From fashion to high fives: Muslim teens answer questions about their traditions

What is it like to be a Muslim teen growing up a Canada in the 21st century?

We meet Malaieka, Ahmad, Rabia and Sahar (pictured above) in the CBC Docs POV film, 14 & Muslim and follow them as they transition from a private, Islamic elementary school into high school and enter a new, less-familiar world.

These years are full of upheaval for any kid, but Muslim teens are growing up in a time when the western world seems to be turning against them. Like many teens, they can feel self-conscious about being singled out because of their religion and have to face stereotypes about what it is like to be Muslim. So we asked them a few straightforward questions. 

How often do you pray/go to the Mosque?
AHMAD: There are five prayers in the day: one at dawn, one at noon, one in the evening, one at sunset and one at night. In our religion, all five prayers are mandatory every day, but this is really for adults. Dawn is definitely too early for me! Until you hit puberty, prayers are not mandatory. Most teenagers don’t want to get up early, and that’s okay until you’re older.
SAHAR: The mosques I attend are not just places of worship but also serve as community centres. So I go there to attend Friday prayers, different social and sports activities, nightly prayers (Taraweeh) during Ramadan and sometimes it’s just a nice space to hang out with my friends.

What can and can't Muslim girls wear? Why are boys different?
SAHAR: Women and men can wear whatever they like. The only limitation is that in the presence of the opposite gender who is not a spouse or are not immediately blood-related both Muslim men and women are expected to dress and behave modestly and respectfully.
MALAIEKA: A Muslim girl typically wears modest clothes that cover her head-to-toe, everything except your face and hands. In my religion, women are asked to cover and stand proudly and be considered as an individual. Man are also asked to cover in Islam and look away, to treat women with respect and treat them as an intellectual being, rather than a materialistic item.
RABIA: I get a lot of questions about the hijab. It’s haram to show yourself to the opposite gender. I also say – it’s like you’re protecting yourself for the man that is destined to be yours. Your hair is something special about you that only he should see.

When is it okay for you to take off your hijab?
MALAIEKA: We only wear hijab in front of men that aren't in our immediate family. We can take off our hijab in front of our sisters, brothers, parents, husband, sons etc. You will rarely ever see me wear hijab at home!
RABIA: One person actually asked me, do you bathe with that on, do you shower with your hijab on? I’m like – no, do you shower with your clothes on?!?

Can you dance/go to parties/drink?
MALAIEKA: Alcoholic beverages and premarital relationships are completely prohibited. I hang out with my friends all the time, but in a controlled environment, where there are only girls and parents are near. You don't have to go to parties or drink to be social. A fun dinner, a movie or even just chilling at home is a good way to interact with your friends.
RABIA: If it was a party just with girls my mom would totally allow it but with guys that would be going over the limit. These days sometimes even Muslim girls will just go to a party with boys and not tell their parents. But I don’t agree with that.

What about music, video games, movies?
RABIA: Yes I can do all of those things because I’m not an alien. Ha! Just kidding. But yes, I can do these things, but there are restrictions — they have to be appropriate, PG-rated, but not R-rated and before I do those things I always ask my parent’s permission, so they know what I’m doing.
MALAIEKA: I, for one, am first in line if there is a Marvel or Disney movie. My brother and I have vigorous discussions about Fortnite and NBA 2k18. We follow another belief, but we are still kids living in the 21st century.

Can I hug my Muslim friend/give a handshake, high five?
AHMAD: If it’s the same gender – I can high five or hug them but if it’s a girl then you can’t. My friends at public school all understand this.
RABIA: I can hug my friends who are girls but not the opposite gender. I can give the opposite gender a handshake but sometimes it can get awkward, so I try not to do that.

Can you ask a boy/girl out on a date?
AHMAD: I can’t date and if there’s a dance or something at school I usually don’t go. Not only because of going out with girls but because there are often lots of alcohol or drugs there. But if I did go, I would just go with a group of friends, not with a date.
RABIA: There’s absolutely no dating in Islam. Boys can’t ask girls out on a date. A long time ago it used to be arranged marriages, but now we’re more modern.  It’s just like a guy, and a girl meet and talk and have an understanding with each other. Last year my uncle got married to the love of his life and it wasn’t arranged – so it’s all good here!

How do I share dinner/lunch with a Muslim friend?
MALAIEKA: Following halal isn't a limitation, it's a lifestyle. You don't only eat halal; you wear what is halal, talk halal and act halal as a Muslim. In terms of food, halal means what is permissible to eat. For Muslims cleanliness is half of our faith, so we eat and drink what is clean. Our meat is always cut in a way which is the healthiest and cleanest for human beings. It drains all the blood, which purifies the meat.

Whenever hosting a Muslim friend, try to look at the ingredients. Gelatine is in a lot of desserts and usually contains lard, which the fat of a pig. We stay away from pigs, haram slaughtered meat, alcoholic drinks and intoxicants, carnivorous animals or birds and rennet or cheddar, which usually comes from animal fat. Here’s a link for more information about halal and haram.

Can I give my Muslim friend a gift? What's acceptable/what's not?
MALAIEKA: Absolutely! We love to spread happiness and what's better than a gift to make someone smile. I don’t think there are any restrictions on what is acceptable and what’s not as long as you give a gift without the intent to harm them. Again, we’re people too, and I personally will welcome anything and everything related to chocolate.

Are women equal to men in your culture?
AHMAD: Yes, totally. I think this is something that people get wrong or that the media misunderstands. Men used to have more rights than women and were considered higher than them, but this has changed.
MALAIEKA: Of course! Women and men are both equal in the sight of God, and the only thing that separates them is their deeds.

What about Islam is misunderstood?
RABIA: People still think that being Muslim is a burden — that it’s a burden having to pray five times a day or having to wear the hijab but really as a Muslim, I think it’s something beautiful because it protects me. Islam is underrated with all of these stereotypes and misunderstandings that people have.