Magazine article The Christian Century

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys

Magazine article The Christian Century

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys

Article excerpt

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys

By John O'Brien

Princeton University Press, 216 pp., $29.95

As a first-generation American and the son of Indian immigrants, I grew up amid many cultures. My family is Muslim, and when I was born, they were living in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish community. I experienced slices of American culture at school alongside the Indian culture at home, all contributing to the multitude of forces forming my identity. Borrowing John O'Brien's language, I lived a "culturally contested" life as I devised ways of reconciling multiple "cultural rubrics." So do the Legendz, the group of American teenagers O'Brien examines in his well-researched ethnographic study.

O'Brien, who converted to Islam as an adult, unlocks numerous insights and generates stimulating questions as he observes how these Muslim teenagers negotiate their culturally contested lives. He concludes that "Muslim American youth are not only fundamentally similar to other American young people, but profoundly similar to all Americans."

This conclusion may sound obvious, but on the first page of the preface O'Brien cites a study claiming that almost half of Americans associate Islam with violence. He then explains that his exploration of American Muslim teenagers is not a study of terrorism or the radicalization of youth. That O'Brien must engage in apologetics at the onset of the book is an indicator of our society's current climate of hate and ignorance. For this reason, it is especially significant that O'Brien and other scholars are dedicating critical thought, time, and energy into providing more comprehensive and more accurate portrayals of Islam.

All American teenagers experience challenging moments when expectations from parents, friends, school, sports, religious life, and other communities pull in different directions. O'Brien shows how the Legendz engage in this struggle by studying the way they interact with multiple facets of American culture: music, the dating scene, and experiments with drinking and drug use. As they deal with the competing expectations of what it means to be a "good Muslim" and a "cool American teenager," the Legendz develop a stance that O'Brien calls "cool piety." Fascinatingly, O'Brien compares this piety to that of Christian teenagers who struggle with parts of American culture that are viewed as profane or taboo by their faith tradition. …

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