On most Saturdays, Taleb offers Teen Talk, an interactive group discussion about relevant issues. In addition to the discussions, he said he and young adult volunteers have taken the youths on social outings to a local trampoline center, bowling and popular restaurants. The group held a Super Bowl watch party a few weeks ago and Oklahoma City Thunder watch parties are ongoing. Taleb said he also is leading the youth to participate in ongoing community service projects with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Habitat for Humanity and other agencies.
He said an important part of the Friday and Saturday night gatherings is Halaqa, a traditional religious study circle or gathering.
Soltani said the priority for youth-oriented Halaqa will help ensure that participating young Muslims develop a strong identity in their Muslim faith. He said he grew up in Kansas in an interfaith family in which his father was Muslim and his mother was Roman Catholic. He said he lacked a Muslim identity and went through a lengthy process to try to discover who he was “and essentially not get lost in society.”
“That's one thing that happens to Muslim kids — some get lost because they have lots of challenges,” Soltani said. “Now they can bond with kids who are similar to them. They will learn how they can be a better Muslim, a better Oklahoman and a better American.”
Community's journey evolves
Enchassi said the evolution of the Islamic Society's youth program can be likened to a “journey” that started in the metro area several decades ago. He said the families that formed the Islamic Society decided to offer a youth program they called Sunday school at the mosque. When more Muslim families began participating in mosque activities, the society leaders started the Mercy School, he said.
Enchassi said the next step was the addition of a youth center which was completed at the end of 2012. He said the youth center was built to address the youths' recreational needs and to house the youth programs now being led by Taleb.
He said the youth director is meeting the Islamic Society's expectations with his interfaith bridge building efforts and the way he has quickly become respected and loved by youths who participate in various activities.
“It's a mindset and a way of life,” Enchassi said.
“We're trying to positively integrate our youth within the American society.”