Young Muslims Challenge Traditional Stereotypes
Young Muslims like Humaira Akram are using social media to show the Islamic culture’s younger side.
“Gen Z Muslims have changed or progressed Muslim culture in today’s society by being more vocal, using their social media platforms to advocate for justice and being open-minded,” said Akram, a student at Brooklyn College in New York.
Akram and others say they think many non-Muslims see violence and sexism as stereotypes. But younger Muslims are eager to move beyond that, she said.
“They are eager to learn and succeed, while speaking up against misconceptions and raising awareness for future generations, speaking up against injustice, and using their voice to make a change,” Akram said.
The conservative religious regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia compel women to wear head coverings and keep them subservient to men. In other Islamic countries such as Afghanistan, head covering is a cultural practice rather than mandated by law.
Other Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Turkey and Syria, have made greater strides in women’s rights, with more women attending university and holding senior government positions. Afghanistan's parliament, according to Human Rights Watch, "has a higher percentage of women than does the U.S. Congress."
And in a world that has doubled its population since 1960, the largest Islamic country — Indonesia — cut its fertility rate by half after the government promoted the use of birth control. Indonesia is among the four largest nations in the world after China, India and the United States.
Clearing up misconceptions
According to the website Teaching Tolerance, stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims include extreme sexism and violence.
Social media influencers Zahra Hashimee and Sabina Hanan use TikTok and YouTube to bring attention to the Muslim culture and address these misconceptions.
Hashimee shares with viewers why she wears a hijab and how she gets her hair cut. She also explains the holy month of Ramadan in 60 seconds.
Hanan answers users’ comments and questions about Islam and the Muslim culture, and posts positive messages on Instagram in Arabic.
Public office and activism
Young Muslims have also seen new representation in government positions.
Last year at age 21, Bushra Amiwala was elected to the Skokie School District 73.5 Board of Education in Illinois when she was only a junior at DePaul University. She is one of the youngest Muslim elected officials in the United States.
The U.S. also saw its first two Muslim congresswomen in 2019 —Ilhan Omar from Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan.
In a recent poll, 90% of members of Generation Z overall support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and worldwide protests against racism, according to Business Insider. Gen Z'ers are also more progressive than earlier generations, according to a Pew Research study.
BLM is a decentralized movement protesting against incidents of police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black people, according to Black Lives Matter.com.
Muslims constitute 1% of the U.S. population, and at least 42% are under 30, categorized as Gen Z and millennials, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
“During this time of change as the Black Lives Matter movement treads on, it is extremely important for Gen Z Muslims to speak up against injustice and use their voice to make a change,” Akram said.
Isha Fazili, a student at New York University, said she looks up to Gen Z Muslims like Riz Ahmed, a British Pakistani Muslim actor, rapper, and activist, who has an Emmy Award for his role in the HBO series “The Night Of” and has performed in front of sold-out crowds at Coachella and Webster Hall, two popular music events.
“We challenge the idea that Muslims are a monolith. We defy stereotypes and seek to remedy issues such as racism and colorism within our communities. We are fashionable, charitable, intelligent, talented, passionate,” Fazili said.
Other Gen Z Muslims like Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh have created an online platform for other Gen Z Muslims. Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder of Muslim.co, a new digital publication for Gen Z Muslims within the ummah — a community of Muslims brought together regardless of race, gender, sect or practice of their faith.
Gen Z'er Haniah Ahmed studies at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada and said she believes Gen Z Muslims celebrate the culture in a way that is more liberating and accepting.
“Gen Z Muslims have been able to tie together Muslim and non-Muslim culture, like Western ideals and Muslim ideals, without sacrificing their beliefs, making Islam more approachable and relatable,” Ahmed said. “Gen Z Muslims, for example, have tied together the rights of women that the Quran has stated and Western feminism to make Islam more understandable and approachable and relatable."
She added, “Gen Z Muslims have also changed Islamic culture to become more liberal in such a way that Muslims are now proud to express themselves in whatever way they see fit, especially in ways that are directly tied to the arts and music sectors.”
Love and marriage
Traditional Islam has encouraged Muslims to marry within their faith. Younger Muslims are changing this, said Hanna El-Mohandess, a Gen Z Muslim studying at Emerson College.
“Nowadays, there are many Muslim women who are with guys who aren't Muslim, because a lot of those circumstantial rulings, like arranged marriages and marriage laws, no longer exist,” she said.
Imran Muthuvappa, a Gen Z Muslim student at the University of Albany, said the internet has allowed other younger Muslims to become stricter in their faith.
“In my own personal circle, a lot of people are becoming even more strict about their faith due to the fact that they now have support systems through the internet. I feel that with a lot of the people that I surround myself with, they have progressively felt less pressured to conform to Western standards,” Muthuvappa said.
Ahmed said changing minds over a generation takes time.
“I believe the actual Muslim faith and belief system has not changed. But the individuals who previously made the belief system come across as limiting and unaccepting and are being slowly pushed aside,” Ahmed said.
“Gen Z Muslims with progressive views of Islam are starting to take a stand in leading the Muslim youth by understanding that religion is an extremely unique path for every person,” said Ahmed. “Something which their ancestors did not understand, as they thought religion is extremely black and white.”
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Biden Cancels Federal Student Loans for Nearly 153,000 Borrowers
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that while a college degree was still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is often too expensive, as he announced he was canceling federal student loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers.
Biden, who is in the midst of a three-day campaign swing through California, made the announcement as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster path to forgiveness, putting the spotlight on his debt cancellation efforts in his reelection campaign.
"Too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree," he said from a local library before he went on to campaign-related events. Loan relief helps the greater economy, he said, because "when people have a student debt relief, they buy homes. They start businesses, they contribute. They engage."
The administration began sending email notifications on Wednesday to some of the borrowers who will benefit from what the White House has called the SAVE program. The cancellations were originally scheduled to start in July, but last month the administration said it would be ready almost six months ahead of schedule, in February.
"Starting today, the first round of folks who are enrolled in our SAVE student loan repayment plan who have paid their loans for 10 years and borrowed $12,000 or less will have their debt cancelled," Biden posted on social media Wednesday. "That's 150,000 Americans and counting. And we're pushing to relieve more."
The first round of forgiveness from the SAVE plan will clear $1.2 billion in loans. The borrowers will get emails with a message from Biden notifying them that "all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration's SAVE Plan."
In his email to borrowers, Biden wrote he had heard from "countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they've put on hold."
More than 7.5 million people have enrolled in the new repayment plan.
He said Wednesday that it was the kind of relief "that can be life-changing for individuals and their families."
"I'm proud to have been able to give borrowers like so many of you the relief you earned," he said, asking the crowd gathered for his speech how many had debt forgiven. Many raised their hands.
Borrowers are eligible for cancellation if they are enrolled in the SAVE plan, originally borrowed $12,000 or less to attend college and have made at least 10 years of payments. Those who took out more than $12,000 will be eligible for cancellation but on a longer timeline. For each $1,000 borrowed beyond $12,000, it adds an additional year of payments on top of 10 years.
The maximum repayment period is capped at 20 years for those with only undergraduate loans and 25 years for those with any graduate school loans.
Biden announced the new repayment plan last year alongside a separate plan to cancel up to $20,000 in loans for millions of Americans. The Supreme Court struck down his plan for widespread forgiveness, but the repayment plan has so far escaped that level of legal scrutiny. Unlike his proposal for mass cancellation — which had never been done before — the repayment plan is a twist on existing income-based plans created by Congress more than a decade ago.
Biden said he remained steadfast in his commitment to "fix our broken student loan system," working around the court's ruling to find other ways to get it done.
This College Student’s Acceptance Letter Came With a Marching Band
Alejandro Marroquin, 17, was surprised one morning by a full marching band outside his home, carrying a letter admitting him to the University of Maryland. Read the story from Emily Davies of The Washington Post. (January 2024)