Teens go on coed field trips, for example, but chaperones are present. Mosques put on girls-only dances during high school prom season. And Islamic seminars for young adults take part in auditoriums divided down the middle by gender, said Nouman Ali Khan, 35, who founded Bayyinah, an Arabic institute in Dallas.
“There are some guidelines in Islam that are there and they’re not going to be compromised,” he said. “But these things are unfairly assumed to mean that we’re not social people and that we’re not going to be successful in society.”
AbdelRahman Murphy, a 25-year-old assistant imam in Knoxville, Tennessee, is striking that balance with his newly founded Muslim youth group called Roots. Kids play sports, battle it out in video game playing contests or strut in a girls’ Muslim fashion show with the tongue-in-cheek title “Cover Girl.”
Murphy, the son of an Egyptian immigrant mother and an Irish-American convert, was kicked out of a private Islamic middle school and strayed from the faith in high school — an experience he always keeps in mind.
“We can’t change what’s inside the package, but we can repackage it,” said Murphy, who tweets about college basketball and his faith.
Umar’s mosque, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, recently started monthly meetings that follow a game-show format, with two imams answering questions that teens text to an anonymous hotline. The organizers were shocked when there were questions about masturbation, drugs, porn, dating and drinking.
The sessions opened a much-needed dialogue about how to be successful as a Muslim and an American, said Samina Mohammad, who oversees the youth program.
Mohammad, 28, recently told a youth group how she secretly removed her head scarf on the way to school for two years because she loved her hair. Then, she attended a session for teens where, instead of lecturing about the importance of the head scarf, the imam compared a covered Muslim woman to a beautiful pearl hidden within an oyster.
“It really hit home for me because I didn’t understand that beauty was such a part of it,” she said. “I was trying to find my identity and I realized, ‘Oh, he makes sense. That’s what I need to do.’”