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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"They don't want to change a word to make it less American," Dilara says. "They said that in this global age teens are plugged in and that the attraction is that it's a snapshot of the American Muslim experience."Skip to next paragraph
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That's exactly what Yasmine had in mind. With the handbook, she says, "I wanted to show it's possible to be Muslim and American at the same time."
She and her brother know what they are talking about. Both students attend Catholic preparatory schools in Phoenix, which the family chose for their academic quality, and say they are very happy. Imran – an avid drummer who belongs to the debate and environmental clubs and enjoys participating in theater – says he appreciates the opportunity to learn about other faiths and get involved in social justice and community issues.
Yasmine, an avid reader, considers it "great to be in a place where you can discuss religion and moral issues."
The Hafiz family has lived in Arizona since 1997, after father Hamid retired from his international banking career. During eight years living in Kuwait, the family was caught up in Saddam Hussein's 1991 invasion.
The whole family has been galvanized by the opportunity to become a voice of moderate Muslims. When they surveyed US Islamic schools for their handbook, "the response we received emphasized a desire for more guidance for teens from the mainstream, moderate viewpoint," Dilara says.
Indeed, the handbook exudes an American perspective, upbeat and nonjudgmental. It encourages teens to discuss their questions and issues with parents, friends, and others, but ultimately to make their own responsible choices about their faith practice.
"The handbook is meant to provoke discussion, not be the definitive guide to Islam," Yasmine explains. "It's something you work out with God. No one on the outside has a right to judge that."
This approach has spurred criticism from some conservative Muslims, however, who are keen on following strict rules. On the matter of prayer, for instance, the book speaks several times about the obligatory five daily prayers, but also, in response to a question, it assures a teen he can still be a Muslim if he doesn't fulfill that requirement.
As for the hijab, photos in the book include girls with and without the head scarf – as is the case in real life. Neither Dilara nor Yasmine wears one. "I think God probably cares more about what's in your head than what's on your head," Yasmine says.
Yet the handbook leaves no doubt of the family's deep commitment to their faith. They spent a year on research, three years in discussion and writing the book together, and another year getting it edited and published.
"It's been great – I've never felt so proud or open about my faith, and people are genuinely interested," Imran enthuses.
Some prominent Muslim-American authors have responded positively to their work – and Imran is particularly excited because one of his heroes, Muhammad Ali, is now reading it.
Perhaps just as significant, though, is that this time, Imran's school pals are very supportive.
"A lot of people at school are talking about it. I'm just really proud of Imran for writing this and speaking out against stereotypes," says Robert Gaelick, a junior at Brophy Preparatory School who is not a Muslim.