Over 7-8 December 2019, three delegates from New Zealand joined more than 250 delegates to attend and participate in the “First International Youth Forum” of the World Muslim Communities Council  in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

The program involved speakers from across the globe discussing multiple issues.

How should future leadership evolve, based on the lessons of experience and expertise? What role does citizenship and faith play in the era of new media forms? What lessons can be drawn for social inclusion from community engagement in terms of inter-faith activities and practices? How is the rapid change in software affecting the approaches to Islamic jurisprudence, education and etiquette? What can be learnt from entrepreneurship and philanthropy?

The delegates agreed that to build and sustain hope in the future, youth needed to focus on three priorities: a sense of autonomy and agency over their own lives and affairs, a belief in explicit values, and participation in a community, a shared group working towards the same goals.

The keynote speech by Dr Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi acknowledged the potential talent for leadership that required creative and innovative answers. His presentation incorporated composite definitions of faith and happiness, and focused on how religious communities should create and maintain equality, understanding and good relations despite regional differences.

He highlighted the fact that youth groups need to be involved and integrated into progressive communal relationships with older generations, so that the distinctive cultural or religious communities were no longer perceived as unusual or hostile. He reminded listeners repeatedly of the significance of the structural frameworks and underlying philosophies now leading this sensitive topic.

Muslims (as individuals) and Islamic agencies (as institutions) have a duty to inform and educate themselves regarding both theological and secular issues in an era of mass industry and vulpine global capitalism; in order to fully understand how Muslims produced religious meaning one needs to study the basic texts of the faith, comprehend how they have been read, and their multifaceted relationships to one another and to social, legal, and state processes.

To articulate matters succinctly, Dr Al Nuaimi suggested it was not so much that individual action is conditioned by context but that subjectivity (in both its conscious and unconscious forms) is itself a product of contextuality. In short, the perspective recounted here argued more than overly simplistic ideological dialectics or theological polemics.

The highlight of the conference was the speech of Mr Ibragimov Isa Magomed-Khabievich, the Minister of Youth in Chechenya. He spoke eloquently of the accomplishments of the republic over the past 15 years in fostering a positive environment for local youth under the wise governance of Ramzan Kadryov. In a bold challenge, he urged young people to remain honest, upright and connected in their emotional development.

In the final analysis the youth conference was a huge success. There is an insatiable thirst for hope, meaning and social cohesion in the world today, so ideally there should be a pragmatic but moral ethic underpinning any religious strictures.