Interview with Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin,
Executive President of Mainia Youth Forum
By Ashley Werner, Victor Sinow, and Neda Tejada
Insight: Please tell us about the Mainia Youth Forum and your humanitarian efforts and youth engagement.
Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin: The name Mainia comes from my grandfather, Mainuddin, and the organization mainly comes from his vision. My father founded the organization in 2013. Bangladesh has a very large youth population. A main goal of our organization was to steer youth away from drugs and crime and towards a path that motivates them to do something for their lives. Another principal goal is to stand for human rights. We have a high rate of rape cases here in Bangladesh. In 2018, we had people all around the country, in rural and urban areas, to talk to the people to tell them that this is not the way. This is not the way Islam teaches us to live our lives.
We also held campaigns in villages to change the culture of marrying young girls. We encouraged youth of the village not to attend, which would make older men ashamed to go through with the marriage. You can’t go in with arms and stop these things; you need to act in a very cultural way. When people feel shameful, then they stop themselves. At the moment we have 100 committees in areas all over Bangladesh, with 500 to 1000 youths participating in each area. Friends and friends of friends ended up not going to these child marriages in several of these areas.
We have managed to engage so many young people in these areas as a result of the organization my grandfather started with his followers in the 1980s called Anjumane Rahmania Mainia. This is the parent organization of Mainia Youth Forum and many of the youth that we have engaged since 2013 are children of those original members. That is how we have gained such great participation among people in these areas where my grandfather had a great following.
Insight: It sounds like you also have a significant focus on women’s rights. Can you please talk about that?
Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin: The majority of my grandfather and father’s followers were women. In Bangladesh, women’s representation is not given importance to the same extent as men. So our focus was to protect our mothers, our sisters and our daughters.
In the last 10 years, the government has made opportunities for young women to go into the work force, to go into schools and come out and get jobs. So we worked in tandem with those opportunities. The ones who want to be mothers, go ahead and become mothers. The ones who want to be in the workforce, go ahead and be in the workforce. That was our main goal, that they take their lives into their own hands.
We have started a project where we are trying to open centers in these 100 areas where we work, with rooms for computers and sewing machines. We are trying to help the young women of the community who would like to earn a living, but don’t have formal education. Men and women can come and learn how to use the computer, for example, for graphics development. We’re making these efforts to empower them.
Insight: Can you talk more about how you influence young people to make such a major change in their lives and a commitment to bettering their society?
Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin: The main core of our organization are the teachings of Tasawuf. My father travels to different areas where he gives lectures on Tasawuf and gives out free books on how to live according to Tasawuf.
Insight: You mentioned that your focus in 2023 will be on improving the environment in the global south. Why you did you choose that theme?
Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin: If you look at the effects of climate change, the initial effects are all upon the Global South. In Bangladesh, people don’t always think about how the rivers are getting dirty when the factories are dumping their waste into them. They don’t think about how clear-cutting forests is affecting their living conditions or how it will affect their living conditions in 10 years. Many people think that this is the path to development and that this is what you do to become a rich country, a developed country.
In 2020 and 2021, we had an initiative where we planted 50,000 trees around the country. When we saw such a good outcome from these efforts, we decided to focus specifically on improving the environment in 2023. This year, our focus includes clean drinking water solutions, planting trees and other ways of improving the environment.
The Awliya (the Friends of God) who came here from the Middle East, 1000 years ago, taught people to live your life with nature, in harmony with nature, not against nature. What we have to do is try to restart that in a way that goes in tandem with the 21st century.
Insight: What activities are you planning to improve the environment in 2023?
Shazada Seyed Mashuk Mainuddin: From January until March, we are planning a tree planting project in a hundred different villages where we work. From from April until June, we are holding small conferences in these rural areas and campaigns among the people regarding the environment. From July to September, we aim to work towards clean air in the major cities. Our plans are to clean selected drains and create awareness among the people of the cities regarding air pollution. From October to December, we will hold a major youth conference, where we will award our best performers throughout the year and we will invite dignitaries from around the world who represent youth organizations. We have a clean water initiative in November where we plan to open clean water wells in areas lacking them. Hopefully Allah gives us the blessing to go forward with this In Sha’Allah.
Edited for length and clarity