SE Michigan (V9-I11)

March 8, 2007 by  


Girls from traditional families saved by IIK program

Dearborn—March 6—“Al makruh marhub,” goes the saying in Arabic–what is not allowed, people love to do.

A general problem in the Muslim communities in the US is that teenagers can be seen, although they might be wearing hijab, to have issues relating to makeup, dating, and tight clothing. On the other hand, many Muslims feel immense pressure from their families pushing them towards a life of isolation and deprivation from social contact with the outside world. Worried Muslim parents fear that their girls will end up in compromising situations, and sometimes brand legitimate behavior “haram” based not on real knowledge of Islam, rather based on tradition or even their own likes and dislikes.

For instance, a father might say it is haram for a boy and a girl to be in a room together—but in fact this by itself is not haram if there are others there and they are there to work on a group project, not for socializing.

This principle applies to Muslim teens from strict traditional families–unfortunately, sometimes what they are not allowed to do at home, they do in school, says Hajja Khalida Beydoun, public relations director for the Islamic Institute of Knowledge (IIK).

In reaction to this fact, important members of the IIK community have created a two-teacher program designed to address the questions of adolescent girls. Imam Abdul Latif Berry and Hajja Khalida Beydoun conduct the Saturday afternoon sessions at the IIK. The program started with only about a dozen girls from 3-5 pm on Saturdays, but has become immensely popular with parents and girls—to the extent that now about 50 girls have participated in the program and the sessions have been extended by 30 minutes.

The class is held on Saturday afternoons (3:30 pm to 5 pm). The format is a speech by Ms. Beydoun or Imam Berry on a given topic (for instance, “how to manage anger”), followed by a 30-minute question and answer session. The first two hours are girls-only, but the last 30 minutes is open to parents. The girls range in age from 13 to 19. The girls’ class is a part of a seven-week series scheduled to end March 30th, which will be the date of a graduation party and Miladun-Nabi (s) organized by the girls themselves. This is probably the first ever girls only Mawlid in this area, says Hajja Khalida.

“Why is it haram to have a relationship with a boy?” is perhaps the most frequently-asked question in the class. In addressing this and other sensitive questions Hajja Khalida and Imam Berry speak gently—not just browbeating the children that it is haram and must not be done, but rather educating the girls by means of implications in “Qur`an, `ahadith, the teachings of ahlul bayt, and the implications of their behavior in community and culture,” explains Hajja Khalida.

From their deep trust for Imam Berry and Hajja Khalida, and from the very honorable way that these teachers have conducted the class, parents and girls alike have grown to love the classes and have begun to use their teachers as intermediaries for communicating within their own families.

Traditional-minded parents would frequently, at first, let their daughters inside the classroom for the class, but would then hover outside the door during the entire 2-hour session, waiting for it to end. Now the comfort level has increased—to the extent that most of the parents leave their girls at the mosque while they do errands. Assiduously, Hajja Khalida and Imam Berry have built this trust by giving great respect to the privacy of the girls and by building in the children a love of their own religion that brings them more towards good actions than their parents have been able to do, and on the other hand by being a safe place where the parents feel comfortable leaving their daughters.

Some of the girls have petty bones of contention with their parents, like lipstick and makeup.

Two of the girls in the current class have decided to begin wearing hijab, and Hajja Khalida and the other class participants plan to honor and recognize these girls for this difficult decision at the coming Mawlid.

Perhaps Hajja Khalida’s favorite accomplishment, however, is one girl, whose belief in herself and whose outlook has completely changed—her grades have risen from Es and Ds to Bs and Cs. She has changed her way of life, now believing in her own ability to succeed.

Through their trusted relationship Hajja Khalida and Imam Berry have uncovered and addressed important problems—in careful meetings with both parents and girls, they have been able to tackle these delicate and sensitive issues.

One benefit of the classes has been that the teachers are able to facilitate the girls’ access to community service programs which they can engage in without “crossing the line,” as Hajja Khalida explains. She explains that Michigan high schools require that students perform community service before graduation, but a conflict arises in traditional families because the parents would sometimes rather their girls not graduate than participate in work that they view “haram”—frequently this plays out in the form that 1st generation immigrant Muslims not allowing their girls to participate unless someone from the extended family will actually be present supervising her—Hajja Khalida through her deep knowledge of the Dearborn community and the players in that community is able to reassure parents and also provide them with access to forms of community service that are acceptable to them and that allow their girls to graduate.

Another benefit of the classes has been the leadership training the girls receive. Hajja Khalida explains that in fact the parents are now bubbling over—“what did you say to her?” they ask incredulously at the changes she has wrought in their daughters. In fact she has only used the power of incentive and the value of the mutual respect she has built with the girls. She is requiring that in order to help plan the Mawlid and “graduation” party, the girls must have good grades and participate well in school for the next two weeks.

Planning and making all the arrangements for the Mawlid is an opportunity for the girls to become accustomed to interacting with the real world—an opportunity to meet people who are not only Muslim, not only Arab, not only Lebanese, but to break into the open world, and at the same time to develop their competencies and their strength, and simultaneously the strength of their love for their own religion.

Many of the girls have found through the girls’ program belief in their own ability to succeed, and in their ability to engage in professions they once thought mistakenly to be haram for them, like journalism and law.

Hajja Khalida expects 15 new girls in the new session after March 30th, and is hoping for sponsorships from local area businesses in order to provide new opportunities to the girls—she intends to groom them for public service by exposing them to universities, job fairs, and successful Muslim women—and this is an effort that we hope will benefit the entire community.

IIK also hosts a boys program, conducted by Imam Baquir Berry (son of Imam Abdul Latif Berry). If you wish to help, please contact Hajja Khalida Beydoun at (313) 584-2570.

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