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Culture and Religion: Two Completely Different Subjects

Muslim women perform their prayers at a mass prayer for Eid al-Adha at the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan September 25, 2015. Muslims across the world celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage, by slaughtering goats, sheep, cows and camels in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. The meat should be distributed to the poor, neighbors and family. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

In September 2015, I left Canada to spend two and a half months in Pakistan. Those two months increased to five, to eight, until we ended up staying a whole year. Since I’ve returned home to Ontario, I’ve constantly been bombarded with questions as to how Pakistan was, and how I felt about staying for such a long period of time. Each time, I reply with the same answer. “It was an amazing experience. Very humbling and eye-opening.” However, it was so much more. During my stay, I saw and heard a variety of things. For one, I noticed the vast difference from the last time I had gone. However, now that I think about it, perhaps it had always been in the state it is now, and I was too young and naïve to see it. My whole contemplation process started when I stumbled upon a video made by a Bollywood actress on female empowerment. It was then that I realized that female empowerment was a topic that was unfamiliar in Pakistan.

It was then that I realized that female empowerment was a topic that was unfamiliar in Pakistan.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a Pakistani, and I love Pakistan dearly, but I find myself questioning the culture in Pakistan day by day. Most of the people in Pakistan are Muslim, and too often they mistaken culture for religion. An example might be – and when I say this, I am speaking from experience – when a woman walks down a road covered from head to toe. Men openly and uncomfortably stare at women. I experienced this a few months into my stay in Pakistan. I was walking down a street with my brother in loose shalwar kameez (traditional clothing) and a scarf tied on my head. Yet, a man who had to be at least twenty to thirty years older than me, continuously leered at me.

I was revolted at how despite the fact that I had caught him staring; he had the audacity to shamelessly continue. What made angered me was that every part of my body was covered, and yet I was ogled at by a man who couldn’t care less about who or how old I was. What further infuriated me was that South Asian people happen to always find an excuse. They would say that the man stared due to the fact that “I was dressed in such a way.” It didn’t matter how loose my clothing was or how much I covered up, it would always be the woman’s fault. It’s said that “Islam teaches woman to cover themselves.” And, there is no doubt about that being true. Yes, Islam does teach women to cover themselves, but Islam ALSO reprimands men from staring at women, whether it is inappropriate or not.

Yes, Islam does teach women to cover themselves, but Islam ALSO reprimands men from staring at women, whether it is inappropriate or not.

But, for some odd reason, individuals who are South Asian integrate a religion that teaches men to lower their gaze, with a culture that tells women they should cover up, so as to not be stared at. When did it become acceptable to mesh culture with religion? When a woman is assaulted, abused, or harassed, why is she the one who is blamed? So when someone asks me, how was my stay in Pakistan, I reply humbling, because I am grateful that I was bought up by my parents in such a way where I was able to differentiate between culture and religion. But it’s not just dependent on me, is it, I feel that it would do other well to educate themselves on the differentiation as well so their youth doesn’t grow up with the illusion that culture and religion are the same thing. 

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Meshall described in eight words: Aspiring Activist. Avid Reader. Food Enthusiast. Television Fanatic. When she's not in a heated discussion about equality, she can be found watching Netflix and eating Ramen.

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