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Youth Organizations

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Youth Organizations

    Youth organizations have played a key role in the cultural and political revival of Islam since the 1960s. They have provided leaders for Islamic political parties and have had a significant influence on the return to traditional values and beliefs in Muslim societies. The most prominent Islamic youth organizations are student movements and revival movements that draw support and members mainly from young people. Population trends in Muslim countries have caused some forms of Islamic revivalism to become closely associated with youth.

    Islamic Student Movements.

    Student movements typically emerge in societies where Islamic revival has already become an important political force. Some groups, such as Pakistan's Islamic Society of Students, are directly connected to a specific political party. Others, including Egypt's Islamic Societies, maintain ties to various Islamic political parties and groups. Still others, such as the Indiana-based Muslim Student Association of North America, operate independently.

    Despite organizational differences, Islamic student movements share some similar characteristics. All of them have developed partly as a reaction to the activities of radical organizations on various campuses. For example, at times the Pakistani regime has encouraged the Islamic Society of Students to suppress leftist activity at universities. Islamic student movements have also produced reformist leaders and activists. Some of the leaders of Iran's 1979 revolution were former members of the Muslim Student Association of North America.

    Islamic student movements have spread the ideals of revival on campuses through speeches, meetings, and publications. Some also try to enforce a strict code of ethics. They have been very successful at winning campus elections, and this has led other political forces—both Islamic and secular—to increase their efforts to gain student support. Consequently, the level of political awareness and activity among students as a whole has increased.

    The power of Islamic student movements stems from the sense of community that they provide. On campus, such organizations act as aid societies for students from small towns and rural areas. By offering the services of tutors and help with academic and administrative problems, they win supporters. These efforts have helped youth organizations plant the seeds of Islamic revival among people who are not usually reached by political parties.

    A Broader Base.

    Several prominent Islamic revivalist movements began as youth movements and later developed into political parties. This was especially true during the early years of contemporary Islamic revivalism, when political and religious protest tended to originate among the youth. Although the focus of these groups has shifted from the campus to the larger society, they continue to draw much support from young people. For example, the Iranian Mujahidin and Iran's Charitable Society of the Hidden Imam both recruited heavily among high school and university students during the 1960s and 1970s. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 , the latter group joined the new government. The Mujahidin, however, became a major voice of dissent.

    Unlike Islamic student movements, these revivalist movements have always functioned primarily as antigovernment protest organizations. They also have a broader base of support than student movements. The Charitable Society of the Hidden Imam, for example, is popular among government officials, the ulama, the armed forces, merchants, and artisans, as well among students. Unlike student movements, revivalist groups generally enjoy consistency in leadership and membership because their leaders and members do not leave the organization upon completion of their studies.

    Changing Population.

    The emergence of Islamic revival movements has occurred at the same time as a population shift in the Muslim world. In recent years, the percentage of young people in Muslim nations has grown dramatically, and in many regions their numbers continue to rise. This development has put pressure on the economies of those countries, which cannot create enough jobs to employ all the job seekers. With fewer adults contributing to the economy, the governments in many Islamic countries cannot provide adequate public services. This situation has led to great frustration and anger among the youth, who see little hope of a better life.

    Such conditions have caused many young people to turn to opposition political groups to cure their social ills. The most important of these groups have been Islamic revivalist organizations. Thus, the politics of these movements have come to reflect the frustrations and demands of the young. But even though youth organizations have had a significant political role in the Islamic world, their main contribution is not political. Instead, it is in the important part they have played in spreading Islamic thought and practice among new generations who will lead future Muslim societies. See also Islam: An Overview; Mujahidin; Universities.

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