Monday, October 09, 2006

Young Muslims Embrace Two Worlds

Generation M redefines the American Muslim

by Maahum Chaudhry, staff writer
September 14, 2006 10:10 AM

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf's message to Muslim youth growing up in America was clear: “Good Luck!”

“It’s a challenge growing up as a Muslim youth anywhere,” said Yusuf.

Yusuf is the founder of the first Islamic seminary in the United States, Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, Calif. Last Saturday he addressed a crowd of Muslims and non-Muslims at the annual Generation M event in Union Square. Generation M is a youth organization that promotes religious tolerance and consciousness. The event brings together Muslim youth from around the Bay Area.

With the conflict in the Middle East so prominent in the news, a lot of attention has been focused on Muslims in America. They struggle to fit into American society in their schools, with friends, and in the community, while still playing an active role in Islam.

Imam Zaid Shakir, a scholar at Zaytuna, also spoke at the event.

"Youth is a time for dreaming and constructing a vision for a better world. If you can't envision it, how can it come about?" Shakir said. “It’s very important for Muslim youth to realize the scope and depth of the contribution they can make to society."

Shakir also gave some advice to young Muslim. “Be yourself, be proud, be compassionate, be merciful,” he said.

Adeel Iqbal, a board member on A Muslim Voice, an organization that defends human rights, and editor of the Daily Californian at the University of California at Berkeley, did not take long to say what he thought was the biggest issue concerning Muslim young people: identity.

He said that it was difficult to balance culture and religion. “Many (Muslim youth) try to be ‘American’ but don’t know how to balance that with religion,” Iqbal said.

Shamira Chothia studied traditional Islamic sciences in Africa, Europe, and Asia and now teaches at Zaytuna. She found a way to balance both her culture and her religion while growing up Muslim in America. “In being Muslim, incorporate the best of both worlds, both cultures,” she said.

When Chothia first started wearing the hijab in high school, which many Muslim women wear to cover their heads, a few girls thought she was making a fashion statement since she would match her headscarf with her outfits. “ Muslim women want to be treated for their minds, not body.” Chothia said, “I showed my Muslim identity with my hijab but I wore it with jeans to show my American side.”

Abdul Rasheed thinks that the American culture that the Muslim youth are “eating up” is making the them feel bad about their religion. Rasheed is a part of Discover Islam, an organization based in Virginia that produces posters and pamphlets to help educate people about Islam. He mentioned that he had heard of some men named Muhammad who began calling themselves “Mo.”

“Youth are going to think something is wrong with them,” said Rasheed. “We have to make our own definition of Islam.”

Faran Sikandar, a Bay Area Multicultural Media Academy (BAMMA) graduate, volunteered at the Generation M event. Sikander believes that one of the best ways to teach others about Islam is through your actions.

“I let people know I’m Muslim,” he said. “People respect me.” As student body president at his high school, Sikander said that he was able to use the opportunity to change the negative perception that most people had of Muslims into something positive.

Aubry Conely, who is not a Muslim, came to Generation M with his friends. “It’s rough fitting into society for them,” he said of his friends. “They get stereotyped, but they handle it with class. They say ‘I’m not a terrorist, I’m a Muslim’.”

Please also see Ms. Chaudhry's most relevant article:
Racial profiling at airports unfairly targets muslims (9/06)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:44 PM

    other works by Maahum Chaudhry