Muslim Youth Forge Own Path in America


Maheen Sheikh, a 21-year-old junior, rushed into the Loyola University
Muslim Students' Association mosque, tied a scarf around her head and faced
Mecca to pray.

Just then the secular interrupted the divine, in the form of her ringing
cell phone.

"No way!" she said into the phone. "Oh, my God. . . . Guess who I talked to?"

Islam, meet Verizon. And dorm rooms, Freud, women's studies, hip-hop dance
class and a world of fellow students for whom a date over a beer is
ordinary, not heresy.

The future of Islam in America?

Part of it is here.

The children of Muslim immigrants who began coming to this country in
larger numbers in the 1970s are going to college. Born in America or
brought here when they were young, they are defining what it means to be a
Muslim American.

The guys with their baggy jeans and cell phones downloaded with Biggie and
Jay-Z, the girls with their head scarves tucked into hoodies and sometimes
a cell phone stuck inside making a kind of Islamic hands-free phone, the
other girls with their uncovered hair up in ponytails--they are all making
a way of Muslim life that is distinctly theirs.

Their Islam is not necessarily their parents' Islam. Many are pursuing what
they call a "pure" Islam, separate from the cultural traditions their
parents brought with them.

They are negotiating the sometimes complex path between Muslim faith and
American culture. Is it acceptable to watch MTV? To listen to music? At
what point does makeup cross the modesty line?

How much should they avoid contact between men and women? That issue flared
into an angry conflict in the fall over who would get to use the MSA's lounge.

Is America the land of opportunity, temptation or both?

These are part of larger questions that pit the American value of freedom
of choice against the Muslim tradition of conforming to divine law and take
into account all the permutations in between.

The students are at a stage of life when American culture is most at odds
with Islam. They are at college, and not drinking. They are at college, and
not dating.

They are living a faith whose name means "submission," in a country founded
on revolt.

They are making their way with so many individual variations that you can't
really say what they, as a group, are doing.

Except that it starts with Islam…

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