Muslim students balance religion, American lifestyle - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Muslim students balance religion, American lifestyle

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Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 6:03 am

Sixteen-year-old Yasmine Asfoor is planning a party she won’t attend. The student body president opened her notebook and faced Brianna Raymond, a fellow senior at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee Foothills.

“We need to talk about Sadie Hawkins,” Asfoor told her. The two made a list of decorations they would need.

It’s not the first dance Asfoor has helped plan, and it won’t be the first one she’s skipped. It’s just part of being a Muslim teenager at an American high school.

“Some people thought it was weird,” she said. “I just tell them, ‘I’m Muslim. I don’t go out with guys, I don’t dance with guys. I have parties with girls.’ ”

For Asfoor and the hundreds of observant Muslim students like her in the Valley, life is about moving between these two worlds.

“Sometimes I do feel like I’m living two different lives — but I’m the same person and I do the same things in both of them,” she said.

This month — the holy month of Ramadan — the duality is more pronounced.

During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. It’s also a time of self-reflection, to abstain from gossip, loud music and television.

“It’s difficult,” said Asfoor, a Palestinian-American. “You just have to put your mind to it and say, I’m going to do this.”

In the Middle East, it’s a little easier. More people fast. Schools participate in Ramadan activities.

But life doesn’t stop for Ramadan in America.

“When you don’t have Muslim families in every other house, when no one is fasting but you and your Muslim friends — it’s hard to get the sense of how important this month is,” said Rheem Khalife Kabbani, a Scottsdale mother of two. “We try to do that here.”

For example, the end of Ramadan, a day known as Eid al-Fitr, will fall this year on Oct. 23 or 24 — both school days — according to the lunar calendar. So Kabbani will keep son, Zaid, 7, home from Copper Canyon Elementary School.

After Eid, her son will take small gifts to pass out to classmates and explain his holiday.

The boy isn’t ready to fast for full days, yet. Fasting only becomes obligatory after puberty. But Saturday, he had Gatorade and a snack to get him through a morning soccer game, then insisted on waiting until sundown to eat again.

“I was amazed,” Kabbani said. “But he understands what Ramadan is, that it’s one of the pillars of Islam, and he wants to try it out.”

For older students who fast all day, it’s complicated.

Mountain Pointe’s homecoming week fell in the middle of Ramadan this year. Asfoor had to get to school early, march in the parade, volunteer for a fundraiser, then come back for the honors student march during halftime — all while fasting.

For students who fast, temptations abound.

“Today, in every class they passed out candy, granola and bagels,” groaned Asfoor’s younger sister, Reema, 13.

On Friday, with her Advanced Placement government class behind her, Asfoor had 10 minutes to make it to her mosque for noontime prayers.

She left school and cruised up Interstate 10 in her Jetta, a rhinestone-encrusted ’07 tassel hanging from her rearview mirror and turquoise prayer beads wrapped around the gear shift. Within 20 minutes, Asfoor went from the noisy world of high school to the calm of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.

She sneaked in through a backdoor to save time, flipped off her gold sandals and walked up the stairs into an airy room with blue mosaics and white pillars. Ceiling fans blew gentle breezes through the back portion of the room, where women and schoolgirls in uniform gathered behind a thin white sheet.

After a speech about selfdiscipline, the imam began to chant a prayer in Arabic as the women stood, shoulder to shoulder, and performed prayers on the soft blue carpet.

Asfoor and her family will return in the evening to pray again.

“During Ramadan, we go to the mosque every night. It feels good because this is not an Islamic country, this is the way we can be with other Muslims,” said Ayisha Asfoor, Yasmine’s mother. “It brings the community together.”

After the Friday prayers, Yasmine Asfoor and a group of her Muslim friends headed to Last Chance, a bargain store in central Phoenix, to take their minds off their grumbling stomachs. Much of the clothing was off-limits, as most contemporary fashions are designed to show skin.

Fortunately, the trend of short sundresses works for Asfoor. She simply wears them over jeans and a longsleeved shirt.

Asfoor started wearing a headscarf this year, later than most of her Muslim friends.

“I was so nervous going to work. I knew they weren’t going to care but you’re still always afraid of that,” Asfoor said.

“Some girls I know put it on and nobody talked to them, but I’ve been blessed.”

Roughly two hours later, hunger set in. On the way home from the store, Asfoor and a friend fell silent. An Islamic CD with only vocals and drums played on her car’s stereo: Instrumentals aren’t allowed during Ramadan.

Later at home in Chandler, her friends begin to show up, carrying Starbucks Frappuccinos — but not taking a sip. Asfoor’s mother began making the iftar meal, which will break the fast, chopping up vegetables as hungry bodies gather around her.

She asked one of the children to turn on a voice recording of the Quran.

Her husband, Bassam, came downstairs, and son Kareem, 8, who just began fasting for the first time, woke up from his nap.

A cousin came over, then another. The crowd eagerly watched the microwave’s clock, waiting for the 6:06 to appear — the day’s official sunset time, according to a printout on the refrigerator.

Finally, it’s time. Smiles break out as they pass a plate of fresh dates, a traditional way to break the fast.

A not-so-traditional iftar meal follows.

“I grew up in California,” Ayisha Asfoor said. “Even if some of them wouldn’t miss this food, I would.”

The table is spread with Shake ‘n Bake chicken, salad, squash and broccoli cheese soup. Tonight, the feast is American.

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