Local Time

Monday, January 16, 2006

Growing Up Muslim: No One Understands Me

By Altaf Husain, MSW**

News flash from the world to the youth: The young Muslim lives in many
worlds. News flash from the young Muslims to the world: We already knew
that and it’s no walk in the park. While the adults are busy declaring
this week, this month, this year, and indeed this century as “the
century of the youth,” “our future,” and the “next generation,” you, the
young Muslims, are busy trying to get their attention to start a dialogue.
You don’t want too much, you just want a chance to be heard. You just
want a chance to share what you are experiencing as you grow up in
majority non-Muslim societies. It is clear that growing up in such an
environment poses formidable challenges to you. Whatever reasons, our
community has not give much thought to helping you face those challenges and
you are left thinking to yourself, “no one understands me.” The last
thing you want to do is to feel sorry for yourself and do nothing to help
improve that dialogue, that communication with your family and with the
community. You potentially face a lot of stress in negotiating the
various worlds in which you live. With that in mind, here are some

Know Yourself

No matter what your family situation is like with regard to practicing
Islam, remember that you have been blessed by Allah Most High to be a
Muslim. If your family is practicing, most likely you were raised in an
environment that helped you to understand and learn more about Islam
and your obligations to Allah as a Muslim. If your family is not
practicing or engages in minimal practice of the religion, and you did not have
other relatives or friends who were practicing, there is a possibility
that you were not exposed to the beautiful religion that is Islam. In
either case, if you have come of age, if you have reached puberty, the
responsibility to learn about Islam and to practice the religion rests
fully on your shoulders and your shoulders alone. You cannot simply say
“practicing Islam is too difficult because I live in a society that is
mostly non-Muslim. How am I supposed to pray when I am in school? How
can I fast when everyone around me is eating? How can I not date when
everyone my age has a girlfriend or a boyfriend?” You cannot say “the
pressure is too great and I do not want to look or feel different.” On
the other hand, you have to struggle to be a better Muslim in the face
of all these challenges to your identity. You have to learn to navigate
these challenges because of Islam not in spite of Islam. Once you exert
some effort at exploring the religion and becoming comfortable with its
teachings, you will begin to enjoy worshiping Allah and to develop a
relationship with Him. Take precaution as you learn about Islam so that
you are traveling the middle path and not being tempted to veer from
that middle path.

Know Your Family

When you feel like talking to someone, do you turn to your mother or
father or neither? Too often, young people write off their parents as
people who will never understand what they are going through so they do
not even talk to their parents. To some degree, parents might not be able
to relate to exactly what you are going through, but the general themes
of what young people face while growing up are fairly consistent.
Themes such as fitting in; struggling with peer pressure; choosing friends;
spending time with friends; engaging in pastimes frowned upon by one’s
parents; balancing social, academic, family, and religious
responsibilities; and so on might vary with regards to how important each of them
is to you in comparison to how important they were to your parents’
generation. But the themes, you will agree, are just as applicable to you
today as they were to your parents when they were growing up.

The critical ingredient to making sure that your parents understand you
is not to give up on them and to struggle hard to make sure they do not
give up on you. Be fair, frank, and friendly with your parents. You
cannot expect them to know everything about what you are feeling nor can
you expect them to relate automatically to what you are experiencing. Be
fair to them by communicating with them regularly and keeping them
updated on what you and your friends talk about, what troubles you at
school, and even what troubles you at home. The least effective dialogue is
one in which you never speak to your parents and then show up one day
with a major problem, expecting them to understand you, empathize with
you, and rescue you. Be fair.

In addition, you should be frank. It is possible to be frank and
courteous, respectful and gentle all at the same time. The key is to make
sure that you are not using words or phrases to which your parents cannot
relate. Just make du`aa’ and tell your parents clearly whatever it is
that bothers you or is bothering you. Do not speak in circles or be
vague. If you have made a mistake, admit it to your parents so that there
can be a level of mutual trust. Admitting mistakes is a sign of maturity
and seeking forgiveness is a sign of humility. Be mature and be humble,
but remember to be frank.

As you bridge the gap between you and your family, remember to treat
them as your friends. There is no reason for interactions between
children and parents to be full of anger, frustration, and exasperation. Over
time, you will find that your parents can relate to you and, in fact,
your relationship with them will expand such that in addition to having
a parent-child relationship, you will also develop a strong
friend-friend relationship. You will realize you are friends with your parents the
day you can share a joke with them or the day you can laugh together
about a mistake that either the parents or you made. So remember to be
fair, frank, and friendly!

Know Your Community, Your Imam

Often parents will seek to involve you in the local community and to
interact with the local imam. Rather than treating their efforts as a
threat or as a potentially uncomfortable experience, treat their efforts
as an opportunity for growth. Throughout your interactions with
community members and the imam, look carefully for the bright side, the
learning opportunities. Some community members will be more interested in
making sure that you keep up your cultural obligations than practicing
Islam. Some members will mistakenly consider their own culture as superior
to the American, British, Australian, or whichever country’s culture
surrounds you. For them, any sign of your adopting the cultural practices
of the “non-Muslim” cultures will be tantamount to turning your back on
your origins.

Again, look at such a situation as an opportunity to grow. Help them to
understand first that Islam is the filter through which you view the
world. Therefore, with the assistance of this filter, you will accept
practices from your culture of origin that are in line with Islamic
teachings and you will accept practices from the majority non-Muslim culture
that are in line with Islamic teachings. Of course, writing about all
this is far easier than the stress associated with you knowing how and
when to apply the filter. There is even greater stress associated with
you trying to help the community members, and even sometimes the imam,
understand that accepting Islamically-allowable practices from the
non-Muslim culture does not make you any less appreciative of your culture
of origin! Be patient and respectful with the community members and the
imam. Just as we suggested with your parents, you should also be fair,
frank, and friendly with the community members and the imam. Your goal
should be to help them understand you better even as you begin to
understand their perspectives on various issues.

Final Thoughts

Caught between managing the difficulties in living in a majority
non-Muslim society and finding your way in the Muslim community, with
families, community members and even the imam who do not understand you or the
issues you face, is stressful to say the least. However, you are young,
resilient and can overcome the stress with the help of Allah and
through effort that you exert on your own. It is critical to know yourself,
to know your family, and to know your community. Your goal is to move
the dialogue from a state of “no one understands me” to a state of “with
the help of Allah, I’m going to become understood by my family and
community.” After all, when you face stress in your daily life, you should
turn to Allah for sure, but also to your family and your community for


** Altaf Husain is a social worker in the United States and has been a
contributing writer to IslamOnline since its inception.


English to Arabic to English Dictionary
Find word:
Exact Word / Starting Word Sub Word

Please Feel Free to Donate