Culture and Society - by Zahaad Rehman

The cultural patterns that we are exposed to play an integral role in shaping our personalities as well as our perceptions of the world we live in. Cultures can often have values that are so deeply ingrained that it becomes hard to differentiate between the two. It does not mean that there is actually no difference between the two, or just that whatever difference there is, it is not comprehended by many. The religion Islam plays such a role in the Pakistani culture. For many, the two words are synonymous, interchangeable; Islam is our culture, our culture comes from Islam. But I believe that there is a disconnect between the two phenomena of culture and Islam, which is evident right in front of our eyes, only if one is keen to see.


According to Hall’s cultural iceberg theory, religion plays a part in forming the internal or subconscious part of a culture. This is the non-observable portion that is not outright apparent to everyone. The problem is that religion connects with our culture at such a deep level that it often becomes hard to distinguish between the two. Religion is also a sensitive subject matter in our society, one that is hard to question or challenge. There is a lot that people can justify in the name of religion. This is also why often the lines between religion and culture are blurred because you are never allowed to question anything. Considering how attached Pakistanis seem to their religion, it is ironic that there is still so much misinformation around it.


It is pertinent to remember that religion is just one of the many contributory factors that make up a culture. It is a part albeit an important one, but it is not the entirety of it. It contributes heavily to the values that we uphold, some of the customs we have, the moral standards that we set out for ourselves, but we have many traditions originating from diverse religions that are not actually from a singular or the popularly followed religion. There are countless examples that one can present to back up this stance. Take the institution of marriage, for instance, traditions like dowry are almost an essential feature of it, but they have nothing to do with Islam. If anything, Islam advises against such customs. Furthermore, even Islamic values are often misconstrued during marriage ceremonies. An unfortunate example of this is the Nikah Nama, a document in which many clauses pertaining to women’s rights in marriage are blatantly cut out.


These were some examples of cultural norms that many people know are not a part of Islam per se. However, there are other notions that everyone follows because they genuinely believe they come from Islamic teachings. There are annual celebrations in Pakistan to celebrate events like Shab e Barat and Eid Milad un Nabi (P.B.U.H). These celebrations have no factual basis in Islam. They are considered a Biddah (any wrongful addition into Islam that was made after the time of the Prophet P.B.U.H and his Sahaba R.A).


The pretence of Islam is also often used to marginalize certain specific demographics in our society, such as women and Non-Muslims. The concept of ‘pardah’ is always brought up in discussions regarding women, but everyone conveniently forgets the pardah that Islam has set out for men. The characters of women are ostracized heavily in light of Islamic values while men can get away with the same things. Many believe that a man has every right over a woman in marriage, that he is allowed to hit her if she does not listen to him. It is also widely believed that a woman cannot work outside the house and that it is the duty of a married woman to do all the housework, live with her in-laws and take care of them. All of these beliefs have no basis in Islam, and true Islamic teachings paint an opposite picture. A woman can work as she pleases as long as she is earning halal money, men are not allowed to hit their wives, and a woman has every right to demand a separate household if her husband can afford one. Another common misconception is that menstruation is a shameful topic that must be discussed only behind closed curtains in hushed tones. There is no evidence as such in Islamic scripture to support this claim. Honour killings and forced marriages are another terrifying part of our culture that Islam strictly forbids.


The same attitude is used to outcast people belonging to other religions. There is a wide held belief that a Muslim cannot eat in the same utensils as a Non-Muslim, which is absolutely false. Christians, Hindus, and all the other religions in our society are relegated to a lesser sphere because people perceive them to be lesser than Muslims by the ‘virtue of Islam.’ This seems redundant to Islam’s true teachings, a religion that advocates for peace and love above all.


It is important to analyze why such a big dichotomy exists between culture and religion when many people consider them to be one and the same. I believe the roots of this lie in the general hypocrisy that often comes forth from people in our society; rather than following Islam in its entirety; they like to pick and choose portions out of it that suit their own narrative. Another big concern is the stigma around religious conversations; even someone having a genuine question about Islam is shushed. We teach people not to discuss religion and believe everything that they are taught without questioning it. This attitude leaves the space for misinformation to spread fast over many generations until someone finally realizes that many of the cultural aspects that we love to showcase as Islam have nothing to do with the religion in reality.


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