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.”