Being a teenager in America means questioning everything. At least thatâ€™s true for many teenagers. But if you are Muslim and female and an immigrant or refugee, life can be less about questioning, and more about learning to navigate. Today in our week-long series Culture Lessons, John Rudolph reports on Muslim girls at Manchester Central High School. Of all the students at the school, they are the ones most obviously searching for a way between American culture and the culture of the country they left behind.
MY NAME IS SUNDIS, Iâ€™M FROM PAKISTAN. AND PAKISTAN IS ACTUALLY RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF CHINA, INDIA, AFGHANISTAN AND IRAN, AND IT ALSO BORDERS THE ARABIAN SEA. SO IT IS RIGHT IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. (fade)
Itâ€™s diversity day at Manchester Central High School. Sundis Mahmood has volunteered to run the Pakistan display at a fair in the school cafeteria.
PAKISTAN IS CALLED LAND OF BEAUTY. BUT YOU WONâ€™T FIND BEAUTY EVERYWHERE. YOU HAVE TO GO A LOOK FOR IT (fade)
As soon as you meet Sundis you know that she is not a typical New Hampshire teenager. She wears a hijab, or headscarf, which identifies her as a Muslim. Sundis and her family immigrated to Manchester in 2001.
She began wearing a headscarf a few years later.
I KINDA FELT PRESSURE BY LIKE -- NOBODY SAID TO ME THAT-- LIKE MY MOM NEVER TOLD ME TO WEAR THE SCARF TO SCHOOL, SHE ACTUALLY SAID NOT TO BECAUSE SHE WAS SCARED THAT SOMEBODY WAS GOING TO SHOOT ME. BUT MY GRANDMA I KNOW SHE WOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING. NO MATTER WHAT SHE WOULD HAVE SAID, 'WHY ARE YOU TAKING THE SCARF OFF.' AND I DIDN'T WANT TO GIVE HER A CHANCE TO SAY THAT, SO I JUST PUT IT ON.
To Sundis and many other Muslim girls at Central High School the decision to wear the scarf - or take it off - is part of a balancing act. On one side of the scale are a girlâ€™s hopes and fears about America. On the other side are Islam, home and a girlâ€™s traditional role in her family.
SO TODAY WEâ€™RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT RELIGION, AND WEâ€™RE GOING TO HAVE SOME PRESENTATIONS FROM OUR PANELISTS (fade) â€¦
Coffee and donuts are served as about 40 teachers sit in the spacious Central High School library. They have come to hear a presentation about different religions that are practiced by students in the Manchester schools. Teachers in Manchester are just starting to become aware of the role that religion plays in the lives of many immigrant and refugee students. Moslem girls, in particular, come to school guided by a unique code of conduct. Itâ€™s based on the Koran and local customs from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Bosnia.
Mothers are often the ones who make sure their daughters live by the code.
THERE ARE MANY PROBLEMS THAT OUR GIRLS, ESPECIALLY MORE THAN BOYS, THEY FACE OVER HERE WHEN WE SEND THEM TO PUBLIC SCHOOL. (fade)
This Pakistani mother tells the teachers that she began to worry when her daughter entered the fifth grade. Thatâ€™s when she noticed some of her daughterâ€™s classmates were starting to date.
SHE MISSED HER SPRING DANCE, SHE SAID. I HAD A PERMISSION SLIP TOO THAT CAME TO ME. SHE COULDNâ€™T GO. AND I TOLD HER â€˜YOU ARE NEVER GONNA GO TO ANY OF THE PROMS OR DANCES OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.â€™
Sundis Mahmood lives under similar restrictions. She does not date boys, and the only parties she attends are family parties - usually with other Pakistanis. Sundis accepts the rules set down by her parents.
I KNOW WHY THEY DONâ€™T LET ME GO OUT. I MEAN I UNDERSTAND THEIR POINT OF VIEW.
But, sometimes itâ€™s hard to make her friends understand.
SOMETIMES THEYâ€™RE LIKE, â€˜OH, Iâ€™M GOING OUT TODAY,â€™ OR â€˜WEâ€™RE HAVING A PARTY,â€™ OR ,â€™WEâ€™RE JUST GOING TO HAVE FUN OUT TONIGHT, DO YOU WANNA COME?â€™ AND Iâ€™M LIKE, NO I CANâ€™T COME, OR, I NEED TO DO THIS. Iâ€™LL PROBABLY MAKE UP AN EXCUSE THAT I HAVE TO DO THIS, OR I HAVE TO DO THAT. BUT I DONâ€™T ACTUALLY TELL THEM. THEY ALREADY KNOW THAT Iâ€™M NOT SUPPOSED TO DATE, BUT I JUST MAKE UP AN EXCUSE AND TELL THEM.
What to tell your friends?
Often the issues facing Muslim girls are around boys, dating and the way a girl should dress in public. But sometimes they can be as basic as what food you are allowed to eat in the school cafeteria.
This came out when we gave Sundis a tape recorder and asked her to interview members of her family, including her 11 year old sister Mahnoor.
WHENEVER Iâ€™M NOT EATING LIKE ANY OF THE FOOD, THEY ASK ME LIKE â€˜WHY ARENâ€™T YOU EATING THAT?â€™ AND THEN I SAY â€˜WELL ITâ€™S KIND OF MY CULTURE AND I REALLY CANâ€™T EAT IT BECAUSEâ€¦â€™
S: SO WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU CANNOT EAT?
MM: LIKE MEAT, PORK, CHICKEN AND LIKE ALL KINDS OF MEATS.
S: SO WHAT DO THEY SAY, YOUR FRIENDS, WHAT DO THEY SAY?
MM: THEY ASK ME AND THEN THEYâ€™RE LIKE, â€˜WELL WHY BUY IT IF YOUâ€™RE NOT GOING TO EAT IT?â€™ AND I BUY IT BECAUSE LIKE THE TEACHERS DONâ€™T LET YOU LIKE NOT EAT LUNCH.
S: SO DO YOU JUST THROW THE FOOD AWAY OR DO YOU JUST GIVE IT TO PEOPLE?
MM: SOMETIMES I GIVE IT TO PEOPLE AND SOMETIMES I THROW IT AWAY.
Growing up as a Muslim in New Hampshire can be uncomfortable at times. But many young Muslim women live by and even embrace religious and family traditions that set them apart from kids their own age.
BEING A TEENAGER AND WANTING TO CREATE AN IMAGE FOR YOURSELF IS ONE THING, AND IF ITâ€™S ALLOWED THEYâ€™LL DO IT. IT WASNâ€™T ALLOWED FOR ME, AND STILL IS NOT ALLOWED, SO I DONâ€™T.
Nermina Cejvan graduated from Central High School in 1998. She and her family were the first Bosnian-Muslims relocated to the city during the war in the former Yugoslavia.
Over the years Nermina has figured out how to live in America and also show respect for Bosnian-Muslim culture. But there is one piece that confounds her. No matter how skillful she is at balancing the various parts of her life, she keeps running into reminders that in American society there is a deep hatred and mistrust of Muslims.
AT CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL I WOULD FIND MYSELF TALKING TO DIFFERENT KIDS OR BEING IN DIFFERENT CLASSROOMS AND STUFF WHERE KIDS WOULD JUST SAY, OH, â€˜TURBAN-HEADSâ€™ OR â€˜TOWEL-HEADS, OR UHâ€¦ JUST THE OTHER DAY, I DROVE BY A GUY THAT HAD A STICKER AND SAYS â€œALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAM I LEARNED ON 9/11.â€ VERY VERY IGNORANT. CAN I LOOK AT IT THE SAME WAY AND SAY THIS IS WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT? THEY KILLED MY THREE UNCLES AND TWO COUSINS IN JUST MY IMMEDIATE FAMILY. ITâ€™S NOT, ITâ€™S NOT, AND I KNOW THAT BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE DONâ€™T.
Tape â€¦ music from Najlaâ€™s wedding â€¦
Najla Raufyar sits in her living room in Manchester showing us a video tape of her wedding last year in Pakistan. Najla graduated from Central High School last June. On her days off from work â€“ sheâ€™s a manager at a Burger King â€“ Najla is on the computer, instant-messaging her husband who lives half a world away in South-East Asia. It would be hard to have a more distant long-distance relationship.
SOMETIME Iâ€™M CHATTING ON COMPUTER WITH HIM. ITS GOING TO BE LIKE 12 AT NIGHT OUT THERE AND 3 Oâ€™CLOCK AFTER SCHOOL HERE.
Najla is 20 years old. She is from Afghanistan. When she was 4 her father was killed in a politically-motivated murder. A few years later the Taliban came to power, and Najlaâ€™s mother found it nearly impossible to raise her children in a fatherless-family. She would go to the market to buy food, and sometimes she was beaten because women were not allowed on the street without a man to escort them.
The family left Afghanistan and moved to neighboring Pakistan. Four years later they made another move, and arrived in Manchester as refugees in 2002. While Najla was at Central, learning English and becoming comfortable with life in the US, she again traveled to Pakistan, this time to become engaged.
ITâ€™S ARRANGED MARRIAGE. I KNOW HIM, BUT I NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE.
Najla has mixed feelings about living in the US. But like many young Muslim women she says one of the best things about America is the freedom women have to run their own lives. Even so, when it comes her life, Najla often asks her husband for permission to do things.
Last spring Najla wanted to attend the senior prom. But her husband objected, because the dress she planned to wear had no sleeves and was open in the back. This would have violated a Muslim precept that women should cover their bodies. Because of her husbandâ€™s objections Najla decided not to go to the prom.
I CAN DO ANYTHING WHATEVER I WANT, WHO GONNA TELL HIM? NOBODY. BUT I DONâ€™T WANT TO DO ANYTHING BECAUSE SOMETIMES I THINK HE IS NOT HERE HIS GOD IS OUT THERE. WE BELIEVE IN GOD, WE ARE MUSLIMS SO I SAID SO HEâ€™S NOT HERE, HIS GOD IS HERE SO WHY SHOULD I DO BEHIND HIM BAD THING.
Belief in God. A person's obligations to her family. These are the relationships that guide many young Moslem women at Central High School. Like other Moslemâ€™s across the US these women are looking for their place in Americaâ€™s mainstream. But at the same time they continue to keep faith with the religious beliefs and family customs that tell them who they are supposed to be.