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Muslim culture in a Christian society - Daily Trojan


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    Cultural differences can manifest in a multitude of interesting ways. Think of food, travel, and even how you spend your time. (Daphne Yaman | Daily Trojan)

    I’ve always wondered why Americans put pork in everything. Bacon’s too fatty and greasy. Pork chops literally taste like rotten chicken. And pepperoni only serve as mini edible bowls on top of pizza that accumulate oil. 

    I was told from a young age to avoid pork like the plague. I never really knew why — just that my family was Muslim and Muslims don’t eat pork. It made me feel cool and unique at times. My friends would have to order cheese pizza for me at sleepovers. Teachers would have to check during lunchtime to make sure that the sandwiches didn’t have any bacon in them. None of my classmates had a perversion to such an American staple, and I honestly liked the attention of having some real culture in comparison to the community around me.

    In reality, I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve watched my babaanne, my dad’s mom, pray countless times on her rug. I would even try to mimic her as a child. It was more of a fun game to me, standing up, sitting down, bending into child’s pose, standing again. I had the same attitude towards Ramadan as well. How long could I go without eating or drinking? I never made it too far, but I would watch in admiration as my baba did so effortlessly day after day for a month.

    Interestingly, I come from quite the dichotomy of belief systems. My mom, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, is an atheist to the core. She can’t take religion seriously if her life depended on it. My dad, on the other hand, is from Antalya, Turkey, and is pretty dedicated to Allah. He used to go to camii — mosque — every Friday (the Muslim holy day) when I was younger. His parents have both completed their pilgrimage to Mecca. My babaanne and dede pray five times a day, every day. My babaanne wears a başörtü — head covering. Both grandparents read the Quran every day. This was my normal, at least whenever I traveled to Turkey to visit family.

    I asked my parents at one point why they didn’t push religion on to me like many other parents do. My mom responded that she didn’t think it was fair to force me to believe one thing or another. She explained that they did their best to raise me with Muslim-ish beliefs (basically just no pork and one prayer in Arabic), but that ultimately they wanted me to make my own decision as to what I wanted to pursue. I subsequently pursued atheism. 

    I am forever grateful to my parents for allowing me autonomy in terms of religious beliefs. Too many times I witness children indoctrinated into a belief system at such a young age that they never know anything different. 

    However, there is one issue that has arisen because of the way I was raised. I still value my differences in the face of a nation that is so heavily ruled by Christianity (there is no separation of church and state, contrary to what some politicians may want you to believe), but there are some things that, even as someone who doesn’t claim to be Muslim, I still find myself diverting from.

    A perfect example is pork. 

    Pork still makes me nervous. Eating pork is haram — a sin — in Islam, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get that out of my head. I inherently don’t believe in Hell or Heaven (even if I did, I know where I’m going for sure), but I have such a negative perception of pork, that even the accidental taste of it makes me recoil. I feel anxious if I consume it.

    It does make some situations awkward: “Why don’t you eat pork?” and the following assumptions and ignorance makes me question the intelligence of my fellow Americans at times. Bacon donuts in my eyes are a disgrace to the culinary arts. I’ve never had a BLT. And don’t get me started on how many times I’ve ordered a baked potato or potato skins and have had to sit there, tirelessly picking off the bacon bits. 

    This is why I tell people I’m culturally Muslim. Turkish dishes don’t have pork in them; I’ve never had to come across it at home or when visiting family. Similarly, if I ever had believed in a god at one point or another, it was most definitely Allah and not the white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus that Christians praise. 

    It’s an interesting caught-in-the-middle situation for sure, but I honestly don’t think I’d have it any other way. My beliefs, however, don’t change the fact that bacon is just gross.

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