The all-girl Muslim prom is new to Canada - there have been one or two in recent years - and this month in the Toronto area there were four. And one last week for boys.
Girls who organize these dances say they want to celebrate the end of high school as all teens do. But many are more conservative than their mothers, and they want an all-girls party, to enjoy the freedom of bare arms, uncovered heads, pretty dresses and dancing, while staying true to their Muslim convictions.
While the degree of observance varies, most girls at these proms follow religious or cultural traditions that demand modesty in dress, including wearing hijab and long-sleeved clothing, and forbid drinking, dating and dancing with boys.
But girls still wanna have fun. In a surprising hybrid of North American party panache and Muslim decorum, they succeeded.
They arrived cocooned in hijab, the Islamic headscarf, and long jackets. But once in the safety of the hall, they revealed strapless dresses, beaded halter-top gowns, their hair crimped, coloured and bejewelled, like gorgeous butterflies. They squealed as each new friend arrived. They fussed with hair that refused to stay up, or necklines that were vexingly low.
Shirin Akhtar was delighted to drop her 15-year-old daughter Laila at an all-girl prom Friday at the Monte Bianco banquet hall in Mississauga.
"They have their own privacy. For the girls who wear hijab, they can dance without worry and at least enjoy themselves in their own way. I love this."
Akhtar said she wouldn't prohibit Laila from going to the regular prom when she graduates.
"But I prefer she go to something like this. Here they have freedom, and for me, I feel more ... safe."
Sadia Khan decided early on that she wouldn't feel comfortable going to the May 31 prom at her high school, Rick Hansen Secondary, also in Mississauga.
"I knew I wouldn't be able to enjoy myself. It would be mixed. I don't dance in front of guys. We're not allowed to display ourselves in a way guys would be attracted. We'd have to pay $75 for just to sit and have dinner and listen to music."
So Khan and her friends, Rabeea Mohammad, 17, and Ayesha Huda, 17, got together and planned their own party.
Friday night, she sat with a mix of anxiety and anticipation at the hall's entrance, wearing a sleek black dress and sweater with a black scarf framing her face, later removed.
"I've never done this before," she said.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khan found her classmates were pressing her about Islam. Needing to know more, she started reading the Qu'ran and learning from Web sites.
"Misconceptions about Islam came up and I wanted to be able to explain more. I felt I had to be a spokesperson for Islam."
Last fall, with Mohammad, she was ready to wear hijab.
Huda had already worn hijab for several years.
"It's more for self-respect," she said. "People judge me for who I am, not how my hair is, or how much skin I show."
Dancing with a boy while wearing hijab is inconceivable.
"When you wear a scarf and (you're) grinding - that's dancing - with a guy, you show hypocrisy. By wearing hijab you show yourself to be a certain kind of person and you have to uphold that."
All three, who will attend the University of Toronto Mississauga, wanted to mark the end of high school in a splashy way. While Mohammad had been imagining her prom for years, her fantasy didn't include boys.
"I didn't think it was important. It was more about being with my friends."
Tasneem Rakla, 18, doesn't wear hijab and arrived in a party dress and shawl with a big rose in her hair. She went to the all-girls prom as well as her high school dance.
"With boys it's kind of annoying, especially in slow dances. I thought this would be so cool," she said.
This young generation of Canadian-born Muslims is part of a shift toward more traditional attitudes and behaviour. But they're only part of a wide spectrum of observance.
"Obviously these girls are more traditional and conservative in their perspective on Islam, and not all Muslim young men and women and their families would agree with this," said Alia Hogben, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, in Kingston.
"Another perspective is that young men and women can be together and responsible and accountable for their behaviour. Some see segregation of the sexes as part of their ethos; others feel mixing of the sexes is not a dangerous or negative thing."
Zain Raza went happily to his Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy prom at Ontario Place. He said it's easier for Muslim boys to go because they don't face clothing restrictions. He wore a suit.
"Obviously, I danced. I danced with everybody. I don't see anything wrong with dancing. I enjoyed myself. It was good wholesome fun, with a dinner and dance to commemorate our last year of high school."
Some in his group had been together in school since Grade 3.
Before he left for the party, his mother warned him: "Be careful. Don't do anything stupid. Have fun, but know who you are. Don't let anyone pressure you."
His mother, Raheel Raza, a media consultant and occasional freelance writer for the Star, had to think for a moment about the notion of all-girl Muslim proms. Juxtaposing the words "Muslim" and "prom" seemed odd to her, prom being a Western concept.
"They are forging a Canadian identity as Muslims and want to celebrate with their peers in the North American cultural system," she concluded. "It's a very important passage in their life. Why should they feel left out?
"It's wonderful. Hats off for finding a perfect balance between East and West."
Abdul-Rehman Malik teaches history and drama at Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga and was one of the chaperones at the school's recent prom. Despite the party atmosphere, at the time for evening prayer he sought out a quiet room to pray. Some Muslim boys joined him.
A few danced, though not with girls. It's hard to stay seated when the pulsating bhangra music begins, and the boys leapt to the dance floor, Malik said.
"It's encouraging that they feel confident about their faith and comfortable with personal limits and have a good time, too."
Sadia Khan was happy after the prom. Though the turnout wasn't as big as hoped - about 30 girls came and the organizers had to ask parents to loan them some money to pay the bill - the night was a success. They danced till midnight, when the two female DJs packed up and went home.
"Everyone was dancing and it was lots of fun," Khan said. "And a lot of people said, 'Thanks, thanks for organizing this.'"'They can dance without worry and at least enjoy themselves in their own way. I love this.'