Muslim youth: trapped in the past, embracing the present

Muslim youth: trapped in the past, embracing the present 

by Giulia Bortoletto

TORONTO – It was mid September, TIFF time in Toronto, when I saw the world première of Sheikh Jackson. The theatre was packed and my friends (mostly Muslim-Arabs) told me that it was the first time that they saw so many middle easterners gathered in one single place.

Shot in Egypt, Sheikh Jackson is the story of a young imam that goes through an identity crisis when he hears on the radio that Michael Jackson, his childhood idol, died. While remembering the king of pop, he also jumps in his past when he wasn’t very religious and he wanted to live in a more westernized fashion. Moreover the imam has vivid memories of those times especially because of the difficult relationship with his father who was against the son’s habits.

And isn’t this what’s generally happening with the new Muslim generation?


This movie is a small representation of the daily situation lived by young Muslim men and women all over the world. As the imam remembered his teen years pretending to be the pop star, he is still undecided whether he prefers more that lifestyle of the more puritan that he’s currently living.


Although Muslim parents teach to be a good Muslim, meaning that they should do all the daily prayers, not drink alcohol, not eat pork, fast during Ramadan, marry who they are allowed to and so forth, sometimes these new adults do not always follow the rules. They don’t do it because they want to displease their relatives but just because they’re influenced by the modern society.

A first factor could be the influence of social media where they can connect with people from all over the world and see how their peers behave and lead their life. The temptation of “breaking the rules” becomes stronger and all they want is try themselves if partying is fun or if drinking will take them to hell.

Ahmed Malek sj2

Ahmed Malek in the movie

On the other hand, the family is a very important pillar in the culture and in order to not hurt their beloved ones, most of the time they hide what they do or their lifestyle. Perhaps if the society was a little more flexible and less judgmental and conservative, they would not be forced to lie to their families.

In addition, due to the past and current migratory flows, the Muslim population spread all over the world counting nearly 3.5 million in North America and the Caribbean and almost 43.5 million in Europe. Flying away from their nests, they met other cultures and integrated in new societies leading to the children being born in these foreign countries to follow the host country’s lifestyle. This resulted in mixed marriages, change of religions, lost of identity and new traditions being adopted.

Ahmed Malek sj

Ahmed Malek at an event for the movie screening

Lastly, the middle eastern stars sometimes are judged as being not the best example to follow. For instance, the main character in the movie Ahmed El Fishawy is a well-known celebrity in the Middle East not only for his acting but also for his scandals related to drinking in public, doing drugs and having tattoos. He has been and is harshly criticized and labelled as a sinner not only for his behaviours but also, and primarily, because he does not hide them, doing what he does publicly.

Of course, each and every one of us has a different background and different ways of thinking. Despite our personal religious beliefs, I have found the movie very interesting not only because the majority of the actors went through the same situations as their characters (as said in many interviews), but also because the film leads the public to a self-analysis: who are we? What do we believe in? Are our beliefs right or wrong? Did he/she/them really exist? What is our mission? Many of these questions are asked everyday by teenagers, adults, boys, girls, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs…

I don’t have an answer to these questions, enquiries that can arouse a sense of instability, as it is clearly displayed in the movie. Nevertheless, I believe that expanding our knowledge and trying different things cannot be considered sinful; if done consciously can lead us to wonderful discoveries, especially about ourselves.

I also personally believe in the value of traditions and I reckon learning about foreign cultures and new ways of thinking to be fascinating. However, as the world goes on, many elements are changing and the strongest traditions and rules are going to become softer when influenced by external factors. Perhaps teaching about the traditions as heritage to be proud of and to cultivate despite of imposing it with fear and forcing it, would catch more attention and could be accepted as a treasure to preserve and pass from one generation to the other.

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