Casting Colors: Islam at Allen


While walking the halls of Allen High School, the diversity is obvious. Students of all races and backgrounds get their education here, and there is so much to be discovered about each and every student. One of these many groups are those who practice Islam. There are a multitude of traditions and practices non-Muslims might not know about or understand. So, with the goal of acknowledging and appreciating the many cultures of AHS, listening to these voices and showing respect to them is largely beneficial for students.

“Religion affects all of us,” junior Renda Knaish said. “It affects what we do. For me, it affects how I dress.”

Muslim women choose whether or not to wear the hijab to cover their hair, though this is not the only type of head covering. Others include the niqab, which covers the entire body, head and face, the chador, which is a full-body shawl held closed at the neck, and the burqa, which is a full-body veil.

“Some people say it’s a choice,” Knaish said. “Some people don’t agree, some people don’t wear it. And that’s fine. I respect everyone.”

Freedom of choice is emphasized, for though the covering of the hair, face, body, or all of the above are a symbol of modesty, they are also a way for Muslim women to show pride in their religion.

“In Islam, it’s like nothing is really forced,” junior Sidrah Khan said. “And the feeling where you belong in a community, I just think that’s the best thing in Islam.” 

The Islamic faith is centered around five main principles commonly referred to as pillars. These pillars are the main values that set Islam apart from other religions.

“The first [pillar] is declaration of faith, which is like ‘there’s one God,’” senior Rania Adnan said. “The second is prayer, praying five times a day. The third is giving to others, like charity and donation, that’s very important in Islam…And then the fourth pillar is fasting…And then the fifth is pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim should do once in their life.”

Each of the tenets are a core practice of the Islamic faith, and serve as obligations that each Muslim strives to fulfill in their lifetime. 

“If you want to go into core values, it’s to respect other people,” Knaish said. “Don’t judge other people, be kind. Especially to poor people, there’s a lot of stress on that.”

Performing good deeds and acts of kindness is heavily emphasized, as well as giving to those who are less fortunate.

“Be grateful for everything that you have,” Khan said. “Like giving to the world as much as the world gives to you.”         

Other key elements of Islam include the belief in the Quran, the central religious text which is said to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad. The Quran is especially important to be read during the holy month of Ramadan.

“It’s fasting, but it’s also keeping up with your prayers,” Knaish said. “Like reading the Quran.”

Muslims constitute approximately one fifth of the world’s population, and Islam is the world’s second-largest religion. On a national level, according to Pew Research Center, there were about 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States in 2017, or about 1.1% of the population. On a more local scale, the Muslim associations located in the DFW area include the Islamic Association of Allen (IAA), and the Islamic Association of North Texas (IANT)

“I get a lot of experience, first of all in planning and working alongside diverse groups,” junior and vice president of the youth group at the IAA Zareenah Murad said. “There’s just so many different people that I get to work with and talk to.”

The IAA organizes events and programs such as the youth poetry slam on April 3, and various others in relation to the upcoming month of Ramadan.

“I think my favorite part is the way that we all already act like best friends, before we even really get to know each other,” Murad said. “We can all relate on so many levels. And you know, when people are similar in any way, you connect deeper.”

There are other Islamic associations spread across Collin County, all sharing a mission of education and provision of religious resources.

“The community is really supportive,” Khan said. “The feeling of where you belong in a community. I just think it’s the best thing in Islam. Because no matter where you go, no matter what mosque you go to, or whatever, it’s always like that. A unit of people praying together as one.”

Even more local, this religion also lives within the walls of AHS, in Muslim students and their experiences. Being Muslim is a major part of these students’ lives, and just as in any religion, it affects their choices, relationships, and how they see the world.                                          

“I like the meaning, I like having something to follow,” Knaish said. “I know every religion is like that. But this is the one I was born into, the one that I personally connect more with”

Many of these experiences lie in special traditions and holidays, such as Ramadan, which will begin on April 12.

“Ramadan is the holy month of fasting, introspection, and prayer for Muslims,” Kahn said. “It is celebrated as the month during which Mohammed, peace be upon him, receives the initial revelations of the Quran, the holy book for Muslims.”

During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. This is in accordance with the fourth pillar, fasting.

“It’s a month where all Muslims fast, and it’s from sunrise to sunset, you don’t eat or drink anything, no water, nothing,” Adnan said. 

However, Ramadan is not only about fasting. Ramadan is also a time when Muslims can focus and reflect on their faith. Many use it as a time to improve themselves in the context of their religion.

“And even though Muslims should be praying all year round, usually during the month of Ramadan people that really aren’t practicing Islam that well during the year, they like make it a point to pray when they can during Ramadan,” Adnan said.

The mosque, or Muslim place of worship, is a place of prayer, especially during Ramadan. There are a number of mosques in Allen alone, and hundreds in the state of Texas.

“I’m kind of sad I can’t go to the mosque when everyone gets to pray together in one place,” Khan said. “You hear the imam, which is the mosque leader, when he starts praying, it sounds really beautiful, because it’s kind of like singing but it’s really in a beautiful pronunciation.”

Once the 30 days of Ramadan are concluded, it ends in Eid al-Fitr, which is a celebration in which families gather to break their fast.

“People get together with their families and their friends and eat,” Adnan said. “Instead of presents, adults give money to kids and it’s just a good time to spend with everyone. It’s pretty much the main holiday in Islam.”

Eid al-Fitr is the end of Ramadan, however there is another, which is Eid al-Adha. While the former is associated with the fourth pillar of Islam, fasting, the latter is centered around the fifth.

“Eid al-Adha…is the one that’s the bigger [celebration],” Knaish said. “It’s the one where you see people go to like, Mecca in hajj.”

Though the media tends to focus on the the bleak experiences and discrimination many Muslims face, it is important to remember the pride Muslims have in their culture.

“I’ve never felt like an outsider or anything,” Adnan said. “People ask and I’m not embarrassed to tell them I’m Muslim. I know some people kind of are, but I’ve never felt out of place or anything like that at school.”

There is a large Muslim presence in AHS, in Allen, in Texas, and beyond. Muslims are a part of the community, and their faith is part of what shapes Allen’s diversity.

“I think I have been able to thus far show a lot of pride in my religion, and that has a lot to do with just how one wishes to carry themselves and, like, the people you surround yourself with,” junior and president of the youth group at the IAA Muntaha Sabir said.

As for the discrimination that does exist, it is not part of what AHS stands for, and is not tolerated. Bullying and exclusion for one’s religion should always be reported so it can be dealt with accordingly.

“Allen has actually done a really good job of not tolerating that kind of behaviour at all,” Sabir said. “I know Allen ISD had the quickest response in terminating that behaviour, and it wasn’t even like ‘oh we’re gonna issue a warning’ and the person gets off scot-free but ‘no, this is unacceptable’.”

Culture is one thing that AHS has in abundance, and learning about different religions and experiences, good or bad that may differ from one’s own, is extremely valuable in expanding inclusivity and understanding.

“[Islam] keeps me like, grounded… it helps me decide what’s right and wrong,” Knaish said. “Morally, it keeps me a decent person. Same as how religion affects everyone.”