Muslim Teens Deal With Bullying in the Post-911 Era
By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service
(RNS) At first, Sarah O’Neal thought the older boy’s comment was directed at the towel she was carrying to water polo practice.
“What are you looking at towel-head?” he said.
And that’s when it sunk in.
A freshman at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, Calif., at the time, O’Neal, now 16, marched over and demanded the boy feel her Islamic headscarf. “Does that feel like a towel to you?” O’Neal snapped.
The boy never bothered her again.
Bullying is a nationwide problem, but many school officials and youth workers say it has become especially severe for Muslim students in the 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the new school year coincides with the 9/11 anniversary, some observers worry the problem could worsen.
According to a 2010 survey of Muslim youths aged 11 to 18 conducted by the Washington-based advocacy group Muslim Mothers Against Violence, all 57 respondents reported being called a name because of their faith, including 80 percent who said they had been called “terrorist.”
While there are no firm statistics on how many or how often Muslim students are bullied, activists assert it is higher than other students because of post-9/11 Islamophobia. Responding to bullying can be especially complicated because of immigrant parents who may be intimidated by bureaucracies, or because adults charged with protecting students might be part of the problem.
As an eighth-grade student at Beckendorf Junior High School in Katy, Texas — the same town where residents infamously held pig races to protest a proposed mosque in 2006 — Abdul Hamed initially accepted a classmate’s explanation that jibes like “terrorist” and “you’re family blows things up,” were just jokes.
But the teasing continued almost daily, and soon escalated into shoving.
Abdul alerted his teachers, who separated the boys in class, but the bullying would continue in the hallways. In early February 2009, on the school’s track field, Abdul shoved back.
According to Abdul, the boy left but returned several minutes later and sucker punched him, knocking him out and breaking his jaw. That was how Abdul’s Palestinian immigrant parents first learned about the bullying.
Abdul said school officials made the boy go to anger management counseling. “For what I went through, that punishment wasn’t even close,” said Abdul, whose jaw was wired shut and missed several weeks of school.
Abdul, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Seven Lakes High School where his attacker also goes, said he’s moved on.
While ethnic, racial and religious bullying is not new, observers say Muslim American students face the added challenge of having to defend themselves against television images of American soldiers fighting terrorists in Muslim lands.
“Muslim kids are bullied for geopolitical reasons,” said Pia Britto, a professor at the Child Study Center at Yale Medical School. “They’re being bullied because this larger media portrays people of their religion in a negative way, and these young kids have to stand up against this portrayal, which is a different dimension of bullying.”
Britto said kids use the “terrorist” slur “all the time,” which can be harder to respond to than other taunts. “If you react you’re fulfilling the taunt,” she said, “and if you don’t react you get angry and resentful that your hands are tied.”
Despite the increased attention on bullying since a spate of teen suicides highlighted the problem a year ago, news reports and academic studies document dozens of examples in which school officials have dismissed Muslim bullying complaints. In some instances, teachers themselves are the bullies.
Among other examples, a substitute teacher at a school in Hillsborough County, Fla., was disciplined in 2007 for harassing a sixth-grader because his name was Islam. In 2006, a substitute teacher in Gaithersburg, Md., had to be escorted from a school after berating a group of students for speaking Arabic.
“A lot of times the teacher has the same viewpoints and takes the bully’s side, and somehow views that the Muslim kid is responsible for violence that has been committed against the United States,” said Maha ElGenaidi, executive director of the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, Calif., which develops anti-bullying curriculum programs.
For her part, Sarah O’Neal said reporting the “towel-head” comment to school administrators probably wouldn’t have done much good. After she started wearing the hijab in sixth grade, someone spray-painted “Sarah O’Neal is a terrorist” inside a school bathroom. She told the assistant principal, who later also met with Sarah’s mother, but the school never documented or investigated the incident. Sarah said she still doesn’t know who did it.
Muslim youth workers say many parents don’t know their children are being harassed. Groups that try to combat stereotypes or misconceptions about Muslims in school say they also have to teach Muslim kids how to respond.
“A lot of it is self-esteem,” said ElGenaidi. “If they’re not confident of what they’re about or what they’re parents are about, it’s very difficult for them to defend against the difficult questions that they get asked.”
By Aisha Faiz from New York
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
Marriage is one of the most important decisions in one’s life. How are you supposed to know whether someone is “The One,” or if you are just blinded by her beauty, akhlaq (manners), status in society, or you are just plain ole tired of waiting so long that you are infatuated with the idea of a “special someone,” no matter who that someone might be? That is a tough question. A potential spouse cannot be compared to a suit, or the new iPhone that is out in the market. You cannot “choose” a partner, then “return” her if you see that you two do not get along very well. Although divorce is a permissible yet disliked (by Allah) option, let’s hope that we do not marry with the thought that if anything goes wrong, we can always get a divorce. A few characteristics should be looked for in potential mates.
Deen Comes First
In Islam, we are all equal to each other except for those who have a higher level of taqwa (faith in Allah). As such, a man should not discriminate against a potential spouse because she is from a different country, has fewer (or a greater number of) degrees than him, or if she is not as wealthy or as beautiful as he wishes her to be. There is a hadith which states, “A woman is married for her deen, her wealth or her beauty. You must go for the one with deen, may your hands be in the dust! (if you fail to heed)” [Muslim]. This hadith applies to both men and women. We should not be preoccupied with how a person looks or how much money s/he makes per month. Beauty is important as you must be able to feel some sort of attraction to your partner. Wealth is as equally as important since you must be able to spend on your family and zakat. Nevertheless, deen comes first and should be the most important factor when choosing a partner. Beauty fades, money comes and goes (and eventually runs out), while a good person’s character gets richer by the day. It is important that we do not fool ourselves by judging a book by its cover. Just because a sister wears hijab and a brother dons a beard (perhaps because he looks quite handsome with it as opposed to having no facial hair) does not mean that they are doing it out of religiousness. It is your duty to ask around, or ask your elders to find out about this person’s habits and qualities.
Does Ethnicity Matter?
There may be a sister who abides by the deen, exhibits good behavior, has a good education, and is beautiful too…except she does not come from the same cultural background as you. Now what? I believe you should go about the matter as you would with a potential spouse who is of the same ethnicity. Allah (S.W.T.) says:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)” (49:13).
Therefore, it is clear that cultural differences should not stop us from marrying a partner of our choice. Allah does not care if I marry someone of the same race, or a different one, so long as we strive to keep each other on the right path. Allah will judge us for what is in our hearts, not our outward appearance. Nevertheless, we must be realistic about interracial marriage and its consequences.
Cultural differences are perhaps the number one reason why some people are afraid of marrying outside of their culture. What language will we speak? Maybe English, but what about our grandfathers who do not understand a word of it? What type of food will we eat? Which customs will we incorporate into our wedding—his or mine? What language will our children speak? Which culture will our children marry into—his or mine? Yikes. The list goes on and on, though the last question shouldn’t matter to such an open minded couple. The point is that interracial marriages can be very complicated. They can also be as simple as you make them. The husband and wife can teach one another his/her respective language. Though it is not a quick solution, it is possible. For the time being, if English is a common language, they can speak that. Language is nothing but a means to communication. Children can be taught both languages as children’s minds are like sponges that are ready to absorb knowledge. As a child, I was spoken to in Dari and Pashto as my mother is from Kabul, while my father is from Qandahar, Afghanistan. It was not difficult for me to learn Pashto, Dari, English, as well as understand Hindi just from watching Desi serials on television. Anything is possible as long as the couple and their families are willing to cooperate with one another.
Expect Many Stares
It seems that people are either fascinated by, scared of, or just curious about interracial marriages. Expect people to stare at you as though you have five heads and just landed from the UFO that came from Mars. You will have to learn to adapt to it. Sometimes some people may think to themselves, or even come up to you and ask, “Couldn’t she find a person within her culture? Is that why she degraded herself by marrying a ________?” People are inconsiderate but that does not mean you should disregard a potential spouse.
Convincing Your Parents
Some of us are blessed with parents who have knowledge of the deen. The rest of us, however, are not so fortunate. Some parents are stuck with the old ideology that one should marry within the race as opposed to ruining their “pure” (insert appropriate ethnicity) bloodline. This sounds more like Hitler’s logic in that he did not want the “superior” ethnicity to be lowered through marriage to someone of an “inferior” culture. We should point out Qur’anic verses and Hadith regarding the believers’ equality before Allah and how one’s level of deen will matter on the Day of Judgment. Our skin color will not matter, neither will our superstitious manmade customs, ideologies, and “status” in society. Many parents, though aware of the deen, will not allow their children to marry outside of their race for fear of what “society will think.” Some questions I would pose to those parents are:
1. Do you live your life for yourself, or to please others? Is your whole life a façade, such as a staged play in which your family members’ every action is controlled?
2. Have you forgotten the purpose of your life? Allah (S.W.T.) says, “I have only created jinns and humans to worship Me” (51:56). That is the purpose of our lives, but marriage is a blessing. It is half our deen as our partners help us stay on Siraatul Mustaqeem (the Right path). Please stop obsessing over how your child’s spouse should be an engineer, doctor, or lawyer.
3. Ultimately, does your child’s happiness matter to you, or your selfish desires of having him/her marry within the race merely to please society?
Please, do not turn down a potential spouse because of something like ethnicity, or the person’s profession. Granted, s/he should be able to earn a decent living, but deen is of utmost importance, and it is possible that you may not find a person who is religious and meets your other standards while also being of the same background. If your parents do not heed your proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah, then ask an Imam to help. Regardless, remember to be kind to your parents even if they do not agree at first.
I hope that this article can benefit some of our brothers and sisters insha-Allah.
This article was written by Aisha Faiz.
I have noticed that some Muslims have a problem with Muslim converts. They will respect them in the mosque and greet them politely, but when it comes to marriage, suddenly a block appears. It’s especially true when a convert man asks to marry a girl who has been a Muslim her whole life. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s because the convert obviously once was a non-believer, but when somebody changes their life for the better, shouldn’t we be supportive of that? I actually once spoke to a convert lady who didn’t want her daughters to marry converts, because she said that the convert men may leave Islam. She also said that marrying a born Muslim would be better, because if he ever neglects his religion, he will always come back, which is silly to say, as someone not practising can never be better than a practising Muslim! It’s not right to say any of that, plus that lady was a convert herself, how would she have liked it if somebody doubted her belief in Allah? She converted to Islam and supposedly became a better person, yet she judges convert men like that?
My own mother is English and converted to Islam in 1982. I feel that because my dad married her and she is a convert, then I should also be able to do the same. I have actually spoken with my parents on this issue previously, my mum was supportive of course, but my dad was not at all keen. It just makes me wonder why? There is the issue of some people believing a convert may leave Islam, but to be honest that is very rare, and I have only heard of one person doing that. I have a convert friend, who married a fellow convert, but he decided to leave Islam a few years after converting, and she divorced him. I would say that is an extreme series of events, and it’s not good to say you won’t marry or not let your daughters marry a convert because of a misguided fear or something that may or may not happen.
I myself am quite open minded about who I choose to marry. If a convert man asks for my hand, then I will of course consider him like any other Muslim man. I don’t see a problem, they have said their Shahadah and are now Muslims, we should not doubt their belief in Allah, or expect them to leave, just because they were previously practising another religion, or perhaps committing sins. If they have come to Islam, it means they have changed, or they want to change, otherwise why would they bother? If someone wants to continue a party lifestyle, then they will most likely not be religious at all, and not consider any religion, so a convert is totally different. They have made a conscious effort to change their life, so we as fellow Muslims should be supportive of that, and take them seriously when they decide to say the Shahadah and become a Muslim.
I was also once reading a topic on an Islamic forum, asking other users whether they would marry a convert or not. Many men said they would, but from the women it was more of a mixed bag. Some said they would, but that their father would not allow it. One white convert posted his experience. He said that he had become friendly with a Somali man at his local mosque, and he felt he had gotten to know him so well, that it would be alright to ask for the Somali man’s daughter for the purpose of marriage. He allowed the convert to come to his house and plead his case, but ultimately, the Somali man told him he would rather his daughter married a drunk Somali than a convert. I was incredibly shocked to read this, and it was terrible to see how that young man had built up a relationship, but then cast out when he made the ‘mistake’ of asking for the Somali man’s daughter.
The only bad thing about converting would be doing it just to get married. Like a girl becoming a Muslim so she can marry her Muslim boyfriend, otherwise his family will not allow their relationship. In a marriage seminar I went to, the speaker said it would be better to break up, than try to change things just to try and justify their relationship. That is a whole different topic, but it’s something I wanted to touch upon. If a man is sincere, he will not ‘date’ you first, he will ask your father for your hand in marriage, and that’s the way it should be. Ultimately, we should respect converts for making such a big decision to come to Islam, and really only Allah knows if they are sincere in their efforts, but we as Muslims must take them seriously and try and help them in any way we can, and make them feel part of our community.
By Guest Writer, Aisha Faiz, aged 19, from New York. (Edited 17/01/2013).
I would like to unravel the idea of “hoor al ayn” to the best of my ability. A lot of sisters may be confused, or even hurt at the thought of it. To many people’s surprise, some brothers are a little disturbed at the thought of it too. First off, let us realize that we are all human beings—individuals. We are all diverse. We cannot generalize half of the population into one categorization, and the other into something else. Islam is a religion that applies to humans regardless of the time era—so I do not agree with people who say it is outdated and needs to be “reformed.” Is something perfect if it needs to be reformed, or tweaked? I think not. With that said, please be aware that Islamaddresses humanity as a whole, in a general sense. Of course, there are always exceptions.
As you may know, hoor al ayn are considered rewards for righteous men in Paradise. Most scholars believe that these rewards are only for men because the descriptions of hoor al ayn in Hadiths are feminine. Other people state that the word hoor can be feminine or masculine, and thus can be rewarded to both men and women. For the sake of this article, I would like to address the former opinion. The idea of such women in Jannah is supposed to motivate the more lust-driven men to do well in this world. I know sisters are tired of hearing scholars say that “men are more sexual by nature.” Yes, women are sexual beings as well, which most scholars unfortunately tend to overlook, but some of them are less sexual than some men. This is perhaps due to their monthly menstrual periods as well as pregnancy and childbirth—all of which cause hormonal changes and even lower libidos. Nevertheless, as I said before, there are ALWAYS exceptions. Islam speaks for most of the population.
I have been battling with the topic of hoors for about seven years now. As you can imagine, it has been very problematic for me. I did not want to listen to recitations of the Qur’an nor read itbecause I knew that at one point, hoors would come up, in surahs such as Ar-Rahman. Even if they did not come up, since the word hoor appears only four times in the Qur’an, I would still be reminded of them whenever hearing about the rewards of Paradise. Everything seemed to trigger the idea. I felt worthless. I felt like I would never be good enough for a man. No matter what I did for him, he would still have anywhere between two to seventy-two other “beautiful” wives in Jannah—which is the everlasting life.
I was always baffled at the responses I received from scholars. Out of all the questions I have submitted on numerous websites, the few answers I got were all similar: “You should focus on getting to Jannah first, and then worry about what is there.” Or that “humans will no longer feel jealous in Jannah, so women shouldn’t worry about that now.” What these scholars do not seem to understand is that I cannot pray, I cannot listen to or recite the Qur’an, and ultimately, cannot connect with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala if I have this topic stuck in my head!! After all, the scholars are men, perhaps of the kind who are seeking this reward in Jannah.
From what scholars have said, Allah knows that some men are very sexually active. Allah has used the idea of hoors to create order in society. It is to encourage men to stay chaste in this world, with the hopes that they would then be rewarded in Paradise with whatever their hearts desire. If they did not have this to look forward to, some men would probably mistreat women all the time. While I understand what the scholars are trying to say, they forget about women. They rush to label women as “jealous” while they do not realize that if men were in the place of women, they too would be “jealous” of their wives having multiple husbands in Jannah while they remain married to the same worldly wife. Scholars state that jealousy will be removed from our hearts before entering Jannah, so women will not feel hurt that their husbands will have many wives. Moreover, they mention the hadith that states that the women of this world will be superior to hoor al ayn in beauty because they spent their lives in worship while hoor al ayn did not do anything to deserve Jannah. Yes, this should make us happy—according to the scholars—but it never helped me feel better. I do not care if I will be the most beautiful. That does not mean anything to me when I know that my husband will still have a multitude of wives.
I began to think of it this way: the Qur’an was revealed during an era in which baby girls were buried and women were seen as nothing more than a commodity. The Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. not only revealed the truth to the Arabs, but he also mentioned a few of the rewards of Jannah to motivate the pagans to come to the right path. I know looking at it from the 21st century we may wonder why pagans would need the idea of women in Jannah in order to convert, but we must try to view it from their perspectives. Islam limited the number of wives they could have to four. This meant that most pagans who converted to Islam had to divorce many of their wives so that they could adhere to Islam. Knowing that they could have many wives in Jannah would help the pagans abandon their way of life and turn to the truth of Islam. Similarly, rivers and fruits have also been mentioned in the Qur’an as rewards in Paradise since these were considered luxurious to the Arabs who lived in the dry desert.
Please rest assured; Allah will reward you for all you do. After all, He says:
“I’ll never let the efforts of any of you who made an effort (on behalf of God) become lost, be he male or female, for you’re equally from each other. Those who left their homes, or who were driven away, or who suffered in My cause, or who fought or were killed, I will pardon their shortcomings and admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow–and a reward from God’s Own presence is the best reward of all!” (3:195).
“Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and We will recompense them according to the best of what they did” (16:97).
“For men and women who have surrendered (their wills to God), for men and women who believe, for men and women who are devout, for men and women who are honest, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who are humble, for men and women who donate to charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their sexuality, and for men and women who remember God often–for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward”(33:35).
“Whoever works for evil will be paid back with nothing but the same. Whoever behaves in a moral fashion, whether a man or a woman, and has faith, they’re the ones who will enter the Garden and have resources without end” (40:40).
“My servants! You shall have nothing to fear on that day, nor will you feel any sadness, (for you were) the ones who believed in Our signs and surrendered (to Us). So now enter the Garden, you and your spouses together, in celebration”(43:68).
Subhan’Allah! This should encourage us to stay on the right path, and not to let our thoughts hinder us from attaining such a great status. In Jannah, you will have whatever you want. Does that mean nothing to you? Allah created men and women, so why would He discriminate against the latter? It is society that brainwashes us—that tells us that Islam is a misogynistic religion and that Paradise is only for men. If you create two works of art, let us say, two different vases, would you treat one with less care because it is designed differently? NO! You created both, and will make sure that both of them are placed somewhere high on a shelf so they do not crack or break. In the same way, Allah has no reason to treat women any differently. HE CREATED US. That is the biggest proof that He will not treat us any less than our male counterparts.
Besides, not all brothers are the same! If anything, you can have a talk with your spouse. See what he is like. Not all men are identical, just as not all women are the same. Learn to accept that. I believe that if your husband does not wish to have other women in Jannah, he will not In sha Allah. Assuming we have worked all our lives worshipping Allah (S.W.T.), Jannah is where we have things our way, with the permission and mercy of Allah (S.W.T.), of course. Relax, take a deep breath, and know that Jannah is a place of happiness. If anything, since Jannah is where your needs are catered to, Allah can create a special partner exclusively for you, or even more if that’s what you want. Just because the rewards of women are not clearly mentioned in the Qur’an does not mean that they do not exist! If your husband tells you that he wants hoor al ayn, then learn to live with that. Look at the bright side of things. At least he is honest. At least it is motivating him to follow Islam by avoiding women now. If he did not have the prospect of hoors in Jannah, he would probably be more interested in cheating on you now. Be thankful to Allah (S.W.T.) for all that He has blessed you with, fulfill your duties towards Allah and your fellow human beings, do not use this topic as an excuse to have a wandering eye, and leave the rest to your Creator who has promised to give you whatever you want in exchange for accepting the truth of Islam.
If you would like to submit a guest article like Aisha, then contact us. Click on the ‘Contact’ page at the top.
I was recently reading an article on the Huffington Post website regarding women in Saudi Arabia having to deal with male staff in lingerie stores. A group of women over there decided to stage a boycott of lingerie stores that only have male staff. There are only a very small number that employ women, but clearly not enough if this boycott was needed. As many lingerie stores don’t employ women, the ladies over in Saudi Arabia have to go into such stores and be served by men, including being looked up and down to determine their size!
I cannot even believe such a thing would be allowed in a country like Saudi Arabia. Wouldn’t it be un-Islamic to look at a woman in that way? Apparently the reason why mainly male staff are employed is for male customers, so they do not have to deal with female staff. But did anyone consider the female customers in this situation? There is no reason for a man to be working in a lingerie store, there needs to be female staff so that they can measure female customers with no embarrassment caused.
Even in the UK, which is considered a liberal Western country, only women work in the lingerie departments in stores. I think if men worked in lingerie departments in the UK, women here would probably stage a boycott too! A lot of women in this country even prefer to have a female driving instructor when learning to drive, so not everything bad that is said about the UK is true. Clearly some women believe segregation in some situations is a good thing. Gyms are another example. Many hold women-only sessions.
In the shopping malls of Saudi Arabia, religious police are present, on the lookout for men and women interacting. This is also why many religious hard-liners don’t want to see women working in malls, they see it as a mixed environment. The important thing to realise is when salespeople deal with customers, that is all the customer is, just a customer to be dealt with formally. Sometimes we have to interact with the opposite sex, as long as it is done in a formal manner and you are not alone with someone of the opposite gender, then there really isn’t a problem.
All these women in Saudi Arabia are asking for is a female-only environment when they are buying their underwear, that is really not a big deal at all, as men won’t be shopping in such stores anyway. Women want to be able to go and get measured by a female, and hear advice about such matters from a female. If you switch that situation around, it would be highly embarrassing.
In my volunteer work obviously I have to serve male customers. That is all they are to me, and I find having my head and body covered commands respect. A man sees you as an actual person if you dress modestly.
I don’t see it as a big deal for women to be working. Sometimes it has to be done anyway. What if you have grown up with not a lot of money in your family? That means even if you want clothes, you will have to work for it. Even after getting married it may not be a simple situation either. What if his salary does not bring in enough to support you and a family? There is a danger if we as women become too reliant on men for absolutely everything, if your father or husband dies before you, or you get divorced, it will render you utterly powerless and literally a damsel in distress.
I am looking for work myself, as I recently passed my driving test, and if I want to be able to pay for a car, insurance, tax, petrol etc, then I will have to work for it. I hope if you are one of those women who has never had to work to support yourself, please don’t take it for granted. You should be very thankful that Allah has provided for you and your family. Some people struggle everyday, and they have no choice but to work.
I must also mention what one woman said in the Huffington Post article, when she asked about women working in lingerie stores. This woman said that bad things happen in stores with female only staff, when asked why, she said they can sneak a photo of you changing on their mobile phones. I would actually be more wary of men in this situation, and I can’t help thinking this woman has clearly got the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps in such a patriarchal society such as Saudi Arabia, some women will have picked up on such things from males and then become wary of females working in stores.
Women have rights in Islam, we shouldn’t have to hide away and feel embarrassed like this. If you read the Huffington Post article, you will see one women even travelled away from Saudi Arabia in order to buy her bridal lingerie with zero embarrassment.
I hope the ladies boycotting male-run lingerie stores are successful. It’s time something was done about it.
The Lost Boys (and Girls): Bringing Back Young Muslim Teens
By Zainab for MuslimMatters.org
Anyone who’s been around Muslim teens between the ages of 10 – 17 will recognize a disconcerting and disappointing trend: youthful apathy. Selfishness, self-centredness, and almost total obliviousness to the world around them. And despite the self-absorbtion, there is still a lack of proper sense of self and strong identity.
It can be understood, perhaps, in that these are formative years in which children and adolescents are struggling with a huge input of information from the world around them that they can’t quite figure out what to do with. These years are recognized as the most difficult years for parents, and for the children too; but for Muslim parents struggling to raise their children upon Islam here in the West, the problems are compounded.
Many concerned parents complain about how their children prefer to remain with unIslamic influences and ignore the parents’ attempts to sway them towards coming to the Masjid and being involved with other Muslims. Time and time again I hear the same advice being reiterated, but unfortunately the problems persist. After a while, I wondered if another approach was needed – something a bit deeper and more long-term than one-off youth programs or conferences. Perhaps we need to re-analyse the causes of youthful misguidance, and come up with a more detailed method of reaching out to them.
Here I hope to present my own rudimentary theory of the reasons as to why so many of our younger teens, even those who come from relatively practicing Muslim households, become utterly disinterested in Islam and get sucked into the kaafir lifestyle. From there, insha’Allah we can work harder towards bringing back our lost boys and girls to the straight path.
It’s All About You
We’re always wondering what we can do to draw our youth back to the Masjid, back to Islam, to engage them and involve them and above all, keep them safe. In order to do this, we need to look at the other side first – what is it about the non-Muslim lifestyle that attracts the kids so much? A lot of the time, it’s the attention that they recieve – in a culture that celebrates and promotes individualism to an unhealthy extreme, narcissistic youth are dazzled by how it’s all about them. Sure, other factors are involved, such as how the culture appeals to all those budding desires, but when you get down to it, it’s mostly about the attention.
That’s where we need to start. We need to give our youth attention too, and indulge their narcissism… to a certain point. And above all, in a constructive way.
We complain about our kids having an identity crisis. To be frank, most of these kids don’t even know who they are… forget about who they are as Muslims, they don’t even know their own personalities. Much of the time they’re just swept up in the latest trends and follow the fickle crowd without thinking about whether they actually like the items they’re wasting their money on, or the activities that they throw themselves into just because it’s what the cool kids do.
We have to help our youth know themselves. Once they know themselves, once they’re confident in themselves and have an idea of their own potential, of what they want to do with that potential, then they will be more solidly grounded and have a better foundation upon which to build their futures.
To be a strong Muslim, one must be a strong person; the key to being a strong person is knowing who you are at your very core, being able to identify your own characteristics and values which will remain unchanged no matter what situation you’re put in.
A solid Islamic upbringing from infanthood (as described in this ongoing series) goes a long way in building this kind of strong character, and as always is the first thing that parents must be aware of. However, for those who perhaps were not as Islamically practicing during their childrens’ early childhood, and now wish to change their parenting styles and their children for the better, then there are other ways that they can encourage their children to develop and strengthen their invidual characters.
It is now that we combine the teens’ desire for attention with the goal of helping them find themselves. Either at home or in a youth group/ workshop environment, our youth need to be invited away from all the clamouring, glamorous outside influences and given the space and time to focus on themselves, on who they are. Have them look deep within themselves, that space where they keep their deepest thoughts and desires, their hopes and fears, their darkest secrets. That space where they as individuals exist on a level where nothing and no one else can reach them except themselves. What do they find in that space?
Remember that soul-searching and personal development isn’t something that can be over and done with in a few hours, a day, or even a couple weeks. It is in fact a life-long endeavour – but it is something which must be fostered from a young age, so that there is a solid sense of self that can be analysed and improved constantly.
Castles in the Air
If you ask a five year old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you’re likely to get a long list that includes astronaut, cowboy (or cowgirl), firefighter, teacher, or even farmer. Ask the same question to a preteen or young teen, and you’re more likely to be answered with a blank expression, a careless shrug, and a muttered, “I dunno.”
This particular phenomenon in our youth is a distinct lack of vision. Stemming from the problem of not knowing themselves, our young Muslim teens tend to stumble through school and these important years of their lives in a confused daze. They rarely have a tangible idea of what they want to do with their lives; in this era of technology-centred activities, few of them recognize that they have other talents and skills which can be developed and used for the benefit of mankind.
We need to help our youth open their eyes and realize that there is more to themselves, and to life, than their shallow routine of chasing after the current fad. Teens have to realize that adolescence isn’t playtime; it’s the stepping-stone towards full-blown maturity and the rest of their lives. So what are they going to do with those lives?
Here is where we need to foster and encourage life visions. What life visions do these youth have? Do they think they’ll be able to achieve that ‘ultimate end’? If so, how? If not, how come? How can they achieve those dreams of theirs?
Let’s encourage our youth to open their hearts, minds, and eyes, and make their imaginations go wild. Let them build castles in the air!
Tools of the Trade
Life visions are pretty big dreams and it can be easy to be discouraged about them. So, break the “big dream” into a series of smaller, practical long- and short-term goals that can be steadily achieved and implemented. Accomplishing each ‘small’ goal becomes a stepping stone towards the final vision. As Muslims, our goal is Jannah; reaching that destination, however, requires a lot of work in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different ways.
Every goal of life is reached by utilizing skills and talents; discovering, developing, and strengthening them for maximum benefit. Now that our youth have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, they should also be able to recognize which skills they’ll need to reach those goals. It’s time for them to do a bit more soul-searching – or rather, talent-searching. What are their talents? What are they good at? What do they love to do? At this present time, how do they utilize those skills? How can they develop and improve these abilities? In the long term, how can they use these skill sets to reach their goals?
Another important point to remember is what the old proverb says: “Idle hands/minds are the devil’s workshop.” Too much free time causes our youth to seek out activities to stave off boredom, and these activities tend to be of the dodgy not-very-halaal kind. One way of killing two birds with one stone is to enlist these youth in serious activities at the masaajid; that is, coming up with ways to give the teens a chance to practice their skills in a work-like environment that benefits both the youth, and the masaajid themselves. However, make it something serious – actually pay the youth for their work, instead of doing it on a volunteer basis, as that gives the tasks the appearance of a chore rather than attracting the teens. Not only will the youth learn the basics of business and apprenticeship, but it gives them a far better environment to work in than the usual options of fast food and retail.
Strong and Free
In a nutshell, the above is part of what I percieve to be a rough guide/ method to dealing with the problem of lost, apathetic, confused Muslim teens who are sucked into a culture of shallowness, vanity, and selfishness. We have a group of kids who have so much potential, who could be the next great leaders of this Ummah, if only we could unplug them from their iPods, unhook them from their video games, and drag them away from the latest sales at the mall.
Our youth can be – and will be, insha’Allah – strong and free, secure in their identities as Muslims and their own unique personalities. In their submission to Allah, they will be empowered to becoming the next generation of movers and shakers, those who will improve the state of this Ummah in every field.
We just need to guide them away from the distractions of this dunyah and engage their hearts, minds, and souls… all we have to do is give them the time and attention that they crave, and that they need so that they may become the kind of glorious personalities they have the potential to be. It will be, and is, a long, hard road for parents, the youth, and those of us who have dedicated our lives for the sake of Allah to strengthen this Ummah; but insha’Allah the payoff in both this world and the Hereafter will be worth every agonizing moment of it.
May Allah guide our lost boys and girls, and guide us all, to the Straight Path; to that which is best for us all in this world and in the Hereafter; and to that which is most pleasing and beloved to Him, ameen.
by Shaheen Darr
Reprinted from Helium.com
Muslim teens, compared to most other teens, are facing some of their greatest challenges in modern times. They should use these to fortify their foundations through greater study of their religion and the principles it upholds.
Modern times have brought with them new horizons and opportunities that were not that readily available a decade ago. For teens, this means that learning a new subject or improving knowledge of an existing one has never been easier. The Quran stresses the importance of educating oneself because through knowledge you can improve yourselves and others and learn to cope better in the world in which you exist. An advantage most teenagers have these days is instant global communication via the Internet. This has made information readily available to them wherever they are in the world and opportunities to better themselves in all areas of their lives.
Education in secular matters goes hand in hand with studying Islam. It is imperative to understand the historical background in which the Quran was revealed and therefore the significance of its verses in their relevant context. This understanding is very important for modern teens who are sometimes misled by biased and prejudiced adults ready to exploit their impressionable minds to their advantage and to the detriment of other human beings.
Some modern teens have to cope with prejudice and hatred because of the fear that Islam invokes caused by the ignorant actions of some misguided individuals. This is an unfortunate state of affairs but as actions speak louder than words, it is better for most Muslim teens to concentrate on their education and careers and present themselves well in whatever they do. Islam should be used to guide their actions and behaviour in the best way possible towards other people as the basic greeting of Islam so aptly puts it, “As salaam O Alaikum” which means peace be to you.
Health and Peer Pressure
Looking after your health is a priority at any age and this includes Muslim teenagers. Islam frowns on intoxicants and this provides a natural deterrent for teenagers not to indulge in substances that will harm them and others. Drinking excessively and being out until the early hours of the morning can take toll on a person’s health and both the body and the mind suffer as a result. It is sometimes easier to become part of a crowd of youngsters just to be accepted, but taking a stand and not partaking in disruptive behaviour shows maturity and strength of character.
Relationships with the opposite sex are a natural part of growing up for any teenager and it is no different for a Muslim teen. He has to realise, though, that there has to be responsibility in his actions, as they will affect another human being. Having sex with different individuals without thinking of the consequences can place them both in difficult situations. This is where control and accountability of actions comes in and as this is one important aspects of Islam, a Muslim teen should adhere to respecting himself and avoid extra marital sexual relations.
Being part of a loving and caring family is a definite plus point for all teenagers because with a strong foundation, strong roots are formed. When you have good bonds with siblings and parents you feel part of a group where you belong and that cares for your well being. It is important for Muslim teens to take time to understand the family unit and its members and participate in their affairs to keep their links strong. This means understanding customs and taking part in cultural events to learn more about the family roots and background. It is having a strong family backing that a teenager can build himself into a proactive, mature and educated member of his community.
About the Author:
Shaheen Darr has been writing for Helium for nearly two years and is the sub steward for the Office and Small & Home business channel.
She was born in Kenya where she obtained her BA Hons degree in Economics. She has extensive retail experience acquired from working in the family book business in Kenya and then running a retail business in the UK for several years. She has also studied accounting and is currently self employed.
According to Shaheen, writing short stories and poetry appeals to her creative side, and she has also tried her hand at writing articles on a variety of different subjects, including spirituality, and health.
In December 2008, she won the Pulitzer citizens award for an article she wrote about US responsibility towards the Iraqi refugee crisis. Issues of world poverty, water conservation and the plight of women and children in some parts of the world are some areas she would like to highlight to awaken awareness and make a difference, no matter how small.
Shaheen says of Helium “It is a wonderful, life changing experience where I am learning all the time…lets see where this new journey takes me!
From Indiana’s SouthBendTribune.com, August 30. 2007
By MARIEM QAMRUZZAMAN, Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND — In terms of academics, Serene Ibrahim, 20, resembles other college students. She has set her sights on a major, nursing, taking inspiration from her aunt, a nurse, and her favorite TV shows, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER.” She also plans on graduating after finishing four years of studies, in 2009, from Indiana University South Bend.
Serene, however, has never attended a typical college party, and probably never will.
But that’s all right with her.
Serene’s faith, Islam, prohibits dancing with someone of the opposite sex and drinking, so she finds other ways to have fun with her non-Muslim friends.
“We go to the movies, we go out to eat, we go shopping, and sometimes I go out of town” to visit friends in Chicago, Serene says.
Muslim girls growing up in America, like Serene, may face unique challenges in keeping their social life in rhythm with their religious standards, but some local Muslim girls say their lifestyles are more similar to their non-Muslim American counterparts than many people think.
In the wake of a recent Pew Research Center Study that shows Muslim Americans are largely “assimilated” and “happy with their lives,” five Muslim girls living in South Bend reveal they are no exception.
No strangers to fun
Serene, who moved to the States from Palestine when she was 2, spent most of her time with non-Muslim friends while growing up because South Bend has a relatively small population of Muslims. Faith, however, was always a dominating factor in shaping her social life, in knowing where to draw the line, such as declining college party invitations. As a child, neither Serene nor her younger sisters, Nadia and Heba, were allowed to attend sleepover parties, not as a result of religious restrictions, but because of cultural traditions. Their parents were simply leery about leaving them at the house of a family they had met only in passing, or not at all.
“I stay late, but I don’t sleep over,” says Heba, who, at 12, is in the thick of the sleepover birthday party trend. Sitting next to her on the couch of their home, Nadia, 15, says, “Even though we live in America, to (our parents) we still live in their country. …
“We have to respect that they’re our parents.”
Although Heba didn’t have a sleepover party for her birthday, she asked her Muslim and non-Muslim friends to join in an evening of fun.
“She invited a lot of her American friends over, and they all showed up,” Nadia says. “And we all did Arabic dancing” (essentially belly dancing). “They learned, and they got up and danced with us.”
Although Heba held a party with Muslims and non-Muslim girls alike, usually the Ibrahims split their time between non-Muslim and Muslim friends.
Nadia and Heba don’t see their Muslim friends often during the school year because both have classes on Friday afternoon, the time of congregation for mosque-goers. During the school year, most of their time is spent with their non-Muslim friends, whom they see every day. During the summer, when they are free to visit the mosque more often, they hang out with Muslim girls.
And, “when (Muslim) girls get together, we open our mouths and let everything loose,” Nadia says.
School, movies and fashion are the primary topics of conversation. And although these teenage girls don’t talk much about boys and relationships, they do dwell on their favorite actors, such as Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp, stars of the blockbuster hit “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Nadia says she and her Muslim friends don’t talk about relationships because dating is not seen as acceptable social behavior within Islam.
“Muslims are commanded to lower their gazes and have modesty — all these things to avoid social and family problems in our life,” says Imam Mohammad Sirajuddin of the Islamic Society of Michiana in South Bend.
“(Dating) leads to social problems — unwanted pregnancy — and (teenagers) cannot focus on education.” Serene says that, instead, the engagement period is reserved for a couple to get to know each other. Depending on the family, engaged couples can go out alone, or chaperoned, and call each other on the phone. If the couple find they are incompatible, they can end the engagement, which does not break any religious laws.
And just as many Muslim girls have found ways to look for their soul partners without having to date, likewise they have found ways to enjoy a night of dancing without visiting the club scene, which may entail mixing with the opposite sex, drinking alcohol and wearing revealing clothes.
Instead, at an all-girls party, girls let loose and strut their stuff.
“When I go to an all-girls party, I wear a jilbab (a gownlike traditional Arab dress) over my clothes,” Serene says. “I wear, like, a short skirt and a tank top or tight pants, and I still do my hair under the hijab” (the Islamic head scarf).
And not only do girls get stylish for the occasion, but they have fun dancing to Arabic music and chatting, laughing and joking with their friends.
Space in faith for soccer
Although expectations of modesty rule out wearing revealing clothes for Muslim girls, they can participate in sports in connection with school and during their leisure time with friends.
Abida Coric, 16, a Bosnian who moved to South Bend when she was 7, spends much of her time immersing herself in soccer, her favorite sport.
Abida, a junior at John Adams High, will be a “floater,” playing on both the junior varsity and varsity soccer teams this fall. She is an avid fan of international soccer, especially Brazil’s national team.
“(Soccer’s) kind of a family thing,” Abida says. “It’s from our country (Bosnia). We watch it and we play it.”
Abida enjoys more than just the thrill of soccer, though.
“It’s more fun than just ordinary practice,” she says. “Before a big game … we have dinner at one of the players’ houses, where we eat spaghetti or pasta or lasagna, and we just spend time together.”
Abida is allowed to wear the soccer uniform because the shorts extend to her knees and she wears her jersey and shorts relatively loosely.
When she starts wearing the hijab — which she plans on doing once she’s ready for the questions, stares and wardrobe changes — Abida will have to wear a soccer uniform with some modifications: full sleeves and long pants.
When exactly she’ll wear the hijab, Abida hasn’t yet decided. It’s a decision, however, that each Muslim woman makes on her own. It isn’t imposed on her by others.
Abida adds that her faith encourages her to strive hard to do well in whatever she does.
“Being a Muslim doesn’t stop you from being the person you are or who you want to become,” she says.
What about being an exotic dancer?
Ah, there are certain things Muslims can’t do … but by no means does Islam discourage girls from playing sports.
Part of the Potter fan club
With their story lines set among witches, wizards and evil dark lords, the Harry Potter books rank among favorites for Sairah Chaudhry, 13. Even though some Muslim scholars warn that children should not read the popular series because they might become fascinated with dark magic or witchcraft, Sairah’s parents are OK with their daughter reading J.K. Rowling’s series.
“They know I know it’s not real, and they know I like to read,” Sairah says.
Sairah did not attend any Harry Potter events the night of the final installment’s release, but when she finally got her hands on the highly coveted book, she finished it in three days.
“It was really, really good,” she says. “It’s the best so far.” Sairah is essentially a bookworm, having read the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series by Lemony Snicket.
Of course, Sairah still cherishes reading the Quran and knows about 20 chapters by heart. During the summer, she goes to the mosque to help teach Islam’s sacred book.
“I would go there and listen to the smaller kids read the Quran for me,” she says. “I check for (pronunciation) mistakes. I help the imam teach.”
While their social lives may not run completely parallel to their non-Muslim counterparts’, Muslim girls see no conflict between adhering to their religious beliefs and joining the work force.
In fact, the South Bend Muslim girls in this story have ambitious goals.
Nadia says she would like to be a pharmacist one day, and a beautician on the side, since she loves to stay atop the latest makeup and hair trends.
Working hard to realize her dream, Nadia participates in the Notre Dame Educational Talent Search, a program designed to help low-income students, or children whose parents do not have a four-year college degree, prepare for higher education.
Meanwhile, Nadia nurtures her “beautician” side and keeps up with fashion trends by reading People magazine.
And yes, she would like to marry someday and have a family, but Nadia believes that will happen when God plans it.
“I personally think that when I get older, whatever happens. It all comes from God.”
Abida dreams of becoming a pediatrician. Right now, her mission in life is to return to Bosnia.
Not only does she not see religion as restricting her desires and aspirations, she sees her faith as encouraging her to pursue her dream of reaching out to people.
“In our old country, the kids were very sick (during the war). They weren’t really taken care of,” she says.
“So I always had a dream of helping them when I grew up.”
As-salamu alaykum. My name is Wael, and I am the founder of this website. I’ve been working on a new blog that I call, “IslamicSunrays.com: finding hope and inspiration in Islam.”
For some time now I’ve been thinking of writing a book about hope in Islam. IslamicSunrays.com is a step in that direction, a means to organize various thoughts surrounding hope, compassion, and love in the Islamic religion.
The focus of IslamicSunrays.com is anything that inspires hope, growth, positivity, change, and helps us grow closer to Allah.
We don’t need more anger, hatred or bitterness in this world. We need more forgiveness, kindness and love, and I would like IslamicSunrays.com to be a hub of positively charged thinking in that direction.
Just wanted to pass the word. If you have time, check it out. Jazakum Allah khayr. Onward and upward!
BY THE VANCOUVER SUN, SEPTEMBER 8, 2007
Just before Mustafa Abousaleh jumped into his school team’s dragon boat to paddle in a race on False Creek, the teenage Muslim prostrated himself on the grass in prayer.
But his multi-ethnic dragon boat teammates took it in stride.
“When strangers look at me praying, it doesn’t matter; my teammates respect what I do,” says the young Surrey Muslim.
Abousaleh doesn’t even mind when people take photos as he supplicates himself outdoors during his five-times daily prayers, known as salah. That’s what happened when he and his family once performed the prayers, which are required of Muslims, at White Rock beach.
B.C. teenagers who are devoted members of their Muslim faith are on the front lines of unpredictable change in multicultural Canada, blending their families’ 1,400-year-old religion with West Coast popular culture, with secular lifestyle possibilities they often find fun, but sometimes trivial and distasteful.
At a time of mounting global conflict, this is the story of four diverse teenagers in B.C.’s 70,000-member Muslim community; profiled as the holy month of Ramadan is set to begin on Thursday and on the eve of Tuesday’s sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which made many in the West suspicious of Muslims.
Four Muslim students talk about life
Abousaleh — a 19-year-old who moved with his engineer dad and doctor mother to Canada six years ago from Syria — recently gathered with three other Metro Vancouver Muslim teens to talk about what it’s like to be young and Muslim in this pluralistic, multi-faith metropolis.
Calling each other “brothers” and “sisters,” the Muslim university and high school students discussed how their values interact with mass culture in this corner of the 1.2 billion-member Muslim world, far removed from most of the world’s Muslims, who are concentrated between north Africa and Indonesia.
The four Sunni Muslim teens talked about Canadian sports, MuchMusic, TV shows such as Fox Television’s 24, Bollywood movies, national politics, their mosques, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Muslim terrorists,” arranged marriages, sex, dating, drinking and prayer.
We met at Simon Fraser University’s new Interfaith Centre, which contains special tiled washrooms so male and female Muslim students can wash their hands and feet in separated stalls before engaging in prayer in the multifaith, symbol-free sanctuary.
Along with Abousaleh, a confident University of B.C. engineering student, the Muslim teenagers included quiet-but-firm Hanan Dumas, a 15-year-old Richmond girl who is attending Richmond secondary’s Grade 11 international baccalaureate program this year.
There was also forthright Sana Siddiqui, a 19-year-old criminology student at SFU, born and raised in Vancouver after her dad moved to Canada from Pakistan. Rounding out the group was cheery Aamir Mushin, a 17-year-old science student from Dubai who is entering Grade 12 at Burnaby Central Secondary.
Sports a cultural meeting ground
Even though the conversation eventually turned to sensitive issues such as sex, drinking alcohol, Canadian politics and the wars that were triggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the young Muslims enjoyed starting out by talking about how sports have offered them a great cultural meeting ground.
Just as Abousaleh’s diverse dragon boat team is captained by a Muslim “sister,” Siddiqui proudly wears her head scarf over her long hair while playing for SFU’s mixed field-hockey team. She did the same while playing rugby as one of only a couple of dozen Muslims attending Killarney Secondary in east Vancouver.
On her ethnically mixed field-hockey and rugby teams, Siddiqui said her teammates and almost everyone else completely supports her choice to wear a head scarf. And she’s never had any referee tell her it’s unsafe, as one (Muslim) referee in Quebec did last year to a female Muslim soccer player, leading to international controversy.
“I think the safety issue is ridiculous. I think it’s a covert way of being discriminatory. I’m an example [that] Muslim women can do anything,” said Siddiqui, who is president of SFU’s 70-member Muslim Student Association, and not shy about standing up for minority rights.
“I have experienced looks of intolerance when I wear the head scarf playing sports. Not in Greater Vancouver, but in smaller communities, like Agassiz. My (SFU) teammates have been told certain things, such as, ‘It’s not necessary to wear the head scarf. You’re living here. You should be more Canadianized.'”
Mushin said “tons” of devout Muslim boys love playing basketball and especially soccer in Metro Vancouver, including on mixed teams. They also watch European soccer on TV, as well as following the Canucks hockey team.
When it’s hockey season, “I’m glued to Sportsnet and CBC,” Mushin said. “Nothing should stop you from watching or going to these games. They’re just entertainment.”
Mushin brings the same relaxed attitude to the outdoor paint-ball games that his 15-member all-male youth group takes part in through the new Tri-Cities Mosque in Port Coquitlam.
For her part, Dumas, who doesn’t wear a head scarf because she’s “too young,” is not really into team or spectator sports. Instead, she is taking swimming lessons to become a lifeguard.
In the name of Islamic modesty, Dumas avoids wearing a bikini or two-piece bathing suit. Instead, she swims in long shorts and a T-shirt.
Muslim teens the same, but different
As the talk turns to erotically-tinged popular music, it becomes clearer how Greater Vancouver’s young Muslims are the same as other teens, but also different.
Dumas, whose dad is a Caucasian woodworker and whose mother is an East Indian legal assistant, declares she likes The Beat 94.5 FM, a radio station that plays hip-hop, R&B, rap and pop music.
Still, Dumas said wryly, she grows a little weary of so often hearing the lyric, “Baby.” And she finds most of the sex-saturated music videos on MuchMusic to be “really graphic,” as well as “silly” and “over the top.” Her parents ask her not to watch them.
Most of the Muslim teens watch cable TV. But Siddiqui is appalled by the blatant sexuality in so many music videos. “If a woman wants to succeed in music, it seems they have to wear less and less clothes. And that’s especially true of black or coloured women.”
Siddiqui said she wears her head scarf, or hijab, out of respect for her body. “I don’t need to show flesh to get attention, or to get places. I’d rather be recognized for my intellect.”
Thrusting so many scantily clad women into music videos, adds Mushin, is all about marketing, trying to get attention by doing something “drastic and controversial.”
The teens soon turn to how they all like Islamic music — or nasheeds.
Traditionally sung a cappella, accompanied only by the beat of a large drum, nasheeds often consist of religious stories and haunting recitations of the Koran in Arabic.
When he’s travelling from Surrey to UBC on the bus, Abousaleh listens to a variety of contemporary nasheed performers on his cell phone, using earphones.
The Muslim teens admire the nasheeds of crossover Muslim artists such as the acclaimed Ontario-born convert Dawud (David) Wharnsby Ali, who performs in English using a variety of instruments.
They also like the nasheeds of British-Iranian star, Sami Yusuf, as well as the music of Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens, who sold 60 million albums as a pop-folk singer-songwriter in the 1970s before converting to Islam).
Even though the Muslim teenagers are not necessarily hooked on it, they noted many are drawn to Islamic-oriented hip-hop and rap, which was performed this summer at the Muslim cultural Expo attended by thousands outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In addition to watching North American movies, Mushin, who has Sri Lankan ancestry despite being born in the Middle East, said he often finds DVDs of Indian movies, with English subtitles, from Bollywood.
“It’s easy-going entertainment,” he said, not much different from the usual Hollywood fare of comedies and drama.
Siddiqui added that she often can not stand the way Muslims, specifically Arab Muslims, are portrayed in popular movies and TV shows.
When she grew curious about watching the Kiefer-Sutherland TV thriller, 24, she soon grew annoyed at the way the plots so often relied on Muslim terrorists.
“What’s not bothersome about that?,” she asks, rhetorically. “It pushes all Muslims out to the margins, suggesting they’re all violent.”
Grateful for the right to speak out
The Muslim teens had many things to say about human rights, Canadian multiculturalism and politics.
But, before we explored things they found disturbing about the global conflict between the West and much of the Muslim world, Mushin talked about just how grateful he is for Canadian freedom of speech.
“There would be no chance to have this discussion with a journalist in a lot of countries,” said soccer-loving Mushin, who has lived in B.C. for 11 years. His mother is a secretary and his father works in shipping.
Mushin cited restrictions on free speech in his home country of Dubai, as well as Saudi Arabia, Syria and, expanding his argument beyond Muslim-run countries, China. He noted how Vancouver protesters who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner in August in China were hastily arrested and deported.
“I find Canada good because you can speak. It feels easier to be a Muslim here than it would in, say, Afghanistan,” said Mushin.
That’s not to say these Muslim teenagers don’t have their concerns about politics in Canada.
They wish they could find a Canadian political party that better fit their wide-ranging Muslim values, with Siddiqui joking maybe they should create one.
Muslim doctrine tends to lead to support for both market capitalism and the redistribution of wealth, said Siddiqui. She cited how the Islamic tradition of the consumer bazaar complements Muslim values about egalitarianism and charitable giving.
“Islam is neither totally socialist nor totally capitalist. But it does teach that the rich, because of their wealth, are more accountable, and need to have more personal responsibility,” said Siddiqui.
In line with the Koranic virtue of khalifah, or stewardship, Abousaleh also said Muslims believe in taking care of both their families and the environment, in part since many come from desert regions where conservation is of ultimate importance, particularly of water.
Echoing contemporary ecological ethics, Abousaleh said, “Islam teaches we’re sent to take care of the Earth.”
Even though Siddiqui said many Islamic values correspond with the policies of the New Democrats, she added many Muslims oppose the centre-left party’s backing of same-sex marriage.
Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government includes many MPs who oppose same-sex marriage, the teens said they dislike the Conservatives’ vigorous support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“On the political spectrum,” Siddiqui said, “no single party reflects Muslim values.”
Afghanistan war ‘a disaster’
Which led us into a worried discussion of global affairs.
With tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunni and Shia Muslims being killed in the U.S.-led Iraq war, including in sectarian violence, the teens found it disturbing that the West invaded the Middle Eastern country without having an exit strategy.
“The Iraq war is definitely making good work for coffin makers. But that’s about it,” said Mushin. “The American people know it. Everyone knows it.”
The war in Afghanistan, launched in the name of keeping the extremist Muslim Taliban at bay, Mushin added, “is also just another disaster.”
The teenagers, who as Sunnis belong to the group that make up 85 per of all Muslims, said the main, strategic reason behind the Western incursions was to control massive oil reserves in Iraq and maintain oil pipelines that run through the region surrounding Afghanistan.
Asked whether they believe the West is justified in tracking down and killing terrorists who are Muslim, Siddiqui, whose father is from Pakistan and mother is a white Canadian convert to Islam, offered a correction. She said: “They are terrorists who claim to be Muslim.”
Despite saying many of the world’s Muslims feel besieged in the face of Western political and economic power, Siddiqui stressed no one who purposefully murders innocents can call himself a Muslim.
Those who launched the terrorist assaults on New York City and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, she said, were “completely un-Islamic.”
Abousaleh, for his part, quietly noted he is not entirely convinced Muslims were actually behind the history-changing airliner attacks.
Abousaleh is open to the possibility the Sept. 11 attacks were an “inside job,” performed by rogue elements in the U.S. administration to justify military assaults on the Middle East and elsewhere.
In suggesting as much, he is echoing a widespread belief among Muslims. A recent Pew Forum poll found 60 per cent of American Muslims do not believe Arabs actually conducted the attacks. He is aware of a related poll, by Zogby, that showed 37 per cent of all Americans do not believe the government’s official version of the attacks.
Whatever the case, while some people are suspicious of Western Muslims turning into “homegrown terrorists” in light of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Siddiqui said she finds most Canadians are simply open and curious about Muslims.
Since all her teenage years have been in the post-Sept. 11th era, Siddiqui has found that part of her identity includes being a defender of Islam.
“I tend to almost intimidate people with friendliness,” she said with a laugh. “The people I know say: ‘You’re my friend. You’re a Muslim. How could Muslims do this?’ And they’re glad to hear it’s not part of the religion.”
The Muslim teens were generally sardonic about much of global affairs, however. Siddiqui didn’t believe Western powers have any economic motivation to pull out of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, given that the U.S. and many of its allies are major arms dealers.
On the other key global conflict involving Muslims, the longstanding tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, Siddiqui stressed that Jews, Muslims and Christians all share a common Biblical heritage, linked by the patriarch Abraham, whose story is told in the Book of Genesis. Members of all three religions, she said, need to find a way to live together in peace.
Stressing that Muslims and Jews have generally tolerated each other throughout history, including in Moorish Spain and during the Ottoman Empire, Siddiqui said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about “land and resources,” not religion.
The troubles could be largely resolved, she said, through leaders on both sides showing pragmatism and goodwill.
Sex outside marriage a no-no
After this discussion of often-disturbing global affairs, the talk turned to more intimate concerns.
The Muslim teens definitely don’t believe in sex outside marriage, even though Mushin said non-Muslim male friends sometimes tease him for abstaining.
“Some people say marriage is half of religion,” added Siddiqui, who emphasized that Muslim teenagers restrict their sex lives in much the same way as orthodox Jews and Christians.
“If I could, I’d get married now,” remarked Abousaleh.
If Muslim friends start to have sex before marriage, Abousaleh said “it is our duty to advise them” against it. Even with non-Muslim friends, Abousaleh might be tempted to tell them, “Would your new wife like to know you’re not a virgin?”
The others chimed in they have 19-year-old Muslim friends who are already planning to get married.
The teenagers believe many non-Muslims carry around “stereotypical” beliefs that Muslim youngsters are forced into arranged marriages.
Although there is an extensive network of Muslim family members who take on the role of introducing young men and women to each other for the purpose of marriage, Siddiqui said it’s not true that a Canadian “Muslim girl doesn’t get a choice of who she’ll marry. She gets ultimate choice.”
When it comes to dating or partying, Hanan said her friends in Richmond don’t “do drugs or alcohol or any of that stuff. I don’t feel tempted at all by any of those things.”
If Siddiqui is invited to university parties where non-Muslims will likely be drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam, she said she doesn’t go “because that would sort of be endorsing it.”
The Muslim teens are not exactly sure how many youths from Canadian Muslim families don’t take the faith seriously — by not bothering to attend mosque, by having sex outside marriage or by drinking.
In the U.S., polls suggest Muslims are slightly less active in their religion than evangelicals. Seventy-two per cent of all American Muslims say religion is “very important” to them, compared to 80 per cent of evangelicals. There is no reason to believe those figures aren’t similar in Canada.
Abousaleh said teenage Muslims who turn their backs on the religion “just don’t understand it.”
Mushin said, “You want to help them. But it’s difficult. You can’t heckle them too much.”
Prayer a chance to ‘connect with God’
These four teenage Muslims would not for the world give up their faith, despite the challenges, both outer and inner, that come with it.
That includes the Islamic requirement of praying five times a day, which often makes these teens stand out in Canada, including when passersby take photos of them in supplication.
“The Quran teaches that you can satisfy your body and soul by giving back to the Creator through prayer,” said Siddiqui, acting as if her devotion to Allah was a no-brainer.
“Prayer is sort of like to calm myself, or relieve stress,” added Hanan, showing self-awareness beyond her 15 years.
“Your day is so busy. And prayer gives you five minutes to slow down and connect with God.”