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Teen Perspective, a column on Muslim teen issues

April 2003

Practicing Islam in America

by Shezena T. Mohammed

Is it possible to be American and Muslim?
Is it possible to be American and Muslim?

Some people grimace at the thought of young Muslims being a part of Western culture. But we are. Just growing up here, we cannot help but be a part of this culture. It is ingrained in us just as any other culture is ingrained in any other person, and I don't think that it is necessarily a bad thing. There are, of course, bad aspects to Western culture just as there are bad aspects to any culture, but there is no reason that we wouldn't be able to get through them just as we would any other problem. I am sure that anywhere you go, you would be tempted to do haram things. The West may just have different kinds of tests and problems that we have to get through.

People say that you should move to a Muslim country as soon as you can, because this country (America) is bad for Muslims, but if all you have ever known is Queens, New York, then what are you supposed to do? I was born in Queens and as unpopular as this may sound I love this country. I know that there are a lot of bad things here but here we have a choice to be as good as we want to be or as bad. From what I understand choice is not something that many people in Muslim countries have. If you are forced to wear hijab or to pray then are you really practicing Islam? Or are you just going along with what everybody else is doing? In America we practice Islam because we want to, because it is in our hearts. Here I can take off my hijab and no one would care, but I choose to wear it for the sake of Allah SWT. Some people behave as though the very act of being American is haram.

Being Muslim in America is hard enough without everyone always trying to convince you that everything is haram, or on the other hand that everything is acceptable. I have even heard people go so far as to say that fun is haram. Fun? I don't remember ever seeing any hadiths or in the Qur'an anywhere that fun is haram. Trying to label everything as haram without critically looking at it first is just not reasonable. On the same note, trying to make things that are haram okay, in my view, is even worse. I live in Florida now, and one time a Muslim woman came up to my mother and me and explained to us that we don't have to wear hijab in Florida, because it gets too hot. It does get pretty hot here in Florida, but I think that maybe when is it so hot that our hijabs will burst into flames and burn right off of our skin, we might consider taking them off, but until then, we'll keep them on. She said an Imam told her that, and I can believe that. The Prophet did say make things easy for people but we still need to follow Islam.

On the other hand, once in a Masjid that I attended, my mother and I had to talk to the Imam, and he actually told us that we shouldn't wear hijab just for fashion, but for Allah SWT. I personally have never seen anyone wear hijab as a fashion, or would think that they would be wearing it for that reason, but I don't know. Maybe it's a new craze I don't know about to wear scarves over your head and cloaks over your bodies in 100 degree weather. There are a lot of conflicting messages out there, but you need to do what you know is right.

It is widely thought that it is impossible to be a good Muslim and live in America. I believe that it is difficult but in America if you choose to follow Islam you have to be stronger than if you live in a Muslim country. I think that it is easy to go along with what everyone else is doing be it in America or in a Muslim country. It takes a strong person to practice Islam. But it takes an even stronger person to practice Islam in a place where nobody else does. We have an innate need to belong, to be part of what is around us and when we are Muslim we cannot partake in everything we see. But we choose this for the sake of Allah SWT. It may be difficult but we Muslims practicing Islam in America can help change it for the better.

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