There’s a new language being taught in mosques across North America. For many people, it’s foreign, but Professor Omar Malik thinks it’s the language of the future.
Malik, a highly skilled software engineer and a part-time professor at Wayne State University, wants Muslims to learn computer code. So he started a unique educational program that turns mosques into part-time IT programming hubs where young people can turn their enthusiasm for technology into a useful skill set by learning Java, C++, .NET, HTML, SQL, XML, and Python.
“We complain that our youth play video games and [are] on their phones 24/7, but technology is hard to avoid nowadays,” Malik told me. “Imagine teaching them how to build their own educational games and Android apps to benefit humanity. That way they are building something useful, not wasting time.”
Malik was born in Canada to a Muslim Pakistani couple. He attended the AlMaghrib Institute and obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies. Growing up, Malik felt the need to connect his passion for IT programming with his Muslim faith as a way of building bridges and educating people with valuable skills. After moving to the U.S. from Canada, Malik held leading positions at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler in Michigan, but he was always a teacher at heart.
Malik’s work in mosques began when he ran youth groups and summer camps. From there, he started giving motivational speeches to youth in mosques throughout Michigan. That’s when Malik realized that most mosques are unoccupied spaces for most of the week, when not being used for prayer. So he asked the imams if he could use the mosques to teach community members coding as a second language.
Malik, a father to three young children, says youth who spend a lot of time playing video games and on computers feel “techy,” but don’t really understand the language of the tech world. So he offered to implement IT programming into the curriculum that students are receiving in the Islamic centers and mosques, as well as a video game development course for youth who want to take their passion for gaming to the next level.
It’s also become a great way to engage Muslim women, although challenges remain.
“Females make up less than 10% of my audience in mosques and Islamic centers,” Malik told a South Florida Muslim Young Professionals networking group earlier this month in Hollywood, Florida.
It’s not just an issue with Muslims. Only 18% of computer science majors in the United States are women, according to according to a 2016 study by Accenture and Girls Who Code.
Malik says he’s combating the stigma that IT programming is only for men. The women who have joined his IT classes say breaking down the barriers of stigma is the first step to breaking down barriers in the workplace, too.
“Today, more now than ever before, Muslim women are being ostracized in the workforce. Due to the perception some people have of Muslims, qualified Muslim women will often get overlooked for positions. One remedy for that is to have a set of invaluable skills,” said Leslie Stewart-Hood, member of South Florida Muslim Young Professionals. “In today’s technology-driven environment, programming can give Muslim women a skill set employers cannot ignore.”