One person, two worlds, and a desperate struggle to juggle them both.
This is the reality which many Muslim youth in the West are living in. We can call them “cultural chameleons,” or describe them as having “split personalities.” Whatever the label, the situation is the same… with often tragic consequences. I’m not just referring to Aqsa Parvez’s devastating death, but rather I refer to the many grievous examples of teens running away from home, getting into drugs, and much more -the worst of which is turning away totally from Islam, rejecting it completely. I am not exaggerating. Those who say I’m being a tabloid journalist or a sensationalist don’t know anything. My father, as a leader within the Muslim community for the last 13 years, has seen it all and continues to deal with such instances on a daily basis. It’s a reality, and those who deny it are either willfully blind or pitifully naive.
It is time that we addressed the situation seriously. First there must be awareness of the reality and knowledge of its causes. The next step is to know what to do when faced with it directly (hint: it does NOT involve killing anyone). And finally, we need to know how to nip the problem in the bud – an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Although each situation is different, there is a general list of what can cause this worst nightmare of any Muslim parent.
- Lack of strong Islamic foundation in the home. As with most things, it begins in your own backyard. If you aren’t raising your children as Muslims with a strong understanding of what it means to be a Muslim, then you can’t expect them to be happy about having to follow strict rules all the time. It’s also important to note the difference between Islam and culture. If you don’t pray five times a day, or encourage your kids to pray, yet freak out if a female family member walks out with her head uncovered, then you really need to straighten out your priorities.
- Double standards. Related to the first point, here we’re talking about when parents are setting a double standard for themselves and their children: in public they seek to ingratiate themselves within Western society, to achieve the American dream of big house, fancy car, and being best friends with the Joneses next door; yet at home they are obsessed with their children following cultural practices that aren’t even necessarily Islamic. It should be no surprise, then, when the children follow in their parents’ footsteps and start living a double life themselves.
- Lack of personal understanding/ conviction of Islam. This is another major factor in youth straying from Islam. Again related to the first point – if you don’t have a strong Islamic foundation in the home, then there will be most likely a lack of understanding of what exactly it means to be a Muslim. If you don’t know the reason behind something, how likely are you to do something if you view it as restrictive and interfering? If you tell your children to pray because if they don’t they’ll burn in Hell, then trust me, they won’t be doing it out of love for Allah – they’ll be doing it out fear… and not even fear of Allah, but fear of you. Similarly, if you tell a girl she has to wear hijaab because otherwise she’ll “stain the family’s honour” or some-such rubbish like that, then once she’s exposed to the Western mentality of freedom (and total lack of anything resembling honour) she won’t give two hoots about the hijaab or your notions of honour. On the other hand, if your child has a personal relationship with Allah and knows exactly why we do some things and stay away from others, they will be far more willing to tough it out and continue to obey Allah.
- General teen rebellion. Sometimes, teens can just be idiots. (I’m allowed to say that because I am a teen :D) Common sense is a rare thing amongst youth these days, and it shows… sadly, some take it too far – beyond the streaked hair and pierced bellybutton (hey, as long as it’s covered up by hijaab, be cool with it!) – and make some really bad choices.
- Insecurity. This is something which affects people everywhere, regardless of their race, religion, or even age. The desire to want to “fit in” and become an accepted member of the crowd is human nature – sometimes it can be a good thing; other times it’s not so great. For girls, the issue is often about body image and beauty, which is why hijaab becomes such a struggle. For guys, it can be about proving their “manliness” (by pursuing other girls, or getting involved in ‘tough guy’ activities like drinking alcohol, etc.). In his series “Children Around the Messenger,” Sheikh Hesham al-Awadhi discusses how to prevent insecurities from the outset: build your child’s self-esteem at home and let them know that they don’t need to seek approval from anyone except Allah. Compliment your children, praise them, let them be confident in their faith and in themselves. Tell your son that he’s cool. Tell your daughter that she’s beautiful. Don’t demean them or belittle them; honour them as the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) honoured his daughter Fatimah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) by giving her his sitting place.
- Bad companions. The Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “The example of a good companion and a bad one is the bearer of musk and the worker on the bellows. A bearer of musk would give you some, you might buy some from him, or you might enjoy the fragrance of his musk. The worker on the bellows, on the other hand, might spoil your clothes with sparks from his bellows, or you get a bad smell from him.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, this version being Muslim’s)
Undoubtedly, the kind of people your kids hang out with will have a huge influence on them – especially at school, which is what a teen’s life pretty much revolves around. Non-Muslims (and even so-called “Muslims”) who have totally different standards morality-wise will definitely make life difficult for your kid: challenging Islam and belittling all that it stands for. While I know that many will say it’s a great Da’wah opportunity, or that it builds character and can be a way to strengthen emaan, the reality is that not all youth are strong enough to emerge the company of such people unscathed. Sadly, we have lost too many of the younger generations to Shaytaan’s misguided lifestyle, and we can’t use a minority of successful young Muslims to deny that reality.
- The “Adolescent” Myth. As covered in a previous MM article, this mentality is one of “I’m young, let me fun and then I’ll be religious when I’m older!” It’s an attitude of irresponsibility, immaturity, and misunderstanding of Islam and the purpose of our lives. By absolving oneself of responsibility, it’s easier for teens to indulge in the haraam without feeling so guilty about it. Thus, it’s obviously very important to instill a sense of responsibility and dutifulness to Allah in our youth – basically, to abolish this kind of mentality.
How do you know if your child, your sibling, or your friend is a “cultural chameleon”? It can be difficult to spot it, but however much a kid can try to sneak around, those closest to them can usually figure out what’s going on. Here are some of the symptoms of the double-life syndrome.
- Change of attitude – Increased rebellion, aggression, and disrespect are major red flags. If they’re behaving like that towards you, do you think they won’t behave like that towards Allah? In fact, if they are acting like that with you, then already they’re showing their defiance of Allah! Taqwa and good behaviour to parents go hand-in-hand: “And your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents.” (Surah al-Israa, verse 23)
- Shows dislike of Islamic practices (“Yuck, hijaab is so old-fashioned,” “What’s the point of praying? It’s stupid!” etc.) This is particularly obvious in a household that is generally religious, or has more than just a tentative connection to the Deen.
- Secretive, sneaky. It’s important for parents to keep an eye on their kids and know where they are and what they’re doing. If you notice that your child is being secretive, sneaky, and generally deceptive about their activities, then it’s a major red flag that your son or daughter isn’t doing the right thing. This goes for pretty much all families, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, but for us Muslims it means more than just that your kid is with bad company or doing bad things: it means that they’re losing their connection to Allah and to Islam, and this in itself is far worse than whatever sinful activities they’re engaged in.
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Educate your child from a young age, build a strong (but loving) Islamic environment within the home. Make them aware of their identity as Muslims, emphasize pride in that identity. However, we can’t say that prevention is the only thing that we can do – the reality is that even children who were raised in a strong Islamic environment can be “lost” in the Dunya… and this is the reality we have to deal with, not deny.
Having said that, here are some practical solutions on dealing with such situations.
- Do not react angrily or violently. If you find out your kid is lying to you and is leading a double life, do NOT freak out at them, scream at them, hit them, etc. This will 1) scare them, 2) reinforce their belief that “Islam/ Muslims are evil/ violent”, and 3) not be productive in any way, shape, or form.
- Take some to cool off after you find out. Pray a naafilah (voluntary salaah), and ask Allah to grant you the patience and strength to deal with the situation.
- Talk to them. Ask them what has led them to do the things they’ve done, what their state of belief is (cases differ drastically: some teens still have emaan and are just confused; others go to the point where they deny Islam completely), and how they feel about their situation in general. Try not to judge them; the key is to listen to them and know where they’re coming from. This will give you information on how to best approach them when the time comes to try and “fix” things.
- Serious counselling may be needed. If you feel as though you are unable to deal with the situation correctly yourself, contact a trustworthy, knowledgeable, and understanding Imam or Shaykh in your area (or use the Muslim Youth Helpline). It’s best to have someone involved who not only knows the Islamic perspective of things, but can also relate to and understand your child. There must be someone whom your child can feel comfortable enough to work with/ talk to if they don’t feel they can open up to you (the parents).
In this stage, there has to be a lot of give-and-take, questions-and-answers. If you already had a long talk with your child previously and asked them all those questions, then now is the time to bring forth your feelings. If you haven’t had the talk, then now is the time to initiate it.
Counselling is a long and sometimes painful process, and only one step forward towards healing. One cannot expect things to change overnight, and it will be very difficult – all I can say is, trust in Allah and look to the Sunnah for help. Have emaan, taqwa, and lots of patience and forbearance. Constantly turn to Allah in du’a, especially the last third of the night. Indeed, this is something that should be done at all times… it is a means of prevention, as well as part of the path to the cure.