MUSLIM AMERICAN TEENS SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
Saba Anees fits her observance of Islam seamlessly into her jam-packed teenage schedule. The 16-year-old high-school junior from Sunnyvale, Calif.-an aspiring fashion editor-has tailored her headscarf for tennis practice. She chats with friends online, under the watchful eye of her Pakistani immigrant parents. Anees makes time for her mosque youth group, despite the pressures of classes, homework and social pursuits-in part to please her parents, who work in Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry.
Confident and outspoken, she has learned that being Muslim in America often means being an ambassador for the faith, even when the questions are anything but diplomatic. “When I started high school a boy asked, ‘Do you wear that scarf to hide your bruises?'” she says. “People expect you to be abused or something.”
It fell to Anees, then 14, to explain that adhering to Islam’s modest dress code for women “doesn’t mean you’re kept back by men.” Her mother, after all, works as an analytical chemist for a pharmaceutical company and would like to see her daughter become a lawyer someday.
But dealing with misconceptions is only part of the challenge for observant Muslim teens. Navigating the risks and temptations of American pop culture-whether racy music, dating or having an account on Facebook-can be far trickier.
“Parents who didn’t grow up here aren’t used to teenagers who have their own lives,” says Sarah Azad, a volunteer youth group leader at the Muslim Community Center Association (MCA) of Silicon Valley, where Anees and her family attend. “The No. 1 complaint I hear from parents is not that their children aren’t religious, but that they spend too much time on the computer.”