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Muslim teens to express traditions at Northland Public Library program

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Sareen Ali (left), Anam Jafri and Umar Ahmad will speak about being Muslim teenagers in the United States during a program at 7 p.m. Nov. 7, 2013, at the Northland Public Library in McCandless. They are students at North Allegheny Intermediate High School.

A primary goal of many teenagers is to fit in with the crowd.

But it can be more difficult when students of different cultures come together.

During a presentation at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Northland Public Library in McCandless, three Muslim teens who attend North Allegheny Intermediate High School in McCandless — sophomores Sareen Ali and Umar Ahmad and freshman Anam Jafri — will detail how they honor their religious traditions within their U.S. lifestyles. They will discuss maintaining the monthlong daytime Ramadan fast; wearing a hijab, or head scarf; and praying five times a day.

Shameem Gangjee of Hampton Township put together the Northland event and one held at La Roche College in October as part of “Muslim Journeys,” a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, in cooperation with the American Library Association. “Muslim Journeys” is providing U.S. libraries with materials on Muslim-related topics.

Gangjee's presentations were created to correct “the stereotyping of what Muslims are and promote faith and culture,” she said. “They might enlighten some people.”

Originally from India, Gangjee has called the Pittsburgh area home for 34 years. She came to the U.S. for her husband's graduate studies in Iowa. Both have had careers with local universities.

Conversation always has quelled negative responses to Islam, Gangjee said.

“Sometimes, language is a barrier, and people have inhibitions,” she said.

But the teens are eager to tell their stories.

This summer's fast from dawn to dusk each day was difficult but got easier for Sareen, 16, of Franklin Park. Physical activity was hard with less food, and it wasn't much fun being with friends as they enjoyed a snack.

“But it got easier and easier because my body was getting used to it,” she said, “and the days were getting shorter and shorter.”

Born in Pittsburgh of Pakistani parents, Sareen said she is comfortable in the community and never has felt fear.

“Our school is so big, and there are so many cultures,” she said.

From her studies of Arabic and the Quran, she has answers for those who misunderstand her faith. From what she has learned, she doesn't consider those who intentionally harm others Muslims at all.

“Are you gonna become hijabi?” Anam's sister had asked her, when she started to wear the head scarf when no other women in her family did.

That was in 2012, but the act of modesty has lasted. Anam, 14, of Marshall Township, said her parents, born in India, were supportive, but her older sisters worried people might judge her.

Now, she plans to try out for the basketball team dressed in long pants, long sleeves and a scarf that covers her hair.

Umar, 15, of Ingomar, was unavailable for comment.

For the teens, Gangjee said, “it is important to maintain the values their parents have taught them. It's a foundation to the challenges in school.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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