The Prom, for many teenagers is the ultimate event of their teenage lives. It is the transition to adulthood. It is possibly the last time all of a youth's high school friends will be together at a formal school event.
It is also the most hyped-up event of the teenage life cycle. Magazines, television, the mass media, websites, sitcoms all play up the event as some kind of sacred ritual.
Sadly, the Prom is about much more than that: sex, alcohol and drugs are crucial features of Prom night.
It's the night many young people decide to lose their virginity.
It's the night many youth get so drunk, they have no recollection of who was with them and what they did on Prom night.
It's the night youth may try their first joint of marijuana or “celebrate” their high school graduation by getting extra high.
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 of conveying the reality of the Prom to their sometimes star-struck teenagers, who are caught up in the Prom hype with the rest of their friends.
Sound Vision spoke to four Muslim brothers and sisters about how parents can deal with the Prom. Below are some of their and our tips and suggestions.
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 Prom hype 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 be confronted with it.
Grade seven is an ideal time to start talking about the Prom. At this 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.
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 will 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.”
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 behaviors or who do not practice Islam.
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 important in trying to make children aware and practicing of Islamic principles.
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 parents 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 in 1996.
“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 Prom night.
It begins years in advance, with sports and social activities being organized for Muslim youth at the community level.
“If you don't set up these parallel Halal structures for them, then your high school children will not only learn with but play with, develop with, grow with these non-Muslims,” says Imam.
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 in public schools, since they did not grow up here.
They need to speak to an older, practicing, Muslim youth who has gone through the school system and get the scoop on public school life.
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 Ammar why he can't go to the Prom.
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 dialogue and the likelihood of them listening to you.
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 of the Prom.”
Explain the dangers. Tell them even if they don't drink, their non-Muslim friends do. This could mean car accidents. For girls, this could mean sexual harassment and even worse, rape.
Talk to them about Islam's prohibition of not even going near fornication and adultery, and that the Prom environment facilitates that.
Talk to them about Islam's prohibition of not sitting at a table where alcohol is being served, even if you don't drink.
Be calm. Otherwise, you'll be perceived as trying to simply scare them with histrionics.
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.
7. APPEAL TO THEIR CONSCIENCE
In discussing the Prom, it helps to stress individual accountability to Allah.
Yasmeen should be reminded that she is, from an Islamic perspective, an adult, and is fully accountable for her actions in front of Allah.
If this is done in a rational manner, and along with outlining Prom night dangers, she may think twice about attending the Prom.
8. MAKE DUA
“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.
Solutions to the Prom night conundrum are not impossible or far away. However, they do demand effort and sacrifice. But isn't it worth it to protect our children from jumping into an incredibly dangerous situation?
Photo Attribution: Adrian Sampson - http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrian_s/17622449/