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Coming of Age Traditions

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  In many religions and cultures, children go through an important rite of passage to mark their transition from child to adult. In Christianity, Roman Catholics have Confirmation; Jews have a Bar Mitzvah (for boys) and a Bat Mitzvah (for girls), celebrated at ages 13 and 12 respectively. Latino girls celebrate Quinceanera, the Japanese recognize young adults at the age of 20 during a ceremony called Seijin Shiki… the list goes on and on.

 

  Now: What about Islam? Islamically, we become baaligh – mature – when we attain the age of puberty, which is determined by the appearance of one of many signs (menstruation for girls, wet dreams and pubic hair for both genders; lacking any of those, age 15).

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  It’s a momentous time, this time in which we are now formally (and legally, Shari’ah-wise) adults. Our eyes are opened to the adult world, and we have many new responsibilities and duties, and so much to learn!

 

  The topic of this post, however, is not to go into the specifics of puberty, but to focus on another aspect of it – traditions associated with “coming of age,” and whether there are such traditions existent amongst Muslims today.

 

  As far as I know, there is nothing special in Islamic Law, from the Qur’an and Sunnah, that is done to mark the occasion of a youth’s emergence into the adult world. As for Muslim cultures, there seems to be a similar lack of emphasis when a child crosses over to the threshold of adulthood – it tends to be a very quiet, private affair (which is understandable, really, considering the rather sensitive nature of how we “come of age”). A quick Google search rendered only one specific result, on coming of age in Malaysia, although it seems to be what’s most common amongst Muslims.

 

  When I “came of age,” it wasn’t a really big thing for me. It happened, I knew that now I was held accountable in the Sight of Allah, and that was that. I didn’t feel anything different, I didn’t even think much about it – in fact, I felt as much a child that day, and the days after it, as I was before it.

 

  It seems that was also the case with many others – it happened, and while there were often misunderstandings and misconceptions in regards to the issue, there never seemed to be any major “excitement” involved. Mostly it tended to be the cause of a great deal of confusion, misunderstanding, misconceptions, and general ignorance (as mentioned in Amad’s post here).

 

  So what I was thinking was – is it possible for us to create some sort of coming of age tradition for the future generations of Muslims to come? Is there any way we can make this a special moment, a momentous occasion, something that will both welcome and introduce a whole new generation of young adults? Can we even do that, or would it be counted as a bid’ah, as imitating the kuffaar?

 

  Please note that I am not, in an way, shape or form implying that Islam is lacking or incomplete and that we need to introduce something into it; rather, I’m exploring how we handle this important aspect of life, and how we could perhaps change our current trend of general silence or awkward abruptness into something more comfortable and open.

 

  I personally think that it could be something great. It ties into what we discussed about puberty/ sex education with our youth, and furthermore, it has the potential to change it from being a taboo subject and rather be a very frank, yet special, introduction to the ways of the world and the circle of life.

 

  As well, it might prove to be something that will impress upon us youth the magnitude of what has happened to them, this new phase of life that they have entered. I know girls who, though they’ve had “The Talk” already, don’t take it seriously (and if my brothers are an example of the general attitude amongst guys of the same age group, the same goes for boys). To me, coming of age is a serious thing, something that we should be forced to stop, take note of, and think deeply about. As with everything else in Islam, the Islamic stance on this issue encompasses different aspects of our life – physical, mental, and spiritual.

 

As Tariq Nelson often notes, there is a slow but sure emergence of an American (Western?)-Muslim culture as a new generation of young Muslims grows up here, distinct from the “back-home” Muslim culture of the first few generations of immigrants. Perhaps there already exist certain coming-of-age rituals (no doubt different from family to family) – and if not, then maybe constructing our own tradition would help with the confusion that surrounds those of us figuring out a way to comprehensively education the youth on the whole subject of growing up.

 

I suppose another question to think about is whether it’s even necessary to have a coming-of-age tradition in the first place – would a comprehensive continuing education be all we need to introduce our youth to the responsibilities, duties, and privileges (such as they are!) of adulthood; rendering any ‘need’ (I’m not sure what word to use in its place, though I’m aware that need isn’t the right word here) for a special tradition totally obsolete and pointless?

I’m of two minds about it, really – the former is/ was my experience, yet I wonder if establishing some sort of tradition might not make the job easier for parents and help the youth also.

 

Here’s a parting question for parents – if your child has “come of age,” how did you deal with it? Did you make it something “special,” or was it more hushed-up, a “between me, you, and Allah” sort of thing?

 

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. MR

    August 15, 2007 at 9:46 AM

    You forgot to add “Sweet 16”.

    Anyways, for Muslims, I’d say our “coming of age event” would be the Nikkah/Walima.

  2. ahmed

    August 15, 2007 at 12:16 PM

    Getting a driver’s license.

    Now the teenager’s in charge of a multi-thousand pound vehicle, and is responsible for grocery shopping and running errands.

    :)

    • supermed

      January 17, 2016 at 5:40 AM

      thats a good one for the saudi government

  3. Ibn Ajibah

    August 15, 2007 at 1:13 PM

    Wasn’t there some kind of ‘coming of age’ ceremony mentioned in Alex Haley’s Roots? Those people were/are Muslims. Although, judging from what it entailed (circumcision after puberty), it probably wouldn’t be a huge success here. On the other hand, in the book, it mentions ”manhood training” which included, wrestling, hunting etc.

  4. Amad

    August 15, 2007 at 1:14 PM

    MR, great idea…. throw the newly minted adult right into the fray of marriage… that will ensure that there is no adolescence nonsense! Of course, parents would have to deal with 2 crazy teens… not just one!

    Seriously though I am not sure if there is a need of such a tradition. Though I can see some of the benefits and the creation of something to break the ice between parents/children IF that is not already done a long time ago.

  5. SrAnonymous

    August 15, 2007 at 2:18 PM

    Events needn’t be ceremonious, just like getting a licence or your child’s first day of school. However I’ve seen other ways in which coming of age makes its mark at my children’s Islamic school. The girls who are not praying all get a sense of camaraderie as yet another joins their flock.
    For parents it’s a tricky time as their “child” is now accountable and yet they don’t want to keep on at their child,” you have to pray now…it’s fard” “you have to dress like this all the time now..” “nag, nag, nag”
    It’s a time of transition that no matter how hard we had tried to get them used to salah, hijab etc, this age *gulp* is the real deal.
    And that’s just what’s happening on the outside.

  6. Ummaziza

    August 15, 2007 at 4:11 PM

    My vote is to keep it between parents and the child without any outside recognition.

    Reason 1 – The problem with the children of Adam (as) is that when cultural or non-religious things are added amongst the people, future generations often start to include them as part of or believe that they are a part of acts of worship.

    Reason 2: I personally appreciate the beauty in the quiet “unrecognized” transition that our children enjoy. In fact, if we reflect on it, everything about our lives as muslims is un-ceremonial (by contrast to the nations before us (some of which were mentioned at the beginning of the post)). In the strictest Islamic sense, our marriages, births, funerals, holidays are all incredibly simple, though people consistently try to blow them out of proportion and lose the focus of the real purpose at hand. If we follow the example of the Prophet (sws) simple and unceremonial (but consistent in duty and sincerity) is best.

    Reason 3: In this Western society especially, where everything is about the outside “show” of things, and very little focus on the essence of matters and one’s personal responsibility toward them, we should really fight the urge to make a big deal of things.

    Reason 4: We should train our children (and ourselves) to focus on what their responsibilities are when they come of age (i.e. salat, increased household obligations, training for future role as parents and spouses) and not on the fact that they have lived a certain number of years.

    Reason 5: We are the best nation, if we follow this complete way of life as we should – what we have is perfect.

    Wallahu ‘alim.

  7. Faiez

    August 15, 2007 at 4:16 PM

    “how we could perhaps change our current trend of general silence or awkward abruptness into something more comfortable and open.”

    I would say, the solution to not being comfortable and open would be to start being comfortable and open. Making a tradition will probably seem like a good idea now, but down the years it’ll just be something “corny” to young kids who won’t take it seriously.

    Just start treating the kids like adults and they’ll start acting like it. If you want to teach some responsibility, give them responsibility.

  8. luz dedios

    January 1, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    AS
    I think if you are a hispanic muslim family, a quinceañera would be fine if tailored. For example. The girl could have a small gathering of friends, wearing her most beautiful dress for the day and celebrate. I mean face it, for sisters, the best time we have is looking forward to a sisters only gathering where we can dress up and take off hijab, wear make up and be girly girls and party. In addition, the girl could begin w/recitation of qur’an to show how serious she has been studying quran. like a reward for her memorizing a certain amount. Then party to celebrate becoming 15. This would help the girls b/c in our society most of our youth are bombarded w/peer pressure this would be there time to shine. Ok so what if they aren’t hispanic, then they could celebrate something similar, say a sweet sixteen or terrific 12 or 13. I know my children have attended bar mitzvahs and never requested anything like it but I appreciated the meaning behind the ceremony. My girls look forward to a quiñceanera b/c of their hispanic roots. They proudly recognize they are muslim first but appreciate their ethnicity as well. As for as bidah, we can take from a culture that which is not shirk/haram. I’m not advocating for muslims to start a tradition but if it is part of their culture then why not continue it as long as it is islamic.

  9. Younes

    April 10, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    I have just become 14. Im wondering when i will be coming of age?

  10. nobody

    November 11, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    ugh! ! why more hair and responsibilities?! ?! ?! no!

    • ben arfa

      November 17, 2013 at 5:36 AM

      stop being dirty

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  13. Salam

    February 16, 2018 at 3:53 AM

    I think a small gift to both boy/girl is nice. Islam encourages gift giving.

    And just having one on one time with your child explaining the obligations and celebrating with words. I mean all these years they just imititate you and talk so much if growing up.

    You can say
    You will be with us for sahoor
    Praying salah on special prayer mat
    Being more like baba/mama in avoiding certain situations like non mahram etc

    Simple yet special

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