The prom, for many teenagers, is the ultimate event of their young lives. It represents a major transition to adulthood. It is possibly the last time all of a youth's high school friends will be together at a school social event.
It is also the most hyped-up event of the teenage life cycle. Television programs, magazines and websites all play it up as some kind of sacred ritual. But the prom is about much more than that: sex, alcohol and drugs are more often than not crucial features of prom night. It's a time many young people decide to lose their virginity; a large number of youth get so drunk, they have no recollection of who was with them and what they did on prom night; there are also those who experiment with drugs.
In some very tragic cases, it's also the night some youth die in alcohol-related traffic accidents.
The prom is not some fairy tale graduation party. There are dangers for all youth, but especially Muslim youth. Parents have a responsibility to convey the reality of of t his ritual to their sometimes star-struck teenagers, who may be caught up in prom night hype with the rest of their friends.
Sound Vision spoke to four young Muslim men and women about how parents can effectively discuss the prom with their children. Below are some of their and our tips and suggestions.
Tip #1: Start early
“If you're talking to your kid in March of their graduating year about why they should not want to go to the Prom, then this is not the time for a rational discussion, this is the time for damage control,” says Shaema Imam, 21.
The hype surrounding the prom is a yearly occurrence. If youth don't already know about it in primary school through television and magazines, the beginning of high school is where they will definitely find out about it. The beginning of junior high is an ideal time to start talking about the prom. At that point, your son or daughter is still young, and Mom and Dad still have some influence on them.
The talk should not be confrontational or accusatory, rather, it should be educational. Parents should know what is Halal fun and what is not and convey that to their children.
Tip #2: Provide a Muslim environment
This means ensuring young Muslims are surrounded by and befriend other practicing Muslims of their own age. When it comes to the prom, very often the deciding factor in whether a youth goes or not is what friends are doing.
“I would say most guys would follow the group,” says Shadi Sakr, 22.
If the youth has no Muslim friends, he or she may not understand why they were allowed to do other things with their non-Muslim friends, but they cannot go to the prom.
“Kids will say ‘why did you let me play with these people and sleep over with these people and party with these people and then all of a sudden you're forbidding me to participate in this. It's the same thing,” says Imam.
“You have to make the kid establish a bond with other Muslim kids,” says Ali Shayan, 20. “The person has to belong to a group.”
Tip #3: Practice what you preach
Encouraging your kids to hang out with the “Muslim crowd” will have little effect if you as a parent are surrounded by friends who engage in unIslamic behavior or who do not practice Islam themselves. Kids learn by example, and seeing their parents interact with friends who are practicing Muslims will provide an incentive early on for them to do the same.
By the same token, maintaining a Halal home environment is also critical in ensuring your children become Muslims committed to Islamic values.
Tip #4: Provide Halal Alternatives
Parents have to understand that Ammar or Yasmeen will be depressed, in most cases, if they do not go to the prom. That's why they must provide Halal alternatives.
One suggestion is to have a party at home, which is what Amber Rehman, 20, did instead of going to her prom. “It's all a matter of being with people you spend time with,” she says.
This, of course, does not have to be on the same night as Prom night. But establishing an alternative does not start one week before the date. It begins years in advance, with sports and social activities being organized for Muslim youth at the community level.
Tip #5: Make your kids "school smart"
This is especially true for Muslim youth who attend public school. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the public school environment as best as they can. In many cases, Muslim parents don't have a clue about what goes on there, especially if they themselves did not attend school in the United States or other Western countries.
Ideally, parents should speak to an older, practicing, Muslim who has gone through the school system and get the scoop on what goes on there.
Better yet, they should get this person to become a mentor for their son or daughter (the mentor should be the same gender as the child). By the time the prom rolls around, you will have the perfect person available to explain to your son or daughter why s/he can't go.
Tip #6: Familiarize yourself with the Prom
Islam stresses the importance of acting on the basis of accurate information, and you should try to do the same with the prom. Talk to the above-mentioned older Muslim youth. Talk to the school's administrators and the prom committee to find out what exactly is being planned.
This way, your son or daughter won't think Mom or Dad is a hysterical parent, but a well-informed one. This facilitates rational dialog and the likelihood of your perspective being taken seriously.
Shadi Sakr says if he were telling his son or daughter not to go to the prom, he would “just [tell] them all these stories and I would explain the whole environment or atmosphere [there].”
Explain the dangers. Tell them even if they don't drink, their non-Muslim friends most likely will. This could mean car accidents. For girls, it could mean sexual harassment and even worse, rape.
Talk to them about Islam's prohibition of not even going near those things and situations that facilitate sex outside of marriage, and that the Prom environment does exactly that. Also discuss how we are not recommended to even be in a place where alcohol is being served, even if we ourselves don't drink.
Be calm. Be firm. But also, be gentle. It's easy to get excited and upset, but that is exactly the kind of reaction that will push your children away from you and your message.
Also make it clear that you are not against them having fun, as long as this is done in a Halal manner. This could be where you discuss alternative plans for prom night.
Tip #7: Appeal to their conscience
In discussing the prom, it helps to stress individual accountability to Allah. Your son or daughter must be reminded that s/he is, from an Islamic perspective, an adult, and therefore fully accountable for his/her actions in front of Allah.
Tip #8: Make Dua (supplication to Allah)
“Never underestimate the power of Dua,” Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Masjid Taqwa in Brooklyn, New York once said.
Sakr's case is one practical example of that.
“My mother said when she was right in front of the Kaba that she made Dua I would not go [to the Prom],” he says. His parents went to Hajj that year, and returned a few days before his prom. Sakr went from being on the school's Prom committee, to dropping out but still insisting on going, then finally not going at all.
If you missed the opportunity at Hajj, all hope is not lost. Allah is All-Hearing and All-Seeing and all power is in His Hands. You can make Dua to Him at almost any other time.