We cannot separate ourselves from our culture; it is an inherent part of us, and forms our identity in this complex world we live in today. We see facets of our culture express themselves intrinsically in our daily interactions, and in our lives as a whole. Culture is the underpinning of most aspects of character and expression; accents, colloquialisms, even the way one eats and walks are all aspects of culture. No matter how much I adore pasta alla norma and other Italian cuisine, my comfort food will forever be a bowl of daal (lentils) and rice.
When I view the world, I can’t remove my cultural frame of reference, because my culture has shaped who I am. However, although religious and cultural values play a significant role in my life, I as a conscientious individual can choose to embody and possess the best of those values, in order to become a better human being.
I come from a culture where religion and cultural values are intertwined, as religion forms a large stream of our cultural interaction. Quranic teachings and Islamic values have influenced my growth as a person. I do not insinuate that orthodoxy has molded my identity, but rather I have learned to derive the best values from my culture to become a better person. Respecting all, being fair and just, and keeping clean intentions (known as “Niyah” or “Niyat,” an extremely important concept in Islam) are just some of the values that have molded me into who I am and can do the same for many others.
Niyat has shaped my frame of reference by teaching me that good intentions are at the crux of human nature. I have come to understand that a small action with genuine intentions is worth far more than an action done to achieve popularity or a higher social status. In my lifetime, I have seen figures like Abdul Sattar Edhi, a prominent Pakistani philanthropic figure, with his genuine intentions of helping Pakistani society, house thousands of orphans and elderly and tend to the ill without publicizing his actions and without changing his humble ways. This is the very essence of a good Niyat — it is a satisfaction at heart that you have done good, and done good to fulfill yourself and your religious duties above all.
Everyone’s view of the world, even within the same household, is unique and different. At the end of the day, what matters is being a good person, holding good values, and being true to yourself. It doesn’t matter what cultural or religious background you come from. It matters how you implement the teachings and values of your culture or religion to become a better version of yourself. After all, whether a Jew or a Christian helped the elderly woman cross the road does not matter, just the intention and the nobility of the action. Goodness and generosity is not determined by your religion because essentially all religions preach the same values of kindness and generosity towards all.
I can testify to the fact that simply upholding good religious and cultural values can make you a better person. By saying this, my aim is not to blow my own horn, but rather to give an example to ordinary people that we can uphold good religious-cultural teachings and apply them to our daily interactions and life to become kinder. Applying the best values of my culture have made me instinctively greet everyone I see respectfully, learn to respect those above and below me, and most importantly understand the value of equality and justice for all, making me fearless when calling out instances of social injustice or wrongdoings.
Be the best version of yourself, and uphold the values that make you a better human. Although values may differ from culture to culture, or religion to religion, at the end of the day what matters is the way you inculcate these values into your daily life and interactions. If your intentions are always good, and if you use your frame of perception in the right manner, it will always lead to a greater sense of self-fulfillment and satisfaction while in turn sculpting you into the best version of yourself.
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