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The Impact of Peer Pressure on Muslim Girls in the West

The Impact of Peer Pressure on Muslim Girls in the West

Scrolling through my social media news-feed, I was intrigued when I saw “Practicing Islam in Short Shorts.” Since my initial click, I have read Thanaa El-Naggar’s article several times because it has caused me to reflect upon my experience both as a Muslim individually and a woman, respectively. Meanwhile, other Muslim women and men were also divided in their reactions to the article which was originally published on Gawker. People are at odds with El-Naggar’s choice of practicing Islam: a portion of female readers are quick to give El-Naggar kudos for stepping out of the shadows and revealing a lifestyle they also share (or may want to live), while some male and remaining female readers wish to critique El-Naggar’s claim as a practicing Muslim.

Unlike other reactions written regarding El-Naggar’s post, the purpose of this article is neither to validate nor invalidate how an individual (whether that is El-Nagger or people within our families or circle of friends) chooses to interpret his/her relationship with God. Regardless of whether or not one is for or against her argument, one of God’s 99 attributes is “The Judge;” meaning that God will preside over each of our cases and His mercy is not quantifiable. That is a victory for all those who sin – which is an attribute we all share, regardless of personal creed. However, we can examine the implications that such an article may have on its readers and a larger audience during a time when it is already confusing to discover what it means to be Muslim. While the internet is occupied with authenticating El-Nagger’s experience, I’d like to shift the attention towards the young readers upon whom this article may silently have left an impression upon.

Unfortunately, it appears that both sides are missing the mark when it comes to understanding the result of El-Naggar’s viewpoint. It is not a question of whether or not she is practicing Islam according to the prescribed guidelines because she writes openly about how she chooses to practice non-normative Islam. This is encapsulated in the title of her article as well as in her statement,

“Nothing in my outward appearance speaks to or represents the beliefs I carry. Some might even get to know me and still label me as a non-practicing Muslim – I drink whiskey and smoke weed regularly.”

Throughout her article, El-Naggar admits that she understands her interpretation of Islam breaks from its accepted teachings. Further, her perspective emphasizes more so the spirituality of Islam, as opposed to embracing Islam as a lifestyle. While it is her right to practice Islam and share a relationship with God as she so chooses, it is also important to discuss the deeper vibrations her experience may emit to young, impressionable minds.

Because El-Naggar speaks of drinking alcohol, it is presumed that she is of age. Unfortunately, the drawback to that is that many underage girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim, confront peer pressure on a daily basis –  young girls who are struggling with peer pressure to “just have one drink” or “just smoke one joint.” In addition, there are young girls who are the subject of bullying at school because they cover their legs and arms during hot summer days, dealing with the repeated condescending question, “Aren’t you hot?” or “Why do you always wear pants?” A conversation along these lines can deflate the self-confidence of a young girl trying to practice her beliefs or trying to figure out if her faith is worth holding onto. As young teenagers in the U.S., girls may often look for a way in, and this often means abandoning certain principles not valued or understood by their peers. Essentially, giving into peer pressure is one of the ways kids can blend in better and make friends more easily.

Regardless of a person’s faith, as a professional working in the field of mental health, specifically with youth, I have encountered many patients who now feel the consequences of regrettable decisions made under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Anyone acquainted with the mental health sphere will attest to the fact that a person’s judgment is impaired when under the influence of substances. This risk is further elevated in young and underdeveloped minds. Yes, there are some individuals of age who can hold their liquor or know their limits regarding alcohol or recreational drugs, and perhaps El-Naggar would classify herself as one of them; however, there are many other young women – Muslim and non-Muslim – who experiment at a young age not knowing what to expect. What’s worse, once they are pulled into such a lifestyle, it is difficult to break away. Perhaps El-Naggar practices moderation with regards to drinking and/or smoking, a choice that she is capable of making as an adult, but teens and young adults might not strike an immediate balance when they start experimenting with substances.

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Perhaps the phrase “I’m Muslim,” is the only deterrent a young girl uses if someone offers her a drink, drugs, or sex. If after reading El-Naggar’s article – without considering the proper context of her experience – a young girl deduces that phrase is flexible, then she could feel more justified to participate in any of those three activities in spite of consciousness of faith alone. We all make mistakes and regret certain decisions we have made in life, so it is not a question of whether or not a certain class of women confronts peer pressure. We all do, regardless of gender or religion. But the empowering aspect of faith is that it enables us to find the strength in something greater than our mistakes and regrets so we can live a more conscious life.

The purpose is not to debate whether or not El-Naggar is practicing the “correct” version of Islam; she is a mature woman capable of making informed decisions based on her own experiences. However, what is worth discussing is the influence the sharing of her personal experience may have on a young girl who is seriously struggling to relate to an identity that is already dubbed strange.

The use of alcohol and recreational marijuana is not encouraged in most religions, so that is not a debate exclusive to Islam. What can be more difficult to discuss, however, is the issue of modesty and how we interpret that for ourselves. Frankly, it is very easy as a Muslim woman struggling to dress modestly to resort to wearing short shorts and tank-tops. Modesty can be relative and there are varying degrees depending on personal experiences. Often the hassle of finding modest clothing can leave women frustrated based on accessibility alone, especially in the spring and summer seasons. Couple that with gaining the attention and approval of young men – Muslim or non-Muslim – and a girl may feel pressured to alter her image to fit the norm. Again, perhaps El-Naggar has cemented her identity in this regard; conversely, it is important to consider that there is a large chunk of her audience who will receive yet another message discouraging dressing modestly – a message girls are bombarded with already.

For women who have collected enough experiences to understand who they are and how to function according to their will in their surrounding world, it is easy to consider El-Naggar’s as just another article without it impacting their life choices. As adults, we come across people whose stories help us appreciate and embrace the differences in others. However, for those young readers who aren’t thinking critically and already struggling to grasp onto their faith, El-Naggar’s essay may pour water on an already wet bar of soap – making it easier for the option of Islam as a lifestyle to slip away.

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View Comments (14)
  • Seems that the Muslims in general are still confused about the best course to follow when they migrate to different countries. First of all, it’s not at all obligatory to follow Arabian way of dressing in order to be called Muslim. You’re just following a religion that originated from Arabia but, you’re not slaves of Arabia to follow their dress-code. Why this characteristic is intermingled with Muslim identity is hard to follow. If you’re too much in love with the Arabic style of dressing then you better remain confined to so-called Muslim countries but, you’re in for trouble if you’re going to live all your life in another country where dress-codes are different. It isn’t the question of hurting your Muslim identity, it’s just a question of getting on with the country customs or manner of living. You wanna create boundaries due to your religious belief then be prepared to be called this or that sort of crazy.

    • Your logic is quite illogical because dressing modestly isn’t defined by “dressing Arab” as you imply. Women can dress modestly in the west without wearing their cultural dress. I’m not Arab and I still choose to dress in American clothing that I feel is modest according to my own standards. Everyone has a right to determine that for themselves and God is the ultimate Judge as only He knows what’s in a person’s heart. The message is for young girls to not give up on Islam just because of peer pressure, or to stop practicing what modesty means for them just to fit in.

      • You said that you got the right to wear anything that you feel modest according to your own standards but you also have to see the norms of the society in which you live in. You can’t impose your own standards on others.
        Regarding who is the ultimate judge, it is only your perception, there’s no ultimate judge or whatever, it’s your delusion. Society reacts to your way of life, living, dressing, ethics, morals and what not. Don’t hide under the impression that they don’t count for anything.
        Regarding giving up Islam or any other religion, no where I said that, it’s only your imagination at work.
        Regarding modesty in Islam, I don’t think that there is any stricture or Surah, Ayat, Hadis in Islam making mandatory for women in dressing up their whole bodies in black cloth like some black buffaloes to hide their modesty or protect it from the gaze of evil men. Only there may be instructions on modestly dressing but it also depends on society to society. If you’re thinking that dressing under the garb like that of black buffalo would make you pious and full of modesty then it’s your insecure imagination at work, not the better sense.

        • Wow..I really want to respond to the fact that you are comparing a woman dressed in a black colored abaya or burqa to a “black buffalo” but I’m going to refrain from doing so because the ignorance in your comparison speaks for itself.

          • Thanks for calling me ignorant. You can continue your blindness, since it’s the religion that has made a fool of you. You see things in your imagination while just ignoring the plain view. Nobody is going to respect a lady just because she’s covered from head to toe in black cloth, they’re more likely to call her a black buffalo rather than calling her anything pious. And also btw…they don’t got any time to listen to your explanations regarding making the body of a lady a shameful handicap for her and thus bringing on the punishment of covering her whole body to save herself. Its only the miracle of religion that inflicts such boon to the mentality of such enlightened ones as yourself.

          • You can do whatever you want munna.. you can drink, fornicate, get high, wear shorts.. whatever you want, the choice is yours really. But, when you die, which we all have to face, just be prepared to answer for it. Those who sell their religion, unfortunately fall into the deluded category who got blinded by the bright lights, tall buildings and careers, for these things don’t come with you to the grave; just look at the king of Saudi.. left a fortune. So, remember to always say to yourself, will I be able to answer to allah for the actions I take.. It’s your life, its your test, it’s your choice.. we don’t answer for you, nor would you for us: Accountability!

          • There’s no Allah, God or life after death. Since when you were born you don’t have any recollection of the past life, the same can be said about your after life. Come out of ignorance and don’t make illusions to intoxicate you. We shed too much time on creating this or that intoxication.
            Mark my words, Religion, Politics, Ideologies, Patriotism and so on so forth are just the creation of man. If you indulge in obsessive amount of it, you will have to pay the price. There’re too many things in life which needs justifications and logic to prove, try to shed some light on them not only for yourself but for others too.
            Every philosophy or ideology have a life of its own. It’s better to improve the things for the future so that the thinking survive but it doesn’t make sense if you want to cling on to the dying philosophies with rigid connotations.

          • “There’s no Allah, God or life after death. Since when you were born you don’t have any recollection of the past life, the same can be said about your after life”

            And you know this for a fact ?

          • For me personally, it a fact, maybe you have recollections of your past life and after life too. Maybe, you got super-delusions of super-natural powers but, we’re just born from dust (nowhere) to end into another dust (nothing). Maybe, you’re born God or Allah or whatever, but I’m convinced that I’m not God and I don’t blame anyone for that.

          • Commenting is my hobby and anything that interest me, I do put forward my views. There’s no need to feel frustrated or angry at others comment.

    • Arab dress does not = Muslim dress. Muslim dress = modern dress for both men and women. Men cover knee to navel. Women hair and loose fitting clothing. Both regardless of which type of clothing they dress in: American, Indian, Arab, Chinese whatever. Many women find the burqa easy to put on similar to a jacket or sweater so they can wear whatever inside and go about the world. Need I say more? But I bet you already knew that and just came to make a hateful comment instead about black buffaloes.

      • You don’t have the intelligence to separate reason/hate. You just term everything that’s against into hate speech. I wanted Muslim women to enter every field of work, education, fashion and society. Hiding themselves behind black dresses doesn’t make them any useful but puts a tag on some other aspect as far as their mental make-up and norms for reasoning goes….hence, I reject your version of judgement terming my comment as hateful.

  • I’m still confused to what point Munna was trying to make before, but anyway I appreciate your response to the original article. I think we are trying too hard thesedays to modernize Islam, to make everything okay and still keep our faith. Except the balance keeps tipping further and further away from the truth of what we as Muslims should try to follow. I am as no one else is perfect either, but I found the original article a little misleading or legitimizing of practices which take us away from our faith. I think the best way to deal with these types of situations is how my father once said to a bunch of the girls in my family,”If you’re not doing it then that’s between you and Allah, but don’t say that it’s okay to not do it because that just makes it worse.” May Allah make it easy for all us Muslimah to find the correct path, be strong and successful in this life and the hereafter. Ameen.

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