Cultural Chameleon – Part 1
Praying at home or the masjid and then sneaking out to party. Wearing hijab 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 Muslims live. 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. We are not just referring to your community brother or sister’s devastating death, but rather we 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. We are not exaggerating. It’s a reality and those who deny it are either wilfully 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. And finally, we need to know how to nip the problem in the bud – because 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.
1- Lack of strong Islamic foundation in the home:
As with most things, it begins in your own backyard. If we aren’t raising our children as Muslims with a strong understanding of what it means to be a Muslim, then we 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 we don’t pray five times a day or encourage our kids to pray, yet freak out if a female family member walks out with her head uncovered, then we really need to straighten out our priorities.
2- 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 integrate themselves within Western society, to achieve the Western society’s 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.
3- Lack of personal understanding/conviction of Islam:
This is another major factor in youth straying from Islam. Again related to the first point, if we don’t have a strong Islamic foundation in the home, then there will most likely be a lack of understanding of what exactly being a Muslim means. If we don’t know the reason behind something, how likely are we to do it if we view it as restrictive and interfering? If we tell our children to pray because if they don’t they will burn in Hell, then, they won’t be doing it out of love for Allah (SWT). Rather, they will be doing it out fear and not even fear of Allah (SWT), but fear of the parents!
Similarly, if you tell a girl she has to wear hijab because otherwise she will “stain the family’s honour” or something 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 hijab or your notions of honour. On the other hand, if your child has a personal relationship with Allah (SWT) 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 (SWT).
4- General teen rebellion:
Sometimes, teens can just be teens. Common sense is a rare thing amongst youth these days and it shows… sadly, some take it too far, beyond the streaked hair, tattoos and pierced bellybutton (hey, as long as it’s covered up by hijab, be cool with it!), and make some really bad choices. Being intoxicated by the passions of youth, we never ponder for a moment over the reality that we shall we questioned by Allah (SWT).
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, and other times it can be very harmful and detrimental. For girls, the issue is often about body image and beauty, which is why hijab 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, drugs etc.
Build your child’s self-esteem at home and let them know that they don’t need to seek approval from anyone except Allah (SWT). Complimenting one’s children, praising them, letting 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 Holy Prophet (saw) honoured his daughter Sayyida Fatimah (as) by giving her his sitting place.
6- Bad companions:
The Holy Prophet (saw) 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.”
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 of morality will definitely make life difficult for your kid: challenging Islam and belittling all that it stands for. While we know that many will say it’s a great Da’wah opportunity or that it builds character and can be a way to strengthen faith, the reality is that not all youth are strong enough to emerge from the company of such people unscathed. Sadly, we have lost too many of the younger generation to Shaytan’s misguided lifestyle, and we can’t use a minority of successful young Muslims to deny that reality. The Messenger of Allah (saw) informed us that: “A man follows his friend’s religion – you should be careful whom you make friends with.”
7- The “Adolescent” Myth:
This mentality is one of “I’m young, let me have 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 haram without feeling so guilty about it. Thus, it’s obviously very important to instil a sense of responsibility and dutifulness to Allah (SWT) in our youth, basically, to abolish this kind of mentality. The Holy Prophet (saw) said: “An intelligent person is the one who calls himself to account and does deeds to benefit himself after death, and a foolish person is he who follows his desires and hopes from Allah (SWT).”
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. We shall discuss the symptoms and solutions next month, inshAllah.