A handbook for Muslim teens
Being a young Muslim in the US got much tougher after 9/11, so a brother-sister team came up with a book to help peers in their faith.
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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.
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.
Along with "Islam 101," there's a guide to prayer and the hajj, tips on reading the Koran, and thoughtful discussion of controversial issues. One chapter deals with "the 4 'D's" – dating, dancing, drinking, and drugs.
So far, the response to the handbook has been largely positive, and even comes from beyond the US and the Muslim community.
Cynthia Berg, a Jewish mother in Phoenix who met Mr. and Mrs. Hafiz during an outreach program at her temple, likes the handbook so much she's sent copies to relatives in other cities.
"The book shows moderation in the Muslim religion and answers a lot of my questions. I thought it was ingenious," she says. "My sister-in-law in San Diego showed it to her rabbi, and they are thinking about using it in their studies."
An Episcopal school in nearby Scottsdale has adopted it as part of its curriculum. Librarians and educators from various locales have said they like the easy-to-understand, nonproselytizing explanation of the religion.
The ministry of education in Malaysia has ordered a copy. And translations are already under way in other languages – French, Dutch, and Chinese – keeping intact the book's American flavor.