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  • Writer's pictureDetroit's Muslim Youth Council

Strong Children, Not Broken Men


There's a quote by the abolitionist Frederick Douglass that says, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Although it can be assumed that this quote is speaking about all children, it is also highly indicative of a prevalent issue I have personally witnessed: the treatment of young boys in immigrant communities. I am a Bengali Muslim woman, and the way my culture raises young men is something I am not always particularly fond of.

While there are always good and bad characteristics about everything and while I appreciate the helpful and productive teaching methods that are given to younger boys, there is always room for improvement. From my observations, age 8 is the “golden” year. In my community, little boys are expected to hold back their tears as soon as they reach age 8. They’re old enough to be reprimanded physically by the age of 8, and they’re old enough to be screamed at. They’re taught to “man up” at the mere age of 8, and although they may not be able to hold back their tears all the time, they develop the skill of stoicism as they grow up into men. They push all their feelings down, and anger is the only valid emotion they become comfortable with once they start to grow facial hair. It’s a cycle where I’m from. Be stern with your sons, don’t let them cry like women. They have to be strong all the time — even if “strong” has a skewed, un-islamic meaning. They’ll grow up to be talented individuals, but never understand emotions since they never had the chance to understand their own.

I’ve felt strongly about this for years, but it wasn’t until I learned about the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his male companions that I realized the depth of the issue we are currently facing. Masculinity in Islam has discipline, but it also has love. It is stern, yet also contains so much emotional intelligence. My passion for this issue has been reignited by my current employment at the Islamic Center of Warren, where I work with male children ages 5-8. Every time I come home from work, I have new reflections and new stories to share, so I thought I’d talk about a couple of my observations. Personally, I enjoy story telling and listening, so here’s a story about an 8 year old boy that I work with.

For privacy purposes, let’s call him Malik. Malik is 8 years old and physically, he looks older. We are currently in the Islamic Studies portion of our class, and my students are repeating the parts of Kalima Shahada after me. Malik was not reciting the Kalimah with everyone, so I asked him to recite it for the class and he told me that he doesn’t know it. I remind him that he needs to be saying it with everyone if he wants to memorize it, and we’re both ready to move on. I then look up at Malik and notice his mouth quivering. My worst fear had come true― I made a kid cry. All of my disciplinary energy completely melts as soon as I notice his tears, and I begin to ask him why he’s crying. I start asking questions like, “Is it too hard?”, “Are you feeling tired?”, “Are you feeling sad?” He says, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m having a meltdown.” His tone is frustrated and he’s profusely wiping his tears. In an attempt to comfort him, and possibly for an 8 year old, lighten his burden of participating when he’s frustrated, I tell him, “It’s okay Malik, you can cry until you feel better. You don’t have to say it with the class right now, but if you want to you always can.” Malik tells me that he’ll say the duas, and that he’s okay. He wasn’t.

It broke my heart a little bit as I saw him doing his best to compose himself and repeating the duas with tears still rolling down his cheeks. He felt embarrassed for crying, and he didn’t want to bring more attention to himself. He’s a little person with big emotions and he was doing his best. As an adult, I related to Malik. When you grow up, you have to do things regardless of if you like it or not. I recall completing assignments, mid mental breakdown. However, I couldn’t help but wonder why Malik was trying to control his tears at age 8. At age 19, I control my tears because I’m grown and I have to, but at age 8, crying is and should be the norm. Holding back your tears until they generate enough energy to punch a hole in the wall is not strength.What need does an 8 year old child have for doing everything in his power to fight his tears and not let them show? I wonder, if Malik was Malika, would she have fought herself for crying the same way he did? Would she have continued to say the duas with tears rolling down her cheeks? As Malik’s teacher, I hoped and prayed that I responded to his tears well. I wanted him to know that he’s allowed to be upset in my classroom, and he can just let his tears flow through until his heart feels lighter. I can’t assume why Malik was fighting his tears, and Allah (SWT) knows best.

I will say that Malik isn’t the first young boy that I’ve seen try to control himself for feeling sad. My job may be exhausting at times, but Malik’s tears are what made me realize that I need this. This was my way of helping little boys navigate through their emotions. It’s my way of teaching them that they should comfort one another and be affectionate with one another. Even if they are yelled at for their tears elsewhere, I can do everything in my power as their Sister Rukyah to allow them to cry when they feel like it. As much as I wish I could always guide them through their emotions, my power is limited but my duas aren’t. That day, I made dua that God allows for all of my students to grow up to be strong minded, kind, emotionally intelligent individuals.

There are so many different reasons why I want to serve my community, and men’s mental health is definitely one. I believe in preventive care and tackling an issue from the root, so if we want strong believing men, we must raise them the way Islam instructs us to. We should look at the kind of man the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was, and teach our boys about the most perfect masculinity from the most perfect human being. Most importantly, we should be doing everything in our power to remove this stigma on boys’ mental health. I want to work my hardest to have more conversations on how we can raise our boys to have Prophetic character and how we can teach them that our beautiful religion validates their tears, even if their culture may not sometimes.

To bring this all full circle, the discussions and activities at DMYC have undoubtedly helped me to discover my passion for this. More specifically, the first hadith of the week that we went over says, “Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, and both of them have goodness…” (Muslim). We are all striving to be strong believers and to cultivate characteristics of strong believers in our youth― and it all begins at the golden age of 8.


for anyone that may be seeking mental health support or have a loved one that may need mental health support, please seek appropriate care:

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Rumyah Rafique
Rumyah Rafique
Jul 20, 2023

Beautifully written and so important! May Allah allow us to raise men that are as soft and kind as our prophet.


Jul 19, 2023

This is so beautiful and well written! The mental heath of men definitely needs more attention. Well done Rukyah!

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