The Dilemma of a Muslim Girl
Had Inaya really spent the entire day at school without hijab?
“You’ll need a visitor’s pass and a chaperone,” Raymond had said to Inaya as she waited in the school hallway for her parents to finish registering her as a student at the American high school. At the time, Inaya was wearing hijab, and the black cloth was wrapped securely around her head, and she imagined that her abaya, the large black outer garment that she wore, looked like an oversized dress.
Inaya lifted her eyebrows. “A chaperone?” He laughed lightly. “I know it sounds like a first date, but it’s our school policy for visitors.” Inaya’s cheeks grew warm, and she averted her gaze.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t know. I just…” “Where are you from?”
“I’m sorry?” Inaya glanced up at the student ambassador, a confused expression on her face. Raymond smiled, and the long dimples in his cheeks made Inaya think of the singer Usher.
“I’m not good at judging ethnicities,” he said.
“I’m American,” Inaya said. Did her Muslim clothes make her look foreign?
“Do you want to take a look around the school?” he asked.
Inaya grinned, surprised by how comfortable she felt in the male student’s presence.
“I thought I needed a chaperone for that.”
A smile spread on his face. “I could be your chaperone.”
Inaya was silent as she rode in the back of the car after her parents finished the registration process. She sunk low into her seat until the car was far from the school. She couldn’t shake the feeling of shame right then. Her mother and stepfather looked like extremists. She couldn’t imagine what Raymond thought of her stepfather’s obvious Arab appearance and large beard—and her mother’s allblack Saudi-style abaya and face veil.
A wave of embarrassment passed through Inaya as she wondered what Raymond must think of her. Ugh. Why did he have to be standing in the hall when her parents walked out of the office?
What Will She Sacrifice for Love?
Unfortunately, the internal struggle faced by the fictional character Inaya in the novel “Muslim Girl” is not uncommon for Muslim youth, especially for those who attend co-ed, predominately non-Muslim schools.
Beyond the Islamophobic sociopolitical contexts in which many of these youth are forced to live, these Muslim youth face the same struggles of any hormonal teen. Girls are attracted to boys. Boys are attracted to girls. And this physical attraction does not discriminate based on one’s ethnicity, color, or even religious affiliation.
Clearly, a natural physical attraction is brewing between Inaya and Raymond, a Muslim girl and a Christian boy. But for Inaya, her struggle goes beyond mere “butterflies” fluttering within. And it even goes beyond the natural insecurity that physical attraction ignites when someone is unsure if the attraction is mutual.
Rather, Inaya’s struggle strikes at the very core of her identity: her spirituality and “Muslim-ness.” Will the boy even find Inaya attractive as a Muslim girl in hijab? This is the question Inaya is essentially asking herself. Regardless of the answer to this question, Inaya is in a spiritual crisis. If Raymond does in fact find her attractive in hijab, she would be compromising her religious obligations if she responds to his advances. If he does not find her attractive in hijab, she would be compromising her religious obligations if she removes her Islamic garb.
Unfortunately for Inaya, she ultimately decides to remove her hijab to “fit in” and appear more “attractive.” The Real Dilemma For many Muslim youth who find themselves in predicaments like Inaya’s, they ask themselves the same question that Inaya asked: Will the boy (or girl) like me as a Muslim? To the youth struggling with this situation, their dilemma appears to stem from the answer to this question.
However, they do not realize that their real dilemma is the question itself. Once a Muslim teen reaches the point that he or she is seriously asking himself or herself this question, spiritual crisis almost certainly awaits. This is because, for the Muslim, the real struggle lies in avoiding the question, not in answering it. While it’s natural to feel attracted to the opposite sex (regardless of a person’s religious affiliation), Islam has placed definite limits on acting on this attraction; and marriage is the only permissible context for actively expressing this attraction, emotionally or intimately.
But in the case of a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, not even marriage itself solves their dilemma. This is because they are not ever permitted to be married to each other—unless the man accepts Islam.
Nevertheless, in social contexts like American public school, marriage is hardly on the mind of either the boy or girl feeling physical attraction. In fact, it is often part of the “excitement” that no serious commitment is attached to acting on this “innocent” affection, hence the infamous culture of “boyfriends” and “girlfriends.”
In Western cultural contexts, the seemingly innocuous titles of boyfriend and girlfriend actually allude to a commitment to engage in zina (illicit sex) with a specific person on a regular basis.
Oblivious Muslim Parents and Dangerous “Puppy Love” As I discussed briefly in my post “Muslims Don’t Fall in Love Before Marriage,” adults often make light of youth’s feelings of attraction, hence the common term puppy love.
Unfortunately, what is called “puppy love” is a lot more serious than the terminology suggests. Therefore, making fun of the very real feelings of young adult children does nothing help these youth work through these feelings and understand what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling it.
For Muslim parents, the scenario is often much worse because many have not reached the point where they are able to even openly acknowledge their children’s feelings of physical attraction, let alone make fun of these feelings.
Many Muslim parents are voluntarily oblivious to what their young adult children are going through, and these parents behave as if the mere discussion of physical attraction or sex is sinful, even in the context of marriage “one day.”
Naturally, this attitude makes the discussion of working through physical attraction toward the opposite sex in the context of school or other social environments unthinkable. Thus, what results are increased spiritual crisis amongst Muslim youth (as we see in the struggle of Inaya) and increased illicit relationships between not only Muslims and non-Muslims, but between Muslim boys and girls themselves.
Ironically, many of these sinful relationships could be avoided if these Muslim youth felt comfortable talking to their parents or other trusted adults about their feelings before the attraction reached the point of physical intimacy. I myself have witnessed the almost phenomenal effect of simply letting Muslim girls and boys know that what they’re feeling is completely natural and that the feeling itself is neither sinful nor something to be ashamed of.
At times, the youth’s ability to merely come to terms with the natural struggle of physical attraction, which in itself is not necessarily indicative of any “special connection” or fated partnership, resolves the dilemma before it even becomes a problem.
It’s Not Always That Easy
As an American Muslim girl who went to public school throughout my youth, I myself often worked through the natural struggle of physical attraction to non-Muslim (and Muslim) classmates. Undoubtedly, after the mercy of Allah, my “saving grace” that protected me from falling into the sin of zina was my ability to be open with myself psychologically and spiritually about the completely natural feelings that I was experiencing, without feeling sinful or ashamed about what I was going through (an ability I am certainly indebted to my parents for).
However, it’s not always that easy. And this is where both Muslim parents (or trusted Muslim elders) and Muslim youth need to be very honest with themselves and each other when giving and seeking advice.
Every case of physical attraction is not merely “puppy love,” which youth can presumably mentally work through by merely accepting the natural feelings of physical attraction that they’re experiencing. And while it is true that the intensity of physical attraction outside the context of marriage is often fueled by Shaytaan (the Devil), this knowledge alone does not necessarily solve the dilemma.
Moreover, even heeding the oft-repeated religious advice to “simply” pray and read Qur’an does not remove the problem altogether though prayer and recitation of the Qur’an are certainly helpful in weathering the storm of emotions and desires. In the most serious cases of youthful attraction, intense physical attraction is coupled with deep affection that has penetrated the hearts of both the girl and the boy, thus culminating into what is for all intents and purposes “falling in love.”
When the mutual attraction reaches the level of what feels like genuine love, staying away from sin is not so easy, and the youth often find themselves seriously pondering the question, “What are you willing to sacrifice for love?”
Fortunately, for some Muslim youth, their answer is resoundingly, “Nothing, if it compromises my soul.” However, as we can see in the case of Inaya’s attraction to the student Raymond, in far too many cases, the concept of protecting one’s soul becomes blurred until some youth decide that it is some aspects of Islam itself that must be sacrificed in answering this question. This is when we begin to see manifestations of the very real spiritual dangers of youthful attraction.
Thus, this is also where parents and trusted adults need to put aside their misgivings about the topics of physical attraction and “young love” and become more vigilant, understanding, and available to youth who are genuinely trying to save their souls from sinful demise.
First published: May 2013