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Tainted by the Haram Effects of a Public School

27 July, 2022
Q Assalamualaykum. I am a girl studying in co-education in America. It is very hard to remain a true, pure Muslim here, as all the girls in my class are coming dressed in tight clothes which reveal their shape and body parts, and people openly talk about haram and vulgar topics in the hallways, and people are taking boyfriends and girlfriends here and there, and I just feel so confused and scared because I was raised in a very protected, safe household, and my parents kept me very innocent and safe. They still did not let me have a phone, and they tried so hard to keep me away from all evil and haram things.

I always come to school in full clothes, and though I don't wear a hijab, I wear a scarf that covers my chest (the most important part needed to be covered) But here, at my school, if you do not participate in these haram things, you are seen as an inferior person whom no one ever talks to or is friends with. I really don't want that identity for myself, and even though Allah says that it is better to remain alone than in bad company, I did not do that. Instead, I branched out and started laughing and talking to some girls. Soon, they became my friends, but indeed I know they are bad friends and they are not true, and that I will never be like them.

But what I hate the most is when I see some people laughing or talking and I come to join their conversation and they just laugh and say: 'Oh, you won't understand, you're too innocent" and I feel sad.

What is the worst is, that I came to this public school and I decided to make some friends with some of the other Muslim girls that I knew from my old Islamic school when I was little. But sadly, they have changed, and are totally whitewashed and are one of the most popular girls in the school. They totally forsake their religion and don't behave properly. Also, I feel really sad because before this school, I used to be a very good Muslim, I made dua for one hour after every salah and I read the Quran day and night. I still pray, but not as sincerely, and I feel so hollow and confused.

Please help me!

Answer

Salam alaikom sister,

Thanks for writing to us with your concern. As I understand, you attend a co-educational school in the US, where you are constantly exposed to “haram and vulgar topics”.

Your parents raised you in a safe household, alhamdulillah. You were protected, and now you feel confused and scared. You do not like that you are labeled by your peers as “too innocent.” You do not want to feel like an inferior person for not taking part in these things with your schoolmates. 

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It is specially sad to hear that those Muslim girls around you are leaving their religious identity to follow in the footsteps of their non-Muslim peers.

This could happen for the following reasons: they have not been able to build a solid ground in Islam that would protect them against “fitna“. And as young adults, peer pressure and the desire to be accepted by others are stronger than their Muslim identity. 

That is why an Islamic school may not be enough if the parents are not aware of the possible challenges Muslim youth may face in the West. Your parents are doing a good job and are guiding you well, masallah. 

Importance of Muslim Friends

Furthermore, according to this infographic about religious doubts by the Yaqueen Institute, having righteous Muslim friends is the greatest predictor of religious adherence. As the chart shows, the likelihood that one finds religion important increases by 148% and the reported number of daily prayers by 280% if the individual has Muslim friends. 

This means, sister, that, just like the hadith says, your friends will play a very important role in your religious identity. 

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Sister, I can really understand what you have been going through. As a young Muslim living in the West, soon or later you will experience an inevitable clash of values. And I would say that the bigger the clash, the safer you are, alhamdulillah. 

I have to tell you that your parents are doing the right thing when they want to protect you from the possible harm a young Muslim can face in the West.

There are so many things going on that are not in line with Islamic values, yet we are expected to face and respond to these challenges as young people, adults, parents, etc.

Wanting to Fit in

I also understand that, as a young adult, you would like to fit in. This is very normal at your age. It is normal that you have this desire, even if at the bottom of your heart you feel that you will “never want to be like them,” as you said.

It seems to me that you have a healthy self-esteem and you do not want to feel inferior when you are talking to these girls. Yes, you are right. There is absolutely no need to have any remorse for your identity, for your “innocence”, as they say.

Actually, I think it is something to be proud of, as you have solid values and you are able to distinguish between right and wrong, even if you feel that you are going against the flow. 

Being a Stranger

“And judge, [O Muḥammad], between them by what Allāh has revealed and do not follow their inclinations and beware of them, lest they tempt you away from some of what Allāh has revealed to you. And if they turn away – then know that Allāh only intends to afflict them with some of their [own] sins. And indeed, many among the people are defiantly disobedient.” (Quran 5:49)

My sister, “many among them”. This means many people are not following what Allah described for us. Those who are truly righteous are few in number. It has been that way since the time of the Prophet. Remember his words:

“Islam initiated as something strange, and it would revert to its (old position) of being strange. So good tidings for the stranger.” Sahih Muslim 145

Subhanallah, think about the validity of these words from the Quran and the Sunnah in our times!

What I want to say is that you, as a Muslim in a world where you are surrounded by non-Muslims and non -practicing Muslims, will probably feel like a stranger. But exactly this is how you “should” feel, alhamdulillah. 

At the same time, I comprehend that, as a young girl, you would like to socialize and to make friends. And maybe that is why you are trying to balance and meet the expectations of these girls from your school as well.

Deserving Better Company

Sister, I believe that this is not real interest (from your side), just that you still haven’t found a better company. You do not have to seek their approval, that they let you “join the club”. They have their own standard and you have your own.  Keep your kindness towards them, and your (healthy) pride of being different than them. 

It is OK to look for friends, but I would advise you to seek them elsewhere. If there is no one else around you in the school, try to check out the sisters around the masjid, or join online Muslimah groups.

Sometimes it is not easy to find real friends. You need to be patient. You will find, insha Allah, the right company and you will not feel the contradiction of compromising your core values for the sake of being accepted and appreciated. 

I also advise you to learn more about Islam. Learn about the Islamic lifestyle and why we have to to refrain from certain things in life. You will realize, in sha Allah, the divine wisdom behind it all.

You can search for material about the challenges Muslims face in the West. Check out this and this article, for example. You will realize, that you are not alone, sister.

And if you gain enough knowledge, you can back up your attitude with knowledge, and you will come across as a Muslim with confidence, and you will be able to defend your identity and values.

To Conclude,

While your desire to fit into your school and your peers is understandable, you do not need to engage in things that are not in line with your values and do not make you feel comfortable.

Even if it is confusing that other Muslim girls are behaving in a way that is unislamic, you do not need to follow them or your non-Muslim mates, especially because you already know for sure that it is not what you want and need.

Try to make friends somewhere else, and learn more about Islam to strengthen your Muslim identity. Embrace the idea that it is something special to be “strange” and “different” as a Muslim.

Show your kindness and positive attitude, but alienate yourself from people who would affect your firmness in Islam. 

 I wish you the best, sister, may Allah bless you!

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About Orsolya Ilham O.
Orsolya Ilhaam Oszter holds a BA degree in Communication and Manager in Public Relations, with a specialization in Andragogy. She completed her studies in the BSc Psychology department of International Open University, where she also studied Islamic sciences. She also studied Islamic Counseling and Islamic Marriage Counseling. Previously she worked in a client-centered atmosphere; currently, as a translator, counselor, and content creator related to Islam, counseling, and psychology. She is a mother of 2, lives in Spain, and aims to serve the Umma through Islamic counseling and psychoeducation.