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Why I Boycotted
The Senior Prom

Dawud Wharnsby Ali

As the school year winds down, many senior students of schools across the nation will not just be commencing another summer of holidays to provide a break during semesters. Many will be leaving their safe havens of senior public school and taking their first step into the world of adulthood. Attending fast paced, crowded colleges or universities, taking up apprenticeships or full-time employment. Many may even move from family homes in their pursuit of educational fulfillment or the ‘perfect' job opportunity. Many young people are preparing to move on to new lives in the world, with new responsibilities, new environments, new peers and new aspirations.

One ritual that has become synonymous with coming of age has been the senior prom. Closely preceding the graduation ceremonies of many high schools, or following closely behind graduation events, the senior prom (also known as the senior formal or the spring formal) is an opportunity for youth to celebrate the entrance into the world of adulthood with a splash of color and formality. However, there is far more behind the social event than may be initially noticed.

Formal. What is formal? Formal means to present one's self to others in a way which is ‘with form', with shape, polite, inoffensive and dignified. We see the example of a formal letter, it uses proper grammar and sentence structure in order to be respectful, while simultaneously serving a purpose or getting an important message across.

In our society, what is formal? Very little. On average, clothing, language, behavior – all is very informal. Individuals who are formal (polite, inoffensive, organized) in their daily dealings with people ore often looked upon as square or boring. Yet we see that in certain situations, individuals play with the concept of formality not truly to implement respectfulness and order but because it becomes fashionable to do so. While behavior surrounding a prom may seem, on the surface, like a fun opportunity to behave formally it is actually a flowery version of Halloween.

On the occasion of the spring formal we see blossoming youth taking on the formalities of what is perceived as ‘adult'. Fine dress, (most who attend the senior prom rent expensive tuxedoes or purchase high quality suits or gowns for the occasion) elaborate beautification (spending hours in front of a mirror or at a hair salon in order to look just right) frivolous toys (Stretch limousines line the streets outside of dance halls on the night of the prom) all become synonymous with being an adult. In many ways, adults in society should examine their own behavior for wrongly displaying these types of objects as being ‘adult' to younger people.

In our society we have a very misconstrued idea of what adulthood actually is. It has always been my understanding that adulthood and maturity are not based upon one's ability to hold a cigarette in a certain way, tie a bow tie, tease one's hair or hang out of a limousine sun roof . Adulthood comes with understanding of one's place in the universe, it comes with the knowledge of how to interact with our fellow human beings, it comes with the ability to take responsibility for one's own actions – whether good or bad.

_____________

It was 1990. I was seventeen years old and although the athletic types in my all-male Catholic school saw me as a bit of a runt – small, cocky, seemingly uninhibited, most of my peers and teachers were supportive friends who enjoyed my company and with whom I, in turn, felt very comfortable. I had become very active in my school and very visible because of my involvement in various school events, usually arts-related. It was my senior year. Young, agile, fashionable (by some standards at least), busy with the thoughts of what I would do with the rest of my life. Decisions that affect the rest of our lives can often become clouded when we are blinded by fear of what others will think of us – whether it be our parents, our friends or our teachers.

Within me was a need to understand the adult world into which I was about to embark. I felt foolish to think I was stepping into the adult world at such an age – in many parts of the world and throughout history, seventeen is within the realm of adulthood, as responsibility is established much earlier in life, following puberty at the age of 12 or 13. There was a great confusion in me to see my society putting such emphasis on acquiring wealth and prestige over acquiring a feeling of spiritual worth and understanding of true responsibility.

The concept of the senior prom frustrated me greatly. Many of my close friends were also disgusted with the idea of wasting parent's money or money earned through weekend work, on a night of preening. To dress up and put one's self on display in a sort of inner-school fashion show seemed degrading.

Across the street from our school was an all-girl Catholic school. Many classes were shared between the two schools and it was not uncommon for students from each school to cross the street and take up a seat as a minority in a class of the opposite gender. Religion classes were almost always co-ed in the senior grades, as well as many arts and sciences classes.

It upset me to see some students behaving superior to others simply because they had girlfriends or boyfriends and others did not. It upset me to see friends quarrelling over who was taking who to the senior prom. It upset me to see peers who normally behaved rudely in class or to their friends, making big plans to put on a cummerbund in a pseudo attempt to be ‘adult'. On one hand behaving romantic and polite, planning to buy a corsage for their date, and on the other hand also planning to smuggle alcohol into the event then rent a hotel room for an opportunity to dishonor their date.

I made a firm intention in my mind to boycott the senior prom for these and other reasons. Adulthood, I felt, was not to come with irresponsibility and excessive waste. It is not synonymous with loud music and dancing. Of course there are those who do attend their senior prom with very pure intentions and hopes to have a ferry tale evening, complete with non-alcoholic sparkling drinks and an opportunity to celebrate the closure of an era in high school with close friends. However, there are many other more meaningful ways to prepare one's self for the adult world than just dressing up for a night and attending a gala party.

I recall hearing about the senior prom held at my school by peers who did attend. I saw some photographs and some of those pictures are locked forever in the pages of my school year-book. Images of people I once knew – huddled together in tuxedos, singing like drunken barroom buddies. The bow ties are crooked, the shirttails are out, the hair is ruffled. I pray that they eventually did find adulthood, during the many years that have passed, since those pictures were taken.

I was not a Muslim when I boycotted my senior prom; Allah brought Islam into my life several years later. I was simply a young man who was tired of being irresponsible. I was tired of witnessing irresponsibility. I was desperate for a feeling of self-worth and fulfillment that I knew could not come from a few hours of loud music, a dance with a beautiful girl and a smuggled bottle of hard liquor. I would never suggest that I demonstrated angelic behavior during my days of jahilliya. We all have baggage in our closets – may Allah forgive us, but I did recognize what steps would lead a person to contentment and made every effort to implement those steps.

After leaving high school I met several other non-Muslim individuals during my travels who had also boycotted their own senior proms. We would sit and laugh about how good it felt to buck the system and refrain from taking part in activities that are based in total frivolity and irresponsibility.

Think of how much more meaningful it would be to spend an evening at a retirement residence with an elderly person who has a million stories to tell but no one to listen. Think of how much more there is to learn about life from volunteering an evening in a hospital ward for children, brightening the face of a child with a story or a song, than simply drinking punch in a dark hall under a disco ball. Imagine the feeling of spending only one hour at a soup kitchen, meeting the many men and women who sleep each night on the street while others waste money on lavish cars and rental clothes.

Allah knows best.

[PROM TALK: DISCUSS SOLUTIONS]

[Discuss with Dawud Wharnsby Ali]

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Your Comments

HennaGirl19, Cali. - wrote on 3/28/2011 9:07:55 PM
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Comment: I agree with Brother Wharnsby. He makes alot of sense on why you should NOT attend a prom. And by the way, every time I ask an adult why they drink they just pat me on the head and say, "You'll understand when you're an adult." Well personally, I don't think it has anything to do with age at all. If it's cause it's cool, it's not. It smells and, reportedly, tastes TERRIBLE! Not only that, but you get horrible hangovers. How can something that terrible be COOL? Inshaallah, Allah will guide those souls to Islam someday.


Yusuf, Calgary - wrote on 6/2/2010 12:55:43 PM
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Comment: I cannot see how getting drunk, possible getting yourself into an accident, and waking up with a terrible headache can be fun. I believe that the interpretation of fun has been lost in our time. Amazing article Mr. hornsby, thankyou for demonstrating the morals of those that are somewhat lost.


D.Wharnsby, Abbottabad - wrote on 5/1/2010 9:41:39 AM
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Comment: ...apologies again, that's "Mr. Clare's" post I was referencing.


D.Wharnsby, Abbottabad - wrote on 5/1/2010 3:52:53 AM
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Comment: Dear friends, This article was written many years ago. Though I still stand by some of what I wrote regarding the importance of individuals taking responsibility for their actions, avoiding wastefulness and assessing what it truly means to be “adult” - I must agree with the root of Ms. Claire’s January 28, 2004 post. The tone of my 2001 article was indeed sanctimonious. In fact - I would go further and say it was down-right judgmental, arrogant and self-righteous. My decision (as a young man) to avoid the senior prom was my right and my choice... just as the decisions many of my high-school peers made to attend the event was “their right” and “their choice”. Neither of us hurt each other at the time by our choices. However, my choice - many years later - to publicly write about my high school senior prom in a manner which judged the actions and intentions of others, was a wrong choice that slandered my old high school peers. I may not have been intoxicated with wine at my high school prom in 1990, but I was inebriated with spiritual pride and dogmatic vigor when I wrote about the prom 11 years later. In my mind now, another decade since the article was published - I like to hope I have found some degree of spiritual sobriety. Shortly after seeing the article on-line in 2002, I re-wrote the piece and asked that it be re-published, which never happened unfortunately. Since that time, it’s presence on line in various circles, has been a constant reminder to me of my own weaknesses as a writer and as a human being who claims to respect the individual spiritual and life journeys of others. All I may offer now, these many years later, is this little public apology for my arrogance at the time I strung this article together. To those who may have found the article to their liking - I’m glad. Some of you, no doubt, may have used the article to try and explain to your own children why you would rather not have them attend a social event like the high school prom. Some of you may have used the article to validate your own reasons for boycotting your high school prom. However, I must state that: although we may personally not understand or appreciate some cultural events that others hold dear, we must be careful that our opinions about them are not thrown (as in my article) like self-reighteous arrows. “To you your accountability for the way you choose to live, and to me my accountability to the way I choose to live.” - Qur’an. Perhaps one important part of adulthood is growing to recognize our weaknesses and accept responsibility for the harms we have caused to others. If it is, I’d like to hope I have indeed “grown up a little” over the years, or at least gained a little wisdom. With peace, Dawud Wharnsby Abbottabad, Pakistan April 2010


Sidra, Karachi - wrote on 10/20/2009 10:06:12 AM
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Comment: @ Gerald Clare "provided dat no one is hurt" hurting someone or urself doesn't necessarily show up at da instant... it might take dayx, months, years or whole life to realize how much u've hurt others and/ or ur ownself. dre is a tym for everything... a child is irresponsible and it may even suit him... but growing up is different. its not dat it takes alot of effort..its dat u don't want to make an effort. when u can spend night and day in front of mirror and hours thinking about how pretty I can look, how can I attract others doesn't dat require any energy? its not that I am like a totally serious person or anything.. a person should be well balanced wid da right proportions.. geting away wid extravagant dresses, rides might come for u in da proportions but it does not for zillions of people homeless, widout food, shelter etc. and mind dat yes ur hurting dem.. P.S wuzn't to dsgrace ur opinion, everyone has a right to speak, just wanted to speak my heart out.


Asmaa, Pakisan - wrote on 12/24/2004 11:50:59 PM
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Comment: Assalam-u-alaikum to all my brothers and sisters in Islam. It was a wonderful experience to visit your site. May Allah help you 'grow'. I've been listening to brother Dawud for a long time. Love Allah, Road to Madina, Prophets hands; I like all of these.His article was really fascinating. May Allah strenghthen our Iman and make us realize our duties and responsibilities in this world.


Naima, Ottawa - wrote on 3/18/2004 3:06:03 PM
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Comment: Salamu 'Alaikum... Masha'allah, this article was very inspiring. Although many students may feel as if prom night is just a night of fun and getting together with friends - alcohol free and problem free- this isn't always the case. There are so many other ways to celebrate your completion of high school and I strongly believe that prom night is not the best solution. I have actually thought about this, and with only a few months untill my prom night, I have decided to not attend. Allahdullilah, here in ottawa, the MYO has organized a Halal graduation Dinner instead...Inshallah Allah will help all of us to make the right decisions... Salamu Alaikum ~ Peace Be with You~


wajida, - wrote on 3/8/2004 7:55:19 AM
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Comment: I read this article quite few times and i think it's really great. it makes so much sense . wasalam.


Gerald Clare, San Luis Obispo, California - wrote on 1/28/2004 6:22:44 PM
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Comment: Sanctimonious is the word that comes to mind reading your article and many of the responses to it from similarly narrow-minded prudes. While drunken carousing is not attractive when viewed from the vantage of sobriety, it is a lot of fun and celebrating life with abandon and enthusiasm, provided no one is hurt, seems to me a perfectly acceptable thing on occasion. And all the talk of Allah so reminds me of the Spanish Inquisition when the christians had their orgy of "in gods name" we judge and punish. Good luck growing up and gaining a sense of proportion.


Sumayyah Nishi, London - wrote on 11/24/2003 5:40:58 AM
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Comment: Asalumu alaikum, may Allah (swt) bless you for your wonderful effort, keep it up, ur article is very inspireable, jazakAllahu khairun for teaching all this. I wud lik to say that all though i was born as a muslim, i only practising when i heard br. Dawud beautiful/powerful songs which touch my heart and made me realise abt Allah's deen. May Allah (swt) always bless you and show his endless blessings on you. Wasalumu alaikum wa rahmat ullahi wa barakatu.


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