The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook is a guide to the basics of Islam, packed with information, quizzes, pictures, colorful art and humor. The book was a family effort, by a mother and her two children, to explore the realities of young Muslims' life in the west and to educate non-Muslims about Islam. Faiza Elmasry reports.
On Sundays, Dilara Hafiz teaches Islam to Muslim children in her community in Arizona. She admits that they're facing a very different world today than she did as a child, 3 decades ago. "Life as a Muslim in post 9/11 America has been challenging," she says.
That's what her son, Imran, discovered five years ago, when he was 11 and his classmates refused to play with him. "You know, I'm trying to play a soccer game and people say, 'Oh, no you can't play,'" he recalls. "'Why?' 'Because you're a Muslim, you're part of the Taleban.' It was tough for me to explain to these people how I was not a terrorist, just because I was of a certain religion. I knew their comments didn't stem from hate, they stem from ignorance. I wished there was something out there that could do that."
But there was no such a resource about Islam in bookstores, says his 17-year old sister, Yasmine. "I was looking in a bookstore, in the non fiction, young adult section and I noticed all these wonderful resources for teens of different religions, like Christian teens and Jewish teens," she says. "I asked my mother, I said,'Why there is nothing like this for Muslim teens?'"
Her mother says the answer was to create one. She and her children sent out a survey to 40 Islamic schools in America, asking teenagers about the issues that they faced, living as American Muslims. "Who are their role models? Are they observant? What are their thoughts on being Muslims? Is it easy, or is it difficult?"
The responses gave them a better picture of Muslim teenagers in America. "What we found from our survey," Dilara Hafiz says, "is that teenagers, regardless of what their faith background is, are facing many similar issues of peer pressures, acceptance, listening to their parents but being tempted to want to do things that their parents don't approve." Based on the survey and input from other Muslim teens, the family started putting together the handbook.
Dilara Hafiz says they introduced Islam by outlining the basic beliefs of the religion, quoting and explaining passages from the Muslim holy book, the Quran, and telling the story of the Prophet Muhammad. Other chapters debunk misconceptions about Muslims, highlight inventions from the Muslim world, and discuss difficult issues facing Muslim teens in America.
Hafiz says, "Probably the most talked about chapter is called The 4 D's: Dating, Dancing, Drinking and Drugs. We always approach the topics from a verse from the Quran and examination of the issue based on the Islamic approach. But then we talk about the reality of life in the West and how the youth are bombarded with messages, which sometimes can be conflicting messages and how they define Islam for themselves."
Creating The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook, Yasmine Hafiz says, was a dream that took her family two years to fulfill. In the process, she says, she herself learned more about her faith, and some practical lessons, as well. "I learned that if you have a dream, you should definitely go for it and you should just start now."
And, with the book now being translated into Chinese, her brother Imran says he realizes the potential impact of the work worldwide. "It kind of opened the doors for a more global understanding of faith that can promote an environment of religious tolerance, and one step beyond that, of religious pluralism," he says. "And I think that if the whole world is able to be more tolerant and more accepting of other people's faith and religions, not only in America, and not just for Muslims, I think our world would be a much better place."
That was the original goal that inspired the Hafiz family to dedicate their time and effort to create The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook.