Sunday, November 4, 2012

Conservative Norms & Living In Western Society

        To all my Muslim Brothers and Sisters of that special breed I share your plight! To be born in the West is to be born into conflict. Not with a "them" or a "they" but with yourself. Picture it; our parents left their retched homeland due to political, economic and social instability, in search of hope and prosperity. With them to England, America, France, Norway, etc, etc they bring a desire to learn, work hard and raise their families. Some even begin to participate in the new countries political and economic aspects and rise to prestige. Yet a problem occurs upon this journey. These new faces also bring their old culture, a way of doing things that is out dated in this new land. Though the good majority keeps a strict separation between their old habits and their new home, it still has its victims. The children, it is always the children. We first generation Muslims are born into a situation that no one can leave unscathed. We are born to families who have a particular set of conservative norms, while at the same time we are born into a society that generally has very socially liberal norms. Some of these norms in the west might not be universal, but they are common in many places across the US and Europe such as free education for males and females, intermixing of the sexes, science and reason over faith, dating, sex outside of marriage, open homosexuality, freedom of speech regarding anything including the sacred, etc, etc, this list can go on forever. This mixing of cultures creates a conflict within the new generation of Muslim youth born into this situation.

            What is the conflict you may be wondering? It is an internal conflict that Muslim youth experience when growing up with two different cultures competing for their attention. As stated above, Muslim youth grow up with a home culture and a public culture that are not fully compatible. Therefore, as the Muslim child grows and develops he/she begins to see the differences stack up. At school or work they are able to mix with the sexes, in fact it might be necessary to collaborate with the opposite sex to be able to complete a task. At home, they are discouraged, in some cases more aggressively than others too not mix with the opposite sex, to even refuse contact in any way with the opposite sex. Now having these two opposite norms rubbing against one another conflict is sure to arise. A young Muslim with any common sense will be able to see how he/she simply cannot go through life without communicating with the opposite sex. In fact, some Muslim youth might even go the extra mile and deduce that they can't go throughout life without developing any sexual or emotional feelings toward the opposite sex. These Muslims reach a completely new conflict. They want to pursue these sexual and emotional desires, but they are told at home that these desires are immoral, "haram" and forbidden. However, at school, on the media, etc young Muslims see that it in fact it is considered normal to date, have sex, and fall in love with members of the opposite sex. Yet by being told repeatedly that it is wrong, they feel conflicted, even guilty when they try to pursue these desires. This leads to a lot of inner turmoil, "do I pursue these desires to make myself happy or do I refuse my emotional and sexual needs in order to follow the norms my family has brought with them from a culture that seems incompatible with their new home".  This is just one small example, there are obviously more such as the following conflict that arose in the life of a member of a social media network. This young Muslim female faced a conflict much more serious then say, a desire to have a sexual or emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

The anecdotal story told on that social media site speaks volumes in regards to how some young Muslims are impacted by this conflict.    

            What are the negative aspects of this conflict? Some young Muslims become "lost" in the sense of they do not identify with their home culture any more, but they lack enough social, physical, emotional, and mental development to be able deal with this situation in a positive way. For example, they begin, sometimes at a young age (16-20) to experiment with narcotics, alcohol, sex, and intermixing not with just the opposite sex, but with uncivilized individuals. This early start with these items can sometimes lead to early trouble such as legal issues, a disinterest in education, and a lack of planning for the future. These young Muslims thus have a good chance of becoming "lost" and never really amounting to anything, simply because they could not properly handle the conflicts within them and they lacked any support from family or friends. Another aspect is a complete denial of the norms of the society that they live in. For example females and males will shun the Western norms, practice the hijab, isolate themselves from the opposite sex, practice strict Islamic/cultural norms and live their life according to the rules set down by their parents home culture. This is not a bad thing per say as long as keep these norms in private and continue to function as proper members of society as best they could, but in some circumstances these individuals become too conservative in the sense that they attempt to push their values upon others or place judgment and ridicule those who live differently. Some of these conservative develop a sense of superiority when they compare themselves to non-Muslims of the community and even when they compare themselves to less pious Muslims in their community. Another aspect of this conflict is a liberal or progressive path in which they adapt to some aspects of the society that they live in such as drinking (socially), intermixing of the sexes (stops short of dating possibly) and continue to follow other parts of the religion, I.E. cherry picking what they want from the faith. This path is usually done in secret and they do not in some cases share their drinking or other still frowned upon activities with their family. These progressives or liberals adapt the religion to fit their situation. Finally, another aspect is to simply leave the faith, become an apostate and live your life the way you desire without having to justify your actions by cherry picking from the faith. These are all just scenarios, there are other possibilities that I have not covered, or experienced.

            My solution to these conflicts is simple when looking at it, but very hard in practice. It is simply to reject the home culture. Say goodbye to the norms of your household and adapt the norms of the society you were born and grew up in. Why you ask? Simple, if one does not abandon the conservative norms of your home culture and adapt to the norms of the society you are living in then you will have a difficult time. How can you expect to go throughout life not talking to the opposite sex? How can you exceed academically when you are forbidden to do it on your own terms? How can a young girl who has a tremendous athletic ability develop her talent if she is forbidden to do so? The answer is clear we must abandon the conservative norms of the home culture. How to do this with the least amount of negative damage is the trick, and sadly, I do not know how. All I know is that the conservative culture of our home life is not compatible with the liberal/progressive norms of the society we all reside in.

            Is it possible to live your life adhering to the conservative norms? Yes, but it is not ideal nor is it simple. My only message to you regardless of whether you choose to embrace the progressive side or simply leave the faith in general is to stay strong my friends. 

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