Growing up in today’s culture can be exciting, confusing, and chock-full of challenges.
For young American Muslims, navigating adolescence has proven especially daunting since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. They must sort out not only who they are individually but also how they fit into a society that knows little about them but holds a host of impressions.
“I went to bed on Sept. 10th an American, and on Sept. 11th, I became a Muslim in people’s minds,” says Imran Hafiz, a high school sophomore in Phoenix. And not just any Muslim.
He was only in fourth grade back then, but that shift in perceptions affected Imran directly. A few days later, all of a sudden his pals at school told him, “You can’t play soccer with us anymore.” When he asked them why not, they responded, “Because you’re a Taliban.”
The youngster was shocked and scared, but his family helped him see that his friends’ reaction “came from ignorance, not from hate,” he says.
Since then, Imran, his older sister Yasmine, and their mother, Dilara, have been hard at work on a dual project: to write a book that could dispel that ignorance and at the same time help Muslim youths deal with the many issues that confront them. The family discussed their five-year project in a recent phone interview from their home in Paradise Valley.
“I wanted to dispel negative stereotypes and show we are normal Americans like anyone else,” says Yasmine, a high school senior who will enter Yale University next year.
“The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook,” published in August, is the first book of its kind, directed at filling a void Yasmine noticed as she searched the Youth/Teens section in a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Sprinkled with humor, the lively paperback describes the essential beliefs and practices of Islam and includes questions and comments from Muslim teens across the United States.
“In addition to doing research of our own, we sent out a survey to 44 Islamic schools,” explains Dilara, who teaches at a weekend Islamic school in the Phoenix area.
They received approximately 150 responses to their questionnaire, which revealed that even teens attending Islamic schools vary greatly in attitudes and faith practices, from why they are Muslim to how often they pray to whether or not they wear the hijab, the head scarf worn by many devout Muslim women. Their viewpoints appear in quotes and quizzes interspersed throughout the book’s 15 chapters.