Image by Pascal c/o nappy.co
Third culture is defined as the cultural common ground one forms for themselves when they have a bicultural upbringing, in other words, being raised by parents who are from two different cultures or countries and therefore forming your own culture as a result of being able to relate, or not, to both cultures. That’s the third culture, geographically, but what about religiously? Our beliefs form part of our identity whether you believe in a God or not, practice any sort of religion or not. I’m raised in a family where two religions are practiced, Islam and Christianity, and I’ve found myself forming my own third culture between both religions which impact my beliefs of society, myself, life, feminism and even relationships and who I feel I connect with more. Forming a third culture within religion may be complete blasphemy to some because religion is seen as something that is either or, no in between, but it’s the most crucial place for a third culture to exist, it is the most important place to allow for adaptability and relativity, your culture and your traditions are a part of home to take with you wherever you go in life. Expecting people to confine themselves to one way of life, one belief system and one set of traditions is asking too much. Human beings are not one dimensional so why should our beliefs be.
Growing up I always found myself in this liminal space of not truly relating to the culture that either religions have to offer, I always felt like I didn’t look Muslim enough to fit in with the pretty Malay girls in Madressa and in my family, I don’t have the long sleek straight hair they do, sometimes my hair is curly, sometimes it’s straight. Sometimes I dress a little androgynous, too much so for Muslim men who prefer their ladies extra sparkly and dipped in an expensive ‘kurta’ or enjoy a more feminine look generally. This influenced everything about me, the type of guys I connect with because I didn’t feel enough for my religion and its cultures therefore I didn’t feel enough for Muslim guys, I realized that I relate to different friends and I found a sense of rebellion in me that is proud of how I don’t always define myself by a religion and culture. I don’t relate to the culture of Christianity either and I often find myself at conflict with both religions simply because of how they view each other.
Many times, we base our culture on our physical appearance, on top of not “looking” Muslim enough, I’ve also never worn a hijab full time or even during the month of Ramadan, I won’t say that I’ll never do it but we should be able to choose if we will and when we decide it should be up to us not because it was a requirement from a man. I defy the laws of confining to one culture, the older I get, more aspects of the culture started stirring up an inner turmoil in my mind and with my identity, like the patriarchal centered roots of all religion and how that just does not comply with how, and rightfully so, liberal women are today. Because I was always conscious of my physical appearance I was extra critical about the expectations placed on women and how we are expected to dress. Although the hijab and the modest fashion society is slowly redefining the culture and educating people more, it still does not resonate with me completely, for someone with their own third culture, wearing a hijab is seen as an extremist’s symbol. Many hijabis want to redefine what it means but there will always be a line because some things will always hold a more traditional meaning to them, you can redefine modest dressing all you want but never to point where you’ll see hijabis sipping on a long island ice tea that isn’t virgin, does that mean there is always a line and we cannot push the boundaries that much in a third culture or is it just our inability to fathom taking something which holds a traditional meaning and disrupting it to the point of no meaning or attaching a different meaning to it and then accepting that new meaning because after all, meaning is relative and the point of a third culture is attaching your own meaning to it. Even though modest dressing and hijabs are all still worn today it’s not done for the ancient beliefs we think it is, slowly the reason for it is changing. For some reason men think women dressing modestly communicates her consent, and by covering the shape of our bodies we are being considerate to not distract them from their spiritual state, so they don’t have any sexual thoughts, but we all know a woman can wear a sack and men will still be men. Today women dress modestly because it is their choice, 1400 years ago the hijab was worn to make all women look the same to prevent them from being attacked, they hid their hair and the shape of their bodies to keep them safe and looking the same not because it’s how a women is supposed to dress and her hell or heaven status depends on it but for her safety. There was so much emphasis, throughout time, placed on men as the hero’s and leaders in religion that it manifested an overall sense of entitlement that even the way women dress is to accommodate them. Today women take the hijab as a symbol of beauty and fashion and they own it, it is a little romanticized because why not? Why not take use something in your favor, it is a way to show your beauty without being revealing, modest dressing today, broadens the standards of beauty and modest fashion bloggers are crucial in this progress, they are simply cultural educators. However, the pressure to dress modestly is still very much prominent in many countries and modest fashion is taking a manmade tradition and putting it on an unnecessary pedestal where if you do not dress modestly with a head scarf you are shunned upon or it is seen as a measurement of one’s piety. Of course women are allowed to dress however revealing and however modest they wish to because a third culture is about redefining everything even the concept of sexy.
Third culture begs the question of how do we distinguish between man-made traditions and the actual essence of a religion because being able to take something seen as sacred and manipulating it to the point where you no longer see the value of it, just means that tradition and religion are two completely different and individual elements and as a society we’re placing all the meaning on thousand year old traditions and when they’re not practiced extremism rises, people who think their traditions are more important when the actual backbone should be believing in a God and be a good person, however you choose to carry out the backbone and represent it, shouldn’t be anybody’s concern especially once someone has formed their own third culture and way of life. Just like extremists view any other adaptation of a belief as sinful, extremism is also in fact just another adaptation of that belief using violence and force. So, in actual fact nobody knows for sure any correct way to follow a religion, because everything is so relative we’re all engulfed in a perpetual state of ‘winging it’.
Our beliefs form such a crucial part of who we are it is important to know what you define your culture by. After the constant grappling with trying to fit in and relate to either religions and losing sleep over figuring out who I am and what I stand for, I decided that I stand for good, kindness and the art of just letting people be, and anything within Islam or Christianity that counteracts the carefully molded beliefs that I put in place just for me within my third culture, has got to go. Life is way too short to try and fit in and constantly have your moral compass in a frazzled state because as soon as you found yourself living contently you discover it doesn’t align with old traditions and before you know it you are your own worst enemy simply because you don’t fit in. Society has placed emphasis on heavy weighted traditions which define their cultures to distract themselves from the simple fact that inside you’re the worst person but as long as you’re praying 5 times a day and forbidding your daughter to marry outside your religion then you’re a good person.
This one-dimensional way of existing that is promoted by trying to live by one culture, traditions and religions stifles all self-expression. How can we limit ourselves and our minds to one thing and one way of life, the uprise of a third culture generation only solidifies the fact that no one wants to be defined anymore we are multi religious, multi-cultural and heck, we don’t even want to be defined in our sexuality. Which leads us to the next point of how we simply cannot disregard others believe or lack thereof in a god when their whole lives they were taught that who they are is just wrong and being threatened with the mighty flames of hell if they don’t change. If anything, a culture should be your safe space, where there is no judgement. Personally, I feel it’s sad when the wrong laws that are laid down are said to come from God which leads us in a downward spiral of loneliness because “God” said we have to be one thing only and so we denounce our belief in him all at once. We have to start making it okay to let go of ancient beliefs and traditions if they no longer serve us, the only tradition that should be enforced is to just be a good person, live and let live and tolerance should be the mantra.
There is simply no place in the world for one way of thinking and existing, change your culture to suit you, form your own way of life that eases your mind and encourages peace whether it be by adapting different beliefs from different religions or practices. I love the feel of Ramadan and the family time around Christmas, I love the tranquility and meditative benefits of Salah, but I love praying in one church with no segregation of genders. This was not an anti-monoculture rant, but it is an ‘it’s okay to not fit in and form your own way of thinking’ rant. The way we dress, speak or wear our hair does not have to be rooted in centuries of culture, it can, but it doesn’t have to be from one only. The idea of measuring your worth by a culture is just toxic and being obsessed with defining yourself by one thing instead of embracing the sides of you that don’t always fit in is only stifling your-self expression.
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