BOB ABERNETHY: American freedom and Muslim tradition. What's it like for young Muslim women to live in a culture in which it sometimes seems that anything goes? Of the world's more than one billion Muslims, it's estimated between three million and six million live in the U.S.; they include immigrants from more than 60 nations, as well as many African-Americans. Anisa Medhi talked with several American Muslim women about stereotypes and head scarves, drinking and dating.
ANISA MEDHI: Muslims are linked by their faith to fellow Muslims around the world. In Islam, like other major religions, there is a wide range of interpretations, beliefs, and practices. Muslims from different cultures have varying views on the roles of women.
The Akbars of Saginaw, Michigan moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1976.
Dr. RAANA AKBAR: Muslims in America are very lucky because this is the one country where you can practice Islam as it was brought to humanity. The rights of the individual are protected in Islam. The rights of society are protected in Islam. The Constitution of the United States of America does precisely that.
MEDHI: Dr. Raana Akbar, an allergist, and her husband, Dr. Waheed Akbar, an orthopedic surgeon, appreciate America's religious rights and freedoms, but these same freedoms pose great challenges to Muslims, as well as to many other parents, in raising families.
Dr. R. AKBAR: When the girls were growing up, it was rather shocking for me that some of their classmates started drinking when they were 12 or even younger and were sexually promiscuous. And that we do not see in Muslim society. I used to think that they would do drugs, they would drink alcohol, that they would date, and though -- you know, all those things bothered me tremendously. And it was one of my nightmares that -- and I used to sometimes argue with Waheed that we should go back, because there, we would be certain of the girls following the faith.
MEDHI: The Akbars' daughters, Amna and Zainab, now in their early 20s, worked on Capitol Hill this summer. They maintained their traditions in the face of pressure to be part of mainstream culture.
Ms. ZAINAB AKBAR: There are certain people who I didn't know -- who didn't know that I was Muslim. When I told them, they're like, 'What? You don't drink? I thought you -- you're a partier, man. Like, you -- your personality's so out there. I -- you're not Muslim.' Like, people just -- you know, they assume that I'm going to be like, you know, 'Yes, I'll do what you say.'
MEDHI: They had to deal with public misconceptions about their faith, media images portraying Muslims as terrorists and stereotypes of repressed women.
Ms. AMNA AKBAR: I saw this portrait of, like, this homogeneous sea of women wearing chadors and, like, you know...
Ms. Z. AKBAR: Men in beards.
Ms. A. AKBAR: And men with beards.
Dr. R. AKBAR: And you keep on hearing this, this negative stereotyping. For us, you know, we were brought up in a culture which was Muslim, so we -- our self-identity is not going to be destroyed by this, but for our children, that's another matter.
MEDHI: Some of these stereotypes stem from how Muslim women are treated in some societies abroad.
Dr. WAHEED AKBAR: For the majority of the Muslim countries, the problem has been it has been very much controlled by the male. And over the years, they have tried to really suppress the equality in which the Muslimist -- Muslim women have been given.
MEDHI: Of course, American women often complain of unfair treatment here, too.
Ms. Z. AKBAR: Hey, we still get 65 cents for every dollar a guy gets. You know, we still get, you know, whistled at, hooted at, hollered at when we're walking down the street when we want to look nice, you know? And just because you see that as normal in this society doesn't mean that, like, we are completely free in society, because we're not.