A look at what life is really like for a Muslim high schooler in NYC

Yahoo Lifestyle
For Saifa Khan, her experience as a Muslim high schooler in NYC may be unique to her, but she admits that her “everyday life isn’t much different from other high schoolers.” (Photo: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
For Saifa Khan, her experience as a Muslim high schooler in NYC may be unique to her, but she admits that her “everyday life isn’t much different from other high schoolers.” (Photo: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

American Beauty” is a new series in which Yahoo Lifestyle takes a virtual cross-country journey to discover what beauty means — reimagining the American flag through the diverse group of faces that make up the United States of America. For our first installment, we’re focusing on Muslim-American women, highlighting what makes this group unique while showcasing the common threads that bring us together. Here, high schooler Saifa Khan gives us a glimpse into a day in her life.

Growing up in New York City, where your differences are essentially who you are, I’ve realized that it’s important to sometimes look for the things that bring us together. I’m a Muslim New Yorker; I love eating halal, I go to the mosque, and I wear the hijab. But I’m also a teenager — I shop at stores like Forever 21 and H&M, I listen to Drake, and I use social media way too much. I honor my faith while also enjoying life as a teenager. My experience as a young Muslim may be unique to me, but my everyday life isn’t much different from other high schoolers.

The Instagram accounts Muslim high schooler Saifa Khan checks upon waking and before getting dressed for the day. (GIF: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
The Instagram accounts Muslim high schooler Saifa Khan checks upon waking and before getting dressed for the day. (GIF: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

7:12 a.m.: My internal clock wakes me up at this ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. I scroll through my Instagram Explore page until my eyes get tired enough to drift back to sleep.

9:27 a.m.: It’s still early, but any attempt to fall back asleep proves futile, so I get out of bed.

12:19 p.m.: I’m facing the same dilemma that nearly every hijabi goes through during the summer. Today’s temperature is going to be over 90 degrees, and I’m reminded of why I don’t go out often during the hot months. Finding weather-appropriate clothes when the sun is beaming is the biggest struggle for me. The options seem to be: either melt into a puddle with clothing that’s modest but not suitable for summer, or here’s a dress with 10 slits that you didn’t see when you bought it, so now you have to wear more clothes underneath. I end up choosing to wear a long cardigan on top of a tank top, so I’m covered, but it’s light enough for the weather.

1:07 p.m.: I’ve lived in the U.S. my entire life, and my first thought when I think of an aggressively American food is burgers. Despite this, I’ve had a burger only once in my life; food places that cater to Islamic dietary restrictions — halal — and aren’t just halal food carts or Mediterranean restaurants are limited, even in a big city like New York. So when I found a new burger joint, Burgers by Honest Chops in the East Village, that serves halal burgers, I was beyond hyped and asked my sister to come with me and try the food.

Halal burgers from Burgers by Honest Chops and Forever 21 fast-fashion finds are a few of Saifa Khan’s favorite things. (Photos: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
Halal burgers from Burgers by Honest Chops and Forever 21 fast-fashion finds are a few of Saifa Khan’s favorite things. (Photos: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

2:48 p.m.: After finishing our food, I decide to go to Forever 21 in Union Square to pick up a package I ordered online and had shipped to the store. I bought a black maxi dress — a staple in my wardrobe! — ankle socks, and a tote bag to fuel my obsession with the convenience of tote bags. I walk for 15 to 20 minutes in the intense heat, and I already know that when I get home, there’s going to be a tan line on my face from my hijab.

4:21 p.m.: I’m finally home. I turn the air conditioner on and open Netflix to continue Black Mirror, which I’ve been binge-watching for the last week.

5:34 p.m.: My mom and two younger siblings return home from being at the local park all day, which translates to: I can’t watch Netflix peacefully anymore. My mom starts cooking right away and asks my siblings and me to clean the house before she’s done.

6:15 p.m.: An excuse to stop cleaning? Yes, please. I have my Spanish Regents Exam tomorrow afternoon, so I open Quizlet and pull out a bunch of flash cards with Spanish verbs on them to study.

7:09 p.m.: I feel pretty good about the test tomorrow after studying. Now I’m working on my application for the Ambassador Program at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I put heavy priority on academics and new experiences because after I graduate high school next year, I’ll be a first-generation college student, and it’s important for me to be able to “make it” when my parents struggled to do so without a college degree.

Work hard, play hard: Saifa Khan uses flash cards to study for the Spanish Regents Exam and brushes up on her fencing skills. (Photo, GIF: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
Work hard, play hard: Saifa Khan uses flash cards to study for the Spanish Regents Exam and brushes up on her fencing skills. (Photo, GIF: Saifa Khan, Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

8:30 p.m.: I put on some sweats to start working out. I love food, especially bagels, but I also love fencing. When I started the sport last year, the vigorous workouts were a lot to handle for a person living a sedentary lifestyle like I was, so my coach advised me to keep fit over the summer to avoid that struggle at the beginning of the year. I plan to exercise at least once a week until the season starts again in September.

8:48 p.m.: I was supposed to exercise for at least half an hour, but I quit halfway. I’m guessing this is how it’ll be for the rest of the summer. Isn’t summer for relaxing, anyway?

11:21 p.m.: I put my phone on charge and finally get into bed.

Read more on Muslim-American women in our American Beauty package:

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