One Muslim Girl’s Experience: Challenges I Faced Growing Up in America

This article is written by Fatima Rizvi, a guest author. Don’t forget to comment and share!  Jazaakumulahu Kheyran!

I want to state that everything in this post is from my experience only. This is all based off of some of the events that have happened in my life and what I observe happening currently. I do not mean to offend anyone; I am merely bringing to attention some of the things the youth face schools and providing an outlook which hopefully you can benefit from! In this post I’ll be writing about my experiences and providing tips to parents out there whose children are going through the same thing currently or will be going through soon! I hope you find this helpful!

Elementary

We are labeled so many things as soon as we become young adults—American, Pakistani, female, Muslim—it causes us to be extremely confused about our identities. Sad to say that this confusion usually lasts a long time, sometimes years, before we figure out who we truly are. It can also take a long time until we are able to identify with all of the categories we are placed into without disliking each.

From a young age, I have been affected by my background. It has shaped who I am today in many ways. My first memory of being affected by labels and not being able to ‘fit in’ started at the age of 3. Before I entered pre-school, my mom only taught me how to speak our native language of Urdu. I knew very little English. My English was limited to the alphabet and other basic things she taught me at home. Consequently, when I entered preschool I did not know English! I remember the teacher telling my mom that at times I would speak in Urdu to the teacher or to other students and of course they had no idea what I was saying.

Their logic was that they did not want me to lose our native tongue or culture. I only wish they were more balanced and taught me English as well. I guess they didn’t realize how this would impact me going into school. Thankfully, after Kindergarten my English was good enough that I didn’t have to take ESL again in 1st grade. My parents learned from that mistake when my younger sisters were born. They knew learning our language and English were both equally important.

Issues I had to deal with in middle and high school

During my middle and high school years, everyone, including my best friend, would participate in the school dances that happened every few months; I was never allowed to participate. I would beg them to just let me go for a few hours. When I was younger, this used to bother me because I felt left out every time my friends talked about their fun-filled nights. I used to feel angry at my parents for not letting me go to these school events. Most of my friends did not even have dates; it was more of a hangout/chill time for them. My parents always refused and after some time I just gave up asking.

I realize now, that I truly did not miss anything by not going to these dances. I also realize now that my parents’ reasoning for not letting me go was for my own protection. My parents always said that at such a young age, if they would’ve let us do those things, we would’ve only wanted to do more and worse as we grew up. They also did not want us to think that ‘dances’ were something us as Muslims should be participating in. They had no problems with me meeting and hanging out with my friends at their homes or watching movies or going to eat, but at a dance they felt they had no control and that outsiders could negatively affect me in some way.

High school and beyond: pressure, booze and dating

The pressures of dressing a certain way, dating, having a boyfriend and drinking alcohol, increase drastically in high school. I remember how a lot of my friends started to have crushes or going out with boys and being in relationships in high school. I remember being asked why I would never go out with a boy or go to parties. I would give them my honest answer: In Islam, this is not permitted! Some of them would shake their heads and say, who cares, just have fun! But others would respect my decision and would not push me.

The same went for alcohol; my friends would go to parties and there would be alcohol present, I never really asked them if they drank but the fact that it was around them made it illegal underage drinking. Again when I would be asked why I did not participate in this, I would say this is haram in Islam.

The pressures of high school are present in college as. Colleges are much larger than high schools so everyone is really focused on their own paths and futures; you do not feel as ‘judged’ by your peers if you do not participate in something. I was lucky to find a good group of friends in college who all did not do anything haram so it was easy for me to avoid such situations. But of course this not true for everyone, again this comes down to your choices and actions. A child at this point is no longer a child and has to make the right decisions.

My Tips to Parents

Even though parents always mean well and only want the best for their kids, they can sometimes be overprotective and overbearing when it comes to their children. No matter how much you try to protect your children from anything negative or evil, sometimes there are things that you cannot protect them from. You have to let them be able to learn, grow and most importantly trust them to make the right decisions.

With good communication, care and lots of advice and trust, parents and their children can have a healthy relationship free of resentment and grudges. Here are three tips to help you in making your relationship with your child stronger and better.

  • Remember your child lives in a different country

    Parents, I know it is important to keep your own culture alive. You want your children to speak their native language; teach it to them at an early age. They will remember it for the rest of their lives even if they do not speak it often. However, do not forget to teach them English too. Keeping this balance at the early ages will only benefit you and your child as they grow up.

  • Don’t budge on certain things no matter how much your child begs!

    Explain to your children and set boundaries on the types of social activities he or she is allowed participate in. They may hate you for it when they’re young, but it will shape how they make decisions as they grow older. My advice is don’t ever let them do any so-called “fun” activity that will lead to haram stuff because they will resent you forever if you do when they become adults. Let them know what they can and cannot participate in and be stern in your decision.

  • Trust them and give them space:

    Try not to be overprotective when your children are in college. My parents at times did this to me, I am the oldest and I was their first kid in college. I felt like I had to fight for some independence at times, which they finally were able to give to me. In college and even high school, your children are children no more. You have to trust them and understand that they need space from you as their parents in order for them to be independent adults.

  • Be open to discuss anything with your child:

    Listen to your teenager’s issues and be OPEN to discussing any problem they have. A lot of topics such as sex, drugs, dating are all taboo in most Muslim households. Even in my house, my parents did not like talking about these things. But these are the issues your child will face. I know it’s hard for parents to talk about these things since they never had to experience them. But to have an open mind and just listen to your child, will make them feel like they do not have to rebel and that they have someone to go to, to discuss their issues.

Life is not always easy especially for young Muslims from first generation parents living in western, majority non-Muslim countries. I am grateful to have the experiences I have had. I didn’t do a lot of the things my peers did when I was younger but it did not take away too much from my life. Our lives are marked with experiences we learn from. Parents will continue to do what they feel is best for their children and children will continue to educate their parents of the new issues that arise. Together, with understanding and communication, many of these obstacles and hurdles will be avoided.

I hope this article has helped you gain an understanding of some of the issues the Muslim youth face today in America and other western countries. This is of course just a beginning and there are many more things that can be covered.

Fatima is the creator of the blog, Sprinkle of Surprise where she documents moments of her life and experiences. After doing some soul searching and realizing the importance of prayer and faith, Fatima has been able to look at life in a positive light. She’s now focused on eating healthy, exercising and living life in the most positive way possible. Fatima is makeup enthusiast and a lover of fiction novels.

For more of Fatima’s work, please visit her blog: sprinkleofsurprise.wordpress.com

Also follow her on Instagram: @sprinkleofsurprise

 

Um Ibrahim


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