By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Popular Disney characters such as Minnie Mouse, who is famous for flaunting herself around in a mini-skirt, now can be seen strutting in the customary hijab and jilbab forcing Mickey to lower his gaze.
Other modifications include the replacement of Disney's popular "Gay Day" in favor of "No-Gay Day."
-- Islamica News, Issue 1
Peel back the layer of style and you'll find a surprising heart of substance that beats within Islamica. Muslim kids growing up in America live in a cultural vacuum.
"I come from a household which is a very Pakistani household, so in that house, it's, I'm living one culture. Outside of that, I'm living the American culture," says 28-year-old Chowdhry. "Now, for me, growing up, you know, I can't reject one and I can't completely accept the other.
"So it's a fusion of both of those cultures, and in essence, Muslim youth like me are kind of defining a new culture in America. Or broadening the term 'American culture,' " he says. "I mean, I like listening to rap music or heavy metal; I like, you know, racing cars. At the same time, I have very strong beliefs, you know, there are my limits. The limits because of our submission to God."
As long as those two forces are not incompatible -- and Islamica believes they aren't -- they can focus on their original vision, which is giving a voice to young Muslims in America. In that regard, the site acts as part therapy, part back talk. It's how Bart Simpson would respond to Daniel Pipes.
"I would have to say the age range is probably 13 to maybe late twenties," says Maryam Razvi, a 24-year-old Muslim in New York who has served as a site moderator for five years. "The thing that a lot of the Muslim kids appreciate is just the sense of community, especially where there's a lot of communities where Muslims don't live with other Muslims their age." She jokes that the addictive Islamica boards are like the Hotel California -- "You'll try to leave, but you won't be able to."
"These days, kids who are Muslim feel rather alienated or on the defensive," she says. "A lot of kids in school are always being questioned as to why they don't date or why they don't wear shorts. With Islamica, it's a thing like we all know where we're coming from." She points to examples of appearance -- such as the hijab, which immediately brands a young woman as "different."
"You really need a peer group to say, 'You have the right to do this and you're not doing anything outside the norm.' " In the days following September 11, she reports, the message board, it's not surprising, became a de facto support group. In less stressful times, the board serves as an Internet version of "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Islam But Were Afraid to Ask" (your parents).
T-shirts that highlight the "fun" in "fundamentalist" and articles that mock, "Redneck Army Vows Revenge: Claims Random Acts of Violence Will Help Find [9/11] Culprit" (Issue 4), are "another way to take that attack and throw it back at people," says Razvi. "To take that thing that would be hurtful and have a humorous way of dealing with people."
"We are the transition from old-school to new-school," says Ather Ali, a close friend of Baig's from Houston who recently moved to Los Angeles hoping to break into film. "Their job was to establish a presence here -- the brown folks are here! I'm the dash between Muslim-American."
The brown folks might be new, but their story really isn't. Kids have been assimilating, to their immigrant parents' dismay, for generations, snubbing old customs in favor of adopted attitudes. How this will affect Islam in America remains to be seen, but religious elders perhaps look with concern to the well-entrenched, homogenized mass of suburbia and the kids out there who have more faith in pop culture than in their great-grandparents' rules and traditions. Muslims, young and old, are in the midst of negotiating that cultural truce.
"That's probably one of the main reasons they hired me," says Taneeza Islam, a 26-year-old first-generation Bangladeshi-American who started last August as ISNA's first youth coordinator. "I was one of those kids growing up.
"That's a struggle not only in our homes, but it's coming into these organizations as well. You have our generation come in and say, 'Let's rethink how we do stuff,' " she says. "It's difficult, because within Islam there are so many different traditions. It's a matter of convincing our elders that this is okay."
A demographic in its cultural infancy could turn out to be financially fertile. Islamica is not the only group to catch on to that. This summer, Bridges TV hopes to debut a Muslim-American lifestyle channel for satellite and cable that will offer sitcoms, talk shows, sports and news. Hallmark did a test run with Ramadan greeting cards last fall and sold out, creating an almost frenzied demand. And the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index was created to give investors a chance to profit from companies obeying shariah law.