In a post 9/11 world, the perspectives of people regarding minorities; especially Muslims have drastically changed. As the world focuses on the bigger picture, it seems to lose focus on the smaller details of how religious and cultural differences affect the daily lives of people living in a culture that does not belong to them. Matthai’s work focuses on the life of a first generation Muslim teenager trying to maintain the balance between religious values and western culture. The story follows Mohamed Ahmed; a university student through his daily life and activities.
The writer begins by drawing a picture of a seemingly perfect individual that stays away from alcohol, is a football star, and still manages to make it on the honor roll. As the story progresses the underlying layers of his internal struggles are revealed. As Mohamed lives in a split world he is in a constant battle between what he was taught as a child and what he is experiencing in his college years. Small things that American teenagers take for granted become difficult decisions for Mohammad. Since the writer presents unbiased details of events, the reader has the opportunity to form their own opinions by drawing on their own experiences. In many ways it brings to light issues that many American teenagers would not have considered as evident by the behaviors of Mohamed’s friends who don’t really seem to realize the dilemma that he is faced with. On some occasions they were found trivializing his beliefs where he was given alcohol under false pretense and was asked whether he had “hooked up” with someone.
The pressure on Mohamed however is not only from one direction. While his teenage peers show a lack of understanding, his parents present an absolute 180 degree shift and restrict him from any social interactions. At this point it needs to be understood just how much of the control over Mohamed’s behavior stems from religion and how much is derived from cultural influences. As Mohamed’s friend reveals, first generation American Muslims are subject to stricter control by their parents who are afraid that their children will deviate from their culture and will be subject to western influences.
It is astonishing to understand that something as little as contact with the opposite sex is a matter of debate within Mohamed’s household. This not only makes us privy to the view from the inside but also reveals how large the differences between the two cultures are.
Although Mathai manages to convey the internal struggle of Mohamed by focusing not only on his words but his body language he fails to draw a complete picture of the situation. In a three sided debate he has only managed to reveal the opinions of two and a description of the social life that Mohamed was exposed to at the Mosque and among Muslim friends is left wanting. He also fails to consider the cultural factors in play here. Most restrictions on Mohamed don’t seem to be of a religious nature but rather a cultural one stemming from parental fear.
Mathai does however succeed in providing a picture of Mohamed and the transitions that took place in his personality through the years. We see Mohamed as he moves from his strictly academic life towards a more social one through his football friends and then in College where he struggled to become like his peers. Another factor which must be understood is that Mohamed is living in a place where he has no exposure to others facing the same situation as him. This lack of support from similar individuals does not provide him with a second opinion that could help him through.
Matthai, T. (2004). A Fine Balance: The Life of a Muslim Teenager. In S. Blau & K. Burak (Eds),
Writing in the Works (pp. 197). Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.