I steer my rusty green Toyota Camry into a parking spot in the lot behind the mosque. I turn off the engine, step out of my car, and walk toward the back of the
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1˜The Culturally Contested Lives of Muslim Youth and American Teenagers Sunday Morning at the City Mosque I steer my rusty green Toyota Camry into a parking spot in the lot behind the mosque. I ture engine, step out of my car, and walk toward the back of the white, two- story building. I yank open the heavy back door and step into the open space of the social hall, set at the back of the mosquee large room is alive with a bustling mix of adults and childrenŠ Arab American, African immigrant, East Asian, South Asian, and a few African American and white Muslim families as wele adults™ chatter and the kids™ playful noises echo around me as I weave my way through the crowd and toward the op -posite door, through which I pass into the more spacious and sunlit front lobby. Here I see omas, a short, balding, dark- skinned man, stationed at his normal post at the front reception desk, which is positioned oddly but as usual, facing away from the mosque™s front dooromas™s face breaks into a wide smile as I approach, and I bry stop to shake his hand. ﬁAs salaamu alaikum ,ﬂ I say.
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2 CHAPTER 1 He smiles and greets me in return: ﬁ Wa alaikum as salaam .ﬂﬁI™m going up to the youth program,ﬂ I tell him. He nods and jok -ingly sweeps his arm dramatically in the direction of the staircase, as if I don™t already know where to go. I swing around to my right and climb the winding, carpeted stairs to the second level, where I take a sharp right turn, walk a few steps, and push open the door to the youth room. s room is even noisier than the social hall, with about thirty- le and high schoolŒ aged kids sitting and talking in various clusters. I scan the width of the space for a particular group of boys but don™t see them. I consider the possibility that they™re late today, which would not be surprising. Suddenly, I hear a voice from my ll out, ﬁHi, John!ﬂ I look over to see Miriam and Sana, two of the youth program™s older members, sitting side by side and wav – ing to me. Today both of them are wearing their curly hair tucked under intricately decorated black hijabs , or headscarves. I wave back and say hello. Just then, Farah, one of the youth program™s leaders, crosses in front of me and says to someone else, ﬁAre they in thure she might be referring to the ﬁtheyﬂ for whom I™m also looking, so my eyes track her as she walks toward the door to the youth progreŠ a small box of a roe main youth roomŠ and opens it. I peer around her and catch a glimpse of Mu -hammad and Yusef, perched on the edge of the desk at the back of the e. As Farah walks into the room, I slip in behind her. Yusef sees me and says, ﬁWhat™s up, John?ﬂ and the other boys follow suit. Each of them gives me ﬁdapﬂŠ a combination of a handclasp and half- hugŠ and says, ﬁ As salaamu alaikum ﬂ as they do. It took me a while to get the mechanics of this particular greeting down. But now, about a year into my time at the mosque, it™s become habitual. Sitting on the large black desk at the back of the room, their legs dangling and swinging, are teenage boys: Yusef, Ali, Muhammad, Abdul, and Fuad. ˛ey range in age from fourteen to seven teen, are of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and are all Muslim. I walk over and take a seat on the desk to the right of Fuad. Now we™re all
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CULTURALLY CONTESTED LIVES 3facing Farah, who stands directly in front of us, her eyebrows raised in an expression of stern expectation. ﬁAre you guys ready?ﬂ she asks. I ascertain that the boys are sup -posed to be preparing some sort of presentation and are expected to share their work with the rest of the group in a few minuteey are each holding small white and green books of the hadithŠ abbreviated collections of the sayings and behaviors of the Prophet Muhammad authenticated by the ninth- century Islamic scholar Muhammad al- Bukhari, among others. As if to reassure the group, Muhammad says, ﬁWe™re just doing thillars. It™s Sunday School st!ﬂ I say, ﬁYou guys have to do thillars?ﬂ Yusef says, ﬁYeah, it™s a hadith about thillars.ﬂ From my own experience with Islam, I know that the ve pil -larsﬂ are considered the core religious obligations of Muslims and include an initial proclamation of faith (the shahadah); pray times per day ( salat ); the paying of alms to the poor ( zakat ); ritual fasting during the month of Ramadan ( sawm ); and the pilgrimage to Mecca ( Hajj ), which includes walking seven times around the Kaaba, a cube- shaped holy sitee review and reinforcement of thillars ien a standard activity within Muslim youth pro -grams such as this one. e boys speak rapidly, trying to determine which of them will present which of thillars to the larger group. ﬁOkay, I™m doing shahadah,ﬂ Yusef says. ﬁI™ll do fasting,ﬂ Ali volunteers, adding with a shrug, ﬁThat™s easyŠ Ramadan.ﬂ ﬁOkay, who™s doing prayer?ﬂ asks Yusef. Muhammad raises his hand: ﬁI™ll do it.ﬂ Yusef replies, ﬁOkay,ﬂ then turns to the remaining two boys. Abdul says, ﬁI™ll do Hajj.ﬂ Fuad follows with, ﬁI™ll do zakatat™s easy; just giving money to the homeless. What is itŠ like ˜ˇ percent?ﬂ ﬁNo,ﬂ I tell him. ﬁIt™s lower, like ˜.ˇ percent.ﬂ ﬁOh,ﬂ he replies.
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4 CHAPTER 1 Farah looks at me with a smile and says, ﬁOkay, you™re in charge,ﬂ and leaves the. Adopting a tone that suggests it™s time to get down to business, Yusef turns to the others: ﬁOkay, you guys. We gotta get this straight.ﬂ He raises the small book in front of his face and reads with sincerity: ﬁese are thillars as recorded b. Bu- kar- i.ﬂ He stumbles over the name a little. Fuad asks, ﬁBacardi?ﬂ Abdul and Muhammad crack up. Yusef says, ﬁCome on, you guyen he pronounces it more carefully, using his native Arabic: ﬁBukhar. Bukhar. Okay. Aer I read this introduction, we can each read the part about our pillar and then say whatever we want to add about it.ﬂ ey do a quick rehearsal. Ali reads the part of the hadith about shahadah and then adds, ﬁs is the declaration of faith. e begin – ning of everything.ﬂ Next, Muhammad reads the section about prayer and says, ﬁYou should do thiimes a day.ﬂ Yusef looks at Muhammad, frowns thoughtfully, aners, ﬁYou could say that if people think it™s hard to praimes a day that they should be thankful because it was going to by times, but Prophet Muhammad went to the Prophet Mousa [Moses] and said, ‚My people cannot pray times.™ So, it could have by.ﬂ Muhammad responds, with friendly aggravation, ﬁMan, you got that from Omar!ﬂ He is referring to Omar Hashmi, the mosque™s re -ligious director, when gives lessons on Islamic education as part of the youth program. Many community members refer to Omar as the imam , or religious leader, of the mosque. ﬁSo?ﬂ says Yusef, slightly defensively. ﬁIt™s a good story so people understand that it™s not that hard to praimes a day.ﬂ ﬁMan, you™re like a baby Omar!ﬂ says Muhammad, smiling. Fuad reads the passage about fasting and adds, ﬁs is what we do during Ramadan.ﬂ Abdul reads the section describing Hajj and states, ﬁHajj is a pil -grimage.ere™s silence as if the others are expecting more, but when Abdul remains quiet, the others start to laugh.
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CULTURALLY CONTESTED LIVES 5ﬁat™s it?ﬂ asks Fuad. ﬁUm, you walk round the box seven times,ﬂ Abdul adds. When every one laughs loudly and hoots disapprovingly, he continues, ﬁOkay, okay, it™s a pilgrimage to the House of God, and you walk around the black box seven time. and I™m not talking about the cable box.ﬂ Everybody cracks up. ﬁCome on, Abdul!ﬂ cries Yusef, with an undertone of genuine frustration with his brother. ﬁOkay, okay,ﬂ Abdul replies. ﬁYou walk round the Kaaba seven times.s seems to appease Yusef and everyone else. Finally, Fuad reads the section about zakat, concluding, ﬁs is when you give money to the homeleso me?ﬂ He smiles. Farah opens the door and calls in, ﬁOkay, you guys, it™s almost time to go.ﬂ As the door closes again, Yusef looks around at the others: ﬁOkay, are we straight?ﬂ He channels his nervous energy into a quick spin – ning dance move in the center of thece and remarks: ﬁHoat was like the Jackson Five.ﬂ As we all gather and walk toward the door to the larger youth program room, I elbow Abdul and say in a teasingly accusatory tone, ﬁAround the box seven times?ﬂ Abdul smiles and nods: ﬁI™m gonna say that.ﬂ Ali eggs him on, ﬁYeah, yeah, you should really say that!ﬂ ﬁNo, come on, you guys!ﬂ Yusef interjects wash of serious aggravation. ﬁSee, he™s like a little Omar,ﬂ Muhammad says to the other three. In response, Yusef unbuttons his khaki Dockers and tucks his blue and whiteŒ striped button- down shirt deep into his pants so that he can pull them comically high. ﬁHere we go,ﬂ he says, in a mock- nerdy voice. ﬁOh, no!ﬂ Muhammad and the other boys cry out, laughing hard. As Yusef readjusts his clothing back to normal in preparation to step out the door and the group™s laughter dies down, Muhammad turns and faces his friend directly with a quizzical, thoughtful look on his face. ﬁI don™t understand, Yusef,ﬂ he says. ﬁHow are you an
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6 CHAPTER 1 athlete, a math nerd, a rapper, a gangster, and an imam?ﬂ Yusef looks straight back at him with a bemused smile and shrugs his shoulders. ey turn and walk through the open door together. ŠŠŠMuslim Young Men and Muslim American Lives s book tells the story of a group of young men growing up together in early twenty- st- century America. At the time of mk, the friends at the center of the storyŠ whom I call the ﬁLegendzﬂ er the name of their sometimes active hip hop groupŠ were urban American teenagers and second- generation immigrantey at -tended large and diverse public schools, were exposed daily to main -stream American media and pop culture, and lived in a multi- ethnic, working- class neighborhood in a major city in the United States. s social location meant that these young men faced expectations from school peers, community friends, and each other to engage in cultural practices, styles, and discourses associated with modern urban American teenage life, including hip hop music and fashion, dating and romantic love, personal independence and autonomy, and a low- key presentation of ethnic identity. In other words, they were expected to live a social and cultural life that was recognizably adolescent Americanese young men were also at the very same time self- identd practicing Muslims embedded in a tight- knit religious communitys social location meant that they were expected by parents and community adults, peers, and sometimes each other to meet the religious and social obligations of Muslims as understood within their local context, including praying times daily, attending the mosque, fasting for Ramadan, abstaining from premarital dating and sexual intercourse, avoiding consumption of alcohol and drugs, limiting their exposure to potentially profane pop culture, and identifying as Muslims in public. In other words, they were expected to live a religious and cultural life that was recogniz – ably Muslim. As some of the central cultural expectations associated with urban American teenage life were understood to be in tension
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8 CHAPTER 1 tangible cultural materials, adopted and altered recognizable modes of speech, embraced and amended locally meaningful embodied practices, and both invoked and rejected particular aesthetic genres in subtle and ongoinorts to signify complex identities, perform multiple aning states of belonging, and reveal themselves as both siently ﬁIslamicﬂ and acceptably ﬁAmerican.ﬂ Precisely how these young Muslim American men innovated and applied these creative social solutions to their immediate cultural dilemmas, and how thesorts marked them as fundamentally similar to a broad range of other American teenagers, is the focus of this book. EVERYDAY ISLA M AND YOUTH CULTURE IN THE LIVES OF THE LEGEND ZAt the heart of the Legendz™s friendship group were two pairs of brothers, Muhammad and Fuad, and Yusef and Abdul.e two older brothersŠ Muhammad and YusefŠ st became friends at the age of nine while attending Qur™an classes at the City Mosque™s ﬁSunday School.ﬂ Over time, they and their wider families grew so closely intertwined and familiar that by the time I met them eight years later, all four of the boys referred to each other as ﬁbrothers,ﬂ regularly spent time in each other™s homes, and were alternately cared for and gently scolded by each other™s parents. Both families had immigrated to the United States when the boys were quite young, Muhammad and Fuad™s family (the Abdulkarims) from Sudan, and Yusef and Abdul™s (the Hussainis) from Jordan. In the United States, the boys™ families were all solidly working class, with their parents employed as taxi drivers, daycare providers, and social workers, and the boys attended large and diverse urban public schools. A central activity in their lives was regular participation in the Muslim Youth Program (MYP) housed at the City Mosque. It was in this context that they also pulled a few other young Muslim men closely into the orbit of their friendship circle, most notably two South Asian youths named Tariq and Salman, as well as a Somali young man named Abshir. e particular form of Islam taught to the Legendz was shaped by anltered through various historical and social forces, most
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CULTURALLY CONTESTED LIVES 9notably the worldwide Islamic revival of the ˛˝˚s and ˛ˆ˚s, which emphasized a return to basic texts (i.e., the Qur™an and the hadith) and practices (e.g., prayer and fasting) ˜; the City Mosque leader -ship™xible approach to the interpretation of issues such as gender and music; and their parents™ desire to raise their children as ﬁgood Muslimsﬂ who would maintain the minimum local requirements of that identity. For the Legendz, the cultural rubric of religious Islam took institutional and social form in their lives through their par – ticipation in the mosque, their family homes, and, to some extent, their friendship group. Among its other functions, the City Mosque served as a space where the culture of religious Islam was visibly present and alive, manifested in the call to prayer heard imes a day, when people would stop other activities and move toward the prayer area; in the prayer area itself, which was serom the main lobby and held an ornate chandelier and framed selections of the Qur™an written in calligraphy; in the hijab worn regularly by some women and during prayers by all of them; in the Qur™anic verses (suras ) recited together by the youth group at the end of their gath – erings; in the names of young people called out across the lobby or playground outside (ﬁYusef!ﬂ, ﬁOmar!ﬂ, ﬁAziz!ﬂ, ﬁYasmin!ﬂ, ﬁSara!ﬂ, ﬁNoor!ﬂ); in the warm greetings of ﬁ As salaamu alaikum ﬂ as people met one another in the social hall; and in the lectures of mosque elders Dr. Mubarak and Dr. Nasr as they spoke about an Islamic approach to bioethics or introduced new converts to the life of the Prophet Muhammad, their words ringing out through the lobby, amply a slightly too loud microphone. e cultural rubric of religious Islam, as it was locally manifested, was also present in the homes of the Legendz™s families. It was evi – dent in the ﬁ Bismillah ﬂ (ﬁIn the name of Godﬂ) spoken before eat – ing; in hangings on the wall that depicted mosques in Medina or the ninety- nine names of Allah (God) in Arabic calligraphy; in the prayer rugs rolled up by those walls; in the call to prayer that resounded from a clock in the shape of a mosque; in a mother™s question: ﬁHave you prayed yet?ﬂ; and in the Qur™an and other Islamic books on the shelf. Part of what made the cultural rubric of religious Islam so central and meaningful in the lives of the Legendz was the fact that
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10 CHAPTER 1 this set of practices, symbols, and expectations for behavior was so tightly intertwined with their relationships with specocially sigthersŠ their families, their friends, and members of the City Mosque community. American youth cultureŠ and in particular the urban American youth culture of the early twenty- st centuryŠ was the second cul -tural rubric at the center of the Legendz™s social lives. While the so -cial power of religious Islam rested partly in its association with fam – ily, Muslim friends, and the mosque community, the social power of urban youth culture stemmed primarily from its association with the Legendz™s adolescent peers, both Muslim and non- Muslim. As working- class youth of color attending diverse public schools in the urban United States in the early ˜˚˚˚s, the Legendz were expected to participate in or at least exhibit knowledge of hip hop music, videos, artists, and styles; romantic love and dating; parties with alcohol and drugs; Mplayers and smartphones; cars and mo -torcycles; skateboarding; Facebook and Twitter; urban gangs; fast food; and basketball. In addition, American teen culture assumes that every adolescent should be consistently gaining independence from his or her parents and should be relatively autonomous when it comes to decision- making and individual action. ese are the numerous and cumulatively intensive demands of legitimate par – ticipation in American youth culturee Legendz were regularly exposed to these cultural expectations through interactions with peers at school, neighborhood friends, mass media, and one another. American Teenagers and Culturally Contested Lives People like the young Muslim men of the City Mosque who are located at the intersection of multiple and sometimes contradic – tory sets of cultural expectations can be thought of as living cultur- ally contested lives . In this book, I will refer to the competing sets of schemas, habits, symbols, and practices that such people face (e.g., ﬁurban American youth cultureﬂ and ﬁreligious Islamﬂ) as cultural rubrics .˙ Ae these concepts, individuals living culturally contested lives inhabit a social context in which two or more of the
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CULTURALLY CONTESTED LIVES 11cultural rubrics central to their lives are highly demanding in terms of what constitutes legitimate participation, are associated with and enforced by groups of socially sigthers, anen treatedŠ by both outsiders and insidersŠ as inherently contradic -tory. As a result, the daily experiences of people leading culturally contested lives are characterized by a high level of involvement in the active, ongoing, and strategic management of the multiple cul – tural rubrics that vie for their attention and allegiance in the course of their everyday lives. People whom we might think of as living culturally contested lives in late twentieth- and early twenty- st- century America in -clude working motherst- and second- generation immigrants, upwardly mobile working- class people, gay suburbanites, and highly religious scientists. ˇ But another social group whose members con -sistently face and wrestle with multiple sometimes contradictory yet highly demanding sets of cultural expectationsŠ though we may not always think of them as suchŠ are American teenagers. A brief look at how the lives of various groups of young people growing up in the United StatesŠ including white suburban public high school students, African American and Latino public high school students, second- generation immigrant youth, and youth from highly reli -gious communities and familiesŠ also exhibit qualities of cultural contestation will assist us in placing the case of Muslim American youth within the broader sociological context of modern American adolescence. DIVERSE AMERICAN TEENAGERS AND CULTURALLY CONTESTED LIVES Foundational and contemporary sociological studies of high schoolŒ aged young people in the United States have usually focused on large, mostly white suburban or mid- sized city high schools and have situated teenagers in a social world populated by a range of competing peer cultures, each with its own associated set of styles and practicee everyday labels of these peer cultures will be fa – miliar to most readers and may conjure pleasant or not- so- pleasant
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