Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
On our flight over to Houston yesterday, Priya, Madina and I ended up sitting next to a woman who was expecting her first child. I ended up in the middle seat as the two discussed things only an expecting mother could discuss with a mother. At one point we asked if she knew what she was having and she said, "A boy thankfully. I am so relieved." As she went on to explain why, she said having a girl would be a lot more work, especially as the girl got older and into her teens. There would be more rules and different tensions, while with a boy, you can just let them do whatever they want and not worry about it.
It was slightly comforting -- but only slightly -- to see that the pervasive "boys will be boys" mindset that lets boys get away with anything while girls are treated totally differently exists beyond the Muslim community. In reality, though, it's quite problematic. Undeniably we raise our daughters differently from our sons. At times we even raise our daughters as if they were sons. Unfortunately, we lack the wisdom and strength to raise our sons the way we raise our daughters, and what we are left with is many young men who don't know how to be men.
The issue that escapes us is how it's unfair to young boys and men that we don't expect more from them. Automatically our tone and tenor changes to denial or outright refusal when this issue is raised, the result of which is a cycle that perpetuates itself of young men not knowing how to reach their potential or being creative in their own sense of aspiration. Instead, they end up being quite immature, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and lagging behind in their personal emergence of adulthood, especially when compared to their female counterparts.
As a young man myself, I personally don't think that's fair to me. I wish I had more direction and mentorship growing up. I had the blessing of being surrounded by great friends, a father who was generous and hard-working, an older brother that I tried to be like in every way possible, but at the end of the day didn't really have anyone setting me straight on how the world worked and what I was really supposed to be offering to it as a young man. No one taught me about real character, integrity, honor, fidelity or discipline. I didn't have conversations on relationships, how to treat women, or sex and sexuality. My intellect and sense of personal responsibility wer not compelled beyond anything that I compelled them towards. And the worst part was, I didn't even realize it. I was content hanging out until late hours, getting away with things that I knew I wasn't supposed to do but didn't know why not, playing video games and working out, not reading, not writing, and not being informed of the world around me and everything that was taking place in it. I didn't know any better and no one helped me to think otherwise. How is that fair to me?
My female students, community members, friends and relatives are usually steps ahead of their male counterparts. I see such raw potential in the young men who I am blessed to interact with, but their process of socialization and upbringing has been their biggest obstacle in realizing what they can actually be. The ones that usually distinguish themselves are those whose mothers played a key role in their upbringing.
If you are a young man, take steps towards really benefiting from the freedoms you've been afforded. Seek out mentorship and friends that will help you to reach your best. Take the time to step away from what everyone else does and figure out what you think makes the most sense to be doing with your time. Just because the world you live in lets you get away with most thing doesn't make it okay. Anyone can at the end of the day get a girl to go out with them. Anyone can be popular and athletic. Anyone can tell crude jokes or be tough and make fun of those that are weaker than they are. Not everyone steps up to responsibility, though, when the time comes. Not everyone takes on challenges instead of running away from them. Not everyone knows how to honor the rights of those around them. Not everyone knows how to admit they make mistakes and then do right by them. Not everyone knows how to have confidence in themselves and what they have to offer to the world. But at the end of the day anyone can be a boy, not everyone knows how to be a man. If it is in fact, a "Man's World," then at least let's fill it with better men.