- Raya Shokatfard
CULTURE VERSUS RELIGION : A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
By: Raya Shokatfard
My first culture shock occurred when I left Iran in mini skirt in 1969 to come to the United States where I could have all the freedom I wanted.
Mind you, Iran, at the time, under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s regime, had become somewhat liberal and had adopted much of western lifestyle and culture, but had not fully caught up yet. There were people who still adhered to religious beliefs and dressed modestly, especially among the more mature population.
Well, not me! I needed more freedom and wanted to explore all there was in the western world, especially the dreamland for most youth around the world—the fantastic US of A.
To my surprise, I found myself culturally way behind when I arrived. I lived in Hollywood with my father at the time and saw things I could never imagine. People were actually holding hands in streets and even kissing. The moral codes were so different than Iran, even with all its westernization. Seeing all this, I hoped not to ever catch up to such state; little did I know decades later, promiscuity will soar to where no imagination could hold at the time.
As much as I tried to keep myself pure, society would pull one into this quick sand. Could I stay away from society? Of course not! Studying, working and mingling with my family, friends and classmates. Well… you have to kind of fit in. I tried.
Soon, I forgot about God, religion, my moral upbringing and all that mattered for the Hereafter.
Fifteen years later, God knocked sense into my head. I looked at my life; I saw that I had all the worldly possession I wanted. I drove a Rolls Royce, had a home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, traveled around the world, but found myself so empty; such were also most of the friends I associated with.
Searching for God, took me to Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age style religion, Sun Worshipping and Christianity. Islam was no longer in my consciousness. More than seven years of Christianity and fighting with the Trinity concept, I finally decided to just check the Quran, the revealed book of Muslims.
Reading the first short chapter threw me almost into convulsion to the point that I thought I would die any second. Why such a profound effect? Was I afraid? Worried? Confused? No, not at all. I had finally found God in such short seven-verse chapter. Reading all there was about Jesus, also put me in the right place as to where this great Prophet of God really stood according to God, and not according to man.
To make the story short I returned to Islam as if my life depended on it and have never left it ever since for the past 25 years.
Well, I tried to give my kids a stronger foundation in Islam than my parents gave to me. I knew letting them mix with society freely would ultimately put them in the same quick sand as I was. So, I homeschooled them shortly after they started public school. Things were going kind of well. But they had already tasted the entertaining nature of public school system. Studying at home was boring for them regardless to the subject. What was I supposed to do? Return them to the quick sand? Keep them home and have them rebel against whatever they learned? Or…? I decided to do my best to impart Islamic knowledge to them as well as good academic exposure through good tutors.
By the time they reached college age, they were anxious to get out of the house and get on their own. Once they had the chance, they threw religion and all moral codes out the window and followed whatever seemed good to them.
Of course, they had mom, Islam, restrictions and many other reasons to blame for their new life’s decisions, which were mostly disastrous.
After years of waiting patiently for their return to their roots, I found myself alone with no one on site to even care.
I moved to Egypt to complete my Master’s degree in Journalism and get out of the land that I felt I no longer belonged to.
Within days of my arrival, I had a reverse culture shock. Perhaps better said, culture hug. I loved being there and to be a part of Egyptian everyday life. The most striking realization was the close family ties and respect for the parents. Only if I could have it that way, I would have it all made. But can that ever happen? I believe nothing is too hard for God to do. I am waiting, hoping and making supplication.
Upon my son’s visit a few times to Egypt, he found it very different and not comfortable for him. After all, he was fully American with all that goes along with it. Why did I wish for him to be different when I was the one who chose to raise him in a culture that imparts all such values? It was only later that I felt I was not compatible with the spirit of Islam, or not even with Christianity, according to some of my Christian friends.
What was the solution? Can an iron wall be penetrated? I kept searching.
After 5 years of living in Egypt, I decided to return to U.S. to handle some affairs and spend more time with my son. I have not seen my daughter for nearly 8 years. Her life choices and mine go drastically in opposite directions.
It was great to be back. I missed all the beautiful nature, organic food and long walks in magnificent nature paths in Southern Oregon where my son lives.
After one night at his apartment, I rented my own the next day. Mixed visitation, girlfriend who got offended when I asked her to at least not be touching each other in front of me, and other factors, made me more comfortable to be in my own environment.
Visiting my relatives in Sacramento and Los Angeles was a must. So, soon I embarked upon a trip to visit my sister in Sacramento. Her daughter had married a great man who was the chief of police of one of the towns. He is a Catholic. According to Islam, a female Muslim cannot marry a non-Muslim. This did not seem to matter to my sister, who is her mother. But her father who lived in Malaysia objected and did not even attend the wedding. This changed later, after the 2 kids arrived, and once he heard his daughter has breast cancer. He returned to her and reunited as father and daughter for occasional visits.
Staying with them a few days in their magnificent country home gave me incredible feeling of joy as well as sadness. They had everything they ever needed in life. A million dollar house, Mercedes and late model car and all amenities one would ever need.
‘’What about the kids?’’ I asked my sister. What would be their religion? She seemed to be comfortable if they followed the religion of their father.
“But he worships Jesus as God!” I exclaimed. She said she had not heard him saying that, and she did not seem to care anyway.
Upon my first arrival, my sister had prepared a large dinner. Her sons had joined us and we were all happy to meet after so many years. I asked my sister if the meat was halal, permissible according to Islamic law. She assured me that it was. She said: “there is a large Pakistani population here and there is a “halal” shop where I got the meat’’. Later, I was overhearing her conversation with my brother where they were joking about how she told me the food was “halal”, but it really was not. I sank in my seat and felt so deeply sad. Was I in need of meat? I could eat simple food, but did not expect to be lied to.
As we ordered pizza another night, one was fully vegetarian for my sake and one with ham. No objection from my sister. She watched as her grandson ate from the pepperoni pizza as if nothing was wrong.
I left their home, wishing that my niece’s breast operation would be successful, so she would regain full recovery, and at the same time, was so sad to see my sister, the granddaughter of a very religious man and the ex-daughter in law of a well-known religious scholar lost all her memory of religion, God and all she was raised with.
When I asked her why she did not impart Islamic knowledge and practice to her kids, her only answer was, “laziness.” I wonder how she would answer this question in the Day of Judgment.
Moving along with my journey to Los Angeles, I faced more shock. The sons of my three brothers had married non-Muslims and now I was meeting their offsprings—some for the first time. There were no sign of Islam within this extended family. In fact there were no sign of it with my own brothers. After all, if there were, perhaps they would have thought twice about agreeing with such marriages.
Yet, some of the wives considered themselves Christians took along with them their kids to churches and religious gatherings. In fact, one brother attends church on a weekly basis. When I asked him about why not Islam, he started criticizing Muslims for their behaviors, according to what he had learned from the media. He claimed he loves God and knew Him better than anyone else; he thought he lives a godly life. I told him if you love God, don’t you want to know what are His commandments and what does He want from his creatures? He immediately responded: “I know already. All what matters is love. With love, all things are solved.’’.
I reminded him that a parent who loves his child does all he/she can, to guide the child in the best possible fashion. He agreed. I added that the same parent sometimes has to resort to some punishment in order to warn the child of the danger. He/she would also reward the child for a good behavior. “That is what Islam is all about, fear, love and hope.” He remained silent.
I left Los Angeles, back to Oregon where my son lives, totally heartbroken, culture shocked and asking, how and why did we lose everything we were raised with?
If my parents knew over 50 years ago, before they decided to migrate to the US, that all their kids will get married, all will be divorced, their sons will become millionaires and later some of them or their offspring become homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts, liars and adulterous, they would have had second thought about ever moving. The worse of the matter is that my dear family still thinks they have no need for their Creator. They feel self sufficient and are still waiting for some luck to strike.
The shock is still with me and gives me an incredible confusion. Should I leave this land for the land where I totally have the sense of belonging, or stay and help guide my family and a nation who, so blatantly, have turned against Islam and Muslims due to careful plot of its adversaries?
Published on: Sunday, 17 October 2010