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Cultural Chameleons


anc006.jpgPraying at home or the masjid, and then sneaking out to party at a nightclub. Wearing hijaab around family, and then turning into a fashion diva at school.

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.

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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.

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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



  1. SrAnonymous

    January 4, 2008 at 10:10 AM

    “Talk to them”
    This is something that seems so obvious yet can be challenging. What’s the difference between tlaking and lecturing? Here’s one way a sister advised me on raising teens,”Talk to them by taking an interest in them”

  2. SrAnonymous

    January 4, 2008 at 10:11 AM


  3. ukhti

    January 4, 2008 at 11:32 AM

    Good article. My only comment is that is wrong to say this is a Western problem. This is a world wide issue, its just that things here are more a little more easily accessible than say Pakistan.

    Also, you really have to keep your teens busy. I find it really disturbing how Muslim parents don’t allow their kids to do anything besides study. That is just a recipe for kids to get into trouble. Encourage a hobby, art, writing, sports, martial arts. Push them to volunteer one a month or week, do more chores around the house. Basically give them responsibilities.

  4. Abu Yasmeen

    January 4, 2008 at 11:55 AM

    I think the Chameleon culture is wider then we think. Sneaking and going to the club is one big example, but what about the things that everyone can find in our lives. How about watching movies or t.v. shows with Islamically objectable scences. Or listening to music, or wasting time on things that don’t bring us closer to Allah.

  5. FA

    January 4, 2008 at 1:22 PM

    I agree with ukhti. You’d find the same problems in most Muslim countries too.

  6. AnonyMouse

    January 4, 2008 at 5:06 PM

    I haven’t limited it exclusively to the West, but I did specifically mention the West because that’s what I’m personally familiar with… I don’t know about the situation in the Muslim world, at least not in accurate detail.

  7. Anon Muslim

    January 4, 2008 at 5:32 PM

    I just wanted to say that your article was pretty good. I also wanted to echo some of the sentiments that you stated.

    The most important thing in influencing the behavior of a pre-teen/teenager is parental involvement. I’ve seen it time and time again. When parents are involved in their kids lives, the temptation toward the haram is diminished.

    And relating to this is talking to your kids about what’s going on in their lives. Raising kids is more than just putting food on the table and a roof over their head. There is an emotional component that is all too easily missed. Teenagers are impressionable and parents will always have the biggest impact on them, regardless of what anyone says about teenage rebellion.

    And to further emphasize a point mentioned in the article is keeping an eye out on your kid. When a teen is acting secretive they are hiding something that they know is wrong.

    Relating to this is also Muslim youths going over to hang out at the house of non-Muslim youths or even unsupervised Muslim friend’s houses. I have found that this is where a lot of trouble can occur for pre-teens/teens.

    I am not advocating isolating kids at all, but remember that divorce in this country is fairly high, and most of my classmates often went home to empty homes left to their own devices which most often consisted of drugs and alcohol followed by Mom or dad bringing their new live in companion. Not exactly a stable environment.

    Switching the tables and having your kids bring their friends to your home does a couple of things. You can keep a better eye on their activities and you know that the environment is much healthier. Plus there is the added bonus of introducing non-Muslims gently to a positive image of Islam which helps during those awkward teen years when many Muslim youths want to just fit in with non-Muslims. By portraying a positive image to their friends, it’s much easier to maintain one’s identity.

  8. Tuwaylib

    January 4, 2008 at 6:42 PM

    JazakAllahu khair for this article.

    I think one thing we often forget is that parenting doesn’t start after a crisis arises. Parenting is from day one. Often we see a lack in tarbiyyah which results in such behaviour.

    What are parents supposed to expect if they never raised their kids to be Muslim? never implented Salah and fasting. What happens if parents encouraged mixed birthday parties and ‘backhome’ music instead of American Music as if there is a difference… The parents are treading a path that their children will undoubtedly follow and carry on until one day the children have gone beyond their parents. The actions of the child had its asl in the actions or inaction of the parents.

    to emphasize the point raised by the above poster on the importance of good friends we have the hadith of the Prophet (saw): “Al-mar’u 3ala deeni khaleelih” A person is on the religion of his close friend.

  9. reader

    January 4, 2008 at 7:20 PM

    good points.

    however, i think this “chameleon culture” extends even into adulthood. i’ve seen plenty of muslims put on a show for when ammi and abbu come to town, but then get back to playing poker and going to the clubs as soon as family leaves town. so, i wouldn’t say it’s necessarily an “age thing.”

  10. anonymousgirl

    January 4, 2008 at 8:19 PM

    This chameleon culture doesn’t just apply to teens in the west but it applies to people of all ages all over the world! My goodness Anonymouse, you’d be surprised by how good the West can seem when you look at the culture in our very own Muslim countries! The first thing we need to do is stop blaming the West for what we do on our own in our own countries!

  11. AnonyMouse

    January 4, 2008 at 8:28 PM

    As I said above, I specifically mentioned the West because it’s all that I know… I have no personal experience with the Muslim countries, so I can’t comment on the situation there.
    But yes, as many of you pointed out, cultural chameleons can be found in many places… and so we’ve got to deal with it wherever it is.
    May Allah guide us and protect us all from fitnah, ameen

  12. inexplicabletimelessness

    January 5, 2008 at 4:15 AM

    As salamu alaikum
    mashaAllah sister AnonyMouse. I think this article is so good/ scary realization that it has shocked people away from commenting much. :D

  13. SrAnonymous

    January 5, 2008 at 9:04 AM

    Anonymouse, tell me ain’t true. What do you see in the families that have people with double lives? I’ve never seen the nightclubber cum hijabi type of syndrome. So tell me more.
    What do you think these types of kids/adults need?

  14. AnonyMouse

    January 5, 2008 at 11:06 AM

    Sadly, it IS true. My dad deals with this stuff on a daily basis, and although he doesn’t tell us all the gory details, he ends up mentioning some of them in khutbahs and duroos.

    As to both your questions, well, it’s pretty much all laid out in the article! I’ve listed both causes and “solutions,” although they’re quite general… specifics are hard to list, though, because it differs on a case-to-case basis.

  15. Abu Abdurrahman

    January 5, 2008 at 1:56 PM

    Mash’Allah a very beneficial and timely article – analysing the problem from many angles. It’s no doubt a stiking reality which needs to be dealt with a nd addressed, and this is no doubt a very good starting point.

  16. AbdulHasib

    January 5, 2008 at 1:57 PM

    Ok i’m loving the past few MM posts. Especially the last two by you and ibnabeeomar.

    Social issues, from people who’ve had experience.

    Just thought had to be said. Masha’aAllah keep it up.

    To SrAnonymous
    “Talk to them”

    – translates to Listen to them.
    More Listening, less talking.
    Relate to them – people open up to people they can relate to, simple as that. If you can’t relate to them. Take a nice secondary role and help as you can. People usually know clear haram and halal, they don’t need a savior coming in their face, they need an attentive ear, and someone who shows that they understand where they are coming from, and give THEM in THEIR eyes a ‘realistic alternative,’ whatever that means for them.

    And lastly, on the topic of recent dicussion, the vast majority these kids with dual lifestyles. They come from good middle to upper middle class affluent families (how often do you find a LARGE number of them from ‘ghettos or wards’?). Parents who are doctors and engineers, etc. That sent them to ‘sunday and summer school.’ They were never communicated properly. They got a “pakistan zindabad/filistine is the cause!” version of islam they never related to; and they all were made to think…

    … This isn’t home. Home is “over there.”

    Newsflash to them: America IS home (and just a side rant: all due respect, we are muslims. we love our muslims brethren and do whatever we can to help them, and may Allah alleviate their cause everywhere. But raising your kids like they LIVE in palestine or pakistan is not going to alleviate palestine or pakistan. It’s raising them as conscientious, ambitious, self governing, goal oriented, servants of Allah THAT care for their muslims BECAUSE it’s part of their religion to, “You have not believed unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”).

    We need indegenous and those of us who were grown here to STEP UP.

    IBM commercial style, “stop talking. start doing.”

    WE relate to them. WE have to go OUT OF OUR WAY to cater and show we CARE. WE love our sisters and we don’t WANT them to be out in a club. WE love our brotha’s and we want for them to stop wanting to be ‘gangsta’ or wannabes, etc.

    And the first step is,

    To listen.

    The second is,

    To truly care.

    WAllahu ‘Alam

  17. nadia

    January 5, 2008 at 3:17 PM

    I noticed no one mentioned this case

    Most Muslim parents are hypocrites. They don’t make any effort to have a decent relationship with their kids. Just yell, bark haram/halal or worse. Most Muslim kids are not like you guys, they are lonely, normal human beings who just want to fit in. Masjids are not welcoming unless you are from the right family or ethnic group. Aunties are extremely judgmental, jumping on the girls for the littlest thing. Who cares who is not wearing hijab or who is wearing nail polish if you won’t even be friendly and polite to them. Why would they even listen. If parents/adults actually lived Islam, showed some compassion toward their children and other youth in the community we would not see such rebellion. I mean who wants to be Muslim if it means being an angry, violent, cranky loser. Kids see whats around them and make decisions accordingly.

  18. Anon Muslim

    January 5, 2008 at 7:29 PM

    In response to nadia:

    About the story you linked. It’s a tragedy and I have yet to hear or read of Muslim condoning the man’s actions, but what is your point concerning the link? That his behavior is indicative of Muslim fathers because I know that’s far from the truth.

    Any violence the man perpetrated was directly against the teachings of Islam and the examples set by the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). More likely he’s just an angry man who wrongly took out his frustrations on his innocent kids. I could point to any number of similar cases involving people of other faiths or no faiths.

    As to Muslim parents being hypocrites. Some are and some aren’t. Being Muslim doesn’t make them immune to any human foibles. I’m not excusing bad parenting but it’s prevalent in all cultures/religions.

    “I mean who wants to be Muslim if it means being an angry, violent, cranky loser.”

    Where exactly did you dig up this stereotype as I have never really heard this one, and I have been born and raised in the states and am a product of the public school systems.

  19. AnonyMouse

    January 7, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    @ AbdulHasib

    Sorry, I had to fish your comment out of the spam box… jazakAllahu khair for the kind words :)

  20. imran khan

    January 8, 2008 at 12:54 PM

    very intresting …

    Why one Muslim girl became a born-again virgin …….

  21. sanuma

    July 19, 2008 at 11:15 PM

    assalamu Alaikum
    I really like your articles and i was wondering if we could print this one in our newsletter… Of course everything will be cited, like the link and your penname.

  22. AnonyMouse

    July 20, 2008 at 1:50 AM

    Wa ‘alaikumus-salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,

    AlHamdulillah! :)
    Yes, you have permission to reproduce any of my articles as long as full credit is given and cited… jazaakillaahi khairan.

  23. umm Hafsah

    August 19, 2008 at 10:29 PM

    As salaamu alaikum,

    As a mother of two I was very impressed by this article. Ma sha Allah you’re very wise for your age:) I pray Allah reward you and your parents!

    My children are still very young, but it scares me to think that someday I’m going to have to worry about this. But you are absolutely right that it starts first and foremost in the home. We have to set a good example for our children, and the best example is the example of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa salaam). Just like you mentioned in your article, if parents confuse children with culture, they (the children) are bound to to go astray one way or another.

    I remember being a teen and remember how tempting it was to try to fit in..but to all those teens out there..hold on to the rope of Allah because there is nothing more amazing than being a Muslim! And may Allah guide us all onto Siratul Mustaqeem.

    wa as salaamu alaikum
    umm Hafsah (and Musa) :-)

  24. Sabrina

    April 29, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    You make some very valid points. Although, I do disagree with your statement when you said Non-Muslims will ruin your life. I have been living in a non-Muslim community for more than 10 years now. I have non-Muslim friends who have been supportive, loyal, and deeply respectful towards me and the Islamic faith. They are even better in some ways than some of the girls at my local Masjid. It is true that some Muslim youth have strayed from Islam and non-Muslims friends could play a role in that. But being a minority in this country and especially in my community ( me and my family are the only Muslims) it is impractical to not form friendships with non-Muslims. Also, to think that a Muslim cannot be practicing AND be friends with a non Muslim is completely ridiculous. Overall, your article is very informative and inshallah it will beneficial to the Muslim community.

  25. None

    August 19, 2016 at 8:23 PM

    We must be careful not to Judge and label others by calling them
    Names such as ‘chameleons’- as in this case it refers to something you see as bad. I find I currently enjoy the company of non-Muslims more than those who are Muslim. Sadly over the past few years those who have lied or deceived me in some way have been Muslim. The worst crime I have seen and witnessed in front of me was done by a muslim woman. However I find your article very encouraging and it is an absolute delight to hear such an interesting article and I do consider and try to understand your points of view and how you have come to form some of the mature observations you have made. It does encourage me to keep believing.

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