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Teen Perspective, a column on Muslim teen issues

September 2003

Limbo: the Teenage Years

by Shezena T. Mohammed

The biggest transition in anyone's life is that of turning from a child into an adult. In the West it is a very slow transition, lasting all the teenage years. It is a time of uncertainty of how to act and how to behave. We know as Muslims that we become adults at the onset of puberty, but the society we live in expects for us to be children for far longer. We can successfully carry the adult responsibilities that we have in Islam and still be children in society. We are seen and treated as children for a large portion of our lives and the road to becoming an adult is a long one and difficult one at that.

That is here in the West where it is like that, where it is a slow merger into adulthood, but in many places it's not. In some places one day you are a child and then after a few rituals you are an adult. It is clear what you are and what is expected of you. There is no limbo.

The Rituals of Adulthood

In Australian Aboriginal society when boys reach puberty, they are taken from the village and the women mourn them as if they had died. The boys then do a ritual where they have a tooth knocked out or get circumcised, and symbolically from that they die. They pretend they are dead while the elders of the town dance and sing around them.

After that they are given a sort of cram course on how they are to act and behave with their new and changed identities in society. They are not children anymore, they are adults now and they act like it and expect to be treated as such. And perhaps more importantly, their society sees them as adults now and treats them as such. When they come back it is as if they have risen from the dead, except now they are adults.

In Limbo

I turned eighteen last month. Officially and legally now I am an adult. In reality I am no different from what I was the month before, and I doubt that there will be very much change in me in a month from now. I think it must be a cultural thing that I don't see a difference in myself. I have been conditioned to become an adult slowly and I'm still in limbo. For some reason though, I have passed that charmed point where it is declared that there is a change in me and I am an adult. No rituals and no clear cut definition. Definitely no cram course. I will still not even be completely seen as an adult from our society now. Eighteen is legally an adult, but I'm sure I can get away with a few more years as a child, and for a few more years at least I will not be seen as completely grown up.

Still, I can integrate fully into the adult world now without anyone being able to object much. I have been able to, and have been for years now. Hijab can add or take away at least a good five years. There is no real division in our society from a child and an adult. There is just our limbo that every child must go through before he or she will ever be considered an adult. Well, I went through that, although I'm quite sure it's not over, and now it seems that it is time for me to start looking ahead at what adulthood should really be like. I am perhaps at the end of that transition.

What are You Going to Do with Your Life?

Someone asked me a few days before my birthday, "So now you're about to turn eighteen, what are you going to do with your life?" I guess eighteen is the age where you decide these things and you start living, really living.

"You got your whole life ahead of you, what are you going to do?" I don't know how many times I have heard that in the past month. It seems that now I should be starting a new phase of my life and I should really get on with it. When that person asked me that, and all the other people all the other times after, all I could think of is one thing: I have no idea. It was a very distressing realization that I have stumbled upon my eighteenth birthday, with all my life ahead of me as they say, and I don't know what I want out of it. This is the time I should decide, this is the time where I should have a plan and do it and be what I want to be, except that I don't know.

I started to wonder why I didn't know and more importantly, what I wanted. Of course I wanted all the essentials, a chivalrous husband and a fruitful marriage, four to seven kids, a nice house in the suburbs, a successful and lucrative career, all the things that I say I want and work to get, but is that it? Did I just say my life as an adult? Yes, it is a wonderful life that I just said, and I know I would be very blessed to have half of it, but it seems there should be more. It seems something is missing.

I thought about this some more and decided that this is what I want with my life, but it doesn't matter what I want with my life, it only matters what Allah swt wants with my life. I'll do whatever Allah wants me to do with my life. That's what I had been wondering all along really, what is the purpose of my life? What does Allah swt want me to do with my life? Well, that was easy, I knew that, I've always known that, it is of course to please Allah swt. That's what I'm going to do with my life. I found it. I always knew it, but I realized what it really meant. And best of all, I could still have everything I wanted before.

Islam Need to be My Life

I think to first know what you want to do with your life, you first have to decide what is most important. I've known what's most important all my life and now all I have to do is act on it. For me to feel fulfilled with my life, I would have to decide what is important to me and make it my life. Islam is it, so Islam needs to be my life. Once I saw that, all the stress and anxiety about the future just diminished. I've always thought that if you just follow the teachings in Islam and strive to do what is best and most pleasing in Allah swt eyes, you can't go wrong. So I guess being slowly forced into adulthood like this isn't really that bad. It can't be if I just strive to do what's right.

Making Decisions

Maybe we aren't really that different from the Aboriginals. There is a point where each of us has to decide to grow up and leave ourselves as children behind. There may be no definite point where it is known that now you are and now you aren't, but in my opinion and from what I am seeing in myself, there are definitely times where I see myself in a situation and I have to decide what I am going to do. You have to decide whether you are going to do the mature and adult thing or not.

When I see myself in those situations, I see it as steps to the slow transition into adulthood. There is a decision I have to make that will dictate whether I am moving forward or not. I guess limbo isn't really that bad because if I decide not to do the mature and adult thing all the time it is forgivable because I'm not completely grown up yet. But I am at the end of the rope, and it is burning at both ends. It is almost time. It is sad to think that there is another chapter of my life soon coming to an end, but I always think, and I hope I will always think this, that the best is yet to come. If you always think it and work at it, life will only be getting better. May Allah make this life and the next life easy for us all. Ameen.

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