Monday, February 04, 2008

Muslim Issues: Muslim American youth integrate while maintaining their Muslim pride

A media research study last year found that a majority of Muslim Americans feel their lives have become more difficult since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. But that trend is changing, especially among young Muslims, who have managed to integrate into American society while maintaining their Muslim pride. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports.

Sixteen-year-old Imran Shah says his classmates outside of his Washington-area mosque are generally accepting of his identity as a Muslim. But that does not stop the jokes.

"In our cafeteria, I think it was last Friday, one of those little popper things went off. It was really loud. It was like an explosion. Everybody turns around and is, like, 'Where's Imran?' " he said.

Instead of getting angry, Imran says he tries to educate his peers about the difference between his form of Islam and that of the extremists. "I tell them: those people, they have a different mindset. You have to be more open-minded, think about things."

Zahid Bukhari heads the American Muslim Studies Program at Georgetown University. He says second-generation Muslim Americans have become the spokespeople for a new culture of Islam. "Their style is different, their accent is different, they're more confident, they're more proud that, 'Yes, we are Americans; yes, we are Muslims, and our way will be different.' "

Bukhari says Muslim youth are pursuing a pure form of the faith, separate from the cultural traditions of their parents. They are reading more, becoming more knowledgeable. And they are making their own choices, even in traditionally touchy areas such as dating and dress.

Nineteen-year-old Sanjana Quasem started wearing her Muslim head scarf, called hijab, in fifth grade. She says she is used to explaining it to her fellow students. "They'd ask me, you know, 'Did your parents force you to wear that?' I'd always have to clear that up, 'No, you know, this is a choice that I made.' "

Both Imran and Sanjana are members of the Muslim Students Associations at their schools. The MSA is a national organization with local chapters on high school and college campuses across the United States and Canada. The group gives Muslim students the opportunity to form their own communities and to teach non-Muslim students about Islam.

By Alex Villarreal Washington, DC
Published with the permission of Voice of America