If being a teenager is hard, try being a teen Muslim in North America post-9/11. That’s why a mother and her two kids have come up with The Muslim Teenager’s Handbook. The authors are Dilara Hafiz, her daughter Yasmine, 19, a freshman at Yale, and her son Imran, 17. Their book offers advice on topics such as how to strike up a conversation with Jews and Christians, and how to explain to classmates that when you skip lunch for a month, it’s not a diet, you’re on a spiritual fast for Ramadan.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the hateful comments we’ve heard since 9/11,” writes Dilara in an email, “are based on misconceptions about the basics of Islam. Some people still think that Muslims worship a different god called Allah—incorrect. Allah is the Arabic word for God. Muslims worship the God of Abraham, Jesus and Moses.” For small talk, the book suggests, “You can’t go wrong if you start a conversation about Noah—everyone loves boats, right?”
The book explains that Ramadan is a month-long fast held during daylight hours. “A successful fast includes not only giving up food and drink (yes, that includes gum and water), but also the cessation of all bad habits such as gossiping and angry words due to impatience.”
A quiz asks: “You overhear a group of ignorant bullies harassing some other Muslim students who are fasting during Ramadan. You: a) ask your principal to make an announcement over the PA explaining Ramadan; b) tell the bullies that they should try fasting to lose some of the unnecessary fat that is clogging up their brains—then run!; c) pretend the rules of Ramadan don’t apply to you while you chow down in the cafeteria with your friends. Answer: a) talk to the principal.
Some Muslim teens wonder during Ramadan, “Am I allowed to swallow spit, brush my teeth, or rinse my mouth while fasting?” Answer: “Please do!” write the authors. “While some people feel strongly about these issues, use common sense as your guide. God knows what your intentions are. Don’t stress if you accidentally swallow some water while brushing your teeth.”
Other quizzes in the book encourage teens to speak up and correct misinformation rather than sit silently. The book asks, “When your geography teacher mistakenly identifies Mecca as a city in Iraq, you: a) slide lower in your chair and pretend to be fascinated by the interior of your desk; b) tentatively whisper to your neighbour, ‘I think he means it’s in Saudi Arabia—or somewhere over there’; c) frantically wave your hand in the air to correct the error.” The book says the right answer is b). “Or if you’re feeling really bold, wave your hand in the air.”
The Quran prohibits alcohol and any intoxicant that “clouds your mind and draws you away from the remembrance of God.” So, “how do you handle this restriction in an atmosphere where most people around you are drinking?” A quiz tests: is it okay to drink flat beer? Answer: “Beer is beer; avoid it. It tastes terrible, is full of calories and will make you fat and drunk if you drink too much.” Try water or soda or fruit juice. “And you’ll always be popular as the designated driver.”
On the topic of dating, 17-year-old Imran writes in an email, “I’m not allowed to date, not because my religion forbids it, but because my parents do.” “To be honest,” he says, “I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. Things are quite different than they were at the time of the founding of Islam where most of the world got married earlier because life expectancies were shorter. Nowadays, the social norm is to marry later—but the genetic hormones are still here!” The book says, “Dating should be viewed as a preliminary step to marriage. If you’re not ready to marry, then don’t date.” But dancing “in an all-male/all-female environment is definitely okay.”
After 9/11, Imran remembers his classmates refusing to let him play pickup soccer because they thought he was a member of the Taliban. “How do you respond if someone you know tells you that Islam is a religion that encourages violence?” the book asks. “That’s an easy one. Vehemently protest (nonviolently of course!). Don’t keep quiet since that could imply agreement. You can try telling the hate-mongers, ‘Stop guzzling down the Hatorade,’ but the best approach is to make the most of your own life by proving them wrong.”
On the other hand, “if someone tells you you’re not Muslim enough, tell them you’re more concerned about God’s opinion, not theirs.”