Young and Muslim

youngandmuslimIt is Monday morning at 4:30 am and the sun is hardly up.  But, if you are a dedicated Muslim, you’ve already risen to take your morning ablution and prayer, and gone back to bed.  If you are a dedicated Muslim child, like Kalifalah Kenneh, you have done all of this and still have to get to school on time.

Kalifalah is an 8th grader living in the South Bronx. He has one brother and one sister.  He plays soccer for South Bronx United and plays drums in his middle school orchestra.  He enjoys video games and staying true to his Islamic faith.  We interview Kalifalah during Ramadan to ask about his experiences being young and Muslim in the Bronx.

Kaliflalah said that some of the biggest social challenges he faces are “…the usual terrorist comment, going outside in religious attire, and not fitting in with your friends who are most likely one ethnic group.”  He explained that as he grows up he is learning to deal with these challenges as well as new obstacles that come with age.

Kalifalah was brought up very religiously.  His mother, who moved to New York from Guinea, and father, who moved from Liberia, are his biggest influences.  His father is an Iman, a Muslim leader or chief for the local mosque.  He is one of the most respected Imans, if not the most respected, in Kalifalah’s community.  This puts a great deal of pressure on Kalifalah’s shoulders.

We asked Kalifalah if his expectations for his future differ from his father’s expectations for him? He explained, “since we were brought up during different times and in different countries, what he has planned for me contradicts my ‘American Dream’.  But we settle it out by having many periodic talks and making compromises.”

Being young and Muslim is not easy, especially during Ramadan, when you have to fast all day and stay active at school.  “Your faith is challenged when you have to make certain choices.”  He said, “In my case, I had to decide if I wanted to go to my 8th grade prom [during Ramadan].  After evaluating the pros and cons, I decided not go to for the sake of my faith.”

Kalifalah has many goals and aspirations for his future.  Among them, is to go to college in America and finish the Quran after graduation.

Photographs and story by Ayouba Swaray and Kalifalah Kenneh.  Kalifalah is now attending Clinton High School  and living in the Village of Clinton, New York as part of the Community School Program through A Better Chance.

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