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The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

How do Muslim American youth experience character development (Tarbiyah) within the Muslim community? How do they learn and develop virtues? Who helps them build these virtues?

The Issue

Religion serves a special function in adolescents’ virtue development because it can provide youth with a self-transcendent identity that gives them purpose and meaning that is essential for their thriving. However, there is an urgent need to adopt a contextualized approach to the study of this identity, particularly for religious minority adolescents such as Muslim American youth, so we ask, how does the Muslim American community cultivate youths’ virtue development, and how can we form and equip a community of practice that promotes virtue development? We hypothesize that we can answer this question by adopting the scholar-practitioner model of research and launching a community of practice through virtual webinars to establish trust, a common language, and a list of current activities. We further ask, which virtue formation strategies are effective, for which youth, and in which contexts?

Project Overview

In this groundbreaking three-year project, we will use community-building activities and research studies to answer these important questions. We will start by building a community of practice – a network of Muslim youth, those who nurture their development, and those who research their lived experiences. Through different community activities, we will build relationships with Muslim youth and communities to understand which virtues are experienced, where and how virtue learning happens, and what helps Muslim youth in their virtue journey. Finally, we will use the insight gained from the community of practice to launch a longitudinal research study on character development.

This project will be led by Dr. Madiha Tahseen of The FYI, and Dr. Merve Balkaya-Ince of Baylor University. The research team is eternally grateful to the continued mentorship of Dr. Sameera Ahmed, Dr. Sarah Schnitker, and Dr. Karen Melton. Please see the “Meet our Team” section below for more information.

This project was made possible through the support of Grant 62353 from the John Templeton Foundation. All praises are due to Allah (God) for allowing us to serve the ummah. 

Executive Summary

Community Building Activities

We will build a community of practice (network) among Muslim American researchers, community leaders, youth workers, and youth, through:

  • Convenings of community members and researchers
  • A series of online webinars

This will form the foundation for building relationships among the scholars and core community leaders. In addition to the objectives described in the project description, we will ask the community leaders to do the following during grant activities (webinars, convenings, virtue groups):

  • Learn about existing evidence-informed virtue development from researchers 
  • Provide information about religiously-grounded best practices 
  • Evaluate and provide feedback on the virtue conceptualization used in the grant
  • Understand protocols for the longitudinal study 
  • Provide feedback about the virtue inquiry groups 
  • Engage in strategic dissemination planning 
  • Brainstorm additional ways to cultivate a community of practice further

Research Activities

We will use the learnings that emerge from the networking and community building to further understand and assess Muslim youth’s virtue experiences, through: 

  • A pilot study
  • A longitudinal study
Our research questions focus on the following variables:
  • Virtue Change Trajectories
  • Role of Religious Communities 
  • Mechanisms
  • Within-group difference across context and individual factors

Meet the team

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D Project Leader

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Merve Balkaya-Ince, Ph.D
Project Co-Leader

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Sameera Ahmed, Ph.D
Project Advisor

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Quaiser Abdullah, Ph.D
Project Advisor, Facilitator

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D
Project Advisor

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Karen Melton, Ph.D
Project Advisor

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Aneesah Nadir, Ph.D
Project Advisor

The Building Blocks of Tarbiyah

Osman Umarji, Ph.D
Project Consultant


Your feedback is incredibly valuable to us. It helps us refine and improve our efforts to better serve you. Whether it’s positive comments that motivate us or constructive criticism that guides our enhancements, your insights are an essential part of our journey. We genuinely appreciate your time and input as we work to provide the best possible experience. Thank you for being a part of our process!



Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).