ identity so most of the program is formulated and directed by the girls themselves under her cheerful supervision.

Commenting on what skills the girls need, Um Abdullah said, ‘Here we teach the girls communication skills including listening skills and public speaking. Many times the girls find it necessary to speak about their beliefs and standards and so we try to help them by giving them impromptu talks and doing role plays.’
Peer Pressure
Some of the most significant problems occur when the girls are changing from attending an Islamic primary school to attending regular high school. The peer group pressure is enormous but after having attended Islamic primary school the fifteen girls who were present at this particular club evening all agreed that they had a strong foundation in Islamic knowledge, and hence confidence.
 One girl related a story of when she attended a camp at her school and she was the only Muslim wearing a scarf. She expressed her experience in a balanced way, pointing out the positive and negative aspects of this trip.
Social Interaction
Apart from skills development the girls also make firm friendships. Coming from a variety of ethnic backgrounds the girls feel free and comfortable to interact with many kinds of people. One fifteen-year-old commented that she had just taken part in ‘China week’ at her school and had met people from the Chinese community. She related her experience to the other girls who were genuinely interested in this event. The girls are non-judgemental and open to cultures other than their own.
As the girls interact throughout their time together it is noticeable how they correct each other’s manners and behaviour and this is done kindly and gently. They are taught to speak honestly and directly and to express themselves clearly.
Um Abdullah added, ‘This club gives the girls an opportunity to tell their news and talk about their problems and achievements. For many it is the only time they feel free to do this.’ 
Many of the girls come from single parent families and there is a close bond between them and their mothers. One girl’s mother commented, ‘Parents are very worried about their teenagers and we are willing to do anything to keep them on the right way.’
The same, however, can not be said for the boys. Um Abdullah commented, ‘We have been trying for ages to get the brothers involved in organizing this kind of thing for the boys but everyone has an excuse.’ As it is not acceptable in the UK Muslim community for women to organize groups and activities for young men, many of the male youth are getting involved in gangs and quite a few are getting into trouble with the law.
Girls' Experience!
The girls’ club organizes activities like Dawah sessions, role plays, speeches, communication, trips, sports, cookery, makeovers, and fashion shows. In an informal friendly setting the girls learn and experience the spirit of Islam. The girls were unanimous in their comments about the after-school madrases that many of them attend saying that they are ‘formal and dry and totally not enjoyable’.
I had the pleasure of asking this group of girls some questions and this is what they said:
Q. What is good about living in the UK?
A. Education! Compared to France, the UK is free and allows us to wear hijab. In the UK we have swimming and there are laws to protect your rights.
Also, here we are free to express ourselves. But there aren’t a lot of Muslims and so we get stared at a lot and there are bad influences and sometimes families are broken up or far apart. You have to be strong to live here but it’s hard to be Muslim anywhere in the world.
Q. Why are some Muslims violent?
A. There is a lack of education and it must have something to do with the way they were raised. Sometimes people become Muslim for the wrong reasons. Some people are attracted to Islam because the Muslims help each other and protect each other. And sometimes it’s cool to be Muslim and being in a Muslim gang; it’s like one big family taking care of each other. But Islam is telling us not to hate.
Q. What would make it easier to be Muslim in the UK?
A. Some Muslim women don’t dress properly and that makes us feel shy because then non-Muslims think all Muslims should be like those who don’t dress properly. Girls who are practicing are always being compared to girls who aren’t.
If the media was more objective, people would not think so many negative things about us. We have to continually prove ourselves and tell people that we are not violent and that we are not oppressed!
We also need more classes and activities and we want to get more involved in humanitarian work. People think we can’t do anything. Sometimes they think we can’t speak English properly.
We also want to be closer to our families but there aren’t many activities for families to attend together.   

This article was first published on youth 4 the future at islamonline.net